Salvation in Islam and Christianity Compared
by Vijay Chandra
Islam and Christianity differ in significant and fundamental ways in their understanding of salvation. Many of these differences can be seen to be in direct contrast to one another. The law of Non-Contradiction states that a thing and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Thus, theological differences that exist in direct contrast with one another between Islam and Christianity cannot be true in the same sense. This paper will address the fundamental doctrine of both, the doctrine of salvation, or soteriology, using a compare and contrast approach.
SAVED FROM WHAT?
The first question to answer concerning soteriology is ‘Saved from what?, What does it mean to be saved, and how did the need for salvation come about?’
Christianity teaches that all men [in the gender-neutral sense] have an inherent sin nature. The sin nature is a result of the fall of Adam, the first created being. Genesis 3 records the exchange between the serpent and Eve. God gave Adam and Eve every good thing that He [God] created to eat for their sustenance. They were forbidden only from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But, God thus gave them moral responsibility and choice. They chose to disobey God and thus God’s perfect creation became tainted with the stain of sin, resulting in man being separated [Eph 2:1, 2, 3] from close communion with God that Adam enjoyed prior to the sin. Sin ultimately resulted in both physical and spiritual death—eternal separation from God. This one sin caused all future offspring to be born with sin nature where, left to our inborn instincts [Rom 1:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 3:23], would live in sin continually. The Bible tells us this one sin condemned all mankind [Rom 5:12].
Islam, on the other hand, teaches that Adam did indeed sin, but it was his sin alone and had no bearing on future generations. Sin in no way affected the relationship between man and Allah because no relationship existed. Allah is a far distant god who cannot be known and does not enter into a personal relationship with man as in Christianity. Thus, no relationship was broken. Adam’s sin was his alone, for which Allah was displeased and for which Adam needed personally to seek to reconcile [Sura 4:11 says, “And if anyone earns sin, he earns it against His own soul: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom”].
Further, in contrast to the Bible, the Qur’an teaches that the fall occurred in heaven, and Adam’s punishment for his sin was banishment to earth for a time to toil for his existence.” [Allah] said: “Get ye down. With enmity between yourselves, On earth will be your dwelling-place. And your means of livelihood, for a time, He said, “Therein shall ye live, and therein shall ye die, but from it shall ye be taken out [at last] ” Sura 7:24-25].
Salvation in Christianity is achieved on the basis of faith alone in the atonement of Jesus’ death on the cross [Rom 5:17, 19] and not by any righteous work we may attempt [Eph 2:8, 9]. Works do have a place in the life of a Christian, but only as evidence of a pre-existing faith according to James 2:18. Works or good deeds have no salvific value apart from faith [Titus 3:5, 6, 7].
But in Islam salvation is achieved on the basis of good works alone. These works include doing honorable deeds plus keeping five requirements, or ‘pillars’ of Islam: witness [“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”], ritual prayers five times daily [salat], almsgiving [zakat], fasting during Ramadan [saum], and a pilgrimage to Mecca [hajj]. On the day of judgment, Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad deeds [Sura 21:47]. Salvation is achieved by having more ‘good’ deeds on the account than ‘bad’ ones thus hoping to win Allah’s favor.
The Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on the Bible when it declares that faith in Jesus saves [Acts 16:31] and we can rest confidently in his assurance [1 John 5:13].
By contrast, the Muslim’s salvation is never guaranteed. The individual Muslim must produce good works and hope that at judgment day Allah will grant favor. However, Allah is under no compulsion to save anyone, and no such promise of salvation is found in the Qur’an. Allah saves whom he will and punishes whom he will in what seems to be a purely capricious manner.
SALVATION TO WHERE?
Jesus tells us in the Word that he has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we also may be [John 14:2, 3]. Ultimately a new heaven and new earth will be created to replace the earth which was corrupted by Adam’s sin in the garden. The full Father-son relationship will be established as man dwells together with God [Rev 21:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].
But salvation for Muslims means gaining entrance into ‘paradise’. In paradise, there is no worship of Allah taking place but virgins will entertain those who go there. Man, [males] are the objects of worship, in that all earthly pleasures are at the disposal of worthy men who gained entrance into paradise. Sura 55 describes Paradise as two gardens, containing all kinds [of trees and delights]. In them [each] will be two Springs flowing [free]; in them will be fruits of every kind, two and two. They will recline on Carpets, whose inner linings will be of rich brocade: the Fruit of the Gardens will be near [and easy of reach]. In them will be Maidens [virgins], chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or jinn [the devil, or Satan] before them has touched; Like unto Rubies and coral [I wonder from where did Muhammad get this idea of ‘coral’? He lived in the Arabian desert]. And besides these two, there are other two Gardens, Dark-green in color [the Muslims have flags which are green] from plentiful watering. In them [each] will be Two Springs pouring forth water continuous abundance: in them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates; in them will be fair [Companions], good, beautiful; Companions restrained [as to their glances], in goodly pavilions; Whom no man or Jinn before them has touched; Reclining on green Cushions and rich carpets no dweller of the ancient Middle East culture could ever dream of: lush, dark green gardens abounding in foliage; abundant rivers of clean, flowing water; every kind of imaginable fresh fruit to tantalize the tongue; virgin maidens awaiting the beck call of each man. This is not a place of holiness, it is a place of excessive indulgence of every pleasure known to man. It is a lustful paradise.
WHAT IS HELL?
Those who reject Christ Jesus as the complete sacrifice for their sin, according to the Bible, will be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, to be tormented eternally. ‘But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral and those who practice magic spells, idol worshippers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur’ [Rev 21:8]. Hell is reserved for all who continue to follow earthly pleasures of sin rather than repent of sin and follow Jesus.
But according to what the Qur’an teaches, that hell is reserved, not for those who reject the saving grace of Christ, but for those who either
- Fail to have enough good deeds to offset their bad deeds on the judgment day.
- Or fail to win Allah’s favor and are sent intentionally to hell by Allah’s will.
- Regarding the judgment, the Qur’an records: ‘Then shall we question those to whom Our message was sent and those by who we sent it. And verily, We shall recount their whole story with knowledge, for We were never absent [at any time or place]. The balance that day will be true [those whose scale [of good] will be heaven will prosper. Those whose scale will be light, will be their souls in perdition, for that they Wrongfully treated Our Signs’ [Sura 7:6-9]
The Islamic doctrine of salvation seems to fall sort of providing an important component of a cohesive and comprehensive worldview. As a father, many of you know what it is like to have a relationship with our sons. If we are made in the likeness of God then it would seem natural that God would want to have a relationship with his adopted sons through Christ Jesus. But Islam does not teach this relationship—Allah does not have any relationship with his faithful ones; he is distant, angry. Allah does not have fellowship even with faithful Muslims who do his bidding. Salvation to paradise seems to be particularly suited to meeting the needs of a specific target group of patrons—Middle Eastern men of antiquity rather than a more broad range of the earth’s population as one would expect of a universal God who loves all people equally. The Islamic doctrine of salvation is man based and Muhammad has experienced this kind paradise which he connected with his own mind and engrafted into the writings. Most the words used in connection with paradise are common words used in his days. Muslim friends, do not be fooled by the false conception of salvation which Qur’an teaches. Salvation is in only through Christ [John 14:6].