Within both Christianity and Islam, a great deal of attention is paid to the issue of forgiveness. Both Muhammad and Jesus talked about forgiveness extensively. Because of this, many people assume that Christianity and Islam are quite similar. A cursory examination may lead to erroneous conclusions that only minor details vary between the two respective stances on forgiveness. However, a closer look at how Jesus and Muhammad approached the subject of forgiveness reveals some insightful and profound differences.
Forgiveness in Islam is a subject that occurs often in both the Qur’an as well as the Hadith. As an example, The Qur’an states,
[47:19] So know, [O Muhammad], that there is no deity except Allah and ask forgiveness for your sin and for the believing men and believing women. And Allah knows of your movement and your resting place.
In this verse, Muhammad and his followers are told about the exclusivity of Allah as God, and that they should be asking for forgiveness. Yet something is happening here that may not be immediately evident. Not only are Muslims commanded to ask for forgiveness, but Muhammad himself is included in that directive. Many modern Muslim apologists explain this away claiming that Muhammad did not sin, and thus was not required to seek forgiveness in the same way as other Muslims. However, the Hadith tell a different story. Perhaps it is best to draw our own conclusions by letting Muhammad’s own words speak for themselves. In his private life, Muhammad sought forgiveness, and his actions are recorded in countless Hadith, of which I have provided two as examples.
O Allah! Forgive me my sins that I did in the past or will do in the future, and also the sins I did in secret or in public. [i]
O my Lord, forgive me, and accept my repentance [ii]
As mentioned earlier, Muslims contend that Muhammad asked for forgiveness as an example to other Muslims only, and that he himself did not sin in such a manner that required him to actually need this forgiveness. While I strongly disagree with the logic that Muslims use to justify such arguments, something bigger is going on here so I choose to bypass this point of contention in order to arrive at a deeper truth. Regardless of whether he needed to or not, Muhammad definitely asked for forgiveness.
How does this compare to Jesus? As it happens, the Bible does clearly state that Jesus was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15). This is a foundational aspect of Christianity. If Jesus hadn’t led a sinless life, how could He have been the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14)? If He wasn’t the perfect sacrifice, how could He have paid for our sins (Hebrews 10:11-12)?
Since Jesus was sinless, (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5) He did not need to ask forgiveness. Not once did he ever do so even for show. Jesus never prayed for forgiveness, not even to serve as an example for the disciples. He did instruct the disciples on prayer, (Matthew 6:9) which included asking for forgiveness, but Jesus Himself never prayed that way.
Instead, when dealing with the issue of forgiveness, Jesus does something quite different. When four men daringly lowered a paralytic down to Him in the midst of a crowded room, Jesus told him that “his sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Such a statement evoked a strong yet proper response from the religions leaders of the day. They considered this action blasphemous, and rightfully so (Mark 2:7). Jesus continues by healing the paralytic. He then asks which is easier, to supernaturally heal a person, or to forgive their sins. Of course both are humanly impossible. Thus the question is posed as a means to show that Jesus’ statements regarding forgiveness of sins carries full weight and authority (Mark 2:10-11). Rather than seeking forgiveness for sin, Jesus went around granting forgiveness to others. He even prayed for forgiveness for the very people who hung him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Since God alone has authority to forgive sin, this is yet another demonstration and validation of who Jesus is.
This disparity couldn’t be more striking. Both Muhammad and Jesus speak of forgiveness, but they do so in exactly opposite ways. Muhammad prays to Allah to forgive him. Jesus bestows forgiveness on others. Which one do you want to put your trust in?