Church or mosque; Christianity or Islam? It’s a natural question in Tower Hamlets where we have the privilege of living and working among many Muslims. It’s a joy to share life with people who hold many of the values that we do and fascinating to learn from our differences.
We have much in common
Many of the stories and teachings we have heard from childhood are similar. We believe in one God; we believe God gave Moses the ten commandments; we believe that one day we will have to give an account for our sins.
But it’s more than that. Many of our values and experiences of life are similar. We value family; we seek to love and support the vulnerable in our community; we live in a secular society and sometimes that leaves us feeling under pressure; we understand what it is to pray, to worship and to study our scriptures.
We do different things
Actually, we do lots of similar things: we pray, we fast, we give to those in need, we tell others about our faith.
Often, the differences are more about emphasis, but they are important. Christianity is less about rules about what you can and can’t do (although we certainly have rules); it’s more about the state of a person’s heart. Jesus taught us that:
‘What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’ Matthew 15v11
Yet there are many Muslims who would agree that a person’s heart matters more than whether they follow rules on what you can or can’t eat.
We have a different view of freedom
Most Christians and Muslims question our culture’s view of freedom. It puts great focus on selfish individuality often without regard for its impact on others. At the extremes, this leads to slavery, not freedom. In contrast, Christians and Muslims share the view that God has given us clear, unchanging rules for life. Those rules lead to loving relationships and it is in those relationships that we find true freedom.
Yet, we don’t entirely agree. Jesus was born into a society that tied people in knots with religious laws. He tore away from that society; so much so, that the religious leaders of that time wanted him dead. Christians are free to eat whatever we want and we don’t follow ceremonial law. If for a moment we thought that’s what God wanted of us, we would do it.
As Christians we believe we have freedom from our society’s selfish individuality, but also from laws that the Bible describes in this way:
‘Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.’ Colossians 2v23
Bible or Qur’an?
Both Christians and Muslims believe that their book has been given to them by God. They can’t both be right, because there are clear differences between them.
They present quite different choices: in the Bible those who wrote about Jesus were either eye witnesses to his life or knew people who were. Christians believe that this process was God-breathed, that God intentionally used different humans as tools to write his Word.
The Qur’an was written over 600 years after Jesus was born and thousands of years after some of the stories it records. For a Muslim this isn’t a problem because they believe that the words were dictated by God and corrected errors humans had added to earlier scriptures.
In important ways, these are different views of how God speaks to his creation. Dig into them deeper and you’ll find that they have quite an effect on how we seek and find truth and how we relate to God.
There’s one thing we aren’t close to agreeing on
There’s no getting round the fact that we have very different views of Jesus. This isn’t a new issue for us Christians. While Jesus was alive, the Jewish leaders fumed, tore their clothes, plotted, schemed and eventually saw Jesus crucified. Why? Because they thought that Jesus was claiming to be God.
The thing is, Christians believe he was. It’s an outrageous claim and especially as his life ended in agony on a cross. Why or how could such a thing ever make sense?
Christians don’t believe that there is anything we can do that makes us good enough for God. So much so, that the Bible describes our good deeds as filthy rags. That may sound harsh, but it stems from our belief in the awesome holiness of God. The gap between us and God is so great that nothing we can do will make it smaller.
Yet we also believe that God loves us so much that He didn’t want to us to remain separate from Him. So, He came to this world to live as we do and to die in our place for our sins. It’s so incredible that it’s almost unbelievable – but that is what we believe.
It is when we truly understand this that we experience the most remarkable freedom.
Want to know more?
If you like to read, take a look at Seeking Allah, finding Jesus to find out about someone who explored these questions in depth. If you would like to find out what the Bible says about Jesus, take a look at Mark’s gospel.