Passages from the Qur'an said to be revealed in the earliest days of Islam suggest that Muhammad (570-632) viewed his religion as a reassertion of the monotheism of Christianity. As contacts between Christians and the nascent Muslim sect in Mecca increased, he even reportedly dissuaded his followers from debating with Christians. Instead the Muslims were instructed to approach them by saying, "We believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we have surrendered" (29:46). Nearly 1,400 years later, in an age of religious syncretism, it seems that many Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly in the West, would agree. However, even a brief assessment of the Qur'an makes it evidently clear that Christianity and Islam share very little in common. Indeed, the Qur'an directly challenges the theology and authority of the Bible.
Before surveying relevant material from the Qur'an, a brief introduction to its place in the Muslim worldview is necessary. To begin with, Muslims consider the Qur'an to be the Word of God. A few passages from its rather obscure text suggest-and Islamic scholars almost unanimously agree-that it has existed for all eternity, but to lead human beings "out of the depths of darkness into light" (14:1). It entered the world, descended upon, and was delivered orally through Muhammad from 610 to 632 (13:39, 97:1-5). While there is evidence that many of his companions wrote down what he said during Muhammad's lifetime, these revelations were not collected into one text until three decades or so after his death.
The central theological motif of the Qur'an is that God is one. Chapter 112:1-4, which is said to sum up a third of all Islamic doctrine, instructs Muslims to confess that God is also the eternal, incomparable sustainer of all humankind. While this may at first seem compatible with Christian teachings about the nature of God, this passage goes one step further and divorces Islam from Christian theism by asserting that God "begets not, nor is He begotten." Elsewhere and more poignantly it addresses Christians specifically: "Say not 'Trinity' . . . for Allah is one God" (4:171), for the teaching that three persons comprise the one divine essence of God is viewed, at best, as a subtle form of polytheism in the Qur'an.
Nowhere is the Qur'an's challenge to the theology of the Bible clearer than its treatment of the person and work of Christ. While it maintains-along with the Gospels-that Christ was born of a virgin (19:20-21), it flatly denies that Jesus was the son of God. In addition to the passage above defining the nature of God as one who "begets not," the Qur'an boldly claims that it is not fitting for God to have a son (19:35, 92). In fact, it describes the doctrine of the incarnation of God in Christ as a "monstrous" assertion (19:89). Explaining the logic of this, the Qur'an rhetorically asks, "How can He have a son when He hath no consort?" (6:100-101) "Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son" (72:3). To be sure, as many note, Christ is revered in the Qur'an, but it is the Christ of the Qur'an-who is only a messenger of God (4:171, 5:75)-not the biblical Christ.
If this were not troubling enough from a Christian standpoint, the Qur'an even denies that Christ was crucified. Instead, it claims, rather ambiguously, that someone who looked like him took his place while Christ ascended into heaven to await his return on the day of judgment (4:157-159). Despite the contradiction with both the biblical and extra-biblical historical record that Christ was not crucified is of no consequence to a Muslim. The Qur'an denies that human beings are inherently sinful and, furthermore, that sins need to be expiated. While in the Qur'an Adam and Eve did fall prey to temptation, they were immediately absolved and forgiven (2:36-38, 7:23-24). Neither they nor their descendents fell under the curse of sin and the law. Rather, God simply forgives sins as he wills (11:90; 39:53-56), and humans earn their salvation by submitting themselves to God and doing good (4:125, 41:33).
Complementing this rather low view of sin, or at least of the consequences of sin, the Qur'an has a very high view of humankind. All human beings are born in a state of righteousness. They do not, as Romans 3 makes clear, in accordance with their sinful nature, turn away from God. Rather, the Qur'an teaches that all human beings are, according to their nature (fitra) predisposed to worship the God of Islam (30:30). Muhammad even taught that every human being brought into the world is by nature a Muslim. It is only through the misguided nurturing of their parents (and other influences) that they turn away from it.
This motif that Islam is the aboriginal religion of humanity and history is prominent in the Qur'an. All the prophets beginning with Adam through Moses and Jesus proclaimed essentially the same message that Muhammad, the sign and seal of the prophets (30:40), preached. "It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion [the Qur'an]" (3:3, 9:111). Muhammad did not start a new religion, the Qur'an claims. Instead, he revived the religion of Moses and Jesus, whose messages had been corrupted (tahrif). Jews and Christians, the Qur'an charges-and later Muslim tradition develops-purposely altered the text and skewed the message of Moses and Jesus. Thus, God sent Muhammad to reiterate what truth was left in the Judeo-Christian tradition and to secure the full revelation of God once and for all in the Qur'an.
Clearly, the Qur'an contradicts the essence of biblical Christianity. It rejects the triune nature of God, disfigures the biblical doctrines of the person of Christ, and denies justification through faith on account of the work of Christ on the cross. While claiming to be the perpetual religion of nature and history, following in the footsteps of Christianity, it attempts to justify its claims by asserting that the Word of God, revealed in the New and Old Testament, is corrupted. While still a relatively foreign religion, as the Muslim population continues to escalate and migrate westward, the Christian church must be prepared to respond to the challenge of Islam. This not only requires a solid grounding in biblical doctrine, but also a thorough acquaintance with the Qur'an.