GUEST COLUMN: Christianity and Islam: Two faiths, one God?

By TARIN PARADISE, guest columnist

Before the next round of exchanges between London’s newly elected, Muslim mayor and Donald Trump, someone is bound to try and soothe rising tensions between Christians and Muslims by claiming they serve the same God.

It’s a pervasive idea that’s being peddled everywhere from popular culture to the hallowed halls of evangelical universities and the Vatican, but is it true?

On the surface, it seems that Christianity and Islam, the world’s two largest religions, do share some common beliefs.

Both believe in one God who created and sustains everything, and both believe God sent prophets to convey His messages to humanity.

Both believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and both believe in the existence of heaven (paradise), hell and a final day of judgment.

But to say the superficial intersections between these two faiths somehow make them in any way compatible couldn’t be further from the truth.

Trinitarian divide

The Christian faith was founded upon the idea that there is only one God, and Muslims, practitioners of the Islamic faith, would agree, but here is where the two faiths collide.

Christians believe in the trinity — that God is one entity existing in three distinct individuals: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And while the word “trinity” does not actually appear anywhere in the Christian scriptures, numerous references exist supporting this doctrine (Deuteronomy 6:4, John 10:30, 2 Corinthians 13:14), and herein lies Islam’s principle argument against Christianity.

The Islamic faith soundly rejects the idea of the Trinity and instead adheres to the concept of tawhid, Islam’s most fundamental principle: the absolute and inseparable “oneness” of God. The Islamic faith views belief in the trinity as the sin of shirk, attributing partners to the one true God, Allah: “They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a trinity, for there is no God except One God” (Quran 5:76).

For Muslims, shirk is the highest form of blasphemy — unforgiveable among all sins. How, then, does the Islamic faith view Jesus Christ who claims to be the second person of the trinity (God the Son) and on whose death and resurrection all of Christianity rests?

Christ problem

While Islam recognizes Jesus’ miraculous birth by the Virgin Mary and his sinless nature, it denies the idea that he is God. Christ, like Muhammed, is believed to have been a prophet sent by Allah but was not in any way divine: “They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary” (Qur’an 5:17).

This position poses considerable challenges to essential Christine doctrines concerning man’s sin and salvation. If, as Islam dictates, Jesus Christ is not God, this alone would invalidate the entire Christian faith.

Christian doctrine maintains that when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God in the garden, the consequences of their actions (physical and spiritual death) affected all of humanity (Romans 5:12). It was this original sin, which dictated Christ’s sole purpose for entering human history.

Christian doctrine contends that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 New International Version), and it is because of his divine nature (God the Son) that he was able to provide the only perfect and acceptable remedy for the sins of mankind.

Christ’s death on the cross in man’s place, and his subsequent resurrection, provide not only the basis for the Christian’s forgiveness of sins but his only hope for a restored relationship with God.

Conversely, the Islamic faith denounces the notion of original sin, asserting instead that human beings are born sinless, and their weakened human states cause them to sin throughout their lifetimes.

Interestingly, while even secular historians affirm the event and manner of Christ’s death, Islam denies the crucifixion of Christ ever took place: “And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them” (Qur’an 4:157).

Furthermore, Islamic doctrine states that no person shall be responsible for another’s sins (Qur’an 53:38). For Muslims, this negates the need for a savior.

Disagreement concerning the existence of the Trinity and the divine nature of Christ and his sacrifice are enough to prove that not only are the two faiths dissimilar, they are entirely incompatible.

However, there is a third difference separating the two which bears mentioning.

The path to paradise

Christians and Muslims alike believe in the existence of a paradise/heaven but disagree on how one actually gets there.Christians believe they receive salvation based solely on what Christ has done on their behalf. The Christian’s promise of heaven depends entirely upon what he believes (Ephesians 2:8,9). For him, it is impossible to be admitted into heaven based on anything he can or will do because “all [his] righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6).

Man’s sinful nature at birth renders him unworthy of an eternity spent in the presence of God, and it is only his faith in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross that provides his pardon.

Islam’s promise of paradise is based on what man does on his own behalf, for the Muslim, believed to be sinless at birth, and enters paradise based on his good works and righteousness.

On Judgment Day, the Muslims “whose scales are heavy (with good deeds) — it is they who are the successful. But those whose scales are light — those are the ones who have lost their souls, (being) in Hell, abiding eternally” (Qur’an 23:102, 103).

For the Muslim, admission into paradise occurs if the good works done throughout his lifetime outweigh the bad. These works must include (but are not limited to) performing the five pillars of Islam: a declaration of faith in Allah and Muhammed as his messenger (shahada), obligatory recitation of prayer five times per day (salat), charitable giving (zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm), and if able, a pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

Far from a mere dissimilarity or disagreement on minor details, these two faiths are diametrically opposed on vital, non-negotiable, doctrinal issues.

Given these crucial doctrinal divides, is it even possible that Christians and Muslims serve the same God?

Not even close.

Tarin Paradise is a former teacher who splits her time between Brown County and Africa, where she works on behalf of women and orphaned children. She can be reached through the newspaper at newsroom@bcdemocrat.com.