Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
In honor of the movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ” which came out on Friday I’m writing a little about Paul and Muhammad.
As many of you know, I’m writing a book which explains Islam in terms of Christianity. I’ve been working recently on the chapter about Muhammad and Jesus.
Some time ago a friend suggested that instead of comparing Muhammad to Jesus, I would do better to talk about Muhammad and Paul. While I’ve decided not to take this advice (my book talks about Muhammad and Jesus, and only barely mentions Paul), she raised some good points.
Christianity, of course, is named for Jesus Christ. Our faith teaches that it is only through the work of Jesus Christ that human beings can have a good relationship with God. So we name our religion after the focus of our religion, Jesus Christ.
As the western world began to explore the “religions” of other peoples, we began to name them after their leading practitioners, or founders. So we named Buddhism after Buddha, and Confucianism after the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Even Judaism is named after a leading Jewish figure, Judah son of Jacob. (Fun fact: “Judah” comes from the Hebrew word for “praise” – see Genesis 29:35!)
Following this pattern, some people began to call the religion of Muhammad “Mohammedanism,” to name the religion after its founder.
However, Muslims do not believe that Muhammad “founded” much of anything. Instead they teach that Muhammad proclaimed the right way to practice a religion that had been “founded” by God during the era of the first human being, Adam. For Muslims, Muhammad was one of many of God’s spokesmen. Muslims believe that he was the last and best of the spokesmen, but still, a spokesman only.
This is why it might make sense to compare Muhammad to Paul, rather than to Jesus. While Christians insist that Jesus is both God and the means by which human beings gain a good relationship with God, Muslims believe neither of these things to be true about Muhammad. Like Paul, Muhammad was merely someone who spoke for God, taught about God, and led God’s community on earth. And just as Paul (not Jesus!) was the main author (divinely inspired!) behind the New Testament, Muslims believe that the Qur’an came to human beings through Muhammad.
If Muhammad is like Paul, then who in Islam is like Jesus?
The answer: no one. Sometimes different religions just don’t give us easy comparisons.