I remember the first time I heard one of my Muslim friends say he loved Jesus. Honestly, I was so surprised I almost fell out of my chair. Because of my ignorance, I thought a phrase like this was reserved for people who call themselves Christians.
But my friend who said this is Muslim and he does love Jesus very much, which left me confused but also quite curious.
At the time, I didn’t realize that Christianity and Islam share many similar beliefs. And after spending the last few years learning about these similarities, I have found they can be a helpful way to build relationships and even friendships. Or at least they can help us begin the process of humanizing each other, after decades and centuries of dehumanizing each other often in the name of religion.
But before I share a couple areas where Christianity and Islam meet, here are two things to keep in mind. First, I have a predominantly Christian background. My understanding of Islam comes from my friends who follow Islam here in the US and the friends and neighbors I have met while spending time in the Middle East and North Africa. Having said that, if any reader feels I have misinterpreted any part of Islam please let me know, my email is listed.
Secondly, this blog is intended to point out a couple similarities in hopes of finding common ground and is not intended to suggest these two religions are the same. In fact, there are some significant differences that are paramount for each religion. I am not suggesting there is a 'Chris-lam" religion that joins the two into one.
What are some things Christianity and Islam have in Common?
One of the more comprehensive overlaps is found with the Holy Books. Christians refer to the Holy Books as the Bible, which is more like a library in that it is a compilation of books written over the course of many years. The first 5 books of the Bible are also called the Torah or in Arabic Tawrat. Islam and Christianity both teach these 5 books are a message given to Moses from God. This is also true of the book of Psalms, or Zabur in Arabic, which were given to David. As well as the Gospels, given to a messenger named Jesus, which is called the Injeel in Arabic.
When it comes to the Holy Books, Christians and Muslims have much in common (Torah/Tawrat, Psalms/Zabur, Gospel/Injeel) providing plenty of similarities to discuss.
Regarding Jesus, it may surprise you (like it once did me) that each religion has many shared beliefs about his life, purpose and more. For example, Christianity and Islam both teach that Jesus; was born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word of God, lived a sinless life, performed many miracles and healings and will return from heaven someday. In my experience, this specific similarity is also one of the best places to start building bridges that help overcome gaps of misunderstanding.
Not only do these religions share some beliefs, they also share many religious practices. Some examples include; Prayer (al-Salat) Fasting (al-Saum) Tithing (al-Zakat) and Corporate Worship (Jumu’ah)
Some of these similarities you may have already been familiar with, others maybe not. Either way, why does this matter?
For the past few years I have been involved in connecting neighbors here in the US and overseas who typically have Muslim and Christian backgrounds. This has become particularly important as we see an increase in globalization, resulting in the nations of the world becoming literal neighbors. Like in my city, where there are thousands of neighbors who have arrived as refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, creating an incredible opportunity to learn from and Love each other as neighbors.
But as we find ourselves living so closely together, often all we are sharing is geography. We are completely missing out on opportunities to create a better world and enrich our lives by experiencing new cultures and new friendships.
One of the reasons this is happening is because of the misunderstanding that the religious differences between Christianity and Islam are simply too significant to overcome. Not only have I seen this myth debunked time and time again, in many cases, I have seen some of these similarities become the foundation for lifelong friendships.
For example, a few years ago while I was enjoying coffee and conversation with a friend I had two very interesting, yet polarizing, encounters. My friend (who is Muslim) and I were visiting a café that is in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. It also happened to be Christmas day.
After sitting there for an hour or so, a group of older Muslim men came up to our table with smiles, greetings and handshakes. We chatted for a minute and one of the older men, who was clearly a man of stature, kindly asked if I was Muslim.
I said no and briefly explained my faith background. He went on to ask, almost in jest; “Do you believe in the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospel?” I said yes. “Do you believe in one God?” I said yes. “Do you believe in the Prophets Adam, Moses, Abraham, David, and Jesus?” I said yes. “Do you submit yourself to God?” I said yes. And then he said, with a friendly smile followed by a booming laugh, “My friend, if you believe those things you are almost Muslim!”
We all enjoyed a good laugh, acknowledging that our differences can be so easily be overshadowed by our similarities, if we let them.
But this positive encounter was met very quickly with a negative one. As the older men left, a younger man approached who I can only assume overheard our conversation. He didn’t bring a smile or even handshake, instead, he looked at me and said; “You know, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.” (Remember it was Christmas day)
It wasn’t really a question but more of a declaration. I was caught a little off guard, having just had such a nice conversation with the other guys and so I responded with a profound, “ok”. From there, this younger man went on to point out the religious differences he believed we had, while confidently expressing how he had "the truth".
It was not an enjoyable or helpful encounter. I would say he and I gained nothing from it, other than placing a wedge between the possibilities of a future friendship.
Each of these two encounters became a valuable lesson for me. The first showed me how helpful it can be to approach others with a goal of finding common ground. Even doing it with a smile and lightheartedness.
The second has become a constant reminder of how I, and others, can take "the truth" we believe and allow it to become a point of division, often unnecessarily. I still kick myself for the times I have missed out on a possible friendship because I approached someone like this young man had approached me.
My hope in sharing these similarities and experiences with you is to encourage a new or different dialogue between neighbors with a Muslim or Christian background.
My hope is that where Christianity and Islam meet we can find a foundation for lifelong meaningful friendships as neighbors. Approaching each other with an appreciation for the abundant common ground we share, while reshaping the world around us in big ways.
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