Topping my 2015 to-do list is writing my latest book, which will compare and contrast Jesus Christ with the leaders of other major world religions. I’ll be dedicating much of my time to this project—so to help keep me from being overwhelmed, Reflections will be featuring more guest author articles and editorial interviews in the coming months, all of which I hope you will find helpful and insightful.
To start each month and to give you a preview of what you can expect from my new book, I’ll be reposting a series of articles on Jesus and other spiritual sages. Most of these articles were originally published in New Reasons to Believe (NRTB), RTB’s former e-zine. I’d highly recommend checking out the NRTB archives for more science-faith content.
Among the world’s great religious leaders, only two would found religions whose adherents now number well beyond a billion people—Muhammad and Jesus Christ. As of 2005, researchers estimated world totals of approximately 1.5 billion Muslims and 2.1 billion Christians. Therefore, combined, Muslims and Christians make up approximately 54 percent of the world’s population.
While Muhammad (AD 570–632) and Jesus Christ (c. 6–4 BC–AD 30) loom as arguably two of the most influential people in history, the identity, mission, and message of the two leaders stand in stark contrast. In this article I will introduce the life and thought of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, and then briefly compare him with Jesus Christ, who among Christians is known as the Son of God.
The Life of Muhammad
Muhammad was born into the Quraish tribe in the vicinity of Mecca (modern-day Saudi Arabia) in AD 570. Orphaned early in life, he was raised by his uncle Abu-Talib who was the chief of the tribe. Without formal education, Muhammad served as a camel driver in the Arabian Desert where he experienced cross-cultural interaction with members of the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian religions. At 25 years of age he met and married a wealthy widow named Khadija and they had several children together. Through marriage Muhammad became a rather well-to-do merchant.
According to Islam, while meditating in a mountain cave on the outskirts of Mecca (Mount Hira), Muhammad fell into a trance and was greeted by the voice of the angel Gabriel. Through these extraordinary angelic encounters Muhammad is said to have received divine revelation that he would memorize and later recite. These revelatory encounters propelled Muhammad to the status of conduit of the God, Allah, and the specific messages formed the content of the Qur’an. As a result, Muhammad became the final and supreme prophet (seal of the prophets) of Allah.
The content of Muhammad’s message focused upon God’s absolute unity (radical monotheism) and the impending divine judgment facing humanity. That message is succinctly summarized in what Muslims refer to as the Shahadah (Islamic creed): “There is no god but the God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Muhammad’s importance in Islam is not limited to his prophetic or revelatory role. For Muslims (which means “those who submit to Allah’s will”) he’s also the principal moral example. Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains: ‘‘The prophet is seen by Muslims as the most perfect of all God’s creatures, the perfect man par excellence…whom the Quran calls an excellent model.”1 Of course, it should be understood that Islam views Muhammad as being solely a human being. But some Muslims revere Muhammad’s moral example highly enough to call him the “living Qur’an.”
Upon his death in AD 632, Muhammad was the undisputed religious and political leader of the Arabian people. He headed a religion that would one day dominate the entire Middle East and beyond. At least one historian has ranked Muhammad as the most influential person in history.
The Prophet and the Son of God
Muslims view Muhammad as the supreme and final prophet in a long line of prophetic figures (some 124,000) that includes but is not limited to such biblical figures as Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, and Jesus. Historic Christianity refers to Jesus Christ as the only Son of God—meaning the person who shares God the Father’s divine nature and is therefore God in human flesh.
Five Ways Muhammad and Jesus Differ
These two respective leaders of the largest religions on Earth profoundly differ when it comes to their person, nature, and message.
- Nature: Though viewed by Muslims as history’s greatest person, Muhammad never claimed to be anything other than a mere human being. In contrast, Jesus Christ proclaimed himself the Son of God who possessed both a divine and human nature.
- Character: Muhammad, while highly intelligent, courageous, and persuasive, was––from an objectively historical perspective––not a morally perfect man. Whereas in Western civilization the greatest moral compliment to be paid is to say that one is Christlike in character.
- Mission: Muhammad’s mission was to persuade people to submit their wills completely to Allah. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, came to rescue sinners by providing a permanent sacrifice for human sin on the cross.
- Role: In Islam, while everything is based on Muhammad’s life and teaching, nevertheless he is not the center of Muslim worship and devotion. In sharp contrast, historic Christianity is all about Jesus Christ (emphasizing his person, nature, life, death, and resurrection).
- State: Muhammad died at the height of his power as a great spiritual and political leader but remained in the grave. Unlike all others, including the great leaders of the world’s religions, Jesus Christ rose bodily from the grave at his resurrection.
Hope vs. Assurance
The Islamic prophet Muhammad offers a message of moral reform and submission to Allah’s will with hope of paradise in the hereafter. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, secures for those who trust in him salvation from sin and eternal life via his victory over death.
Common Ground of Christianity and Islam
- Middle Eastern religions
- Biblical tradition
- Theistic orientation
Comparison of Leaders
|Figure: Historical, factual||Figure: Historical, factual|
|Status: God Incarnate||Status: Merely human|
|Role: Lord and Savior||Role: Prophet and Example|
|Mission: Redeem sinners||Mission: Promote Submission to Allah|
|State: Resurrected||State: Dead|
Comparison of Religions
|Problem: Human Sin||Problem: Human Weakness|
|Need: Reconciliation||Need: Moral Guidance|
|Solution: Faith and Repentance||Solution: Submission|
|Ultimate: Personal Redemption||Ultimate: Paradise|
|Assurance: Yes||Assurance: No|
|Deity: Trinitarian Monotheism||Deity: Radical Monotheism|
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (San Francisco: Harper, 2003), 46.