Having been a Christian for the majority of my life, and having attended a christian school for ten years of it, I like to think I know a lot about Christianity. On the other hand, I spent roughly three years studying Islam independently, learning as much as I could about the religion that belonged to my husband…and now me. With this background I am frequently asked about the differences between Christianity and Islam…and although I’m not a scholar on either of these topics, there are nine things I have gleaned from my studies that I usually mention in every discussion about religion that comes up.
Disclaimer: Anything wrong that I say here about Christianity or Islam is my own mistake, and does not reflect the religion in any way. Anything true that I say here is thanks only to God, who has blessed me with the ability to learn and understand
1. Christianity is older than Islam.
The first and most obvious difference is the age of the faiths. If you consider Jesus’ (salallahu alayhi wasalam) birth to be the year 0, and his death to be around 32AD, then you can consider Christianity to have started somewhere in that time. Islam, however, was founded by Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wasalam) around 500 AD. Several hundred years after Jesus’ death/ the founding of Christianity was when Islam came about. However, something I find very interesting in my studies is that, if what I read is true, no one claimed Jesus to be the son of God until nearly 500 years after his death…around the time of Muhammad’s revelations from God. Even further, this fits well with the intent of Islam, which was to clarify that God has no son, which is what modern Christians believe.
2. The original sin
Both Islam and Christianity agree that there was an original man and woman (english: Adam and Eve) who lived in a beautiful and rich place (aka Garden of Eden), free of sin and whatnot. However, the events that transpired there are significantly different between religions. According to Christianity, there was a tree within the garden with fruit that would give you the knowledge of good and evil if you ate from it…and God told the original humans not to do so. However, satan in the form of a snake approached Eve and tempted her into eating the fruit and bringing it back to her husband, Adam, to also eat. For this reason they were expelled from the garden, and now all humans hold the burden of sin for all eternity (giving way to the necessity of salvation). However, in Islam, the tree that was forbidden was the tree of immortality, and from that they should not eat (please note that God did not call this tree Immortal, it was Satan that used this term in order to tempt the humans). Satan approached BOTH Adam and Eve together, and tempted them in equal measure. Although they were expelled from the garden for their transgressions, God (in his infinite compassion and mercy) forgave Adam and Eve of this sin, and all of humanity is not burdened with this original sin.
3. The heart of man
Given what we just discussed, it is now clear why Christians believe that everyone is born with sin in their hearts. Due to the original sin, all humans are born with an evil desire in their hearts- and it is only God’s grace that lets us overpower them. In Islam, though, humans are not cursed with this original sin. Mankind is not born with dark hearts, on the contrary, Muslims believe that everyone is born with the desire to do good, to be good, and to seek out God. It is the sin that lurks in the world that can cause us to turn away…but it is not our nature.
4. Sacrifice for sin
So, with this curse upon mankind, Christianity explains that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for this plague. Without accepting his sacrifice, we are burdened with the price of sin- eternal death in hell. Since Islam doesn’t adhere to the idea of original sin/ the curse of sin, there is no need for a blood sacrifice. However, animal sacrifices may be performed as a show of piety and faith in Islam. For instance, during Kurban Bayram (the sacrificing holiday), Muslims sacrifice an animal as a recollection of Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his own son at the command of God (but similar to both faiths, he did not).
Just to be clear, when Muslims sacrifice an animal there is a special ritual that must be done, and the animal must be slaughtered humanely and with no suffering. The meat is to be distributed, 1/3 is for yourself, 1/3 is for your neighbor, and 1/3 is for the poor amongst you.
5. Who was Jesus
According to Christianity, Jesus was the son of God, born of a virgin for the purpose of ultimate sacrifice. According to Islam, Jesus was a beloved prophet, born of a virgin, who worked miracles and healed the sick. Jesus was never crucified, according to Islam, but instead someone similar in appearance was taken. The Christian story of the resurrection explains how Jesus appeared as a gardener outside of his own tomb, with the stone rolled away so that he could escape. Similarly, Islam says that Jesus did appear as a gardener after the crucifixion, but in order to not be discovered.
6. Forgiveness and Heaven
In order to achieve forgiveness for your sins and ascend to heaven when the time comes, Christians say you must accept Jesus as your personal savior, acknowledge his sacrifice, and then you are basically set. Islam, however, says that there is no sure way to be forgiven and enter heaven. Indeed, a hadith explains that even a man who prays and fasts and gives his due may stop doing these things on his last day…and not enter heaven. Conversely, a man could murder, drink alcohol, lie, and cheat his entire life, and pray on his final day with a pure heart, and enter paradise. It is only God’s decision who enter heaven and who does not- all we can do is the best that we can. Only a pure heart with good intention can enter paradise, if God so wills it. Doing acts of kindness and good deeds in your life while staying away from evil is all that a Muslim can do to curry favor with the Almighty.
Either way you look at it, hell is a horrible, terrible place. There is not much difference in the descriptions of hell, but there is a difference in what it is there for. In Christianity, if you go to hell you are damned for eternity, and you will never escape. In Islam, hell is a place you go for your punishment…and when the punishment is over, you enter paradise. Inshallah, all Muslims will eventually go to heaven, once their term is completed. I have seen different opinions on if everyone goes to heaven eventually, but God is both fair and merciful, and I wouldn’t think it wrong to hope that everyone, regardless of faith, will see paradise one day.
As described in point 6, doing good deeds is critical for the life of a Muslim. Even the intention of doing a good deed, if not completed, still counts as a good thing for you. Having the intention of doing a bad deed, if you don’t follow through, is also good. God commands Muslims to do things for the right reasons (e.g. praying to be seen as pious by others doesn’t count as good..but doing so as a command is), and intentions play a huge role in the daily lives of those following Islam. In Christianity, any bad thoughts or feelings are seen as a symptom of a sinful heart and are counted as a sin against you.
9. Logic vs Faith
In verse after verse, the Bible praises those who have faith.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6).
Christianity emphasis believing, even when there is no evidence there. In fact, the one who believes despite evidence to the contrary is held in the highest regard. However, Islam encourages the believer to seek knowledge. It is true, the first command given from God to the Muslims was to read, and to learn. Learning and education (not just the religious sort) is a requirement of every Muslim- man, woman, or child.
Read! In the name of your Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) Who created— created man, out of a leech-like clot: Read! And your Rabb is Most Bountiful Who has taught (the use of) pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an, 96:1-5)
“He grants wisdom to whom He pleases; and he to whom wisdom is granted receives indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.” (2: 269)
Many ayat are ended with praising “those who learn”, “those who think”, “those who know”, etc. This is one of many reasons that Muslims do not feel the disconnect from science that many churches often proclaim in Christianity. Science, in Islam, is not against God, it is proof of Him.
These are only some of the differences between Islamic and Christian doctrine…but there are also many similarities. If you liked this post or found it helpful, let me know and I can post more about Islam and Christianity.