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10 areas of common ground between Muslims, Christians

May 7, 2013

“A Christian who is accustomed to pray cannot help recognizing that the Moslem who he sees praying is doing something similar. And seeing a Hindu bowing down before his god stirs the Christian, because he himself has learned to bow his head before the God who appeared to us in Jesus Christ. It is not sufficient merely to witness, because (the church) will somehow have to say what it thinks of these other religions. Whatever the church may meet, it is clear that it has the duty to speak honestly and with dignity with the other religions …” _ J.H. Bavinck, The Church Between Temple and Mosque.

A speaker at the Mo Ranch men’s conference this last weekend offered a workshop on this topic: “10 Ways that Jesus outshines Muhammad.” I did not get to attend that session, but if you are interested in what was said, I found notes from the presentation here.

I understand the workshop had a packed house. Thinking about the topic sparked two memories for me: one was a CNN report years ago about an elderly man in the Middle East, a Muslim who was injured in an explosion – he was mistakenly targeted by U.S. soldiers – and who was deeply troubled because he would no longer be able to prostrate himself for prayer. His tearful devotion moved me to tears.

I also remembered an article I once read in a book called Christian Worship Worldwide: Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices, edited by Charles E. Farhadian. The essay was called “Interfaith Comparisons and Assessment – Muslim Worship: Interfaith Assets and Ecumenical Shortcomings,” by Lamin Sanneh. It discussed pietistic practices of Christians and Muslims.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Christianity and Islam. I am no expert in Islam, and I believe we are best served by seeking answers from those who practice the religion or who study it dispassionately. But knowing that Christians are called to live in peace with everyone to the best of our abilities (Romans 12:18) and coming from a theological perspective seeking positives instead of negatives, I began to wonder if I could make a list highlighting common ground. All of us are made in the divine image, so, how about if I start there?

1. Muslims and Christians both bear the image of God. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen. 1:27.
2. God plays no favorites, and so none of us can speak from a position of superiority. We seek understanding according to the Light we have been given. John Calvin always held that we cannot know what God intends for all the people of the world, and so we must hope and pray the best for all. Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35.
3. Muslims and Christians both acknowledge that they are sinners. “Sin assumes many forms in confessions in Islamic devotion, one of which is that sin is a blemish, something unsightly carrying the stigma of shame (compare Daniel 1:4). It occurs as such in prayers that ask God to cover our defects and our shame and to cleanse our hearts. Another form is one in which sin has the notion of profligacy, self-squandering, and self-ruin. It finds parallel in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Then there are sins of omission: falling short, forgetting, doing too little, and leaving undone.” (Sanneh)
4. Abraham and Jesus. Islam and Christianity, along with Judaism, are monotheistic faiths that trace their origins to Abraham. In Muslim belief, Abraham was promised by God to be a leader to all the nations of the world. While he is not recognized as divine, Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet.
5. Like Christianity, Islam has many different interpretations.
6. Christianity and Islam, in contrast to Hinduism and Buddhism, all worship the God of Adam, Abraham and Moses – creator, sustainer and lord of the universe. All stress moral responsibility and accountability, Judgment Day, eternal reward and punishment.
7. Peace and “holy war.” “Peace is central to all three faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), which use similar greetings: shalom aleichem in Judaism, pax vobiscum in Christianity and salaam alaikum in Islam. All three phrases mean “peace be with you.” Yet leaders of each religion—Joshua and King David, Constantine and Richard the Lion-Hearted, Muhammad and Saladin—have engaged in holy wars to spread or defend their beliefs.”
8. Predestination! The Quran says that “nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us.” The Bible says that “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family (Romans 8:29).”
9. Prayer and worship are central to both Muslim and Christian life. At the back of the Catholic Catechism is a section that emphasizes that the foundation of a relationship with God is prayer. It recalls the words of Augustine, to the effect that “man is a beggar before God.” Sanneh writes that the note of the believer in prayer and worship as a beggar before God is also a prominent theme in Muslim devotion and piety.
10. Testifying to what you believe and winning converts is important to the faith of both Muslims and Christians, which makes it difficult for passionate people on each side of the religious divide to truly listen to one another. That’s an opinion, but it is strongly self-evident.

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