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'The light that enlightens everyone'
Christianity and Islam
By David Thomas

Dr. David Thomas is one of the leading academic theologians in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations of the University of Birmingham, U.K.  He is also an active Christian minister of religion and a frequent contributor to, among others, the journal, "ISLAM & Christian-Muslim Relations."

This article was previously published in the, "Franciscan"the magazine of The European Province of the First Order of the Society of Saint Francis, September 2002, and is reproduced with the permission of the author.


During the eighth century expansion of Islam St John of Damascus portrayed the Saracens as heretics who had borrowed their beliefs from the Bible.  During the Crusades St Francis considered the Moors in such deep need of the Gospel that he urged his brothers to risk their lives to preach among them.  At the Reformation Martin Luther thought the Turks in Eastern Europe were agents of the devil come to punish sinful Christendom.  Today many Christians harbour the sentiment that Muslims are unreasonable and inclined to end differences with violence. How can they be sisters and brothers in faith when they seem so far from the principles on which faith stands?
It is undeniable that the central tenets of Islam are different from the teachings of Christianity. A reading of one of the most important parts of Muslim scripture immediately reveals this:
Say: He is God, the One,
God, who stands alone;
He does not beget and is not begotten,
And like him there is not one. (Ch.112)
This is the Chapter of Purity, from near the end of the Qur'an and, according to the Prophet Muhammad, equal in value to one third of the whole sacred text.  It asserts uncompromisingly the oneness of God, his transcendence, invulnerability and disjunction from any other being, and it implies that in the final analysis he cannot be comprehended by finite minds.  He is a God who remains mystery.
  The Qur'an plays on this fundamental theme throughout its 114 chapters. One recurring modulation is the denial of any relationship that might suggest communion of being between God and another being.  In consequence, the Qur'an unequivocally rejects the possibility that Jesus was divine or the Son of God.  'Jesus son of Mary' is the title he is usually given, and his virgin birth, miracles of healing and ability to raise the dead are all attributed to the infinite power of God to cause such things to happen, rather than interpreted as signs of the divinity of Jesus.
  The Qur'an portrays Jesus as a human prophet who was designated by God as one of his messengers.  He fulfilled his calling by declaring God's will to one community, and in this he was assisted and safeguarded by God.  God protected him to such a degree that when his enemies tried to silence him God saved him and took him to himself:
They did not kill him or crucify him,
It appeared so to them. (Ch.4.157)
In these words we see God in his omnipotence thwarting those who