What does the Bible say about Islam?
In the book of Acts we see the apostles of Jesus evangelize many different groups. There are Jews, Samaritans, Roman and Jewish rulers, magicians, philosophers, idol worshippers, plus followers of Zeus, Artemis, and John the Baptist—but no Muslims. There is an obvious reason for this: Islam did not appear until about 600 years after Jesus. Therefore, when you read the New Testament the subject of Islam and the person of Muhammad are never mentioned (though Jesus does warn generally about false prophets in Matthew 7:15-16 and 24:24-25).
What about the Old Testament? Muslims claim that Muhammad was a descendant of Ishmael. This has made Muslims and Christians look to the book of Genesis to find an origin for Islam and Muhammad, but none of the accounts of Ishmael mention the religion of Islam or the person of Muhammad, nor do they give any expectation for Islam or Muhammad in the future.
The Bible does not talk about Islam or Muhammad in the same way the Qur’an speaks directly about Christianity. It does not give us a model for how to understand Islam in the way it does for some other religions.
As a result, Muslims who learn their faith are prepared against Christianity—this preparation is compulsory. They either politely reject or argue about the gospel message, and are suspicious and dismissive of the Bible. The Muslim community feels confident both in rejecting Christianity and in instructing Christians about the truth of Jesus. They are ready to debate and present Islam as a correction to Christianity—though they may not necessarily say that Christianity is wrong. They may simply try to present Christianity and Islam as being the same. It is very common to hear Muslims say that we both believe in God; we both believe in Jesus; we both follow Abrahamic religions. They also know where Christians and Muslims differ, and so what subjects to stay awayfrom. Islam prepares Muslims to present it in various ways.
The situation is reversed for Christians. Since the Bible does not engage directly with Islam, learning about Islam is optional. Christians are not required to learn the main doctrines of Islam as part of being Christian, and many who actively learn their faith never learn about Islam at all. The result is that Christians are generally not prepared to talk with Muslims. They are not prepared for the Muslim objections to the gospel. They are not prepared for the well-researched attacks on the Bible and Christian doctrine. They are not prepared for the claims made of history. It can be quite unsettling when a Muslim challenges them in these ways.
I am not saying that the Bible is insufficient. I believe it is very sufficient. What I am saying is that the way the Qur’an prepares Muslims to deal with Christianity is completely different from the way the Bible prepares Christians to deal with Islam, and Christians need to appreciate this.
I have a friend who grew up in a Bible-believing church that taught the Scriptures well. He took full advantage of the training opportunities offered to him. After working as a doctor for some time, he completed a degree in theology at an excellent theological college. His first ministry position was on a university campus where he met an 18-year-old first-year Muslim student. The young Muslim brought up biblical textual criticism to show the corruption of the Bible, challenged my friend about the Christian relationship to the Old Testament, illustrated how Paul had corrupted Christianity, and quoted the Bible at length. My friend wrote to me and said:
The Muslim student was very articulate (for a first year) and pushed me just as hard intellectually as I pushed him. It made me realize that if I was finding this difficult, many of our students would struggle too. It made me realize how ill-equipped theological college left me for engaging with Islam.
My friend was surprised but not shaken in his faith. This is sadly not always the case: I also know of a missionary couple who, after receiving their theological training, went out on the mission field and were exposed to the Islamic arguments against Christianity for the first time. One of them converted to Islam.
I do not want to scare you with this information, but I do want you to understand our context. The Christian church has educated the West about Christianity very well for a long time, but we have not educated ourselves or the West about Islam. This is why we know so little about Islam today and are surprised by the rapid appearance of Islam on the world stage. This is why our educational institutions deal with Islam in a superficial way, and why the Western media and politicians say things about Islam that can only be described as absurd. This is why we can be so easily fooled.
Islam is not optional anymore. It is a challenge to the church on every front, a challenge that shuts down alternative voices when it gains control. But Islam also brings many opportunities.
The first opportunity is for evangelism. Since Muslims are meant to know about Christianity, talking about Christianity is something Muslims are meant to do! This provides Christians with a great opportunity because it gives us our opening line: “What have you heard about Christianity?”Whether they have been taught a little or a lot, it is a valid question to ask and one that they are meant to be able to answer.
The second opportunity is for our preparation. Since we know the standard topics Islam prepares Muslims for, we can prepare ourselves in these areas (it is even helpful to know exactly which areas to prioritize). Of course, any issue may surface when talking with a Muslim, but topics like the Trinity, the incarnation and the reliability of the Bible are more likely to arise.
Finally, Islam brings a new opportunity for learning our own faith better. The pressures we face from the world often determine what areas of the Christian faith we focus on. Up until recently, the main pressure has come from the Western secular world. It has challenged Christians in areas like the existence of God, suffering and the goodness of God, the conduct of the church, religion and science, and sexuality and gender; but it cares little for discussing the Trinity, the incarnation, or how we are saved. Islam, however, does care about these subjects, and so in preparing to engage with Muslims we will learn how to better articulate our central doctrines for a new context and generation.