Salvation in Islam and Christianity based on Scriptures

 

Mushafiq Sultan

An common objection about Islam that has always been raised by Christian missionaries is that Islam teaches Salvation through works. Any learned Muslim will immediately  respond that this is a false accusation and that Islam does not teach Salvation through works. We will  deal with this  issue in due course. According to Christians, Salvation is achieved only through faith independent of action/works. The Christians claim that our works are not enough to  enable us to get Salvation.  However, things are changing now. It seems that finally they have read the Islamic Sources viz Quran and Hadith and thus they acknowledge that Islam teaches Salvation through both faith and works. Still this concept is faulty according to them.  The Christians, especially the Protestants, claim that Salvation can be achieved only through faith, independent of actions/works.

I came across an article on the website of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), titled Does Islam teach Salvation by works?. The article can be found Here.  In this article the same objection has been raised which I already mentioned and the author has tried to prove the alleged superiority of Christian concept to the Islamic concept. Now let us see whether this concept of Salvation through faith alone stands to the scrutiny of both the Islamic and Christian scriptures. Let us discover the correct concept of Salvation. This is a response specifically to the above mentioned article and also to the general Christian polemic.

The author quotes the following verses from the Quran

1."To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward" (Surah 5:9).

2."And He answers those who believe and do good deeds, and gives them more out of His grace; and (as for) the unbelievers, they shall have a severe punishment," (42:26, trans. by M.H. Shakir).

3."O you who believe! If you are careful of (your duty to) Allah, He will grant you a distinction and do away with your evils and forgive you; and Allah is the Lord of mighty grace," (8:29, trans. by M.H. Shakir).

And then says:

"...Of course, the Muslims will tell us the Qur'an teaches that Allah is gracious to them and that they do not earn their forgiveness. I acknowledge this. The Qur'an says, ". . . Allah is the Lord of grace unbounded," (8:29), and also, ". . . But Allah will choose for his special mercy whom he will - for Allah is lord of grace abounding," (2:105). But, as you can see from the quotes 1, 2, and 3 above, Allah's forgiveness is tied to the Muslim's works. Therefore, I ask the question, how is it really grace if it is by also by works? Isn't grace the unmerited favor from God? It would seem the Islamic system of salvation is more a reward than grace."

This question is answered by the Qur'an in the following Ayah.

Then We have given the Book for inheritance to such of Our Servants as We have chosen: but there are among them some who wrong their own souls; some who follow a middle course; and some who are, by Allah's leave, foremost in good deeds; that is the highest Grace. (Surah fussilat 35:32)

This verse says that good deeds are by the Grace of Allah. So the question "how is it really grace if it is by also by works?" is not a riddle for us. We have been provided with an answer by Almighty Allah. It is due to the Grace of God that we do good deeds.

And further,

And they will say: "Praise be to Allah, Who has removed from us (all) sorrow: for our Lord is indeed Oft-Forgiving Ready to appreciate (service): (33)

"Who has, out of His Bounty, settled us in a Home that will last: no toil nor sense of weariness shall touch us therein." (34)

According to this article on carm.org, we do not have to do any good deeds to be saved, but only have faith. However, the author is contradicting his own Scriptures which speak about salvation through both faith and works.

I quote from the second chapter of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, where James, under the "inspiration of the Holy Spirit" says:

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that?and shudder.

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

(James 2:14-26,  NIV Bible)

I don't think these verses need any further explanation. They are sufficient to expose the fallacy of the Christian concept of 'Salvation through faith alone'.

In another article on carm.org they have attempted to explain these verses of James but have failed miserably. The Christians have no ground to find fault with the Islamic concept of Salvation when there own books proclaim the same concept.

It is very interesting to note here that Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation called this Epistle of James as an 'Epistle of Straw'. He says in the preface to the Epistle of St. James

"I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle; and my reasons follow.

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [2:24]....

In the second place its purpose is to teach Christians, but in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ....

In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him,"

Luther's controversial writing concerning the Epistle of James  can be found in Volume 35 of Luther's Works, American Edition, pages 395-397.

Hence the Epistle of James is is loudly supporting the Islamic concept of Salvation and exposing the Pauline concept of Salvation. Now, we can understand why Christian Scholars are very uncomfortable with the Epistle of James. It is obviously not preaching the Christianity of St. Paul.

THE CORRECT ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF SALVATION

The Qur'an says

1.By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
2.Verily Man is in loss,
3.Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy. (surah 103:1-3)

However it is a fact that we Muslims do not believe that we will be saved by our deeds. To make it clear, I will quote a saying of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Bukhari Vol 8 Book 76 Hadith Number 470

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the (Hell) Fire)." They said, "Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah's Apostle?""No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise)." He said,

Now the Christians might ask, "What about sin? When you sin you are breaking God's Law. God will forgive you but what about God's Justice? The sin demands a penalty. "

To this we need to understand the concepts of repentance and forgiveness.

REPENTANCE IN ISLAM

I will briefly give the Islamic concept of repentance and forgiveness.

Tawbah ("repentance") conveys a profound meaning, one which carries great implications. It is not, as many people think, the matter of mere lip-service, after uttering which a person may then continue in his sin. If you ponder the meaning of the aayah (interpretation of the meaning):

". Seek the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance." [Surah 11:3],

you will see that repentance is something which is over and above seeking for forgiveness.

Such a great and important matter must necessarily have conditions attached to it. The scholars have described the conditions of repentance, based on the Qur'aan and Sunnah. They include:

Immediate cessation of the sin..
Regret for what is past
Determination not to return to the sin
Restitution of victims' rights, or seeking their forgiveness

When we refer this matter to the Qur'aan, we find that Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

"Say: ?O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allaah, verily Allaah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And turn in repentance and in obedience with true faith to your Lord and submit to Him." [Surah 39:53-54].

The feeling that one's sins are too great to be forgiven by Allaah stems from a number of factors:

The absence of certain faith on the part of the slave in the vastness of God's mercy.
A lack of faith in the ability of God to forgive all sins.
Weakness in one aspect of the heart's action, namely hope.
Failure to understand the effect of repentance in wiping out sins.

The answer to thsese points is in the Qur'an as follows.

". and My Mercy embraces all things." [Surah 7:156]

as in the Epistle of James

"... Mercy triumphs over judgment." [James 2:13]

We as Muslims believe that God forgives our sins if our repentance is sincere.

The author of the article on CARM.ORG raised a question here and I quote.

I am not saying that we should not be sincere when repenting of our sins. But, the problem with sincerity is that it can easily become a form of pride.

Many things can become a form of pride. Prayer, charity, knowledge, etc can become a form of  pride, Does that mean we should stop doing these things? Is this a logical? It is  also a test that we should not allow our sincerity to become a form of pride. even if it does, that also demands repentance.

This was in brief regarding the concept of Repentance and Forgiveness in Islam.

REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS IN THE BIBLE

Throughout this article on carm.org, the author has only once quoted the Old Testament and has conveniently ignored the real concept of forgiveness in it.

God Almighty speaking in the Old Testament says,

"I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." ( Isaiah 43:25)

and  further

20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.  21 But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. (Ezekiel 18:20,21)

Coming to the New Testament we read about the parable of the Prodigal Son in the  15th  chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. Jesus (peace be upon him) clearly demonstrates through that parable about the forgiveness of God and that God requires no price to be paid if we sincerely ask for His forgiveness. In the whole parable there is no mention of anyone paying for the Prodigal's sins. The Father, without seeking any penalty, asks his servants

'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. (Luke 15:22)

When the brother of The Prodigal comes to know the grand reception that his father gave to the lost son, he becomes angry. But, the father explains to him the importance of the Prodigal's repentance.

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " (Luke 15:31,32)

Another example from the words of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) in found in The Lord's Prayer. The Lord's Prayer clearly shows the real nature of forgiveness and how the present Christian concept is flawed. You can view my article on The Lord's Prayer Here, to see how this prayer works against Christian Doctrine of "Atonement".

Let us also speak with some common sense. If Christians say that only having faith that Jesus died for your sins  saves you from hellfire, then what about those people to whom the message of Christianity has not reached? Are they doomed to hell for no fault of their's? How can they know that someone has died for their sins? Is this sane to send them to hell simply because they never knew that someone has died for their sins? What is the Christian standard for such people to attain Salvation? I leave it to the Christians to answer.

In conclusion, I ask for Allah's forgiveness for any error that might have crept into this brief article. We saw how even the Bible proclaims the Islamic concept of Salvation through faith and works together. Thus Christians have to realize that the Islamic concept of Salvation is correct and cannot be rejected. Salvation is not a contract with God. You cannot say that my Salvation happened at this particular time, nevermind you live for fifty more years. Whereas, we muslims believe that we struggle till the day we die.

In the words of the Quran

Has he gained knowledge of the Unseen? Or taken a covenant with the Merciful? [Quran Mayam 19:78]

 

May Allah always guide us to the Truth and keeps us firm on it.  Aameen.

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