Recently I had an eyebrow-raising Twitter interaction with a young Muslim man who was upset that I have not converted to Islam. Frustrated with my Christian identity, he tweeted me the following Qur’anic passage: “And whosever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers” (3:85). The man then sent a follow-up tweet stating: “My ultimate success as a Muslim is saving you from hell fire so that you may be admitted to paradise by mercy of God.”
As you can imagine, I was startled by this gloomy message about the so-called fate of Christians in the Islamic tradition. The Qur’anic passage sent to me implies that Christians are abhorrent people in the eyes of Prophet Muhammad and that the Prophet condemns Christians to eternal hellfire because they identify with a faith other than Islam. Would Muhammad agree with my Twitter follower? Does the Prophet think that Christians are losers who have no chance of making it to heaven?
To shed light on these questions, I turn to Islamic scripture and its verses about Christianity. The Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews as “People of the Book,” or people who have received and believed in earlier revelations from God’s prophets. As such, Muslims and Christians believe in God, the Day of Judgment, and doing good deeds, hence why the Qur’an (3:114) describes Christians as “among the righteous.” The Qur’an (5:82) even goes as far as stating that the people whose faith is closest to the beliefs of Muslims are “those who say, ‘We are Christians.’” Far from labeling them as losers, Prophet Muhammad revered Christians because of their monotheistic beliefs. He considered them to be more like close cousins and not adversaries.
The Prophet’s admiration for Christianity is also clear in a covenant he agreed to with Christian monks at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Muhammad guaranteed that their leaders would stay in power and that Christian pilgrims would never be hindered from worshiping during their pilgrimages around the Arabian Peninsula. If Prophet Muhammad thought that Christians were fools, which my Twitter follower insinuated, he would have never commanded Muslims to protect churches at Mount Sinai or aid Christians in restoring churches that had fallen into disrepair. The Prophet’s covenant with the monks in Egypt also warned that Muslims who disrespect Christians and disobey his commands make “a mockery of Islam.” In Muhammad’s eyes, these disobedient Muslims were the true “losers” in the eyes of God.
The idea that Prophet Muhammad was “anti-Christian” is easily dispelled by turning to his covenant with the Christians of Persia. In this agreement, the Prophet made it clear that he had no interest in converting Persians to Islam. He proclaimed: “No Christian shall be brought by force to confess Islam.” Instead of aggressively pursuing Christians to accept the Muslim faith, Muhammad envisaged Muslims showing Christians “the arm of mercy and kindness” and protecting them from “the exactions of oppressors.” If he thought that Christians were losers, would the Prophet have gone to such lengths to support and care for their well-being?
It is also worth considering what Prophet Muhammad thought about Muslims who call Christians cruel names or condemn them to the hellfire. Muhammad explicitly laid out the consequences of disrespecting Christians: “He who wrongs a [Christian] will have myself as his accuser on the Day of Judgment” (Al-Bukhari). Christians, on the other hand, “will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow” (Qur’an 2:62). The Prophet made it clear: Muslims are not to judge others and Christians will have their reward of heaven if they show good faith and piety.
If I had the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with the Muslim follower from Twitter, I would ask that he try to see me on common ground. After all, this is what the Qur’an (3:64) demands of Muslims and Christians: “Say, People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you – that we should worship none but God and not associate any partners with Him.”