How many times have I heard someone state that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Christians and Muslims both pray, both fast, both have a holy book, and both are commanded to obey their respective moral codes. Yet the more I learned about Islam, the more it seemed evident that key differences of a severe nature existed. Those differences are neither just details of observance nor minor issues of practice. Rather, those differences are profound and yet subtle enough that they require a bit of investigation to bring them out. Moreover, those differences when viewed in succession reveal a sinister pattern that becomes clear to the thoughtful reader. But back to the main point, as Ravi Zacharias said “I often hear the question posed wrongly, ‘Aren’t all religions fundamentally the same and superficially different?’ No. They are fundamentally different and at best they are superficially similar.”
Fundamentally different is a grand statement. To test such a hypothesis, let’s look closely at the pivotal event of each religion and contrast them. Let’s identify the defining moment of each religion and then put them side by side. How would these two events oppose or parallel each another?
The foundational event in Christianity is the crucifixion (and subsequent resurrection) of Jesus Christ. Everything in the gospels leads up to the cross. Each gospel gives an especially inordinate amount of space to Jesus’ last few days on earth. The cross is pivotal; for it is by the atoning death of Jesus that our sins can be forgiven. It is His subsequent resurrection that proves Jesus was who He claimed to be, and that He has the authority to forgive sins. The crucifixion is the pinnacle of Jesus’ work, for by it finally He could say, “It is accomplished.” From the standpoint of the earliest apostles, it was of prime importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Indeed, the cross is emblematic of Christianity more than anything else. No other event in Jesus’ life approaches the significance of what He achieved on the cross.
What is the pivotal moment in Islam? Was it perhaps the birth or death of Muhammad? Was it the day he first claimed to have received revelations from an angel who identified himself as Gabriel? As it turns out, the critical moment in Islam is the hijra, or migration. Muhammad originally lived in Mecca and suffered various forms of persecution. He became aware of a plot to assassinate him. Muhammad slipped away that very night and with a small band of followers fled the city of Mecca for Medina. After arriving at Medina, Islam as a faith began to grow, Muhammad gathered many more followers, and years later, triumphantly returned to Mecca with an army. The hijra was the turning point in Islam, and this is uniformly acknowledged by Muslim scholars. For example, Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. says, “There is no doubt whatsoever that the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Madinah was the crucial event, which established the Islamic civilization.”[i] Shamim A Siddiqi makes the case that the hijra “is a corner stone or the turning point of the process of the Islamic Movement for the establishment of Allah’s Deen”, and he quotes Mohammad Hussain Haikal as saying, “Caliph Umar took Hijrah as the greatest event of the Islamic history when Rasulullah [the prophet of Allah] migrated from Makkah to Madinah.”[ii] So critical is the hijra that the Islamic calendar starts there. From an Islamic point of view, this article is written in the year 1433 A.H (anno hijra). Starting a calendar by this event certainly testifies to its place of prestige in the Islamic mindset.
So what happens when the cross and the hijra are considered simultaneously? The cross is all about Jesus embracing persecution. The hijra was about Muhammad fleeing from it. Jesus’ disciples learned of His impending death (Matthew 16:21), they wanted Jesus to glorify Himself without the cross (Matthew 16:22), but Jesus would have nothing of it (Matthew 16:23). He was willing to accept the Father’s plan, regardless of the cost (Luke 22:42). In contrast, Muhammad, when confronted with paying the ultimate price, planned his getaway. He hatched a plot to have one of his followers take his place at his house to divert attention while he made his escape. [iii] His response could not have been any more dissimilar to that of Jesus.
Some people may argue that there were times when Jesus avoided being captured by the crowds, and indeed this is so (Luke 4:29-30). So too there were times when Muhammad, with an army behind him, was courageous in the face of battle. However, such objections miss the entire point. Regardless of any of these specific times or places, what is being discussed is the central moment, the pivotal event, upon which each religion hinges. For Christianity, it is Jesus accepting the persecution which awaited Him. In Islam, it is Muhammad running from it. Upon inspection, we find the religions are not just different, but that they are totally opposite. The defining moments in each religion are a complete antithesis of each other. What Muhammad did at the critical juncture of Islam is the exact reversal of what Jesus did at the pinnacle of His time as God on earth.