What are the differences between Islam and Christianity? An Excerpt from No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
In No God but One: Allah or Jesus? Nabeel Qureshi provides a thorough and careful comparison of the evidence for Islam and Christianity—evidence that wrenched his heart and transformed his life. In today’s excerpt, Nabeel tells of his conversion and introduces us to the differences between the world’s two largest religions.
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In August 2005, I came to the most painful realization of my life: I no longer believed Islam. I had no recourse left and could no longer delay the eventuality I had been fighting for years. As a child, I was raised to love Islam. I enjoyed memorizing chapters of the Quran and reciting them in my daily prayers. I looked forward to fasting every year with my family during Ramadan, thrilling in the early morning prayers and the communal suppers in the evening. I eagerly anticipated celebrating each Eid with my extended family. My entire life revolved around Islam, and I was proud of my Muslim heritage. Ironically, it was my confidence in Islam that brought my faith to the breaking point.
Shortly after starting my undergraduate studies in 2001, I challenged a Christian friend at my university to consider the truth of Islam. Using reasoning that I had heard at mosques and from Muslim authorities, I argued that Islamic doctrines were verifiably true, whereas Christian doctrines were verifiably false. His responses led to research and investigation that ultimately spanned four years. What I discovered time and time again was that Christian doctrines held firm whenever they could be tested historically. The arguments against Christianity I had trusted my whole life were flawed and poor, and Christianity stood strong. But it was what happened next that shook my world and rattled me to the core. My friend used the same critical standards I had used against Christian doctrines to challenge Islam. Under the weight of this consistent scrutiny, the foundations of Islam crumbled.
By the summer of 2005, I realized that I no longer believed the shahada, the Muslim proclamation that “there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Proclaiming the shahada is the minimal requirement of a Muslim, and I simply did not believe it. I desperately wanted to believe it, because everything I loved was found in Islam: my family, my friends, my culture, my traditions, my heritage. Leaving Islam meant sacrificing everything I knew and devastating the people I loved most.
At the same time, Christianity held no allure for me. My family were not Christians, I had just three Christian friends, my only experiences visiting churches had left a poor taste in my mouth, I thought Christmas and Easter were pagan traditions, and I really had no idea how I could fit in as a Christian. I did not want to believe in Christianity at all. But I realized that it was too late: I already believed Christianity was true, and I could not be a Muslim because I could not honestly proclaim the shahada. The only question left was whether I would take the final step and move forward in faith. It is one thing to have found compelling evidence and quite another to act in faith on that evidence, especially when the cost is virtually unbearable.
On August 24, 2005, when I could resist no longer, I bent my knee to Jesus and proclaimed my faith in him. Soon after, my family was shattered, and the next year of my life was by far the most harrowing I have ever endured. I was now an outsider, both to my family and to all my friends in the Islamic community. It was just weeks before I received my first death threat. Ten years later, I still get the occasional death threat, I never regained my old friends, and my family has never been the same. I feel the painful fallout of my decision every day.
So when I hear people say that Islam and Christianity are basically the same, I have to try to restrain my incredulous response. Are Islam and Christianity the same? My parents certainly do not think so, nor do any of the dozens of friends I lost. This cliché is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of converts who have left Islam for Christianity and vice versa.
Not only are these religions different, but the differences have far greater ramifications than I realized when I converted. I knew that the historical doctrines of the two religions were different, but doctrines do not exist in a vacuum. They work together to impact the way we see the world, which in turn changes who we are. For example, the Muslim conception of God, whom we will call Allah, has different characteristics from the Christian conception of God. Of course, the most obvious is that Allah is not triune, whereas the one Christian God subsists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The concept of God’s personhood is so disparate between Islam and Christianity that the basic Christian axiom “Jesus is God” registers as blasphemy to the average Muslim. Although both religions teach that there is no God but one, merely beginning to consider God’s personhood demonstrates that they disagree significantly about what he is like.
And what we think God is like has a tremendous impact on how we see the world he created. Why did God create humans: to share intimacy with them or to test them? What does he think about people: are they his servants or his children? How does he want us to live: focusing on love or focusing on law? What does he tell us about the afterlife: to anxiously anticipate unknown judgment or to have joyful faith in his grace? The Islamic view of God and the Christian view lend themselves to different answers, and how we answer these questions changes how we see ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
Both Muslims and Christians believe that there is no God but one, but is he Allah or is he Jesus? I can tell you from personal experience and in all sincerity: How we answer this question has the power to change who we are.
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