Sharia vs. the gospel
Religion | Comparing Islam’s solution to salvation to Christianity’s good news of Jesus Christ
by Nabeel Qureshi
Posted 4/29/17, 09:05 am
The warmth and candor Nabeel Qureshi brings to each work enhances his sharp intellect and apologetics. In No God but One, Qureshi, a Pakistani-American medical doctor who grew up a devout Muslim but converted to Christianity in 2005, comprehensively shows why the evidence for Christianity overwhelms that for Islam. He shows that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God: Christ commands His followers to love their enemies, and Allah offers permission to kill them. No God but One—a runner-up for WORLD’s 2016 Book of the Year in the Understanding the World category—is an important tool for a vital task before us: learning to engage Muslims, and their sympathizers. In the excerpt below, courtesy of Zondervan, Qureshi compares Islam’s dependence on sharia to Christianity’s focus on the good news of Jesus Christ. —Mindy Belz
Chapter 2: Comparing sharia and the gospel
The Islamic worldview
The word Islam means “submission,” and the plain message of Islam is exactly that: Humans should all submit to the sovereign will of God. Allah, having predestined the universe, made mankind with the express purpose of worshiping him (Quran 51.56). To guide humanity, Allah sent prophets to all people to lead them out of ignorance (Quran 4.163–165).
It is important to note here that the concept of prophet in Islam does not mean the same thing that it does in the Bible. Prophets in Islam have a higher status than all other people, being men chosen by God to lead mankind. The Quran uses the term to mean a divinely appointed leader, not necessarily one who prophesies.
Adam is considered the first prophet, but also mentioned in the Quran are Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Moses, Jonah, Aaron, Solomon, David, and of course, Jesus (e.g., Quran 4.163). Since these people all submitted to Allah, they practiced submission (i.e., Islam). Thus they are considered people who submit (i.e., Muslims). All who followed these prophets in submitting to Allah are also considered Muslims, even if they were born ages before Muhammad.
Allah revealed his guidance to each prophet as the people needed it and as they could bear it. For example, Moses’ people needed to rebel against the Pharaoh, so Allah revealed “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” But Jesus’ people needed to be peaceful, so Allah taught them to “turn the other cheek.” Both Moses and Jesus, as well as other prophets, were given divine scripture. Angels dictated Allah’s revelation to them, and the revelation was written down as Torah, Injil (gospel), and other books (e.g., Quran 5.46).
Tragically, people did not faithfully follow the prophets that Allah sent to them. So in his mercy, Allah sent Muhammad and gave him the Quran. Thus, Allah gave mankind the final, perfected religion (Quran 5.3). Islam is therefore the culmination of Judaism, Christianity, and all other world religions, which started off in line with Islamic teaching. All people still following these religions after the arrival of Muhammad are either misled or rebellious, and no religion will be accepted from them on the day of judgment except Islam (Quran 3.81–85).
It is there, at the day of judgment, that one finds the major impetus to follow Islam. The Quran emphasizes that on that day, all people will be held accountable to Allah for their sins (Quran 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38). This is an understanding firmly entrenched in the Muslim psyche: Though God may be merciful and absolve us of our sins, no one else can intercede. Muslims must live as good a life as they can to approach heaven, and hope for God’s merciful judgment to secure their salvation.
The Islamic solution: sharia
However, Islam teaches that the fundamental problem of mankind is ignorance, that man needs to be guided in order to live good lives. Once people learn what to believe, aqeeda, and how to live, sharia, they will earn the pleasure of Allah.
In regards to right belief, the emphasis is on the Islamic conception of monotheism: Allah is not a Father, and Allah is not a Son (Quran 112). He is an absolute unity, a monad. The other basic components of aqeeda have already been mentioned above: belief in the prophets, belief in divinely inspired books, belief in angels and the unseen, belief in the day of judgment, and belief in Allah’s predestining sovereignty. Together, these are called the Six Articles of Faith. There is much, much more to Islamic belief, but this is the core.
Right practice in Islam is learned through Islamic Law, called sharia, which is understood as “the way to water.” Especially for a desert people, the concept is powerful: Following sharia is the way to life itself. Sharia dictates virtually every aspect of a devout Muslim’s life, from what foods to eat, to proper forms of currency, to exact words to recite during prayers. Of all Islamic practices, five are paramount: proclaiming the Islamic motto, the shahada: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Messenger”; praying the five daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alms; and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca. Together, these are called the Five Pillars of Islam.
Both aqeeda and sharia are ultimately grounded in the life and teachings of Muhammad. He is the embodiment of Islam, and this is why Muslims are expected to follow him as the perfect exemplar. His actions and his sayings in life are recorded in a vast body of literature, collectively called hadith literature. So important are the hadith that, after the Quran, they form the second rung of sharia.
Given the breadth of teachings in the Quran and the incredibly wide scope of hadith literature, discerning sharia is a task for the learned. Muslim jurists study the vast traditions and legal precedents before making official judgments, called fatawa (plural of fatwa). These men are technically called fuqaha, but they are often included under the umbrella term for a Muslim leader, imam. Collectively, the consensus of these scholars is called ijma and is understood to be the third major component of sharia.
Finally, we are at a place to understand the message of Islam. Sharia is more than just Islamic law. It is the answer to mankind’s ignorance and, if followed, will result in a life of peace with Allah and an abundance of his blessings. Sharia is derived from the Quran, exemplified in Muhammad’s life, and explained by imams. On the last day, if we have obeyed and done well, Allah may grant us mercy and allow us into heaven where we will have an eternal reward.
So in sum, when it comes to salvation in Islam, sharia is literally “the way,” and submission to God’s will is our primary expression of worship.
The Christian worldview
In the beginning of the Christian worldview is the one God, Yahweh. He exists as three persons who love each other perfectly. Thus, the one God is love in his very essence. Out of this love, God created mankind in his image, that God might love man and man might love God.
It is important to note that this concept of love is often misunderstood by Muslims due to the various ways the word love is used in English. The specific concept of love we are discussing is often called agape love. It is not the kind of love we envision in a romantic relationship; it does not imply much emotion at all. The Bible gives a beautiful description of this love in 1 Corinthians 13, but it is essentially this: a selflessness that delights in others. That is who God is, almighty yet most humble, the center of the universe yet selfless. He created mankind so he could delight in us, and we in him, with selfless love.
But in order for this love to be valuable, it must be voluntary, so God gave man the choice to love him or reject him. When man disobeys God, it is tantamount to rejecting God. In rejecting the Source of Life, we bring death upon ourselves. This bears repeating: The result of sin is death because it is a rejection of the Source of Life.
That’s why, in the Christian worldview, sin against God is more than just doing something wrong. It is rebellion against the Sustainer of the universe. It is the most destructive force in the cosmos, the ultimate root of every pained heart, every broken family, every pointless war, every heinous genocide. Sin spreads through generations like a malignant cancer, and it razes civilizations like a plague. The effect of sin is cataclysmic. Like taking a sledgehammer to a mirror, sin shatters the image in which man is made. When Adam sinned, the image of God in man was irreparably broken.
This is the Christian worldview: Sin has ravaged our souls and the entire world. There is no way for us to un-sin. We cannot simply do a few good deeds to unshatter our souls. There is nothing on earth that we can do. It would take a miracle, an act of God, to restore us and save this world.
The Christian solution: the gospel
But in the Christian message, there is good news. In Greek, the word for good news is euangelion, which in English is translated “gospel.” And the good news is this: Even though we cannot get to God, out of his great love, God has come to us and made a way for us. God himself has paid for our sins and will eternally restore our souls. All we have to do is repent of our rebellion, have faith in what he has done, and follow him.
To pay for our sins, God—specifically the second person of the Trinity—entered into the world. Without changing his divine nature, God took upon himself a human nature. He was born as a human, but not of the broken lineage of Adam. He was born unbroken, the way mankind was intended to be, the way we will ultimately be when we are miraculously remade. He took the name Jesus, which means “God saves.” With respect to his human nature he grew as a human, ate food as a human, suffered alongside humans, and ultimately died as a human. In all this he never sinned, so he was able to bear our sins. He lived the life we ought to have lived so he could die the death that we deserve to die. By dying on our behalf he took upon himself the sins of the world, so that whoever believes in him and accepts what he has done will have eternal life.
From the perspective of a human watching Jesus, it might have looked like just another man dying just another death. So to prove to the world that his death was not just another death but one that brings life to the world, and to prove that he was indeed the God he claimed to be, he rose from the dead. On the one hand, this was a sign to all who were skeptical that Jesus truly has supernatural authority and deserves to be heard. On the other hand, it was a symbol for those who believe in him that death has been defeated. Jesus has conquered it for us.
Those of us who wish to accept God’s sacrifice on our behalf must repent of our sins and yield ourselves to following him. As we do, God—specifically the third person of the Trinity—makes our hearts into a holy temple and lives within us. He transforms us from the inside out. In other words, as we follow Jesus we become more like him, the unbroken man, and the Holy Spirit gradually begins the miraculous work of restoring our otherwise irreparable souls. Like Jesus, we are filled with a selfless love, and we begin to live for others instead of ourselves, just as God lived for us. Those who go further along the path of being like Jesus even reflect him in their willingness to die for others, just as Jesus was willing to die for us. They become more like God: selflessly delighting in others.
Finally we are at a place to understand the message of Christianity: The fundamental problem of mankind is sin, and we are powerless to save ourselves. The good news is that God loves us and makes a way for us by paying our penalty himself upon the cross. Jesus proved that he is the Author of Life by rising from death. We who repent and follow Jesus demonstrate our faith in him and his salvation, and God begins a transforming work in us. As we follow Jesus the Holy Spirit makes us more like him and sends us into the world to love mankind with the selfless love of God. We can even lay down our lives for others, as Jesus modeled for us. Our ultimate restoration will come to miraculous fruition when we are remade, unbroken, to live with him and love him for eternity.
So when it comes to salvation in Christianity, Jesus is literally “the way,” and our love for God is our primary expression of worship.