When Christians want to learn about Islam, where should they begin? If pastors want to equip their churches to respond to Islam, what would be the most practical and memorable approach?

First, some definitions: Islam is the name of the religion; a Muslim is a follower of the religion; the Qur’an is the main holy book; Allah is the name of God (instead of Yahweh); and Muhammad (d. AD 632) is the main prophet.

Muhammad not only knew about Christianity, he made it a major subject in the Qur’an

But maybe the crucial thing to understand is where Christians and Muslims sit relative to each other on the historical time-line. Islam comes roughly 600 year after Christianity. Muhammad not only knew about Christianity, he made it a major subject in the Qur’an with more space given to it than some of the Pillars of Islam.[1] Learning about Christianity is a standard part of any Islamic education.

Here are some of the core elements of that education:

1. The Cross

They [the unbelievers] say, “We killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah”. But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ about this are full of doubts, with no knowledge, but only assumption to follow, for of certainty they killed him not. Rather, Allah raised him to himself. (Qur’an 4:157-158)[2]

The Qur’an teaches that Jesus only appeared to the unbelievers to be crucified and killed Jesus. There is no salvation through the cross.

2. The Incarnation and the Trinity

Certainly they have disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three”. No God is there except one God. … The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; messengers before him passed away; the same with his mother. They both ate food. (Qur’an 5:73-75)

Muhammad had an outsider’s understanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding it to be God, Mary, and Jesus. But Muslims are taught to reject any understanding of the Trinity and incarnation.

3. The Fatherhood and Sonship of God

It is not fitting for the Merciful [Allah] to take a son. There is none in all the heavens and the earth who will not come to the Merciful except as a slave. (Qur’an 19:92-93)

It is not just that Jesus is not the son of God—no one is. God is not father in Islam.

4. Biblical Hermeneutics

Let the people of the gospel judge by what Allah has revealed in it. Whoever, does not judge by what Allah has revealed, these are the disobedient. And We have revealed to you [Muslims] the book [the Qur’an] in truth, confirming the previous book, and a guardian over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed. (Quran 5:47-48)

These verses instruct Christians to read the Bible, and Muslims to judge the Bible according to the Qur’an. Thus many Muslims feel they know how to teach the Bible.

5. Romance

[Lawful to Muslim men] are the chaste women of the believers [Muslims] and the chaste women of those who were given the book before you [Christians and Jews]. (Qur’an 5:5)

Muslim men can marry Christian women and I have seen this happen on many occasions.

6. Christian-Muslim relations

You will certainly find the nearest in friendship to those who believe [Muslims] to be those who say, “We are Christians.” (Qur’an 5:82)

Early in Muhammad’s life he viewed Christians as friends, and this is no doubt the situation many Muslims desire, however, near the end of his life, his great commission was different.

Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and his messenger [Muhammad] have forbidden, and do not acknowledge the religion of truth from those who have been given the book [Christians and Jews], until they pay the jizyah [terms of surrender] from their hand when conquered. The Jews say, “Ezra is the Son of Allah”, the Christians say, “The Messiah is the Son of Allah.” That is what they say with their mouths, like the unbelievers before them. May Allah fight them! How they are deluded. … He is the one who has sent his messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, to make it prevail above every religion. (Qur’an 9:29-33)

Notice here, that the reason for the military conquest of Christians and Jews is not self defence, but because they believe in the son of God. The Jihadist armies were highly successful conquering the Christians and others in all the Middle East, North Africa, much of Europe, and across into India and China.

The Bible on Islam

I want you to feel the weight of the specific preparation the Qur’an gives the Islamic world about Christianity: the cross, salvation, the Trinity, incarnation, the fatherhood and son of God, hermeneutics, romance, and a political agenda.

There is no specific mention of Islam in the Bible for the obvious reason that Islam was still 600 years in the future.

What does the Bible say about Islam? There is no specific mention of Islam in the Bible for the obvious reason that Islam was still 600 years in the future. Responses to Islam might be derived from general warnings about false prophets (Mat 7:15) and those who corrupt the gospel (Gal 1); or under general statements that we all—and thus, Muslims too—need the gospel. But it is possible to attend a Bible college and learn next to nothing about Islam.

Learning about Christianity is compulsory for Muslims, but learning about Islam is optional for Christians. The result is that when a Christian meets a Muslim, the Muslim is very often prepared, while, the Christian is not.

This situation is both a challenge and opportunity. It is a challenge because the Islamic arguments are well resourced, and do lead some Christians to convert to Islam. But it is equally a great opportunity, because Muslims are meant to learn about Christianity!

Starting an Evangelistic Conversation

Ask: What does Islam teach about Christianity? What have you been taught about Christianity?

Do not rush or correct them. Listen and find out who they are.

Ask: Have you checked this for yourself? (I will cover where to go from here in my next article.) You do not have to know about Islam to start a conversation.

Teaching Christians about Islam

I have spoken to hundreds of Muslims and they have never brought up the Five Pillars of Islam with me. Instead, they regularly bring up what the Qur’an says about Christianity. This is where we should start with our training for Christians. They will remember it and it is practical.

Adapted from Where to Start with Islam, Matthias Media.

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[1] The Five Pillars of Islam are the confession of faith, feasting and fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca, the five daily prayers, giving money to Islamic causes. In the case of the prayers, the Qur’an does not say how often to pray or what to pray.
[2] Translations of the Qur’an are the author’s own.