For Islam, Muhammad is considered the seal of the prophets, thus the last and greatest prophet. In Christianity, Jesus is the center and fulfillment of God’s redemptive work. In both religions, mention of these corresponding names evokes the strongest emotions. Both Muslims and Christians can feel hurt when these respective figures are mocked or insulted. From a casual perspective, this would appear to be a reason why both religions are similar. So let’s delve into this topic more thoroughly to find out whether there is something deeper showing how these religions are actually inverted from each other.
Within Islam, Muhammad is considered worthy of great praise. Muslims will adamantly tell you they do not worship Muhammad, and this topic was addressed in an earlier four part series. (1, 2, 3, 4) Regardless, Muslims have a deep love and respect for Muhammad, and indeed this is a commandment given to them from the Qur’an itself. In fact, this verse puts Muhammad as a priority over even those in a person’s own family. The Qur’an teaches that if a close relative opposes Muhammad, Muslims should no longer befriend them in any way.
[58:22] You shall not find a people who believe in Allah and the latter day befriending those who act in opposition to Allah and His Apostle, even though they were their (own) fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their kinsfolk;
In this verse, Muslims are instructed to not make friends with someone who is in opposition to Allah or Muhammad, even if that person is a parent or sibling. In other words, if your mother criticizes either Allah or Muhammad, you should not stay on good terms. Love for Muhammad should supersede the family attachment.
This deep love for Muhammad above even close relatives pervades Islamic teachings. As one Islamic blogger writes, “For us Muslims, the Beloved peace be upon him is more dear than our parents, our spouses, our children, and even ourselves.”[i] This type of attitude shouldn’t be surprising, as the Hadith report Muhammad himself commanding this as a precondition for faith.
Narrated Anas: The Prophet said “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.”
So how does this command by Muhammad compare with the teachings of Jesus? It isn’t quite the same, but Jesus did say something regarding putting Him as the ultimate priority in Matthew 10:37.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
Similarly, in Matthew 19:29, Jesus informs his followers that they may need to cut ties with parents or children in order to effectively follow him, and that they will be rewarded for doing so. However, this teaching within Christianity doesn’t quite line up with Islamic teaching. Jesus does make it clear that care of parents should not be abandoned for showy religions reasons (Matthew 15:5-6). He also makes sure His own human mother would be cared for after His death (John 19:27). But these small differences miss the much larger point.
The main difference here isn’t how we treat our parents relative to the central religious figure. At issue is to whom does such devotion belong? By this question I don’t mean Muhammad or Jesus. Rather, the question is posed in a much more abstract and philosophical sense. Is any man, whether prophet or not, worthy of such dedication and prioritization? Should any religious figure be loved even more than one’s own family? This question, though purely philosophical in nature, must be asked.
Is any mere human deserving of this kind of love, that one would abandon their own family members in order to follow their directives? In Islam, the answer is clearly “yes.” Muhammad is given this role, this devotion, this prioritization. Countless articles and Hadtih extol his great qualities, but that isn’t the point. The point is that no matter how excellently any human might be portrayed, are they worthy of full obedience? In Christianity, the answer is clearly “no.” While Jesus commanded this type of devotion and love from His followers, He didn’t do so as a mere human. As God in the flesh, the Christian devotion to Jesus is not a supreme love for another human. Perhaps better stated, it is not a supreme love for a mere human only, since Jesus was both all man and all God.
Only God is worthy of being loved to the extent that we would even consider parting from our family members. In Christianity, when Jesus commands this toward Himself, He does so with divine authority. In Islam, when Muhammad does this, he does so as a human only. The difference is stark. Islam elevates a mere man to the pinnacle of earthly devotion, while Christianity reserves such adoration for God alone.