If there were a world rivalry of religions, few would hesitate to point to Islam versus Christianity. These religions, the two largest in the world, have a long history of locking swords — whether on the battlefield, through proselytizing, or during heated debates.
What tends to get buried under the dust, though, are some remarkable bonds shared by the two religions. Here are five of them that I wish we called more attention to:
1. The Prophecy of Abraham as father of humanity
Prophet Abraham is patriarch to both Muslims and Christians. In the Old Testament, God says to Abraham, “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great . . . and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
In Genesis 17:20-22, God blesses Ishmael, the Abrahamic patriarch of the Muslims, and Isaac, the Abrahamic patriarch of Judeo-Christianity. Today, Muslims and Christians together make up a little more than half the world’s population, thereby opening up the view of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. How amazing is that!
2. Muhammad in the Holy Bible
In Genesis 17:20-22, God promises to raise a great nation through Ishmael. And in Deuteronomy 18:18 we have the prophecy of a prophet to be raised from the brethren of the Israelites. Genesis 21:21 says that Ishmael dwelt in the wilderness of Paran. In local parlance, the area between Mecca and Medina is known as Bariyyat Faran — the wilderness of Faran (an alternate spelling of Paran). Deuteronomy 33:2 says that the Lord “shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand” — Prophet Muhammad’s army at the conquest of Mecca is known to have consisted of 10,000, and the reference to the fiery law is thought to be the Holy Quran.
Though Christian apologists may disagree, these references were strong enough for Rabbi Bachya to write in the Midrash Bereshit Rabbah (an ancient rabbinical text), “We see from the prophecy in this verse that 2,337 years elapsed before the Arabs, Ishmael’s descendants, became goy gadol (great nation) with the rise of Islam in 624 C.E. . . . finally the promise was fulfilled.”
3. Jesus in the Holy Quran
Though the references to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) in the Holy Bible are challenged by Christian apologists, there is no ambiguity about Jesus’ (peace be on him) presence in the Holy Quran. Jesus is one of the most-referenced prophets in the Quran — mentioned by name 25 times.
In verse 21:91, the Holy Quran bestows a great honor on Jesus and his mother Mary: “. . . and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples.” Similarly, verse 2:253 reads, “These messengers We have exalted, some above others . . . and some of them He has exalted by degrees of rank, and We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.”
4. Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Holy Quran and Holy Bible
Both religions profoundly revere the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The Holy Quran is the only scripture outside of the Gospels to reaffirm the righteousness and virginity of Mary at Jesus’s birth. The Quran states in verse 19:20, “She (Mary) said — how will I have a son? No man has touched me, and I am not unchaste . . . He (Gabriel) said — It is a matter decreed.”
Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Holy Quran. In Chapter 66 verses 11-12, the example of a true believer is given in the personage of two women — one was the wife of Pharaoh (adversary to Moses) and the other is Mary. Muslims are of the view that Mary holds the highest honor and dignity among women, and they religiously follow the utterance of her name with the incantation “may Allah be pleased with her.”
In a well known historical incident during the early days of Islam, some Muslims fled the persecution in Mecca and sought shelter in the neighboring Christian nation of Abyssinia. As Meccan authorities pursued to apprehend the party, they appealed to the King of Abyssinia who summoned the Muslim refugees to his court. However, upon listening to one of the refugee recite verses 19:19-21 of the Holy Quran in honor of Mary and Jesus, he felt unable to release the party to their persecutors even at risk of severing diplomatic ties.
5. The Return of Jesus in the End of Days
Perhaps the most fascinating commonality between the two religions is the belief that Jesus Christ will return during the End Times. Both religions share prophecies that his return will be in part to address immorality, conflict, and injustices during the final epoch of human history. And both religions share a messianic creed that the Messiah will put an end to religious conflict and usher an era of world peace.
For Ahmadi-Muslims like myself, this takes on an even greater dimension. Ahmadi Muslims believe that the prophecies of the return of Jesus are allegorical and were fulfilled in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) from Qadian, India.
Ahmadi-Muslims, who today bear terrible persecution in some countries, take inspiration from the determination and perseverance of the early Christians who bore through similar hardships and ultimately triumphed over their persecutors.
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As the world appears to be preoccupied with confrontation and conflict, whether on the apologist debating circuit or the political stage, Muslims and Christians, given their magnitude in the world, can take much inspiration and celebration from the common themes that bind them and work to foster an environment of peace and reconciliation.
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