Beyond the airplane window, I watched the sandy sheet of scattered lights, miniature palms, and whitewashed cubes below growing ever larger. Above the scene, a pale crescent moon hovered stark against the twilit sky.
Just like the crescent on the Islamic flag.
Suddenly, I felt the plane’s wheels touch down in Dubai—the next stop in my mission to backpack 360 around the world in 180 days, documenting Christian students’ university experiences. But I realized, upon disembarking, that I had no idea what to do next. My friends here had said they’d arranged for me to stay somewhere, with someone, but I didn’t know where, or with whom, or how I’d be tracking them down.
I scanned the crowd in the terminal, hoping against hope to glimpse a sign with my name on it. No signs, no signs. . . Hey, look—a family holding a sign with my name on it!
Soon after we greeted, a deep chant began reverberating from somewhere overhead.
“What’s that sound?” I asked.
“It’s the Islamic call to prayer.”
The haunting tones, rising and falling, filled the terminal. How different from the airport in the Philippines, I thought, with a statue of Jesus in the lounge. Perhaps, the United Arab Emirates would be unlike any nation I’d visited yet.
So far in my travels, most cultures I’d encountered clearly embraced worldviews, which I would argue are based on human ideas, as opposed to the only other possible foundation for a culture’s thinking, God’s Word. But what about Islamic cultures, which revolve around doctrines that Muslims revere? How do Islamic teachings compare with the Bible?
What Islam Teaches1
A closer look reveals that trying to reconcile Islam and Christianity’s core doctrines would be like attempting to set the ocean floor on fire.
At first glance, Islam appears to share many beliefs with Christianity—like the existence of real individuals including Adam, Noah, and Jesus, of an afterlife, and of a Creator God, whom Abraham worshiped. But a closer look reveals that trying to reconcile Islam and Christianity’s core doctrines would be like attempting to set the ocean floor on fire.
For instance, while the gospel teaches that death spread to all humanity through Adam’s sin (Romans 5:1), requiring Jesus to pay our sins’ death penalty as God in human flesh, the Quran does not include this concept of original sin necessitating a Savior. So, while Jesus revealed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,”2 the Quran teaches salvation through human efforts. Specifically, these efforts center around the five pillars of Islam:
- Shahada: reciting the creed, “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”
- Salat: praying five times daily
- Zakat: almsgiving
- Sawm: fasting in the month of Ramadan
- Hajj: journeying to Mecca, a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage for those who can afford it
Only by following these pillars can a Muslim potentially earn salvation, if Allah wills. Except for martyrs, however, he guarantees salvation to no one.
Does that God sound like the God of the Bible? No—unlike Jehovah, a personal Creator whose love knows no limits (Romans 5:6-8), Allah is an impersonal, unknowable Master who extends works-based, conditional acceptance. The Islamic God is not compatible with the concept of a trinity. Certainly, his begetting a son would be, to a Muslim, unthinkable.
Ultimately, the Quranic view of Jesus is one of the clearest differences between Islam and the Gospel. While the Gospel declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,”3 the Quran views Jesus as one of many prophets, a human who neither claimed equality with God nor died on a cross. So, considering what the Bible, proclaimed through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), reveals about Christ, no culture which denies Christ’s divinity can be founded on God’s Word. Ultimately then, Islam, despite sometimes incorporating bits of the Bible, is based on the word of man, not the Creator God of the Bible.
Islam and Evolution
Even many cultures that did once base much of their worldview on God’s Word have largely abandoned that foundation, making human reasoning the authority in every area of life. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, the West’s latest departure from God’s Word traces back to the 19th century, when widespread ideas about human evolution over millions of years discredited Scripture in many Westerners’ eyes. But how do evolutionary ideas affect Islamic cultures?
While some Muslim scholars promote different types of theistic evolution, others reject evolution in favor of more conservative creation models.
Importantly, belief in evolution first demands belief in millions of years. And even though the Quran mentions a six-day creation, the account (unlike Genesis 1) seems ambiguous enough that many Muslims feel comfortable believing in an “old earth.” As one scholar wrote in a Science article entitled Bracing for Islamic Creationism, “young-Earth creationism is wholly absent in the Muslim world, and a universe billions of years old is commonly accepted.”4
Biological evolution, however, may not enjoy the same popularity in Islamic circles. While some Muslim scholars promote different types of theistic evolution, others reject evolution in favor of more conservative creation models.5 But what does the general public learn in school?
Evolutionary Teaching in Islamic Nations
Interestingly, of 60+ nations which signed an educational statement in 2006 that “scientific evidence has never contradicted” human evolution or millions of years,6 14 were Islamic.7 Still, a 2014 study comparing high school biology curricula in five Islamic nations (three of which had signed the evolution statement) discovered that while all the biology textbooks covered some evolutionary concepts, none of them explicitly discussed human evolution.8 One curriculum (Pakistan’s) even taught that evolution can harmonize with Quranic scriptures.
But what do students learn in the nation where I now stood, listening to the Islamic prayer call echo through the airport? Noteworthily, the UAE hadn’t signed the evolution statement. And yet, I found biological evolution listed among the concepts which students beyond fourth grade are expected to learn from the UAE Ministry of Education curriculum.9 Perhaps then, challenges Christian students encounter in the UAE would not look so different from those in other nations after all.
The Moral of the Story
While I hadn’t ventured into an officially Islamic nation on my 360 in 180 mission so far, I suspected that the UAE resembled other nations on two levels. First, because Islamic teachings divert widely from the gospel’s in areas including salvation, God’s nature, and Christ’s divinity, local Christian students would no doubt feel the tension of basing their thinking on a different worldview than their culture’s. Second, evolution’s worldwide prevalence meant students in the UAE could benefit from the intellectual foundation of apologetics—the logical defense of the Christian faith—as much as students anywhere else.
Now, I’d just have to find local Christians who could tell me about the specifics.
Stay tuned for part 17!