Q: My Muslim friend thinks we worship the same God. How should I respond?
A: I want to begin with a short reflection on the phrase contained in this question: “My Muslim friend.” Good for you!
When I grew up, that wouldn’t have been a common premise for a question about sharing one’s faith. But today’s neighborhoods are much more diverse, and Christians often rub shoulders with people from different religious and cultural backgrounds. To make this choice for relationship is, I believe, reflective of God’s nature.
Jesus told us to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13–16). In this situation, the salt part of the equation is your friendship. Salt seasons and brightens, makes better, and preserves. No matter what your friend believes, you can love her with the kind of love that isn’t worried about who’s right and who’s wrong but is concerned with how you serve, listen, and befriend.
Being forthright about your religious differences within the context of your friendship is being light. Light penetrates the darkness. And while you can be friends with someone and still disagree, there are distinct differences between Islam and Christianity.
As a simple overview to a very complex issue, I offer three areas in which the difference in Christian and Muslim beliefs is defining. These areas may be a starting point for conversations with your friend.
First, in Islam, Allah (God) is utterly unknowable. To think in terms of a God who can be known and who desires a relationship with his creatures is actually considered blasphemous. He is a distant God who is to be feared. In place of relationship, there is only submission. Allah only reveals his will, not himself, hence the Muslim practice of ritual prayers. These memorized prayers are offered five times a day to appease a transcendent force with no personal interest in his creatures.
Contrast that with the God of the Bible, who reveals himself, knocks at the door of our heart, and encourages us to enter into an ever-increasing relationship with him. He calls us his “friends” (John 15:15).
Second, Islam requires a strict adherence to good works as the means to reach heaven. At birth people are considered sinless with unlimited spiritual potential if they faithfully adhere to the teachings of Allah, as reflected through the words of the prophet Muhammad. It’s good works that open the doors to one of the seven different levels of heaven. But there’s no advocate to intercede with Allah when one falls short of the level of good works required.
In Christianity, it’s only through the blood of Jesus Christ that we are in relationship with God and given the promise of eternal life. Good works spring out of that gift of relationship with God through Jesus; they aren’t the means to the relationship.
Third, while Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet, it rejects his divinity and claims that Muhammad is actually the superior prophet from God. He is the one considered to have brought God’s final revelation. The Qur’an (3:59–60) says that Jesus was, like Adam, created from dust.
Contrast that with Jesus’ own claim that he is the only way to God (John 14:6), and that he and God the Father are one (John 10:30). Jesus’ divinity and reflection as the final revelation of God are central to what it means to follow him.
You’re off to a great start simply by embracing a relationship with your Muslim friend. Now add light to that friendship—listen and engage in conversation around truth. Be sure to breathe prayers to God about your conversations, and remember, truth doesn’t need to raise its voice; it speaks for itself.
Nancy Ortberg is a church leadership consultant and popular speaker. Formerly a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, she now lives in California with her husband, John. This article was first published in the May/June 2005 issue of Today’s Christian Woman.