How similar are the world’s two largest religions? What claims does each faith make upon believers’ intellects and lives? What is the evidence supporting each religion’s distinctive beliefs? How does sharia contrast with the gospel?
Readers of Nabeel Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Zondervan, 2014)—winner of the 2015 Christian Book Awards®—already appreciate his careful and respectful comparison of Islam and Christianity.
Bible Gateway interviewed Nabeel Qureshi (@NAQureshi) about his new book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?—A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity (Zondervan, 2016).
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post: Interview—Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus]
[Browse the Understanding Islam section in the Bible Gateway Store]
How have your personal life and academic life prepared you to write this book about Islam and Christianity?
Nabeel Qureshi: Every year, millions are faced with this dilemma: to follow Islam or Christianity, to worship Allah or Jesus. Unless the seeker lives in a nominal or secular environment, the stakes are high: It can cost a seeker his or her family, friends, job, and potentially his or her life. For such seekers, it’s not simply a matter of believing whatever seems right. They need to be sure, and they need to be sure it’s worth the sacrifice.
For me, it’s been a decade since I made the decision to leave Islam, and the fallout of my decision haunts me every day. I knew it would, well before I ever converted, but I also knew that I was sure. I was sure that Islam and Christianity are not just two paths that lead to the same God, but two very different paths that lead very different ways. I was sure that I had excellent historical reasons to believe the gospel. I was sure that, though I loved Islam, I couldn’t ignore the problems that plagued its foundations.
But most of all, I was sure that following the one true God would be worth all trials and all suffering. I had to follow the evidence and the truth, no matter the cost.
I left my religion of 22 years and became a follower of Jesus in 2005. In 2009, after graduating from medical school, I decided to leave medicine in order to share what I had learned about the gospel, the message of Christianity. I sincerely believe that this message has the power to transform hearts and change the world. The God it proclaims is unlike any other, and it’s an unfathomable honor that we get to be a part of his story and introduce people to him.
How do you respond to people who say they don’t need this book because they’re never going to live in or visit a Muslim country?
Nabeel Qureshi: As I speak around the world, I often come across two kinds of people: Christians who enjoy criticizing Islam, and Muslims who want to argue but don’t want to learn. I’m not writing this book for either of them. I’m writing for people who—like I did—need the answers to three main questions:
- What are the differences between Islam and Christianity?
- Can we be confident that Christianity or Islam is true?
- Is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?
It took me four years to answer these questions, and they remain so important to me that I’ve studied them for another decade beyond.
How does this book differ from your first, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus?
Nabeel Qureshi: That book is the heart of my story, detailing the relationships, emotions, and spiritual struggles in my search for God. No God but One is the mind of my story, examining the religions and their claims. In the course of No God but One, I hope to elucidate two overarching matters in particular: that the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims.
How are Islam and Christianity similar? And why is that important to acknowledge?
Nabeel Qureshi: There’s really no question that Islam and Christianity are close to one another on the broader religious spectrum. They’re both monotheistic, the largest two faith communities in the world, and they share many similarities. Each teaches the doctrine of an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who is sovereign over the universe. It’s God who created mankind out of one man and one woman, yet mankind turns away from him. Each teaches that one day there will be a resurrection and final judgment. Before then, it’s of paramount importance for us to seek God and follow him.
But the similarities between Islam and Christianity run even deeper, beyond the trappings of monotheism. Both lay claim to Abrahamic lineage; both teach that God has sent messengers—human and angelic—to steer people back to him; both teach that God has inspired divine Scriptures to guide man; both teach that Satan is a deceiver that misleads the unwary; and both teach that believers ought to sacrificially care for each other and proclaim the truth to nonbelievers.
Perhaps the most surprising shared feature is reverence for Jesus. Both Islam and Christianity teach that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that he was the most miraculous man who ever lived. Both the Bible and the Quran teach that Jesus cleansed lepers, healed the blind, and even raised the dead. Indeed, both books teach that Jesus is the Messiah, and Muslims await his return, as do Christians.
Are Christianity and Islam basically the same religion?
Nabeel Qureshi: When I hear people say that Islam and Christianity are basically the same, I have to try to restrain my incredulous response. Are Islam and Christianity the same? My parents certainly don’t think so, nor do any of the dozens of friends I lost when I renounced Islam and became a Christian. This cliché is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of converts who’ve left Islam for Christianity and vice versa.
Not only are these religions different, but the differences have far greater ramifications than I realized when I converted. I knew that the historical doctrines of the two religions were different, but doctrines don’t exist in a vacuum. They work together to impact the way we see the world, which in turn changes who we are.
Do Muslims and Christians know the same God?
Nabeel Qureshi: Christians worship Yahweh, the Trinity, whereas Muslims worship Allah, a monad. This is not an incidental difference; Islam makes every effort to condemn the Trinity as blasphemy (4.171). The Quran rejects the relational aspects of God, saying that he’s not a father (5.18) and he’s not a son (112.3). It establishes its own doctrine of God, Tawhid, in diametric opposition to the Trinity, and that doctrine becomes the central doctrine of Islamic theology.
Most people who say Christians and Muslims worship the same God are aware of this difference, but they treat it as relatively inconsequential. This is not a trivial difference, though; it has major implications. Since mankind is made in the image of the Triune God, love is woven into our very nature. The Trinity gives us the most consistent, most powerful basis for being self-sacrificial and altruistic.
This is an important point to unpack. Of course, many people are very altruistic, regardless of their worldviews. A person doesn’t need to believe in God to genuinely care for others, as secular humanists demonstrate. There are even people who don’t believe in any kind of morality yet still desire to care for people. Ultimately, though, such ungrounded altruism is a sentiment, something a person just wants to do. Unless one believes in a transcendent basis for altruism, one’s desire to care for people is unanchored and ephemeral; little more than a whim. According to this amoral worldview, nothing behooves a person to be kind. Even though someone might wish to be altruistic, in the next moment it would be entirely consistent with their worldview if they chose to be selfish.
The question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is complex, and there is much more that could be said. Ultimately, when we understand the Trinity, we realize that the doctrine is not just a theological curiosity. It has far-reaching implications for how we ought to live and how we see the world, and it makes the Christian God categorically different from the Muslim God. It’s what makes God relational; what makes his love eternal. It’s how God can be in us, through the Holy Spirit, while being over us, as the Father, and suffering for us, in the Son. And it’s the Son that most distinguishes the Christian God from the Muslim God. We need to learn about him not only in light of the Trinity but also in light of his life on earth.
Briefly explain what you call the dilemma of the historical Muhammad.
Nabeel Qureshi: Both as a Muslim and now 10 years later, I didn’t conclude that Muhammad didn’t exist. Given the sheer volume of stories and accounts, as well as their relative coherence, it seems more probable than not, to me, that Muhammad existed. But I do have to agree with the basic consensus of non-Muslim scholarship: we cannot know much about Muhammad with certainty.
The alternative, of course, is to trust the Islamic records of Muhammad’s life: the hadith and sirah. But if we consider their accuracy according to the standards of uloom al-hadith, we still find a Muhammad who is not compelling as a prophet of God. Perhaps a great 7th century general and one who adhered to the cultural standards of his day, but certainly not the greatest moral exemplar of all time nor one to whom I would declare my allegiance. If we abandon the uloom al-hadith and use the historical method of assessing the earliest biographies and accounts of Muhammad’s life, we find an even more brutal and problematic picture of Muhammad.
This is the dilemma I had as a Muslim: either I could trust the historical sources of Muhammad’s life and find a man I would never want to follow as a prophet, or I could question the sources and have no reason to consider him a prophet. Either way I could not conclude, based on the evidence, that Muhammad was a prophet of God.
How does the Muslim term sharia compare to the Christian term the gospel?
Nabeel Qureshi: Sharia simply means knowing how to live. Islam teaches that the fundamental problem of mankind is ignorance; that man needs to be guided in order to live good lives. Once people learn what to believe, aqeeda, and how to live, sharia, they’ll earn the pleasure of Allah.
Right practice in Islam is learned through Islamic Law, called Sharia, understood to mean ‘the way to water.’ Especially for a desert people, the concept is powerful: following Sharia is the way to life itself. Sharia dictates virtually every aspect of a devout Muslim’s life; from what foods to eat, to proper forms of currency, to exact words to recite during prayers. Of all Islamic practices, five are paramount: proclaiming the Islamic motto, the shahada: ‘There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger’; praying the five daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alms; and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca. Together, these are called The Five Pillars of Islam.
But the Christian message is that there’s good news. In Greek, the word for ‘good news’ is euangelion, which in English is translated ‘Gospel.’ And the good news is this: out of his great love, God has made a way for us. God himself has paid for our sins and will eternally restore our souls. All we have to do is repent of our rebellion, have faith in what he’s done, and follow him.
Finally, we’re at a place to understand the message of Christianity: the fundamental problem of mankind is sin, and we are powerless to save ourselves. The good news is that God loves us and makes a way for us by paying our penalty himself, upon the cross. Jesus proved that he’s the author of life by rising from death. We who repent and follow Jesus demonstrate our faith in him and that he’s saved us, and God begins a transforming work in us. As we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit makes us more like him and sends us into the world to love mankind with the selfless love of God. We can even lay down our lives for others, as Jesus modeled for us. Our ultimate restoration will come to miraculous fruition when we’re remade, unbroken, to live with him and love him for eternity.
So, when it comes to salvation in Christianity, Jesus is literally ‘the Way,’ and our love for God is our primary expression of worship.
What do you hope readers will do after reading No God but One?
Nabeel Qureshi: Truth is the most important biblical principle in my book. The truth about Jesus and the gospel. Leaving Islam can cost a person everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known, and maybe even life itself. Is it really worth sacrificing everything for the truth? The answer is simple: it depends on the value of the truth.
When we consider the gospel, we find the deep secrets of the world unfolded. We find a Triune God because of whom love is eternal and absolute, who did not need the world but created it out of an overflow of his love. In him, Yahweh, we have the Father who loves us unconditionally, who offers us extravagant grace, who runs to us when we return to him, who makes us with a purpose and orchestrates all things for the good of those who love him. In Yahweh we find the Son who’s willing to shoulder our pains, who leads us in exemplary humility by suffering for us, making our burdens light, and forging a way for us to live life to the full even though we die. In Yahweh we receive the Holy Spirit, our Comforter who fills us with grace, transforms our hearts, renews our minds, and sends us into the world as God’s hands and feet to serve others as he served us. The gospel is the answer to our individual pains, to the world’s sufferings, and to life’s mysteries.
There is no God but one, and he is Father, Spirit, and Son. There is no God but one, and he is Jesus.
It is worth all suffering to receive this truth and follow him. God is more beautiful than this life itself, and the one who loves him is ready to die when death comes, not just to glorify him but to hasten to his arms. Though we will die, we will live.
As you’ve studied Islam and Christianity, how has objectivity affected your research?
Nabeel Qureshi: I want to share something that took me years to really grasp: it’s virtually impossible to study these matters objectively. Not only do we all have a vested interest in defending the faiths we and our social circles have believed for years, but our beliefs also color the way we receive information. The same data will be interpreted differently by people from disparate worldviews. When we investigate Islam and Christianity as devout believers in one or the other faith, our Christian or Muslim presuppositions affect the way we interpret the evidence, and we often see what we want to see.
When I started investigating the data, I came to the table with the presupposition that Islam was true, and I interpreted the data accordingly. No matter what facts provided, I either made them fit my Islamic paradigm or I found some way to dismiss them. It’s not difficult to defend what you already believe, and anyone who sets their mind to it will be able to do so, whether Muslim or Christian.
What’s difficult is pursuing the truth about your faith and assessing it honestly. This feat requires one to be introspective and self-critical at frequent intervals. Although we can never completely overcome our biases, the most important step we can take is to pursue fair-mindedness with intentionality. While considering the data, we need to repeatedly ask ourselves the question: “Would an objective observer find the arguments compelling?”
Bio: Dr. Qureshi has participated in 17 moderated, public debates around North America, Europe, and Asia. His focus is on the foundations of the Christian faith and the early history and teachings of Islam. He’s a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (@RaviZacharias). He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and an MA from Duke University in Religion.
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