The Mustard Seed

I never cease to be amazed at how many ways the aspects of Christian and Islamic theology can be contrasted. For example, in each religion, often the very same symbol is used as an illustration. For example, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Bible. Similarly, the Qur’an uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Qur’an. Yet the very same item is used as an avenue to illustrate two drastically opposing concepts.

In the Bible, there are two parables that use a mustard seed to make a point. One of them occurs in Matthew 13 and regards the growth and expansion of the kingdom of heaven. The other, which we will examine in more detail, occurs in Matthew 17. To put the parable in context, Jesus has just transfigured himself, and He and the disciples have come down from the mountain where they meet a man whose son is demon possessed (Matthew 17:15). The man had already been in contact with Jesus’ disciples, who were unable to do anything about it (Matthew 17:16). Jesus heals the boy (Matthew 17:18) and it is here where the story picks up in verse 19,

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

The issue at hand is faith. How much faith must you have? According to Jesus, the amount of faith required to accomplish the seemingly impossible is tiny. The mustard seed is used as this illustration because of its miniscule size. It takes the smallest amount of faith in order to connect with God and subsequently perform good works. God also makes it clear in the Bible that it is faith alone which leads to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The result of even the tiniest amount of faith is not just the path to salvation, but the power of God to then tap into His power (Ephesians 2:10). While Jesus’ parable doesn’t explicitly refer to salvation, it is about faith, and how much you are required to have. The point is that the mustard seed is used as a measure of faith, which is what leads to salvation, which is what later leads to good works.

The Qur’an also mentions the mustard seed. This verse in the Qur’an references salvation more directly. It specifically tells the Muslim faithful about the accuracy of measurement when their deeds are weighed and their eternal destiny will be determined.

[21.47] And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account.

Here the Qur’an refers to the scales that will be used to measure a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds on the day of judgement. If the scales are heavy with good deeds, the Muslim can go to paradise. If the scales are light, the Muslim will spend eternity in Hellfire. Here the mustard seed is used as an illustration of how exacting the measurement will be. If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds by just a smidgeon, your fate is sealed. The Qur’an has other such verses that reiterate the same concept. For example, consider chapter 99, verses 6-8

[99.6-8] On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works. So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.

Ultimately, Allah’s decision on the Muslim’s salvation is measured by good deeds versus bad deeds, and everything, no matter how microscopic, will be counted.

So in both Christianity and Islam, the mustard seed is used to signify how tiny something must be in order to be counted. Yet what it refers to isn’t just different, but completely antithetical. In Islam, the smallest of acts can be counted against your account. In Christianity, the smallest amount of faith in Jesus provides access to eternal life with Him. Both religions use the tiny mustard seed to make an example, yet the same object represents two totally different conceptions of salvation.

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15 Responses to The Mustard Seed

  1. Towfeeqah says:

    Me again…I think that maybe today I have stumbled across your site for a reason. I am not a very distinguished learner…they are def a lot of more qualified scholars than me. so please what I reply to you is from me…and all that I am is a humble slave of my Lord…nothing more nothing less. I believe that Love is the key to getting nearer to our Rabb/Lord.
    Let me 1st say that it seems Mustard maybe of the food in is mentioned so often by my Rabb. big smile over here…may we be guided to become of the people of paradise. Ameen
    I want to you to try and imagine a people so lost in ignorance that they think they can do what ever they want however they like without consequence. what happens in secret does not get counted…they live rotten deceitful lives but in public they shine and sparkle…this was unfortunately what the Arabs of the time of Muhammad lived…funny it seems that is the norm of today also. anyway they had this believe that was done in secret was ok… now the Quran was revealed to the Arabs of Mecca in a language they understood from amongst their own. my research into the people of this time showed me they were a very blunt and raw sort of people…you called a spade a spade. now except for Jewish settlers around Mecca they had since the time of Abraham son’s not gotten any enlightenment from the Creator…so when it was there turn to get the message( that will lead them to goodness and back to the Creator in the year after) it was given in a very direct/ detailed/ no nonsense/you cant say you weren’t told way. it is more important than anything else that people started to understand that the end of time is near…lets start living like it…therefore you will find a muslim’s every action is to be accounted for. I hope this helps. p.s May God guide every person who reads this to goodness and paradise

    • towfeeqah,

      I understand everything you have said, but it doesn’t address the main point of the article. In Islam, everything comes down to measuring good vs. evil for each person. In Christianity, it is about faith, since we are unable to ever perfectly please God under our own power.

      This is a massive distinction of the highest order.

      So may I be so bold? Which side of the scales are you currently on?

      • Towfeeqah says:

        I think you may get this… I am inlove with my Creator… its taken a lot of purification of my heart…some very hectic trails that made me really really look at myself. I am a little past the outter and looking at my inner… a year ago I made a decision to stand in front of my Rabb and ask for His Mercy… I promised to do my best to let go of all my earthly desires. I started working on my Spirit … my soul my ruh…the part that will be returned to my Rabb. yes you are very right no matter how perfect an act from a human it is never enough without the Maker’s mercy….so true…what I learnt is, that without my Rabb’s mercy I would surely be amongst the dwellers of hell. I am trying now in my day to day life to live with love for the creation of My Creator…and do things that please Him…for so much of my life it has been about me…about what I think …what I like…me me I I ….. then it hit me..I was created for the Creator…its not about me…I am a slave of the Most Mercyfull…..I don’t have to “be” anything else…I put my life in His merciful hands… I don’t plan…I don’t scheme… I now live 1 day at a time and I know this day is a great gift I may not get tomorrow ..I look around at people and I feel so sad because too many of them don’t know how Beautiful the Lord is and I want to cry because we are waisting time. so please do me one favour when you are finished reading this…to the muslims…say Algumdulillah..and to the cristians say Hallelujah x 3

  2. Hello My name is Adam and im a muslim.
    Well let me say thank you for the great work you’re doing. May God guide you and guide us for the true path 🙂
    i want to notice you for the two mistakes in this article
    1st : Muslims get saved by Faith and work,
    here im going to explain The Components of Faith in Islam
    Islam teaches that works are a branch of faith. Faith (iman) is not defined as mere inner belief, but rather is the sum of inner belief and works (amal). Thus, Faith and works are not two separate entities, but rather one is a part and component of the other.
    “And those who believed and did good works, they are the inhabitants of Paradise, abiding therein eternally.” (Quran 2:82)

    “God has promised those who believed and did good works, that for them is a tremendous reward (in Paradise).” (Quran 5:9)

    “And those who believed and did good works…they are the inhabitants of the Garden (of Paradise), abiding therein eternally.” (Quran 7:42)

    “Those who believe and do good works, their Lord guides them by their faith. Rivers will flow beneath them in the Gardens of Delight.” (Quran 10:9)

    “Upon those who believed and did good works shall The Most Gracious [God] bestow [His] Love.” (Quran 19:96)

    “Those who believed and did good works, We shall blot out their transgressions and shall reward them according to the best of that which they used to do.” (Quran 29:7)

    “And He (God) answers those who believe and do good works, and gives them more out of His Grace.” (Quran, 42:26)

    2nd : Muslim will not spend eternity in Hellfire those who had more bad deeds than good deeds, will serve a term in Hellfire until they have been chastised for their sins . For non-Muslims, they stay their forever.

    Please correct the informations you post here.
    Maybe you should find a muslim partner to help you find the accurate information.
    Thank you again Sir.

  3. Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah the Exalted said: O son of Adam, if you call upon me and place your hope in me, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you have sins piling up to the clouds and then ask for my forgiveness, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you come to me with enough sins to fill the earth and you meet me without associating a partner with me, I will come to you with enough forgiveness to fill the earth.”

    Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3540

  4. Adam,

    Thanks for your reply. The point of the article is that the mustard seed is used as a measure of how much faith is required to believe in God and the work He did through Jesus creating a path for salvation. In Islam, the same item is used to measure how your works are scrutinized at a microscopic level.

    I understand the connection Muslims have between works as a part of faith. The issue is why would the mustard seed be used a measure of faith in Christianity, and a measure of works within Islam?

    • I dont any issue and i dont see why two different books from two different writer should say the same ?
      unless if after all the evidences show you still convinced that the Muslim is saved by his miserable amount of work only and try to show how Paul promise of mysterious ready made salvation make your faith more desirable.
      works are scrutinized at a microscopic level show the great justice of Allah

      • I agree. Two different books from two different writers would not have to agree. They certainly would not say the same thing.

        Since God says He is the author of the Bible, what is the logical conclusion given your assertions?

    • Omar El Naggary says:


      The mustard seed is also used in the Quran to show that God is omnipresent and omniscient.

      [And Luqman said], “Oh my son! Even if it be anything equal to the weight of a grain of mustard seed, and even though it be in a rock, or in the heavens or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Verily, Allah is Subtle, Well-Aware.” (31:16)(Quran, 31, 16)

      Meaning that Allah will acknowledge every single one of our actions, good or bad. In fact, as much as he is Merciful to the believers, and will take into account every single good deed, he is also Just, and will punish the non-believers, taking into account every single sinful action. That being said, the object compared to a mustard seed can very well be Faith, rather, Faith IS a valid option, as the opposite is not stated in the verse, and in that case, the metaphor has the same usage in both the Bible and the Quran.

      It is not advisable to cite or try to interpret translated verses of the Quran as the difference in language often causes misinterpretations and alteration of the original meaning. Also, verses depend on the context, and interpreting them independently from the rest of the Quran will often result in false deductions.

      While the Bible uses the mustard seed metaphor to describe salvation with faith, the Quran describes salvation using both actions and faith.
      c.f.: Adam B. Laydi’s reply on: October 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      Apart from the cited verse, everything is based on logical reasoning and not Quranic knowledge.

      I also believe that the use of the mustard seed metaphor brings both religions closer, in fact not only does it not contrast the Quran and Bible in the subject of salvation, it is a supporting evidence that both are authored by the same God, as he uses the same metaphor, which could’ve been substituted for another, in other cases

      • Use of the same metaphor in no way indicates the Qur’an and Bible are from the same author. The whole point is that the same metaphor is used in different ways. That’s how any clever forgery operates. Use the same item for slightly different purposes. Be just a bit off.

    • Ghennai Nouar says:

      In a hadith of the prophet God will say: ” “bring out from hellfire anyone who has an atom of faith in their heart”

  5. Fathima Afroz says:

    Having faith is important, but if that miniscule faith doesn’t go beyond that as good deeds, obeying God, or not heeding His words, it doesn’t actually make them a person worthy of salvation, unless God Himself shows His mercy on him.

    Many Christians use this example to attract people of other faiths – you need only have faith and do the barest minimum to be saved. If you think about it, do you see how flawed that thinking is?

    If a devout Christian, lived his life praising the Lord and obeying His every command and yet he is treated the same as someone with just a mustard seed of faith, what was the point of that devoutness on Earth?

    That’s how Islam differentiates. God is Merciful, but He is also Just. Everyone is rewarded only according to his deeds. If a devout pastor and a man who sins openly but he still has a mustard of faith is brought into scale, do you think God will reward them equally?

    That would be so unfair. Of course, God might save that man from Hell, but the pastor will be rewarded way higher than this man.

    That’s the principle of Islam.

  6. Ali Rahoui says:

    I think you are misinterpretting. Did you know in Islam you cant get to heaven based on your deeds alone, it is through the mercy of Allah. Look it up before you misguide people, I would also like to point out if you have a mustard seed of faith, you will be saved from the hell fire. Sorry for the spelling mistakes, English is my third language. It is easy to quote out of context.

    • Fathima Afroz says:

      I don’t see how I am misinterpreting. I agree with everything you said but your statements do not oppose mine?

      If a man has faith in Islam, he will go to Heaven. He may be punished first if his sins are high, but he will eventually go to heaven. But this man is not rewarded the same kind of heaven as the one with a higher Imaan and greater good deeds unless Allah shows His Mercy on him. There are varying degrees of Jannah.

  7. Fathima Afroz says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry! I thought your comment was a reply to mine. Apologies brother.

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