© A.R.Miller, 2022
*Note: in Arabic and English Muslims say: “ﷺ = May God’s Peace and Blessings be Upon Him” after saying the name of Jesusﷺ or Mohammedﷺ. However as this is not a common spoken nor literary usage in the English language and causes disruption in the flow and thoughts of the English reader, the following Arabic calligraphy that means May God’s Peace and Blessing be Upon Him: “ﷺ” will be placed after each name mentioned.
One of the biggest problems that I had prior to converting to Islam was the question that haunted my mind which was “am I betraying Jesusﷺ if I convert to Islam?”
This really was a big question for me and it was something that held me back from converting. As I think about the issue and what I was feeling at the time, I believe it is something that may be holding others back as well. I have seen a number of Muslim Dawaa (those who set up tables and hand out Islamic literature and answer questions) presenters on YouTube talking with people on the street and almost inevitably it gets to the point where the person being talked to is just about ready to convert and say their profession of faith for Islam (Shahada) but something holds them back and inevitably they will say they will think about it and come back.
And I believe it is this feeling of “well if I convert to Islam will I be betraying Jesus?” that hinders and blocks a lot of people from accepting the truth of Islam. So why do these feelings come about?
In my own experience with a Dawaa person who spoke to me in London, I had a feeling that I needed to break away from the conversation because I had this gnawing feeling in my gut that I couldn't understand or explain at the time. Luckily for us both in that situation God was guiding us because that person said to me exactly what I needed to hear at that particular point in time and so I didn't have to confront this issue of feeling like I was betraying Jesus right then and there.
But it was a feeling that started to haunt me and while I began to learn and appreciate the religion of Islam the thought that I may be betraying the person who sacrificed his life, sacrificied himself for my sins was overwhelming.
So why does or why can a Christian develop these feelings? Quite frankly it has to do with how Chrsitians are taught about the Crucifixion and the theology of atonement. What does this mean “the theology of atonement?” I can tell you it was something that I never heard of before nor did I ever question or think about. It was something I learned from my earliest days as a Christian, but was never really defined nor was it something I thought critically about. It was a theological point of view that was just accepted, and I did not start to critically think about this theology until I started thinking about converting and becoming a Muslim.
The atonement theology is one way of viewing Jesus and his death (of which there are other theologies) that I accepted because it was something that I have learned throughout my entire life as a Christian.
So let’s have a look at what this means by examining the meaning of Jesus’ death and atonement for us.
The death of Jesusﷺ is quite a difficult issue to tackle not only for lay people but also for theologians, pastors, priests and seminarians. In many ways this difficulty is part of the reason why there are so many denominations of the Christian faith. We can look and see a wide range of theologies ranging from the evangelical fundamentalist point of view to the Orthodox-Catholic view and all the way to the Unitarian view. And of course this doesn't even include the Jehovah Witnesses nor the Mormons and all the others.
I'm going to bypass the issue of the crucifixion as a means of death because that in and of itself is an entirely separate subject that I will cover in another article. So we will start with the assumption that the human body, the shell of Jesusﷺ, is deceased.
And right away we have problems because there are a number of questions and different views right out of the gate on who and what Jesusﷺ was. Why did I just say “shell” of Jesusﷺ? Was he a human that was infused with the spirit of God? Was he the Word, or literally God himself? Did he have a dual nature, sometimes God, sometimes human? Was he part of the Godhead and has existed forever? Is he part of a trinity of beings? Was he something else? Finally, there is an Islamic view of his life and death as well in which he is a great prophet, which we will cover later.
Let's regroup and go back to what did his death mean, and for modern Christians the death of Jesusﷺ means that he died for the atonement of our sins. Note here that I said modern Christians. This is what is called Pauline Theology, the letters and writings of Paul that have influenced the modern Christian church on all levels. The Pauline Theology is also called Gentile Theology.
To be more specific the Pauline theology of Jesus’ﷺ death is also called the substitutionary theory of atonement. Using a broad explanation, Paul was in many ways confused on how to include Gentiles into the then Jewish Rite of Christianity. Gentiles were to accept all of the Jewish law, get circumcised, and in effect become Jews in order to become Christians. This is what the early, first church demanded. Without becoming a Jew, a Gentile could not be saved and go to heaven. Remember, Jewish law specifically states that God made his covenant with the Jews and Israel, no one else.
Paul’s way around this was that the sacrifice given on the cross circumvented the need to follow Jewish law, and therefore, a Gentile can become a Chrisitan, be saved and go to heaven, without having to be circumcised or follow Jewish law or anything else. In effect the way to think about this substitutionary theology is if you owed me $50 for something and you could not pay it. You just did not have the money, and I demanded payment from you. Well, I may have someone come forward and pay the money for you, relieving you of the debt. This is a substitutionary way of having the debt relieved.
Paul’s letters as well as the Gospel of Mark are proponents of the substitutionary atonement theory. And as I stated this is the prevalent view in most modern day Christian churches. Thus the average Christian who is considering Islam has this “burden” of Jesusﷺ sacrificing himself for their sins hanging over their heads when they begin to think about converting to Islam and is the reason why the feelings of betrayal, or of guilt, are so deep.
However this is not the only theory on the meaning of Jesus'ﷺ death. In fact in the Gospel of Luke and in the Letters of Acts, we see another theory or theology, which is called the moral influence theory of atonement. In this scenario Jesus'ﷺ death is meant to persuade humankind to come back towards God. In this theory Jesusﷺ is a great and innocent prophet who was rejected and ultimately killed by his people. He was innocent of all wrongdoing. Therefore his innocent death brings about a great feeling of shame and guilt on us, and thus people would turn back and repent to God who would forgive them.
Why is the second theory of moral influence not so prevalent? Why is it not taught today in our churches and Sunday schools? Why did it take me personally to consider and convert to Islam before I came to even know of it? Part of this is due to the manipulations of theology by church leaders so that people are instructed in a systemic, aligned, coherent way in what they (early church leaders) deemed as the correct interpretation of Jesus’ﷺ mission. In Paul’s time, the question of becoming a Jew (converting to Judaism) or not was the problem of his day. It was a major problem and a severe blocker. Later on in history it was the “nature” of Jesus. While a little bit beyond the scope of this topic I would like to point out that in Luke during the last supper the words of “this is my body given..” were actually later added to the Gospel and were not present in the earliest copies. Why is this? Well it's because as the theory of atonement became the mainstream theology, and as the gospels were being developed, that theology was to be taught and therefore needed the correct wording. So the Gospel needed to be harmonized so that these differences would not cause confusion amongst people, and thus the additional words were added.
Just this one addition, adding the additional word (and there were other additions/subtractions/alterations) in and of itself gives me great pause in my reflections. So we have people manipulating and changing the contents of the Gospel so that it harmonizes with the theology that was being taught. Probably with all the best intentions. But was this an isolated incident? (No). What else was manipulated? And even greater still, were there “Gospels” that were not included in the canon because they did not meet certain criteria given at the time (ie: they did not convey the message that was decided upon)? The answer is yes. What did those gospels say, where did they go? Again, another question for another day.
The substitutionary atonement versus moral influence theological battle was one that I struggled with immensely. I was brought up with the substitutionary theory of atonement and I didn't question any other concepts or theories as they may have been heretical and I trusted in what I was taught and in who was teaching me (the church).
However, learning about the moral influence theory was in fact a major step for me, for one it meant that there was more than one interpretation to Jesus’ﷺ life and death (that is given in the Gospels) and two in my mind it was a much more sound argument. I began to accept it. Of course this helped alleviate the feelings of betrayal somewhat, because as I was to come to learn, this theology is much more in line with the Islamic point of view.
The Islamic point of view of who Jesusﷺ is comes of course from the Qur’an, in which we read Jesus saying: “I am a servant of God. He has granted me the scripture and made me a prophet” (19:30). Muslims believe that Jesusﷺ was a human being appointed by God as his messenger. He was born of the Virgin Mary and taught that we should worship one God and lead a morally upright life.
So far so good, this is all in line with what I have been taught.
God granted Jesusﷺ many miracles throughout his life and when he came of age he traveled and preached throughout the land of Roman Palestine. He taught the scripture that God sent to him which is today known as the Gospel (Injeel in Arabic).
He stressed that you should put God first in your life, as shown in what has been called the great commandment of Jesusﷺ which states: “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mt 22:37-39).
To help reinforce this message, God enabled him the ability to perform miracles. He helped the blind see, healed lepers and even raised someone from the dead. He gathered a circle of devoted followers who all helped spread his message which is to love the Lord God.
After Jesusﷺ was taken to heaven, his followers tried to maintain the purity and clarity of his message. However from the start problems arose which we see with the first Council of Jerusalem where the question of whether or not non-Jews (Gentiles) needed to convert to Judaism and follow the Jewish laws in order to be a Christian, or not. For the followers of Jesusﷺ, his actual disciples and the early Christians who were God fearing Jews, the answer was yes. To the man known as Paul, the answer was “no”, Gentiles were excluded from these rules. And thus, the first division occurs.
*(Yes, very basic top level information here about this division, the point being made is that from the start there were differences of opinion).
Which we find stated in the Qur’an: “And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it” (4:157), which correctly identifies that there was confusion and trouble understanding the message of Jesusﷺ.
And this was just the start of the message of Jesusﷺ being altered and changed over the centuries. We know that from the time Jesusﷺ was taken to heaven until the year 325, many new theologies came to being on just who he was and what he taught, which is fascinating to research, but beyond the scope of this presentation. Ultimately the theology that was developed and won out is called the Trinity. In this theology of Christianity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were declared to be one, which was called the Trinity. From its declaration as the unified theology at the conclusion of the Nicean Council in 325 AD, it ultimately became the mainstream theology of Christianity and even was the driving factor of how new testament scrolls were edited, which Gospel books were considered “orthodox” and were ultimately selected as “canon”, which became the New Testament Gospel we know of today.
*We will certainly speak about this matter in another podcast.
Muslims of course do not share this view of a trinity and hold that Jesus was a great prophet who did great things and who came to call people to love the one God, which was the message that Jesus preached. The whole history of the Trinity, and how it came into being, is a fascinating topic, that I hope to one day review, God willing.
This for me was one of foremost questions in my mind when I began to consider Islam. Was I going to betray Jesusﷺ?
So let's examine some statements Jesusﷺ made, and how a Muslim follows this. I really don't think that spending time trying to answer the questions of “Did Paul change Christianity?” or “Do modern Christians really follow Jesusﷺ today?” are relevant to this discussion because I don't feel that it adds value to this conversation. We know there are many, many denominations of Christianity with many differing views of who he was and what his ministry was about. So instead of jumping down that rabbit hole, I will argue based on the sayings of Jesus.
The sayings and statements that we have recorded in the Gospels from what Jesus said is the best place to start. Starting with the great commandment of loving the Lord God with all your heart mind and soul fits in perfectly well with Muslim teachings which state doing that exact thing!
The quote that says: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the father except through me” (Jn 14:6) is one that could be read as a mutually exclusive comment, and I believe is incorrectly applied in that way. This statement fits perfectly well in Islamic teachings, in that every nation receives a prophet that calls people to God, and that the people of that time needed to follow that prophet. This is what Islam teaches which makes this comment make much more sense.
Another quote is: “A new command I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). This is another one of his major points of emphasis, was that love overcomes hate and anger. Again you see that this is in perfect harmony with the hadith from the prophet Mohammedﷺ: “You will not enter Paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you love each other” (Sahih Muslim 54).
“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners” (Mk2:17). Here we see a parallel with the Qur’an being given as a divine guidance for all of mankind. It tells us to help one another with acts of piety and righteousness. And in the Qur’an we see “Allah is He who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed” (67:2), which we can also find with a quote “God saves the hardest tests for his best soldiers.”
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy” (Mt5:7). This is a beautiful quotation that fits so well into the practices of the prophet Mohammedﷺ who over and over again showed mercy to those who reviled him, hurt him, hurt his family, and hurt his friends. Time and time again he showed them mercy. And it says in the Qur’an itself: “And We have not sent you, O Muhammad, except as a mercy to the worlds” (21:107).
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt11:30). This is where Jesus is speaking of physical burdens of religion that were placed on the people of his time. And we see how Islam also states that religion should not be made difficult for the people. The Qur’an states: “…has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty” (22:78).
This is perhaps my favorite quote: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt4:4). And with his quote we have the Qur’an, which is literally the word of God, and we can see that when the Qur’an enters into your life that everything starts to get better and better. Everything about the Qur’an is helpful, from the soothing vibrations of it being chanted, to the peace and harmony that comes from reading it, and the improvement of life from following it.
Of course these are not all of the quotes that Jesus made in the Gospel but they are a few that I hope can show the harmony between the Gospel message of Jesusﷺ and Islamic teachings from the Quran and hadith. I feel that Muslims actually do follow much more directly the statements and commands of Jesusﷺ.
I can say personally that I myself am following the statements and the commands from the message of Jesusﷺ much better and much more closely than I ever have in my life.
Which of course helps me alleviate any feelings of guilt or betrayal.
Before I converted I know I felt feelings that I would be betraying the teachings of Jesusﷺ if I became a Muslim. In fact I have learned over time but this is indeed not the case. I feel that I am a much better follower of Jesusﷺ now as a Muslim than I ever was when I was a Christian.
I also realize that those feelings of guilt were rooted in my being taught one form of interpretation of the message of Jesusﷺ. A message that is designed to generate feelings of guilt and shame if they are not followed. Since then, I understand that the actual message of Jesusﷺ is much different and more closely aligned with Islam.
Therefore, I hope that this presentation relieves you of any guilt or feelings of betrayal. While I know that it most likely will not happen overnight, I pray that as this sinks in you will also experience the joy and freedom that listening to the actual message of Jesusﷺ gives. Which is why I want to end with a comment on a historical narrative. This is a true story from the early days of Islam, when a portion of the early Muslims were sent from Mecca to the kingdom of Abyssinia, which is in present day Ethiopia and Eritrea, to avoid the hostilities that were being inflicted on them by the pagans living in Mecca at the time. The kingdom of Abyssinia was Christian, and was also called Aksum.
When the early Muslims arrived to this land, fleeing the persecution of the Meccans, the king at the time was a Christian. The ambassadors from Mecca spoke very ill about these Muslims to the king. The king therefore asked them about their new religion. The Muslim leader of this group recited a wonderful passage from the Quran, the Surah Mariam, which details the birth and overview of Jesus. When the King heard this beautiful passage he wept and claimed “this is what Jesus brought, and this Qur’an has come from the same source of light.”
How powerful is that? The Muslims were then granted asylum and safety by the king until it was safe enough for them to return back to Mecca.
This is a wonderful example of how when a person hears the Qur’an for the first time, they are overwhelmed by its power and beauty.
And truly, the source of the Qur’an and the source of the prophet Jesusﷺ are one and the same. Therefore, there is no need for any feelings of betrayal.
May God our Creator bless you and grant you peace.
See podcast version of this article here.
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