Those are five positives, but it does not take long before we start seeing ways in which Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. And in examining the differences, let's go beyond the simple task of pointing out the Quran's historical inconsistencies in some of its 114 chapters, known as suras. Sure, Christians can point out that in Sura 20 a Samaritan helps the Israelites build the golden calf, and in Sura 28 Pharaoh commands a person named Haman to build a tower like the tower of Babel. These look like Muhammad's mix-ups, but Muslim scholars have had over a millennium to prepare credible-sounding responses to charges that the Samaritans did not exist as a people, or Haman as a name, until at least a millennium after the time of Moses.
Instead of dueling over such matters, it's more productive to emphasize the competition of Christian and Muslim worldviews, and the way that differences there lead to vast cultural and governmental differences. Here are five important ones:
The Quran states that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve both sinned, then repented and were forgiven, with no consequences from their rebellion: "Adam learnt from his Lord certain words and his Lord forgave him." Allah then makes Adam his deputy (caliph) and the first of the prophets. So Islam does not acknowledge original sin. Muslims say they revere the whole Bible, but when it and the Quran are in conflict-that's frequent-they go with the Quran. That means Muslims have a tendency to revere strong leaders who put forth an image of perfection; Christians, realizing that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, tend to be skeptical.
Christians read in the Bible honest reporting about twisted, sinful individuals whom God chose not because of their own righteousness but because of His love. Muslims, though, see a record of great heroes that Jews and Christians somehow twisted during centuries of transmission. What to Christians makes the Bible ring true-its record of how Noah got drunk, Lot committed incest, etc.-is exactly what makes it ring false to Muslims. Muslims believe that biblical leaders must have been picked by God to carry His messages because of their strong character. Christians emphasize God's grace in changing people like Jacob and Joseph who were liars and braggarts.
Since Muslims think we can be sinless if we have strong character and follow all the rules, they have lots of rules, and very specific ones. Some of these are terrific, emphasizing humility: Don't boast about how you've contributed to build a mosque. Don't set up elaborate grave markers. Don't wear clothes just designed to attract attention. Some are common sense: Don't defecate near a place where people draw water. Some are incredibly precise: Do not eradicate insects by burning them, because fire is to be used only on rats, scorpions, crows, kites, and mad dogs. Do not read the Quran in a house where there is a dog, unless the dog is used for hunting, farming, or herding livestock.
The nature of Islamic prayer periods during the day is also rule-driven. Each time of prayer is made up of units containing set sequences of standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating while reciting verses from the Quran or other prayer formulas. The sequences are repeated twice at dawn prayer, three times at sunset prayer, and four times at noon, afternoon, and evening prayers. No deviation is allowed. Muslims do not gain from their religion a sense of liberty.
The God of the Bible knows our sinful frames and is grieved by our disobedience. He is portrayed as a husband who feels pain because of an unfaithful wife, or as a father broken-hearted by his children's rebellion. Allah, on the other hand, is described as all-merciful, and indeed he sends prophets who warn people-but if those people disobey, so be it. The Noah stories of the Quran and the Bible provide a good basis for comparison. In Sura 71 of the Quran, Noah warns his people, they disobey, they drown in the flood. Game, set, match. Same thing happens in the Bible, but there God's "heart was filled with pain" (Genesis 6:6).
The Bible, in short, emphasizes that God adopts us into His family. The Quran emphasizes that a just master allows us to be his servants-but not his children. Biblical passages about God's majesty have their parallels in the Quran. But look at the biblical passages that emphasize God's tenderness, showing Him as a father who teaches His child to walk or as a shepherd carrying His lamb in His arms (Deuteronomy 1:31, Hosea 11:1-4, Isaiah 40:11). Those do not have their parallels in the Quran.
This leads to the most important contrast. The Old Testament-chapter 53 of Isaiah-describes the most important character in history in this way: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.... He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." The New Testament, in Hebrews 4, makes clear the significance of this: "[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Muslims respect the rejected and wounded Jesus Christ-sure they do, as one of perhaps 124,000 messengers or prophets Allah has sent, and one of the 25 listed in the Quran. Jesus is right there in the list with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Zechariah, John, three others not cited in the Bible, and Muhammad. But Muslims do not believe Jesus died when crucified. They do not believe He was resurrected. They do not see Him as God.
Within Islam, that unbiblical depiction makes logical sense: Since there is no original sin there is no need for a redeemer. Man is basically good but mistake-prone; Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God return to a state of sinlessness, with no help from Christ needed. Man, using his intelligence and guided by the Quran, can distinguish good from evil. Sincerity and good works bring salvation: As Sura 7:8-9 states, "for him whose measure (of good deeds) is heavy, those are they who shall be successful."