Islam and Christianity differ in significant and fundamental ways. Many of these differences can be seen to be in direct contrast to one another. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that a thing and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Thus, theological differences that exist in direct contrast with one another between Islam and Christianity cannot both be true in the same sense. This article addresses one fundamental doctrine of both, the doctrine of salvation or soteriology, using a compare and contrast approach. The reader may use this material in conjunction with other similar analyses between Islam and Christianity to determine which presents a coherent worldview.
Saved From What?
The first question to answer concerning soteriology is: “Saved from what?” What does it mean to be saved, and how did the need for salvation come about?
Christianity teaches that all men (in the gender- neutral sense) have an inherent sin nature. This sin nature is a result of the fall of Adam, the first created being. Genesis 3 records the exchange between the serpent and Eve. God gave Adam and Eve every good thing that He created to eat for their sustenance. They were forbidden only from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But God also gave them moral responsibility and choice. They chose to disobey God and thus God’s perfect creation became tainted with the stain of sin, resulting in man being separated from the close communion with God that Adam enjoyed prior to the sin. Sin ultimately resulted in both physical death and spiritual death—eternal separation from God. This one sin caused all future offspring to be born with a sin nature where, left to our inborn instincts, would live in sin continually. The bible tells us that this one sin condemned all mankind. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Islam, on the other hand, teaches that Adam did indeed sin, but it was his sin alone and had no bearing on future generations. Sin in no way affected the relationship between man and Allah, because no relationship existed. Allah is a far distant God who cannot be known and does not enter into a personal relationship with man as in Christianity. Thus, no relationship was broken. Adam’s sin was his alone, for which Allah was displeased and for which Adam needed personally to seek to reconcile. Sura 4:111 says, “And if any one earns sin. he earns it against His own soul: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.” Additionally, in contrast to the Bible, the Qur’an teaches that the fall occurred in heaven, and Adam’s punishment for his sin was banishment to earth for a time to toil for his existence. “(Allah) said: "Get ye down. With enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood,- for a time. He said: "Therein shall ye live, and therein shall ye die; but from it shall ye be taken out (at last)" (Sura 7:24-25).
Salvation in Christianity is achieved on the basis of faith alone in the atonement of Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom. 5:17, 19) and not by any righteous work we may attempt (Eph. 2:8-9). Works do have a place in the life of a Christian, but only as evidence of a pre-existing faith (James 2:18). Works or good deeds have no salvific value apart from faith (Titus 3:5-7).
In Islam salvation is achieved on the basis of good works alone. These works include doing honorable deeds plus keeping five requirements, or “pillars,” of Islam: witness (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), ritual prayers five times daily (salat), alms giving (zakat), fasting during Ramadan (saum), and a pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad deeds (Sura 21:47). Salvation is achieved by having more “good” deeds on account than “bad” ones, thus hoping to win Allah’s favor.
The Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 John 5:13).
By contrast, the Muslim’s salvation is never guaranteed. The individual Muslim must produce good works and hope that at judgment day Allah will grant favor. However, Allah is under no compulsion to save anyone, and no such promise of salvation is found in the Qur’an. Allah saves whom he will and punishes whom he will in what seems to be a purely capricious manner.
Salvation to Where?
Jesus tells us in the Bible that he has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we also may be (John 14:2-3). Ultimately a new heaven and new earth will be created to replace the earth which was corrupted by Adam’s sin in the garden. Full father-son relationship will be established as man dwells together with God (Rev. 21:1-7). The new earth and the new Jerusalem will be a place of righteousness, purity, joy. Man will honor God and his son Jesus Christ, singing and dancing in expressive praise to them. The heaven of the Bible is a place of complete holiness and celebration.
Salvation for the Muslim means gaining entrance into “paradise.” In Paradise there is no worship of Allah taking place. Rather, men (males) are the objects of worship, in that all earthly pleasures are at the disposal of worthy men who gain entrance into Paradise. Sura 55 describes Paradise as two gardens “Containing all kinds (of trees and delights); In them (each) will be two Springs flowing (free); In them will be Fruits of every kind, two and two. They will recline on Carpets, whose inner linings will be of rich brocade: the Fruit of the Gardens will be near (and easy of reach). In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; Like unto Rubies and coral. And besides these two, there are two other Gardens, Dark-green in color (from plentiful watering). In them (each) will be two Springs pouring forth water in continuous abundance: In them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates: In them will be fair (Companions), good, beautiful; Companions restrained (as to their glances), in (goodly) pavilions; Whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; Reclining on green Cushions and rich Carpets of beauty.” Salvation to Paradise means the fulfillment of every earthly pleasure a desert dweller of the ancient middle east culture could ever dream of: lush, dark green gardens abounding in foliage; abundant rivers of clean, flowing water; every kind of imaginable fresh fruit to tantalize the tongue; chaste, virgin maidens awaiting the beck and call of each man. This is not a place of holiness; it is a place of excessive indulgence of every pleasure known to man.
What is Hell?
Those who reject Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for their sin will, according to the Bible, be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, to be tormented eternally. “But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Hell is reserved for all who continue to follow earthly pleasures of sin rather than repent of sin and follow Jesus.
Islam, on the other hand, teaches that hell is reserved, not for those who reject the saving grace of Christ, but for those who either: 1) fail to have enough good deeds to offset their bad deeds on the day of judgment, or 2) fail to win Allah’s favor and are sent intentionally to hell by Allah’s will. Regarding the judgment, the Qur’an records: “Then shall we question those to whom Our message was sent and those by whom We sent it. And verily, We shall recount their whole story with knowledge, for We were never absent (at any time or place). The balance that day will be true (to nicety): those whose scale (of good) will be heavy, will prosper: Those whose scale will be light, will be their souls in perdition, for that they wrongfully treated Our signs” (Sura 7:6-9).
The Islamic doctrine of salvation seems to fall short of providing an important component of a cohesive and comprehensive worldview. As fathers, many of us know what is like to have a relationship with our sons. If we are made in the likeness of God, then it would seem natural that God would want to have a relationship with his “sons.” Yet, this is not what Islam teaches. Further, salvation to Paradise seems to be particularly suited to meeting the needs of a specific target group of patrons: Middle Eastern men of antiquity, rather than a more broad range of the earth’s population as one would expect of a universal God who loves all people equally. The Islamic doctrine of salvation just doesn’t make sense.