In the book The Spirit of Islam, from which Smith quotes liberally in this chapter, author Ali writes, “The glory of Islam consists in having embodied the beautiful sentiments of Jesus in definite laws.” Smith himself goes so far as to write,
“If Jesus had a longer career, or if the Jews had not been so socially powerless at the time, Jesus might have systemized his teaching more. As it was, his work ‘was left unfinished. It was reserved for another Teacher to systematize the laws of morality.’ The Koran is this later teacher.” (Smith, 249)
How swiftly is Jesus taken from His divine context! Muslims see Him as a mere mortal; Jesus was, and is, God. Nothing is missing from His teaching. No better timing could have been placed on His appearance on this earth. And His death did not in any sense cut His ministry short – it is, with His resurrection, the very heart of His ministry!
Furthermore, systematic works – such as the pseudo-holiness of the Pharisees – was exactly the thing Jesus was against. Far from leaving us with incomplete teachings, He spent plenty of time describing how we should fulfill the greatest commandment – not the Golden Rule, but to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
But of course Islam is going to attempt to constrict the teachings and ministry of Jesus. They do not believe Him to be God. Islam is a very strict monotheism, and they see it as the only ‘pure’ monotheism in the world. Certainly, the Jews had their one God, but He was only for the Jews. Hinduism’s multiple facets of God are simply seen as polytheism, and Christianity’s Trinitarian beliefs are interpreted in much the same way.
“Christians, for their part, compromised their monotheism by deifying Christ. Islam honors Jesus as a prophet and accepts his virgin birth; Adam’s and Jesus’ souls are the only two that God created directly. The Koran draws the line at the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Trinity, however, seeing these as inventions that blur the Divine/human distinction. In the words of the Koran: ‘They say the God of mercy has begotten a son. Now you have uttered a grievous thing . . . It is not proper for God to have children’ (Koran 3:78, 19:93). Muslims are not fond of parental images of God, even when employed metaphorically. To speak of human beings as ‘God’s children’ casts God in too human a mode. It is anthropomorphic.” (236)
This one fact is enough to totally separate Islam and Christianity, two religions Smith has tried to paint as “Semitic allies” throughout the chapter. To “honor Jesus as a prophet” does not honor Him at all. And Christians do not deify Christ, at least not in the same sense that some Buddhists deify Buddha. Jesus claimed to be God on several occasions. To treat Him as anything less is to insult Him.
All this is taught, however, in the Koran, an interesting book in and of itself. Because the nature of its writing is highly musical in the original language and largely dependent on cultural context, Muslims would prefer others learn Arabic to study the Koran in its original form. Nevertheless Smith described the Koran (from al-qu’ran, meaning ‘a recitation’) as “the most recited (as well as read) book in the world. Certainly, it is the world’s most memorized book, and possibly the one that exerts the most influence on those who read it” (231). Whether or not that is true (and I would argue, as a Christian, that he has greatly overstated its influence), the respect that Muslims have for this book could not be overemphasized.
“They consider it the earthly facsimile of an Uncreated Koran in almost exactly the way that Christians consider Jesus to have been the human incarnation of God . . . ‘If Christ is God incarnate, the Koran is God inlibriate’ (from liber, Latin for book).” (232)
The Koran is a divine reality, in this sense the closest thing they have to Allah. Comparisons between the Bible and the Koran, from a Muslim perspective, is described as such:
“The Koran continues the Old and New Testaments, God’s earlier revelations, and presents itself as their culmination: ‘We made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel [and] you have nothing of guidance until you observe the Torah and the Gospel.’ ([Koran]5:70,68). This entitles Jews and Christians to be included with the Muslims as ‘People of the Book.’ . . . Muslims regard the Old and New Testaments as sharing two defects from which the Koran is free. For circumstantial reasons they record only portions of Truth. Second, the Jewish and Christian Bibles were partially corrupted in transmission, a fact that explains the occasional discrepancies that occur between their accounts and parallel ones in the Koran. Exemption from these limitations makes the Koran the final and infallible revelation of God’s will. Its second chapter says explicitly: ‘This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt.’” (233)
Yet the Bible and the Koran have major discrepancies, including how they present Jesus (Muslims declare Him to be only a man and also teach He didn't die on a cross) and how they each claim to be God’s pure and uncorrupted Word. “Every word of God is flawless,” says Proverbs 30:5, and in 2 Timothy 3:16 we are assured that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” If that is the case, than only one or the other can be true – not both. Islam and Christianity are not only entirely different religions, they are mutually exclusive options. They are polar opposites. Either the Koran is true and the Bible is false, or the Bible is true and the Koran is false. There is no other way.
After their differences on the status and primacy of Jesus, the Koran and the Bible’s second greatest discontinuity is philosophical: the origin of sin in the world.
“[B]eing the handiwork of Allah, who is perfect in both goodness and power, the material world must likewise be good. ‘You do not see in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection. Return your gaze. . . . It comes back to you dazzled’ ([Koran]67:4). Here we meet a confidence in the material aspects of life and existence that we will find shared by the other two Semitically originated religions, Judaism and Christianity.” (238)
Once again, this could not be more false! How can Judaism and Christianity, which teach that God’s perfect world is now groaning under the curse of sin (Romans 8:21-22) be as optimistic as the belief that Allah’s perfect goodness is perfectly reflected in the world we see today? At first glance, this is naively optimistic; upon deeper inspection, it is gruesomely pessimistic. If Allah created the world as we see it today, then he is brutal. Forgetting the curse of Christian teachings, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We are compelled by the theory of God's already achieved perfection to make Him a devil as well as a god, because of the existence of evil.” Yet, for Islam, this can be said. We live in a world with great heartache, suffering and evil, and to say it is all directly from Allah casts him in an evil light.
“The Koranic word for human nature in its God-established original if fitra, and it has been stained by no catastrophic fall. The closest Islam comes to the Christian doctrine of original sin is in its concept of ghaflah, or forgetting. People do forget their divine origin, and this mistake needs repeatedly to be corrected. But their fundamental nature is unalterably good, so they are entitled to self-respect and a healthy self-image.” (239)
Not only does this dismiss the horrible capabilities of human nature as a mere lack of remembrance, Smith insinuates that Christianity’s original fall doctrine does not allow its followers to have a good self-image. While self-image is not something the Christian is most concerned about (living in pursuit of Christ’s will is), as being made in the image of God every human being is deserving of respect.
But again, if Allah truly created “humanity of the best stature” (Koran 95:4) then it reflects badly on his character, presumably the Muslim standard for what is good and what is best.
Allah’s very name, however, reflects something fundamental about who he is. “Al” means “the,” and “ilah” means “god.” In Muhammad’s time of various jinn, this subtlety was an important distinction.
“Literally, Allah means ‘the God.’ Not a god, for there is only one. The God. When the masculine plural ending im is dropped from the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, the two words sound very much alike.” (222)
There are so many who believe, Smith included, that Christianity and Islam are basically the same. Yet that small, subtle ending, that -im in the God of the Bible’s name, has profound importance. Although Muslims confuse the Trinitarian teaching of Scripture with polytheism, God as one and many is the greatest attribute of His character. Elohim – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is necessary as three in one for creating the world of unity and diversity around us. Philosophically, the rather monistic Allah cannot possibly account for the world around us. He cannot account for particulars among the whole, and thus he cannot possibly be the Creator.
These distinctions all set Islam apart as both philosophically and religiously impossible. Differing views of Jesus make Christianity and Islam totally opposed to each other; the fact that both the Koran and the Bible claim to be the perfect word of God, and yet have contradictory elements, add to this fact. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets, the one just prior to him being Jesus. They also believe that “No valid prophets will follow him” (223). The Bible has a similar word of its own:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” – Revelation 22:18-19
The words of the Bible are complete and final. Any religion that professes to continue its teachings or take away from its message is a lie against the Book and its Author.