This essay was kindly submitted by Collins Maritim
Thomas Carlyle observed that the history of the world is really the biography of great men. And no two men have influenced our world more than Jesus and Muhammad. Nations have used their words as the foundation of their cultures and laws. Fully half of the world’s inhabitants trace the roots of their beliefs back to Muhammad’s words in the 7th century and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the 1st century. So who were these men who have changed our world, and how do they compare with one another? We begin with Muhammad.
Muhammad didn’t appear extraordinary at first. But in time his name became known throughout the Arab lands as the one who united a disparate group of nomad Arabs into a powerful force for their God. And today, nearly 1,400 years later, 1.8 billion Muslims revere Muhammad as the greatest of all prophets.
About six hundred years before Muhammad another man appeared on the scene who in three short years changed our world. His name is Jesus Christ. Within a few generations after he left earth, the power and might of the Roman Empire was enveloped by the phenomenon of Christianity, and today it is the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion followers.
Although Muslims and Christians both believe strongly in God, their religious differences have changed our 21st century world. But, can their many religious differences be traced back to the teachings of Muhammad and Jesus? If these religious leaders were alive today, would they reflect the divisions of their followers, or would they agree with one another?
Perhaps we can answer that question by looking at the similarities and differences of Muhammad and Jesus. Both religious leaders had some similarities, but their differences account for much of the division we see today between Islam and Christianity. In the next several pages, we will look at the:
Life of Muhammad
Life of Jesus
Similarities between Muhammad and Jesus
Differences between Muhammad and Jesus
After comparing Muhammad and Jesus, we will attempt to draw conclusions about what led to their enormous influence upon our world. We will also examine their messages for essential differences. First let’s take a brief look at their lives.
Life of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ was born about 6 B. C. in Bethlehem, an obscure village in the Roman province of Palestine. It was a time when many Jews were looking for the long promised Messiah spoken of hundreds of years before by Hebrew prophets. Luke, who documented the life of Jesus, writes that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and that the angel Gabriel proclaimed him as the “Son of the most High,” the “Savior of men” (Luke 1:26-38).
Jesus worked as a carpenter in the Galilean town of Nazareth. At age 30 he began his public ministry by teaching God’s Word and performing nature-defying miracles. Jesus’ words and miraculous deeds attracted huge crowds like a magnet. He spoke of God with an authority that marveled everyone.
Jesus’ sinless life of moral purity amazed both his followers and his enemies. He also astounded them by turning water into wine, walking on water, calming storms at sea, giving sight to the blind, healing paralyzed limbs, and restoring life to the dead. No one had ever demonstrated such power and authority. And his enemies were unable to refute Jesus’ amazing power over nature.
Not only did Jesus perform great miracles, but he also spoke words of such profound wisdom, that it was said of him that “no man has ever spoken like this.” His words were spoken with authority and revealed remarkable insight about the human condition. In fact, Jesus said his words were the words of God Himself.
Although the crowds that followed Jesus loved and accepted him, Jewish religious leaders were jealous of his fame and wisdom. In their envy, they continually sought to trip him up or catch him in a violation of their law.
But Jesus’ life was pure and above reproach. Rather than violating God’s law, Jesus fulfilled every single command by his righteous life. Jesus continually demonstrated heartfelt compassion for the poor and downcast. He looked beyond the outward appearances of men into their hearts. Jesus was always kind, going out of his way to help people, regardless of how important they were.
Jesus never boasted about himself. And his humility was blended with incredible courage and strength. He condemned religious hypocrisy, and spoke boldly in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Jewish leaders and Roman rulers. But Jesus also taught forgiveness, and demonstrated it by forgiving his executioners as he hung on the cross uttering, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:26-49).
Jesus made claims that totally infuriated his enemies. Jesus’ claims make it impossible that he was simply a prophet, a great religious leader, or merely a good man. “He was either who he claimed to be, [God] or he was a liar, or a madman, or something worse.”
Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his 12 disciples, and turned over to his Jewish enemies. The Romans then crucified Jesus on a cross and certified his death. After verifing his death, his body was placed into a rich man’s tomb in Jerusalem.
Jesus had told his disciples he would rise from the grave three days after his crucifixion. His disciples didn’t believe his words at first, and they fled the scene, afraid they would be killed like their leader. But three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, they were suddenly changed. In a dramatic turnaround, they began proclaiming that Jesus had risen, and eventually died as martyrs for what they believed to be true.
Before he ascended, Jesus promised that he would return to earth someday as Ruler. His followers’ conviction spread like a wildfire, consuming the entire Roman Empire. Our world has never been the same.
Life of Muhammad
Muhammad was born in 570 A.D in Mecca, a city in Western Saudi Arabia. He was an orphan, having lost both parents by the age of 6. After age 8 the young Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib. In time he joined the trading caravans as a merchant.
At age 25 Muhammad married a wealthy widow by the name of Khadijah, 15 years his senior. The couple had four daughters and two sons who died in infancy. During Muhammad’s life he had a total of eleven wives. He was described as gentle and humble by nature. He loved children and animals.
At age 40, Muhammad fell into a trance in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca where he claimed to have heard the angel Gabriel speak to him. Muhammad reportedly ran home crying out, “O, Kadijah! I have either become a soothsayer or else I am possessed of the Djin [demon] and gone mad.”
Khadijah and her Christian cousin Waraqah consoled Muhammad, assuring him his vision must be real, and that he was truly God’s prophet. Muhammad had additional revelations of Gabriel speaking to him, but he still had agonizing doubts about their reality. He was even more troubled when the revelations ceased, becoming dejected and entertaining suicide.
It wasn’t until later when his revelations resumed, that Muhammad finally began proclaiming himself as a prophet, and preaching “in the one sovereign God, resurrection, and the last judgment, and the practicing of charity to the poor and the orphans.”
Muhammad was illiterate and recited his revelations orally. It wasn’t until after his death that they were compiled and written down in the Qur’an. Muslims accept the Qur’an as a miracle, believing it is 100% inspired with no human error. Much of what we know as Islam – the lives and sayings of the Prophet – is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad’s death.
In the face of rampant idolatry, Muhammad became zealous for Allah. It was his zeal that led Muhammad to take up the sword for Allah. He would spread Islam by conquering the “infidel” (unbelieving) peoples, including Christians and Jews.
Prior to taking up the sword, Muhammad had co-existed peacefully with the many Jewish inhabitants of Medina. But when he realized the Jews rejected his prophetic calling and radical ideas, he became angry, and began treating them cruelly. As a result, some Jews were driven into exile by his militia, while others were executed with their widows and children being sold as slaves.
Prior to his death, Muhammad led several military campaigns. He proved to be a courageous and capable military leader. By the time of his death in 632, Muslims ruled only in Arabia. But within ten years the Arab Muslims conquered Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and then Persia (Iran). In one generation Muhammad and his followers had changed the political landscape of the Eastern world. Today Muslims around the world honor Muhammad as Allah’s one “True Prophet.”
Similarities between Jesus and Muhammad
Before we look at the differences between Jesus and Muhammad, let’s identify a few of their similarities.
Great religious leaders
Jesus and Muhammad established the world’s two largest religions, Christianity with 2.1 billion, and Islam with 1.8 billion people, together half of the world’s population.
Although their views of God’s nature were different, both men believed in and taught about one true God who is sovereign, infinite, all powerful, all-knowing, and the ultimate judge of all mankind.
Old Testament Scriptures
Both men accepted the Old Testament as God’s Word, and acknowledged Abraham, as the one through whom God would make a great people. Jews and Christians believe God’s promise is through Abraham’s son, Isaac, while Muslims believe it is through Abraham’s other son, Ishmael.
Neither Jesus nor Muhammad wrote a book. However, their respective followers recorded their words that we have today; the New Testament detailing the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and words, and the Qur’an, which records Muhammad’s account of his revelation. Whereas Muslims regard the Qur’an as a “Miracle” that must be taken by faith without the necessity of evidentiary support, Christians point to numerous evidences of ancient documents substantiating the reliability of the New Testament.
Muhammad’s most enduring influence has been his ability to unite disparate groups of Arab peoples under the banner of Islam, primarily by military conquest. This influence spread further by conquests of several surrounding countries.
Between the 8th century to the 13th century, Islam was instrumental in several developments in the arts and sciences. This period of cultural advancement is called “The Golden Age of Islam” During this Golden Age Muslim scholars made contributions to literature, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry. Muhammad’s influence rings loud today through his 1.8 billion followers around the world.
Jesus Christ influenced Western Civilization peacefully. He told us that God loves each of us individually and created us for Himself. He taught us to love and forgive each other. Secular world historian Will Durant credits Jesus’ teachings with “the beginning of democracy.” Jesus’ teaching of the high value of the individual resulted in the establishment of schools such as Yale and Harvard, the abolition of slavery, the elevated dignity of women, and countless hospitals charities and humanitarian works.
Differences between Muhammad and Jesus
Although some similarities exist between Muhammad and Jesus, their differences are far greater. Let’s look at a few of the most important.
Muhammad said he was just a man; Jesus claimed to be God. In fact, Muhammad never claimed to be more than a man, a prophet of Allah. His following prayer reflects that:
“O Allah! I am but a man.” (Ahmed, Musnad, Vol. 6, pg. 103)
Although Jesus was fully a man who felt pain, became hungry, tired, and was tempted like us, Jesus also claimed to be fully God, equal with his heavenly Father. He said that prior to becoming a man, he and the father had always existed as one God, and had jointly created the universe.
Several popular conspiracy theories, like The Da Vinci Code, have asserted that the church invented Jesus’ divinity, but historical evidence indicates the earliest Christians believed that Jesus is both Lord and God.
Christianity would not be the same if Jesus’ disciples hadn’t truly believed he was God. (The term, “Son of God” does not mean a biological offspring, or that Jesus is inferior to his Father, it only reflects their relationship with one another within the godhead). All the evidence points to the fact that the disciples totally embraced his deity.
As a mortal man, Muhammad sinned like us. Jesus was said to be “without sin” (John 8:46). Even his enemies were unable to accuse him of breaking any of God’s Commandments. But Muhammad admitted he had erred, and asked Allah for forgiveness three times (Sura al-Ghafir 40:55; 47:19 al-Fath 48:2).
Muhammad never performed a miracle (Qur’an 29:50), but Jesus exhibited complete authority over nature by performing numerous miracles (Mark 3:9,10).
Jesus fulfilled ancient Hebrew prophecies; Muhammad did not. Muhammad offered no credentials but his revelation. Yet, nearly 300 Old Testament prophecies with 61 specific details were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Only God could have brought all those details to pass. Thus, Jesus is a perfect match for each of them. Jesus’ divine credentials were established by his fulfillment of God’s prophetic Word.
Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated divine power; Muhammad died and his bones are reportedly within his grave at Medina. Jesus, on the other hand, came back to life three days after he was crucified and confirmed dead by Roman executioners. Both Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are historical facts for which there is compelling evidence.
Jesus taught love and grace; Muhammad taught submission and rules. Muhammad taught that we must attain salvation by adhering to Islam’s Five Pillars of the Faith. In other words, our salvation depends on our own efforts. Even then, one has no assurance of forgiveness, and must depend upon the mercy of Allah for forgiveness. Some Muslims believe that the Qur’an teaches that becoming a martyr for Allah will gain them favor and they will be rewarded by a heavenly harem.
Jesus said God created us for a relationship with Himself. His plan is to adopt us into His heavenly family as His beloved children. However, we rebelled against Him and broke His moral laws. The Bible calls this sin. Such disobedience against a holy God requires judgment. Our good deeds, money, or prayers cannot take away our sins.
The Bible tells us God is a pursuing God who devised a plan to free us from our sin debt. God’s solution was to pay the price Himself. In order to accomplish that, Jesus became a man who would die in our place (Philippians 2:5). Jesus said: “God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die for us” (John 3:16). Jesus taught that salvation is a free gift which must be embraced by faith in him alone, not our deeds. It is our choice to accept or reject God’s free pardon.
Jesus and Muhammad have at time been confused amongst scholars as being one in the same. Both of these individuals were born at completely separate times; however, both men served very similar purposes while on Earth. Jesus promoted Christianity and Muhammad promoted