We talked about Islam in my Sunday School class not long ago. In recent weeks, we had turned to the subject of how Christians might or should view other religions, and it was felt that those in the class would benefit from learning more about other religions.
It is hard, if not impossible, to discuss how one might view other religions without knowing something about them, after all. Much of this resulted from one person in the class expressing surprise that I’m pretty sure others felt when they discovered that Muslims believe in the virgin birth but not the divinity of Jesus.
There were other surprises, I’m quite sure. We started off with an activity I’ve used in my university classes on Islam. I distributed copies of the Apostles’ Creed and asked everyone to underline those things they thought Muslims would disagree with. (I think the original idea for the activity came from Alfred Guillaume’s classic introduction to Islam.)
Without negating points about which Christians and Muslims would disagree—such as whether Jesus was crucified—I sought to counter some stereotypes. In particular, I emphasized that most Christians and most Muslims understand their scriptures as justifying, if not encouraging, them to live in peace with their neighbors. For those who desire conflict, verses that might justify violence can be found as easily in the Bible as in the Qur’an, if not more so.
We managed to touch only briefly on the legacy of British colonialism in relation to the Islamic world today, the status of women and even fundamental subjects like the “five pillars” of Islam and the Hadith. The overview we began stretched into a second Sunday School class.
I went over the “five pillars” of Islam but also emphasized that doing so no more gives a real sense of what Islam means to its followers than learning some creeds or even reading the Bible would give an impression of what Christianity is.
One of the class participants had read a book by John Ankerberg claiming the Qur’an never uses the word “love.” I had my Pocket PC with a searchable, English translation of the Qur’an, as well as my printed copy of the Yusuf Ali rendering, so I was able to point out that this was incorrect.
The main point here: One shouldn’t turn to a Christian apologist for one’s information about Islam. After all, how many Christians would be happy with the impression of their religion given by an apologist for Islam?
There was also a question about whether Muslims view Christians – and others – as saved. In response, I read from the second chapter, or surah, of the Qur’an:
“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds—shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” (2:62)
That statement is repeated twice more in the Qur’an.
James F. McGrath is associate professor of religion at Butler University in Indianapolis. He belongs to the Crooked Creek Baptist Church, an ABC-USA church in Indianapolis. This column appeared previously on his blog.