How Do Islam and Christianity Define Our Problem and Solution?
Earlier this year my family moved to a diverse neighborhood in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The next day, we discovered we moved next to a Muslim family. Perhaps you would have done what I did: prayed for opportunities to show them Christ's love; and wondered how to navigate a conversation about the differences of our faith if a door opened. Thankfully, we have a new book to guide those conversations.
In No God but One, the highly anticipated follow-up book to his New York Times bestselling spiritual memoir Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi addresses the most important questions at the interface of Islam and Christianity: How do the two religions differ? Can we be confident that either are true? And most important, is the truth worth dying for?
He begins his assessment by starting where most apologists do: outlining the two worldviews, specifically how each frame our human problem and God’s solution. Because, as Qureshi insists, “if we misdiagnose what ails us," the treatment will not work, and we will continue to suffer.” (45)
The Problem: Ignorance vs. Brokenness
“Islam teaches that the fundamental problem of mankind is ignorance,” Qureshi explains, “that man needs to be guided in order to live good lives. Once people learn what to believe, aqeeda, and how to live, sharia, they will earn the pleasure of Allah.” (33) What we do and how we live flows from this ignorance, and this is why we don’t submit to God. The plain message of Islam, which means “submission,” is that “Humans should all submit to the sovereign will of God.” (32)
When we live out of this ignorance and don’t submit to God, we sin, and “the Quran emphasizes that on [the day of judgment], all people will be held accountable to Allah for their sins…Muslims must live as good a life as they can to approach heaven, and hope for God’s merciful judgment to secure their salvation.” (33) Allah’s judgment will weigh our good deeds from our bad deeds when he judges us and render a judgment accordingly.
Interestingly, in the fifth century the Christian heretic Pelagius similarly insisted our problem was ignorance. The historic Christian faith says something very different: We aren’t merely ignorant; we are thoroughly broken. Because we disobeyed God by rebellion against him, “sin has ravaged our souls and the entire world,” Qureshi explains. “There is no way for us to un-sin. We cannot simply do a few good deeds to unshatter our souls. There is nothing on earth that we can do. It would take a miracle, an act of God, to restore us and save this world.” (35)
Qureshi concludes, “The problem of mankind is deeper than what we do; it is embedded in who we are.” (45)
The Solution: Sharia vs. Gospel
The solutions Christianity and Islam offer to their respective problems are as divergent as the problem itself: Islam solves our ignorance with sharia; Christianity solves our brokenness with the gospel. Another way of describing the difference is between a Messenger and Messiah, between a Law and a Person.
According to Islam, Allah remedied our problem by sending prophets to lead us out of ignorance—beginning with Adam, and on to Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus. Because people didn’t faithfully follow their guidance, in his mercy Allah sent Muhammad and gave him the Quran, one component of Islamic law, sharia, which literally means “the way to water.” The other two major components of sharia are hadith literature (the actions and sayings of Muhammed) and ijma (the judgments of Muslim scholars)
“Following sharia is the way to life itself,” Qureshi explains. “Sharia is more than just Islamic law. It is the answer to mankind’s ignorance and, if followed, will result in a life of peace with Allah and an abundance of his blessing.” (34) Thus, “when it comes to salvation in Islam, sharia is literally ‘the way,’ and submission to God’s will is our primary expression of worship.
Of course, Christians believe in another way: “Jesus is literally ‘the way,’ and our love for God is our primary expression of worship.” (37) Since we are incapable of saving ourselves, we needed a radical solution: the gospel. “The gospel is all about God and what God has done. God introduces life into the world, and when we rebel, God saves us. When we sin against God, God pays for our sins. When we sin against one another, God gives the grace of restoration.” (46)
“Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of sharia, a law to follow. Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of God himself, a relationship with him that leads to a heart transformation.” (45)
Engage Qureshi’s important guide to not only better understand Islam and how it compares with Christianity, but also help people desperately seeking God who are caught between the polemics of Islam and Christianity.
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