DISCLAIMER: Let me preface this piece by saying that I am not an expert on Islam – nor any religion for that matter. I take what I was taught in my 12 years at Islamic school and apply it to new information that I learn on a daily basis. Before all of you haram police officers jump down my throat – everything expressed in this piece has been fact-checked and taken from videos, lessons, papers, etc. produced by Muslim scholars. If, at any point, you feel that what I have said is incorrect and you can provide backup for those thoughts, I truly seek forgiveness and welcome the potential for newly discovered knowledge into my brain. Enjoy.
When I was little, we used to sleep over my Jido and Tata’s (grandpa and grandma – respectively) house and, at every sleep over, before bedtime – Jido used to lay on the floor with us, staring up at the ceiling, and ask us which Prophet’s story we wanted to hear that night. Some of my most vivid memories of my childhood are of falling asleep to the stories of Joseph – the King of Dreams, Jonah and the belly of the Whale, and John the Baptist. My Sidi – God rest and have mercy on his soul – used to turn off the TV and sit us down with a Quran in his hand, and made us recite – over and over again – chapters of the Quran about the Prophets and their importance in Islam, granted he did it with slipper or belt in hand but it was all out of love and the desire to teach his grandchildren about a faith he so “religiously” followed.
We have awakened to an interesting time for Muslims in the world. Faced with rampant Islamophobia and pure hatred for our faith – everyone likes to preach that “we’re all the same” when attempting to counteract Islamophobia or any other form of religious bigotry. “We’re all the same!” “We believe in the same things!” “We all believe in a God!” Yes, it’s wonderful to acknowledge that we are, in fact, all very similar with similar beliefs – but we rarely ever go into detail about what those beliefs are. You say we all believe in “a God,” but most people don’t recognize that it is the same God. It is, unfortunately, not common knowledge that all three of the Abrahamic religions derive from the same stories and historical pasts.
Example: a very wonderful and very intelligent friend of mine who was raised Christian once asked me if Muslims believe in Jesus. When I told her, “Yes, of course we do,” she was so amazed she went home to tell her equally as brilliant husband, who was raised Jewish, that Muslims believe in Jesus, too. To which he responded with, “No way, that’s real.“
A little taken back by their surprise and disbelief – I started asking random people, friends I’ve known for years, along with my parents’ friends and, basically, anyone who would talk to me if they “thought” that Muslims believed in Jesus – no one knew the right answer. In fact, a majority of those I spoke to answered with an immediate, “No.” While others (mainly my close friends) responded with, “Yeah, I think, but it’s like a different kind of Jesus, right?” This was the first time in my 25 years of life that I realized that tiny piece of very important information was not actually common knowledge to people who do not follow Islam. My friends had no idea that I believe in Jesus. And to take a deeper look into this issue – they also didn’t know that we believe in the same God. Though it may not seem like a big deal to you, this is a ‘UGE® (DJT) issue. How can you believe that “we’re all the same” if you truly don’t know that we are literally the same? How can we expect people to respect our religion if they don’t know that we so truly respect theirs because we believe in it?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of it all – I would like to express something that is so misunderstood it drives me to complete craziness. Muslims refer to “God” as “Allah.” It is the Arabic word for God. It is not a different God – it is the same God that Jews and Christians believe in. Arab Christians also refer to God as Allah at times if prayers are ever said in Arabic. To clarify this even more, because some people still can’t seem to grasp this notion, the Spanish word for God is “Dios.” Spanish speaking Muslims, Christians, and Jews will occasionally refer to God as Dios if speaking in their native tongue. It is the same God. Now you know how to say God in three languages – English, Arabic, and Spanish.
I mentioned in my disclaimer that I attended 12 years of Islamic school on Sundays – on top of my religious teachings from my grandfathers – where we learned to memorize chapters (Surahs) from the Quran, many of which revolve around the stories of Prophets (Nabi). In Islam, we do not know the exact number of prophets sent to spread God’s law, however, in some hadiths, it is said to be around 124,000. Again, this number is not confirmed, but it is something that is mentioned in some teachings to be the ballpark number of important figures throughout religious history, so I felt it was necessary to include. Among the many prophets, only a handful of them are considered “messengers (Rasul).” In Islam, “messengers” bring Divine teachings to mankind through revelations given to them by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic). Back to our similarities, this article will mainly touch on the commonalities between Christianity and Islam that I believe are necessary for people to know in order to improve on widespread interfaith relations.
One of the most important figures and messengers of God (Allah) in Islam’s history is Prophet Jesus (in Arabic, his name is Isa). Throughout the Quran, he is referred to as “Isa ibn Maryam,” which literally translates from Arabic into English as, “Jesus son of Mary”, as well as “Mesih” which translates to “Messiah.” Surprise! Muslims believe that Jesus was a messiah. Note that there is a difference between a messiah and the Messiah. A messiah is an anointed leader of particular group or cause. The Messiah is the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Old Testament. Words matter.
To take it one step further to show you just how seriously important Jesus is to Muslims – you cannot be a Muslim if you do not believe in Jesus, it is a tenant of our faith. In regards to the importance of Mary, she is the only woman to have her own chapter in the Quran – Surah Maryam; Chapter 19. In Islam, Mary is considered to be the purest of all women to have walked on this earth. In her chapter, it very clearly states that she was paid a visit by Gabriel and was told that she would soon conceive a “pure boy.” She responds to Gabriel’s message by asking how this could be possible given that she is a virgin. See Quranic verses (Ayahs) below…
“He said, ‘I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.'” -Quran; 19:19
“She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?'” -Quran; 19:20
“He said, ‘Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.'” -Quran; 19:21
The Quran also takes us through Jesus’ life after his birth – the miracles he performed and it follows the messages of God which he spread around the world. Miracles were attributed to Jesus as prophetic signs of his connection with God. Six miracles are specifically mentioned in the Quran – those being:
- Speaking in infancy: Jesus spoke from his cradle, declaring himself aloud as “A servant of God. He has given me the scripture and made me a Prophet.” –Quran; 19:30.
- Healer of the ill: Something that is also mentioned in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have healed “the blind and the lepers” in Islam as well.
- Birds of clay: In a comparison to the way that Muslims believe God created the first Prophet Adam from clay, the same ability was given only to Jesus, in which he was able to create a bird from soft clay and breathe life into it to become a live creature – but only with permission from God.
- Table of food from heaven: In the 5th chapter of the Quran, God narrates how Jesus’ disciples asked him to bring down a table of food for them to celebrate with and one that would be commemorated in the future. As Jesus wept to Him and asked for such a table, it is said that a table filled with food descended from heaven as Jesus asked for it. Many people believe that this is Islam’s version of “The Last Supper.”
- Resurrection of the dead: “…And You bring the living out of the dead…” –Quran; 3:27. With God’s permission, Jesus had the ability to bring the dead back to life – something he did on multiple occasions. Three accounts of this miracle are mentioned in both the Quran and the Bible – this excludes resurrections which took place in the Old Testament under the hand of prophets.
- Provisions of today and tomorrow: The last of his 6 main miracles mentioned in Islam was Jesus’ ability to “foresee the future.” Not in the fortune telling way, but he had a special type of knowledge in which he knew what people had just eaten, as well as what was in store for them in the following days.
The main differences between Islam and Christian lay in the beliefs around Jesus’ “status” (I will explain in a minute) and his crucifixion. In Christianity, because of his virgin birth, Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God/Son of Man while also being God made flesh. In Catholicism, this is explained as Jesus being fully human and fully divine. While Muslims believe that we are all “God’s children,” we do not believe that any one human is directly “related” to God nor that anyone is equal to Him. So, in simple terms, Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son, Muslims do not – he is simply, but not so simply, a Prophet sent down by God to guide humanity on to the right path (which is the belief in one God) and he would later be succeeded by Prophet Muhammad who Muslims believe was also a messenger of God to continue Jesus’ teachings and bring people to Islam.
In terms of Jesus’ death, this is also where Muslims and Christians disagree in that Christianity preaches that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of humanity. While Muslims believe that a crucifixion did indeed take place, we do not believe that it was actually Jesus who died on the cross that day. Instead, we believe that the soul of Jesus was ascended into heaven by God to spare him the torment of the crucifixion. We do not actually know who was crucified that day. Many believe that the soul of Judas was placed into the body on the cross but this belief is not confirmed in religious text. In essence, Jesus did not really “die,” but his mission on earth had reached completion. While this is a vast chasm of beliefs between Christians and Muslims, we find ourselves in the middle once again when we remember the common belief that Jesus will return on what Muslims call Judgement Day and what Christians refer to as End of Times – both are terms for the belief in Armageddon or the end of the world. Muslims and Christians believe in the anti-Christ and that on Judgement Day, the anti-Christ will reveal himself in the land of Israel and convince mass amounts of people to follow him and then will convince those same people that he is God himself, but that Jesus himself will return to Earth to defeat the anti-Christ and will bring the true followers of God to their rightful places in heaven.
I talk a lot of crap about my time in Islamic school. Granted, they tried to scare me into my faith by telling me that I am “going to hell” because I don’t cover my hair, listen to music, paint my nails, wear a certain color, sneeze, etc. (which I’ve gathered is also a similarity in most religious schools regardless of faith), so they deserve it all – but I will admit that I learned a lot of vital information regarding my religion AND the teachings of other religions and I believe that it is why I consider myself an accepting person. While teaching us about Islam, they also “inadvertently” taught us about Judaism and Christianity, and to respect both religions. They had to – both of those religious teachings and beliefs are also a part of our own religion – it is impossible to teach about Islam, without first teaching our children of prophets like Moses and Jesus and Jonah and Abraham and Isaac and Ismael and Joseph, etc, etc, etc. You cannot teach Islam without the others.
…It is impossible to teach about Islam, without first teaching our children of prophets like Moses and Jesus…
I know this article was “fact” heavy, and I know it’s long, but it is so unbelievably important to understand that without making this “common knowledge” to the average American or average person of any faith around the world – we will never truly be able to expect non-Muslims to understand and respect our faith. It is easy for them to hate us because they think that we believe in a different God and that we do not believe in Jesus. But when we can clearly explain to them, and provide actual hard proof that our religion is an extended version of “theirs,” just in Arabic (damn language barriers), it will become increasingly difficult for someone who suffers from Islamophobia to continue to hate and disrespect our faith. Because they would, in turn, be disrespecting the very same person they claim to be “fighting us” in the name of.
I have said it time and time again and I will continue to “confess” that I am not the most religious person. I prefer to focus on the spiritual aspects of Islam rather than the religious obligations, but I still hold a very high level of respect and admiration for the stories and prophets that I have learned about – and it bothers me that the fastest growing religion in the world is so misunderstood and feared – and that’s our fault.
If you are Muslim, please make it a point to explain these similarities in relevant conversations. It is absolutely necessary in our fight against Islamophobia. And if you happen to be the type of person who doesn’t have political/religious conversations (#weirdo), make it a point anyway to ask the person you’re conversing with if they know of the similarities between the two of you, religiously. If they say no – make it a fun learning lesson for them. People love to learn – whether they realize it or not. It is ingrained in our very beings – the desire for knowledge. If you are a non-Muslim, make it a point to ask about the other similarities between you and your Muslim friend(s) – since I so wonderfully explained just a few of them here for you – you can show off a little with your newly acquired “fun facts.”
Hate – is derived from ignorance. Ignorance is something that, today in 2016, can be avoided – and there is no need for its existence. If you claim to have read the Quran and you use it as a way to validate your hatred towards Muslims – to you I say, “Bullshit.” (in Matthew McConnaughey’s, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days voice). You cannot truly hate Muslims, or claim to be a follower of Christianity and Jesus, if you have properly and open-mindedly explored the teachings of Islam – because they are essentially one in the same.