From the time of Muhammad the contact of Islam with Christianity has been very close. They first met when Christianity was at its worst spirituality, and when the sects of Christendom were disunited and very dissatisfied with their Christian rulers.
When the armies of the Khalifas overran Egypt, Syria and other lands, where the Christian religion had sway, many of the communities considered the rule of the Muslim conqueror would be an improvement upon that of the Byzantine Emperor, and they submitted after a very feeble resistance.
Then Damascus, Jerusalem, Corinth, Smyrna, Thessalonica, and many other cities of Biblical fame, had to yield the Cross for the Crescent.
But in every case there was not meek submission. The contact in many places had been a deadly combat.
Which continued with more or less bitterness and even slaughter until the crisis of the Crusades, when the severest strain was put upon the adherents of both Faiths. The Crusades sobered Europe.
Soon afterwards we find the different countries improving themselves by studying the Muslim philosophers of Andalusia, and adopting their arts, industries and sciences, which had been derived for the most part from Greeco schools of thought.
There was some Christianity the belief of Islam. The religions touch at many points.
1. In Islam honour is given to the Christian Scriptures. They are mentioned one hundred and thirty times in the Holy Quran in laudable terms.
These Scriptures are divided into Taurat, Zabur and Injil, or Evangel, which are known to us as the Pentateuch, Psalms of David, and Gospel. From certain references we think he must have known something about the prophets as well.
The Bible, as he did know it, was given the noble titles. It is called the Book; The Book of God; The Word of God; A Light and Guidance to man; A decision for all Matters, and a Guidance and a Mercy; The Lucid Book; The Illumination (al-Furqan);The Evangel (Gospel) with its guidance and light, confirmatory of the preceding Law; a Guidance and warning to those who fear God.
These Scriptures are constantly appealed to in points of controversy between Jews, Christians and Mohammendans, and everyone is commanded to believe in them.
Jews and Christians are told in the most emphatic terms that they are ‘not grounded upon anything,’ until they ‘observe the Law and the Gospel’, and Mohammendans are told about the flames of hell if they treat ‘the message with which we sent our Sent Ones, as a lie.
There are very few actual quotations from the Bible in the Qur’an. We will mention three.
From the Pentateuch we read: ‘Verily we have sent down the Law (Taurat) and therein have we enacted for them, “Life for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth and for wounds retaliation”.
This is an unmistakable reference to a text in the book of Exodus. From the Psalms we read: And now, since the Law was given, have we written in the Psalms that “my servants, the righter oust, shall inherit the earth’.
This is clear. From the Gospels we read: ‘Nor shall they enter Paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle’.
This is evidently a quotation from the New Testament, for there is not known to be any similar passage in any Apocryphal Gospel, and in the Rabbinic form of the proverb the elephant is substituted for camel.
If we found in the Qur’an but this one fact, that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, and that it was appealed to by Prophet Muhammad we should have a powerful argument for our preaching to Muslims the faith of Christ. But we have more.
2. In Islam honour is given to our Jesus Christ. True the Qur’an account of His life and mission is a very disjointed one.
The Annunciation: That event unique in human history is told as follows the angel, Gabriel, comes and says: ‘O Mary! Verily God sanded thee good tidings that thou shalt bear the Word preceding from Him self; his name shall be Messiah, Jesus.
The son of Mary, illustrious in this world, and in the next, and one of those who have near access to God. The latter part of this verse signifies great distinction.
The commentator, Zamakhshari, in his al-Kashshaf, says it means ‘The office of prophet and supremacy over man in this world; and in the next world the office of intercessor and loftiness of rank in Paradise.’
The Virgin Birth: Muhammad taught this clearly. He says: ‘Remember when the angels said, “O Maryl Verily hath God chosen thee and purified thee, and chosen thee above the woman of the worlds”.’
Christ’s stainless nature: ‘We sent our Spirit to her (Mary). to bestow on (her) a holy Son.’17 How like this is to the message recorded by the Evangelist Luke : ‘That holy thing which shall be born of thee.’
His unique titles: Muhammad gave to Christ more striking titles than he gave to any other prophet. He called him al-Masih the Messiah; Kalimatullah the Word of God;Ruhu’llah- Spirit of God; Qaulu’l-Haqq the Speech of the Truth.
These titles do not mean to the average Muslim what they do to the Christian. To the Muslim they lack entirely the content of deity, and are devoid of any attribute or character.
In the Qur’an the name Jesus is never used for Christ. He is always referred to under the name of ‘Isa, which is believed to be a corruption of the Hebrew Yeshu. Baidawi, the famous commentator, states that it is so.
Opinions differ as to the reason why it was given its present form. Some say that it represents the Hebrew Esau, and when the Jews wished to caricature the name of Jesus they did so by calling him Esau.
But a more likely explanation is to be found in the Oriental law of correspondence or proportion. It consists in a system of rhyming of words or names, thus Cain in the Qur’an is changed into Kabil to rhyme with Habil.
Aaron becomes Harun, and Korah is turned into Karun to make proportion. There are many such instances.
What then could be more likely than that Jesus, the bringer of the Gospel, should be made to rhyme with Moses the name of the founder of the Law, thus, MusaIsa.
His superhuman works: The Qur’an says Isa healed ‘one blind from his birth, and the leper, and brought forth the dead from their graves,’ which shows that He moved about ‘doing good’ and lived a life of sympathy.
It says, too, that he created birds of clay, and after blowing upon them caused them to fly. This is a story from the Apocryphal Gospels that we do not accept, but its place in the Qur’an proves how highly Christ was esteemed by the Prophet.
His unique Ascension: Christ, according to Islam, was taken up bodily to heaven and is now alive, and from this fact it may reasonably be inferred that he alone of all the prophets is able to intercede.
Then it is a firm tenet of the Muslim Faith that Christ will come again, and be ‘a sign to all mankind’ of the near approach of the day of doom.
There are many other points of contact, though not any so direct as those mentioned. We should always remember that both Mohammendans and Christians believe in the Unity of God, in book revelations, in inspired prophets, in a resurrection of the dead, and a final judgement with rewards and punishment.
But what of all the gaps it will be seen that the Muslim has much in common with the Christian, but what do the gaps mean?
They mean direct denials of Christian faith, which have made such disagreement between the two Faiths that reconciliation is made infinitely more difficult than if there was no agreement at all.
These denials must be faced, for around them controversy has always waxed strong and bitter and will continue to do so, so long as the either party refuses to study the Scriptures of other thoughtfully and prayerfully.