Over the centuries, countless people have died as a result of conflict between Muslims and Christians. Ideological differences have fed the flames of violence, leading adherents of each faith to engage in mutual destruction regardless of clear commands against killing in both the Bible and the Qur’an. When you get down to it, though, the differences between Islam and Christianity fall into the category of minor detail rather than substantial core beliefs. In fact, both religions hold Jesus Christ to be a central figure important to the salvation of humanity.
Beliefs about Jesus Shared by Muslims and Christians
Both Christian and Islamic scripture state that Jesus was born to a virgin mother named Mary. In both religions, Jesus is sent to earth as a prophet of Allah/God. Adherents of both Christianity and Islam therefore look to Jesus as a source of divine teachings.
Other details of faith regarding Jesus’ life are also shared between Muslims and Christians. For example, in both religions it is believed that Jesus was born to a virgin mother named Mary. Mary herself is described in both Christian and Islamic texts as a paragon of purity and one who can intercede with Allah or God on behalf of mankind.
One of the most important tenets of Christianity is that Jesus will return to earth on Judgment Day. The Qur’an also describes an eventual return of Jesus, though it differs quite a bit from the Bible regarding what will happen afterwards.
Differences between Islamic and Christian Beliefs about Jesus
The Qur’an disagrees with the Bible regarding a few key facts about Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus is the son of God, while in the Qur’an he is a prophet of Allah but not His direct progeny. This places Jesus on the same level as other prophets; he is still important, but he is not the primary focus of worship.
Christians hold that Jesus was killed and rose from the dead three days later, but the Qur’an states, “And surely they slew him not. But Allah raised him unto Himself.” According to Islamic teachings, then, Jesus went straight to heaven without going through the process of dying and regaining life.
As noted above, while Christians and Muslims both look forward to the return of Jesus, the Qur’an describes the world after that return quite differently than does the Bible. According to The Qur’an, when Jesus returns, the Antichrist will be slain and all non-believers will be killed or converted to Islam.
While the Bible describes the return of Jesus as the end of earthly life, after which people will be sorted into their eternal places in heaven or hell, the Islamic view includes the creation of an earthly heaven under Jesus’ rule. Once the earth has no more non-Muslims, Jesus will remain as ruler for nineteen years. There will be no quarrels and no poverty during this time. Even animals will not harm one another.
Why the Conflict?
The importance of Jesus in both Islam and Christianity demonstrates the close relationship between these two religions. Why, then, has there been so much strife between Christians and Muslims?
Historically, religions that are closely related tend to have struggles even greater than those that have little in common. Even among Christians, Catholics and Protestants have historically struggled bitterly against each other. It seems that slight differences of religious belief and practice create greater animosity than do great differences. There haven’t been many well-known wars between followers of Christianity and Buddhism, for example, because the belief systems of the two religions differ so substantially that it is difficult to find a specific bone of contention between them.
Because Jesus is central to the Christian belief system, the small differences between Islamic and Christian beliefs rankle fundamentalist Christians as a bastardization of their truth. At the same time, Islamic fundamentalists find Christians’ lack of acceptance of Mohammad as a key prophet unforgivable. Each views the other as close to correct, yet maddeningly wrong nonetheless.
Of course, plenty of Christians and Muslims see the shared aspects of their religions as grounds for acceptance and exchange. Many see the restriction against killing in both the Bible and the Qur’an as proof that Allah/God would not approve of violence between Muslims and Christians. For the sake of peace in the Middle East and around the world, followers of both faiths must hope that this point of view can remain strong in the face of violent extremism on both sides.