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The word salvation can be defined from many perspectives. From a religious point of view, salvation is the act of rescuing from sin and its eternal consequences by a divine power. The divine power being God, who through divine providence rescues his creation from death and gives eternal life. In this essay I compare the way of salvation from the perspective of Islam and Christianity. According to Christianity, salvation is the deliverance by the grace of God, from eternal punishment of sin for which is granted to those who accept by faith Godï¿½s conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The central theme of the Christian message is that the human situation has in some way been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ a person can be saved.
Salvation is the act of delivering from sin. The fundamental sense of ï¿½sinï¿½ is something that separates humanity from God. Salvation is the breaking down of the barrier of separation between humanity and God on account of Christ. Sin is thus seen as the antithesis of salvation (McGrath 96-97).
Islam and Christianity differ in their ideas on how to be saved. The key to understanding Islam is seen in the idea of the balance scale of judgement. Muslims believe that they have to counterbalance their bad deeds with good ones as opposed to Christians who believe that they should try to live sinless like Jesus because all sin is displeasing to God whether or not they are balanced by good deeds. The Bible says:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (Holy Bible1 John 1:9)
Then, he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) heavy, will be in a life of good pleasure and satisfaction. But he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) light, - Will have his home in a (bottomless) pit. (Holy Qurï¿½an 101: 6-9)
If the scale tips in favour of good works, the Muslim will reach heaven but if this is not the case, he will be banished to hell eternally. Rathel in his article says that Christianity ascribes salvation to the grace of God rather than the actions of human beings (Salvation: Scales or Grace). Jesus serves as an intercessor between God and man by giving Himself as a ransom for humanity.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (Holy Bible 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Islam and Christianity diverge on their understanding of sin. Christianity teaches that man is born in sin and that sin is a part of life. None is born without the mark of sin upon his soul, ï¿½all have sinned.ï¿½(Romans 3:10). But the saviour Jesus Christ died for the sins of man to bring them back to God.
Christian theology and evangelism centres on the ï¿½good newsï¿½ that Christï¿½s death and resurrection opened up the way for salvation. ï¿½Nicholas Cabasilas argued that Christï¿½s death took place in such a way that he was able to deal with each of the three afflictions of sinful humanity-namely its transient and finite human nature, its sinful character and its ultimate fate of death. In each of these aspects, Cabasilas argued that Christ entered into the human situation and transformed it. By becoming incarnate, He transformed human nature, by dying on the cross, he defeated sin, through His resurrection, and Christ defeated the power of death. By doing all these things, Christ abolished the obstacles in the way of humanity returning to Godï¿½ (qtd. in McGrath 97).
ï¿½For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.ï¿½ (Romans 5: 10).
Islam rejects the doctrine of original sin. Muhammad said, ï¿½Every human being is born in a state of pure nature, but through the influence of his parents, he may become non-Muslim.ï¿½ Islam does not accept the Christian doctrine that a sinful nature characterises humanity but it accepts the universality of sin but provides no explanation for this. In Islam sin is seen as forgetfulness to walk in the path of the Lord, so it does not corrupt human nature.
If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, he would not leave on the (earth), a single living creature....ï¿½ (Holy Qurï¿½an 16:61).
Although some of its features closely resemble that of other religions, Christianity is not a religion. It differs in the idea that people can establish and maintain a relationship with God. In Islam, one does not know God because He is unknowable; the Muslim follows the rules and regulations that make up the religion. Salvation is mentioned several times but not as a gift for devout Muslims but as a reward for those who submit and obey the will of Allah.
Muslims believe that salvation comes only through Allah. Only those who obey Allah and Muhammad, His prophet can enter into heaven.
And if any believe not in Allah and His Messenger, we have prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire! (Holy Qurï¿½an 48:13).
Christians believe that because the effect of original sin was so enormous, man became incapable of returning to God by himself, he needed a ï¿½saviourï¿½ to bring him back to God. And because God loved the world, He sent His Son Jesus to lead man back to Him.
ï¿½For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Holy Bible John 3:16).
By sending His son, God promised salvation to those who believed in Him. ï¿½To accomplish this task, Jesus came into the world, suffered, shed His blood and died on the cross. Hence Jesus is called Saviourï¿½ (Omoregbe 29). The title of ï¿½Saviourï¿½ is not given to Allah in Islam but in the Bible, Jesus is seen as the Saviour, and without going through Him there is no salvation. In terms of Jesusï¿½ function, the title ï¿½saviourï¿½ affirms that He is able to bring the salvation that God promised to his people (McGrath, Christian Theology: An introduction 280). In Islam there is no need for a saviour because every individual can work out his or her own salvation.
Jesus said to him, ï¿½I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (Holy Bible John 14:6).
The Christian understanding of salvation is specifically linked with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (McGrath 99). Christians believe that Jesus Christ is a model for the redeemed life. McGrath recognizes two ways in which Christian life is ï¿½shapedï¿½ by Jesus Christ. ï¿½The Christian life takes the form of the believerï¿½s sustained attempt to imitate Christ.ï¿½ ï¿½The Christian life is a process of ï¿½being conformed to Christï¿½ in which the outward aspects of the believerï¿½s life are brought into line with the inward relationship to Christ, established through faithï¿½ (McGrath 99-100).
Islam denies the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus never died:
That they rejected faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; That they said (in boast), ï¿½We killed Jesus Christ the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah;ï¿½-but they killed him not, nor crucified him. Only a likeness of him was shown.....Nay Allah raised him up to Himself; and Allah is exalted in Power, Wise...... (Qurï¿½an 4:156-158n)
The Qurï¿½an teaches that the only thing guaranteeing no salvation is disbelief in the one God and associating others with God. They accept the existence of Jesus but acknowledge him as one of the prophets sent by Allah. Belief that He is the son of God is a sin and guarantees no salvation. Any Muslim who believes in the one God must say this:
He is Allah the One; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (Qurï¿½an 112:1-4).
Islam teaches that salvation must be earned through belief in the ï¿½five pillars of practice,ï¿½ belief in the ï¿½articles of faith,ï¿½ death in a jihad, pilgrimage to Mecca and on the day of judgement, good deeds must outweigh the bad. But belief in all these does not necessarily guarantee an entrance into paradise for the Muslim.
ï¿½Of all the ceremonial duties incumbent on the Muslim, Salah or the ritual prayer is an essential obligation of Muslim worship and the supreme act of righteousness.ï¿½ (Farah135-136). Prayer is the central act of righteousness in Islam, the very essence of the life of a Muslim. Prayer in Islam is not the same as prayer in Christianity; there is a very significant difference here.
Christians believe that through prayer they can enter into a ï¿½conversation with God from the heart,ï¿½ or ï¿½come into the presence of God.ï¿½ concurring with almost any other daily activity. (Grieve 100). In contrast a Muslim prays only by way of performing certain prescribed physical acts and spoken words for his prayer to be ï¿½accepted.ï¿½ The act of prayer is not left to the impulses of the believer, it is a ritual performed according to a prescribed pattern.
Another difference between Christianity and Islam is made clear here in the area of prayer. Where a Christiansï¿½ prayer is essentially personal from the outset, the consideration of oneself in Islam can only begin after the outward formula has been followed and an acceptable prayer has been accomplished.
Christian salvation is grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Irenaeus developed the idea of ï¿½recapitulation.ï¿½ This is the repetition of all historical events. He says that Christ ï¿½recapitulatesï¿½ the history of Adam, succeeding where Adam failed, and thereby undoing the fall of humanity (McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction 328). St. Paul says, ï¿½As sin came into the world through one man (Adam), so did grace come into the world through Jesus Christï¿½ (qtd. in Omoregbe 29).
ï¿½For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.ï¿½ (1 Corinthians 15:22).
In Islam there is generally no assurance or certainty of salvation even if a Muslim does all that is required of him or her. In Hadith al-Bukhari, Muhammad said, ï¿½By Allah, though I am the apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to meï¿½ (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Book 58: Merits of the helpers in Madinah [Ansaar]).
ï¿½In contrast, Christianity proclaims that a believer may have assurance of eternal life.ï¿½ (Salvation: Scales or Grace).
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (Holy Bible 1 John 5:13).
ï¿½Christians experience assurance because salvation is an act of God and not by the action of an individualï¿½ (Salvation: Scales or Grace). By dying for sinners, Jesus made Grace available to man. This grace has made up for the damage caused by sin.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not by yourselves: it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8).
In Islam, death in a Jihad is a guarantee of heaven. Jihad means ï¿½the exerting of oneï¿½s power in repelling the enemy or in contending with an object of disapprobationï¿½ (Ali 205). The Holy Qurï¿½an speaks of a jihad to attain to Allah, ï¿½And those who strive hard for Us, we will certainly guide them in Our waysï¿½ (qtd in A Manual of Hadith Pg 205 29:69). It then speaks of a jihad against unbelievers by means of the Holy Qurï¿½an, ï¿½Strive hard against them a mighty striving with it (the Qurï¿½an)ï¿½ (qtd in A Manual of Hadith Pg 205 25:52). Throughout history, Muslim extremists such as the Kharijite and Egyptï¿½s Jihad Organisation (which assassinated Answar Sadat) have ignored the fact that jihad is not supposed to include aggressive warfare and should only be fought peaceably and as a means of converting people to Islam using the Qurï¿½an (Esposito 93).
Jihad is a Muslimï¿½s foremost duty. A promise is given that if Muslims exerted themselves to their utmost to uphold the cause of Islam, they would be in the ascendant (qtd in a Manual Of Hadith Pg 206, hh 3, 4).
Christians are assured of salvation and eternal life because Christ gave His life as a ransom for their sins, He therefore paid the price for their sins and by the grace of God they are saved. Muslims who believe in God and do what is right can earn salvation.
ï¿½Those who believe (in the Qurï¿½an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, - any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieveï¿½ (Holy Qurï¿½an 2:62).
In conclusion, the main difference between Islamic and Christian salvation is: Christian salvation is by the grace of God and not by the works of man while Islamic salvation is by the works of each Muslim.