Answering Common Questions on Salvation That Christians Pose to Muslims

By Bassam Zawadi & Mansur Ahmed

If it’s not the concept of God Himself that is the major dividing line between Muslims and Christians, then it is definitely the way to attain salvation.

There are nine common questions that Christians usually pose to Muslims regarding the concept of salvation in Islam and we will attempt to briefly address them here in this article.

1) Islam teaches that Allah’s will is arbitrary. He can forgive whomever He wills according to the Qur’an. If Allah can forgive you without punishing you, how does Allah balance between mercy and justice when granting or denying salvation to people? In Christianity, God has punished all sin so we don’t have to worry about this.

Islam does not teach that Allah’s Will is arbitrary. In fact, Allah’s Will is exercised or expressed in accordance to His Divine nature and Wisdom. Sin is not a thing – that exists by itself independent of volitional actors – which needs punishing when committed. A woman is not sin, neither are our eyes, or our hearts. But the action of the eye or the heart when looking at a woman with lust is a sin. Sin does not exist as an entity – wrongly conceived in Christianity – which you can punish. Punishing the actors of sin has a meaning and not punishing the sin.

We do not believe that Allah needs to express both His Mercy and Justice on every individual at the same time at all times. His Justice is carried out on every individual in perfect wisdom. No one will be wronged, for everyone gets their due (as good and bad is explained through the prophets and messengers at all times in human history). Any good one has done or any bad one has done – be they small or big – will be accounted for. That’s the Justice of God.

His Mercy however, though in a general sense is open to all in this life (as understood from His name Al-Rahman). The Qur’an states:

Surah 3:31

“Say (Oh Muhammad): If you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”

Here we see that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is commanded to tell the people that they must follow his guidance, which was revealed to him by Allah in order to receive Allah’s love. Allah says:

Surah 21:107

“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.”

So here we see that Allah is offering His love and mercy to everyone in the form of Islam. If one rejects Islam then he or she is rejecting Allah’s offer of love in turn. It’s not an issue of Allah not wanting to love the person, but an issue of the person not allowing Allah’s love to reach him.

Allah has declared to humanity about His nature:

Surah 7:156

“My Mercy encompasses all things”

Surah 6:12

He has taken it upon Himself to be Merciful

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

“When Allah created the creation He put down in his Book, which is with Him upon the Throne: Verily, My mercy prevails over My wrath.” (Sahih Muslim 4939)

He has however, in a specific sense, reserved the abundant mercy (Surah 7:156) for the believers in the hereafter (as understood from His name Al-Raheem).

God by taking on to Himself to be Merciful, which prevails over His wrath (i.e. punishing through Justice) has told us how He expresses these two apparently contradictory attributes. His attributes therefore are complimentary.

There are two kinds of sins that could occur. One is sin against God and the other is sin against creation. If we sin against God, it is entirely within God’s prerogative to forgive us. If we sin against humanity more than one thing could occur. 1) He whom I sinned against could forgive me for my crime or 2) God could forgive me for my crime and then recompense the victim in order to ensure overall justice.

Furthermore, God could punish me in this life for my crimes without punishing me in hell. For example, he could punish me with trials in this life. He could punish me in the grave. He could punish me and wipe out my sins by making me feel pain when the angel of death is pulling out my soul. He could temporarily punish me in hell for any sins that I committed.

This doesn’t contradict God being All Merciful. We don’t define All Just and All Merciful as meaning that God should be fully just and fully merciful with a human being at all given times. Surely, Muslims and Christians alike would agree that God won’t be merciful to the disbelievers on the Day of Judgment for instance. Rather, when we say that God is All Merciful or All Just we mean to say that His ability to exercise these two attributes is infinitely vast, but whether He decides to exercise them is entirely up to His will that is in accordance with His nature.

Also, we should bear in mind that Justice does not always denote vengeance or punishment. Sometimes forgiveness and display of mercy could be an act of justice. Allah’s forgiving someone for a sin without punishing him for it does not mean that Allah compromised His Justice. Human beings are created weak and are meant to fall into sin from time to time. There is no reason to believe that we deserve to be punished for every single thing that we do. We will expand more on this point below.

2) You Muslims aren’t even sure whether you have attained salvation. For crying out loud, Muhammad himself wasn’t sure if he would go to heaven according to an authentic hadeeth, so how could you be!?

It is not correct that Muslims aren’t sure whether they have attained salvation or not. Muslims have a guarantee of salvation and Promise from God to that matter.

Allah states:

Surah 9:72

“Allah has promised to the believers -men and women, – Gardens under which rivers flow to dwell therein forever, and beautiful mansions in Gardens of ‘Adn (Eden Paradise). But the greatest bliss is the Good Pleasure of Allah. That is the supreme success.”

Allah also states:

Surah 3:9

“Verily, Allah never breaks His Promise”

Now if you ask the Muslim “are you going to paradise?” he is going to say to you “if Allah wills” (insha’allah). The well informed Muslim is not going to tell you “Yes I am going paradise for sure.” No, the Muslim hopes and prays that he will end up in paradise. It’s not because the Muslim is worried whether Allah will keep His promise, for as we have seen Allah does not break His promise. Rather, it is because the Muslim cannot be sure whether he would continue remaining on the straight path and die as a Muslim and the guarantee or promise of salvation is conditional in remaining and dying as a Muslim.

As for Christians, well there is no consensus regarding this matter.

If you are a Calvinist you would adhere to the doctrine of the preservation of saints, which basically states that once you’re saved, you’re always saved. Once the Holy Spirit dwells in you it will never leave you. But if you happen to be following the Arminian school of thought you would take a different stance and take a position similar to what Muslims take, which is the doctrine of conditional preservation of the saints, which states that there must be a condition for one to be saved and it is possible for one to lose that status.

One verse that Christians who adhere to the conditional preservation of saints often appeal to is the following:

Hebrews 6:4-8

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”

The above verse according to Arminians clearly shows that the Holy Spirit could possibly leave even after it has dwelt in you.

They also appeal to the various verses in the Bible that warn believers about apostasy (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1 and several other verses in the book Hebrews) and then ask why the New Testament would warn against something that isn’t even possible?

Also, Paul is reported to have said:

1 Corinthians 15:2

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

Paul is putting on a condition for one to be saved by the Gospel. That condition is that one holds firmly onto it. Clearly there is no point for saying such a thing if it is not possible for a true believer to let go of it. If the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints were true then it would have been enough for Paul to say (or something similar):

“By this gospel you are saved, once you have firmly embraced the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

According to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints once one has become truly regenerate, he will never apostatize. Once he has embraced the gospel he will never let go of it. There is no “ifs” about the matter. However, Paul’s statement fits perfectly well with the doctrine of conditional preservation of the saints, which states that there must be a condition for one to be saved and that is the condition that Paul put:

if you hold firmly to the word.

These verses point to the apostasy and since apostasy is at least possible, then how could one be 100% sure that he wouldn’t apostatize in the future? Obviously, Calvinists would try to engage with these verses so we will allow the Christians to have their own “in house” debates on the side and they could try to settle the issue amongst themselves.

Uncertainty is a motivational factor to make you word harder in being a better person. Imagine you join a university and you are absolutely guaranteed that you would pass all your subjects no matter what you do. It would make no difference whatsoever if you study or not, you are still guaranteed your degree. If that is the case, would any students study just for the sake of studying? Not too many we suppose.

If someone claims certainty that he will go to heaven then this could lead to some problems. For example if you are absolutely certain that you are going to paradise why should you fear God? The New Testament states:

1 Peter 2:17

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Why should we fear God if we know for a fact that we are going to paradise? Why should we fear God anyways? Well the Bible states:

Exodus 20:20

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

So here we see that the reason why we should fear God is so that it could be a motivation for us to stop sinning. Well why should we stop sinning? Well it’s to avoid God’s wrath. But if the Christian already avoids God’s wrath by believing in and accepting what Jesus supposedly did on the cross then the Christian doesn’t have to worry about God’s wrath anymore. And if he doesn’t have to worry about God’s wrath anymore because he is certain that he is going to paradise then why fear God as the New Testament instructs him to do?

As for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) supposedly not being assured of his salvation, this has already been addressed over here.

3) The Qu’ran says that Allah is a deceiver, how can you trust a deceiver when he promises you something? Even Muhammad’s close companion Abu Bakr said he wasn’t sure about going to heaven because he doesn’t feel safe from the deception of Allah.

Allah in His wisdom throws back the deception at the deceiving unbeliever. The word ‘makr’ for example, according to classical Arabic dictionaries can have meaning of praise or blame depending on its usage in context. Breaking the deceivers plot is not to be taken as a blameworthy action, but it is on the contrary a praiseworthy action.

Such language is also present in the Bible (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:11) where God sends a lying spirit so they can believe in the lie in the spirit of outperforming the evil ones in their own evil plot.

As for the narration of Abu Bakr, this narration has not been proven to be authentic and even if it was Abu Bakr’s statement it is to be interpreted as him speaking out of humility.

4) Islam teaches that salvation is dependent upon the scales and whether your good deeds would outweigh the bad. How do you know what your scales would say on the Day of Judgment? Do you have some kind of notebook where you keep track of your actions or something? How about if you forgot to repent from a sin?

The weightiest deed on the Day of Judgment is ‘laa ilaaha illallaah’ the declaration of faith in Islam. This is both a faith and deed which is described as the key to entering paradise. No other bad deed can outweigh this one on the scales (except Shirk- which negates faith anyway if it’s not repented of before death).

All our actions are recorded – the good and the bad even if they are like the size of a mustard seed -, by the angels who are placed as scribes (Surah 82:10-13). A book that records everything from small to large where everything is accounted for (Surah 42:18)

As for possibly forgetting to repent for a sin, the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us to make a prayer asking Allah to forgive us all of our sins while acknowledging that Allah knows better about them than us:

O Allah, forgive my sin, my ignorance, my immoderation in my affairs, and all that You know better about my (faults) than myself. O Allah, forgive for me my joking, my seriousness, my unintended error, and my deliberate (mistakes) — and I have done of all that.) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

Secondly, Allah said that He will not hold us accountable for what we forgot:

Surah 2:286

Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope. He gets reward for that (good) which he has earned, and he is punished for that (evil) which he has earned. “Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us (Jews and Christians); our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Maula (Patron, Supporter and Protector, etc.) and give us victory over the disbelieving people.”

5) Since Allah’s will and judgment are arbitrary, how do you know if Allah forgave your sins?

Allah’s will and His attributes are not arbitrary as explained before. His justice is such that no one will be wronged unjustly on the Day of Judgment (Surah 42:18). His Grace, love and forgiveness will be showered on the Day of Judgment upon those who showed to be the recipient of His Grace. People will go to Hell due to His Justice and to heaven by His Grace. Allah has described, unlike being anything arbitrary, that to receive His Grace, Mercy and forgiveness – one needs to follow the prophetic guidance and obey Him(Surah 3:31; 3:132). So if one has the correct faith in Allahand follows His will, now offered as Islam, and sincerely repents for his shortcomings/sins, Allah will surely forgive him (Surah 15:49; 40:2; 20:82)

6) How could Muslims believe that finite works could “earn” them paradise and please God? God is too great for that and requires something more and that thing is the acceptance of God’s sacrifice for us.

Islam makes it clear that one will enter paradise based on his faith and good works. Allah says:

Surah 2:25

“And give glad tidings to those who believe and do righteous good deeds, that for them will be Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise).”

Without faith, Allah will not accept those good deeds that one has done as He states in Surah 9, verse 17.

When Islam says that one must have faith, one must have faith in six specific things.

  • Belief in Allah as the only true God
  • Belief in the angels
  • Belief in all the revelations that God has sent
  • Belief in all the of the Messengers that God has sent
  • Belief in the Day of Judgment
  • Belief in predestination.

It is essential that the Muslim believes in all six of these things in order to make sure that his or her heart is purified because Allah says:

Surah 26: 88-89

The Day where neither wealth nor sons will avail. Except him who brings to Allâh a clean heart [clean from Shirk (polytheism) and Nifâq (hypocrisy)].

Also, the Muslim must recognize and be aware that it is ultimately only by Allah’s mercy that one will enter paradise:

Sahih al-Bukhari

Volume 8, Book 76, Number 474

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

“Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one’s good deeds will NOT make him enter Paradise.” They asked, “Even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Even I, unless and until Allah bestows His pardon and Mercy on me.”

So here we see that it’s not by one’s good deeds that one will enter paradise but by Allah’s Mercy. However, Allah has commanded us to do good deeds and we would not be recipient of His mercy unless we obey His commands.

Now when it comes to Christianity there doesn’t seem to be a consensus amongst Christians regarding this crucial point. The Roman Catholics would say like what the Muslims say and that is that salvation is achieved by both faith and works. However, the Protestants take a different stance and say that salvation is only attained by faith alone and that this is the kind of faith that manifests itself and bears the fruit of good works.

We personally tend to agree more with the Roman Catholics on this point, since it appears that the Old Testament, the Biblical Jesus and his half brother James believed and taught such a doctrine as the following verses below illustrate:

Ezekiel 18:21-22

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.

22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will

Matthew 19:16-21

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?

17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

18“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’[d] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[e]

20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

James 2:20-26

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 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,” 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.

Dr. Umar Al-Ashqar states the harmony between faith and good works in the process of salvation:

Paradise is something of immense value; a person cannot earn it by virtue of his deeds alone, but by the Grace and Mercy of Allah. Muslim reported from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah said:

“No one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone.” They asked, “Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His Grace and Mercy. (Muslim, 4/2170, hadith no. 2816)

The fact that some texts indicate that Paradise is the price for the deeds could be problematic, for example:

{No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.} (Qur’an 32:17)

{. such are the dwellers of Paradise. They will abide therein.} (Qur’an 7:43)

However, there is no conflict between these aayaat (verses) and the meaning of the hadith. The aayaat indicate that good deeds will be a reason, not the price, for admission to Paradise. The hadith says that good deeds are not the price for admission. Two groups were misled in this matter: the Jabariyah, who took the hadith to mean that the reward is not connected to deeds, because man has nothing to do with his deeds [i.e. everything is foreordained]; and the Qadariyah, who took the hadith to mean that Paradise was the price for good deeds, and man has the right to enter by virtue of his good deeds.

The commentator on At-Tahaawiyah said: “As for the idea that recompense results directly from one’s deeds, the Jabariyah and Qadariyah are misled, and Allah, to Whom be praise, has guided Ahl as-Sunnah. The Arabic preposition ba’ of negation (nafyi) is not like the ba’ used for affirmation. The negation in the hadith “No one will enter Paradise by virtue of his deeds (bi ‘amaalihi) is the ba’ of substitution or exchange, as if good deeds were not the price of a man’s admission to Paradise. This is like the (false) Mu’tazili claim that good deeds will give a person the right to enter Paradise, whereas the truth is that admission to Paradise is by the Grace and Mercy of Allah. The bi’ in the ayah, {. a reward for what they used to do [Jaza’an bi maa kaanu ya’maloon].} (Qur’an 32:17) is known in Arabic grammar as the bi’ of causation, i.e. because of their deeds. But Allah is the Creator of cause and effect, so everything is referred back to His Grace and Mercy.” (Sharh at-Tahaawiyah, 495.) (Umar Al Ashqar, Islamic Creed Series, Volume 5: Paradise and Hell in Light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, pages 265-266)

7) The Qu’ran says that Allah “misguides people” and “hardens their hearts”. This shows that several people end up in hell and lose salvation because Allah made that to be the case. What kind of hope for salvation does Islam offer us when Allah could end up hindering us from attaining it?

One can refer to this article for a fuller explanation http://www.call-to-monotheism.com/what_does_it_mean_that_allah_guides_whom_he_wills_and_misguides_whom_he_wills_

It is not that He ‘misguides’ them, but rather leaves them astray even after reminding them. This is because they chose misguidance over His guidance. There are some who have become oblivious to the guidance due to their own making, and no advice or warning benefits them. They have chosen to seal their own hearts from guidance. This is from the foreknowledge of God. It is not Allah who hinders us from attaining salvation; neither is it He who has made us like that.

In the Bible, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. God declares:

Exodus 4:21

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will not let the people go.

But if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then Pharaoh cannot be held morally responsible for his actions, since he did not do it of his own free will, but out of constraint (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7 ; 1 Peter 5:2 ). Why did he harden Pharaoh’s heart so he would reject God’s will? If God is just, why blame Pharaoh for his sin when it was God who hardened his heart to sin?

Paul says:

God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden (Rom.9:18-19 )

We see that the Bible contains similar apparently problematic passages. The question we would like answered is why Christians are applying double standards when critiquing Islam?

8) The concept of salvation straight from the time of Adam involved blood sacrifice, yet Islam mentions nothing about this. Islam’s concept of salvation contradicts that of the previous prophets.

Blood sacrifice was not the only way of atonement. Three different methods of atonement are identified in the Hebrew Bible: animal sacrifices, contrite repentance & prayer, and charitable deeds. For a fuller explanation please read https://o.b5z.net/i/u/6103974/i/Blood_Sacrifice_by_Messiah_Truth__Out_Reach_and_Jews_for_Judaism.doc.

9) Can you perfectly obey God’s law? No you cannot, so why do you deserve going to paradise? Shouldn’t Allah be All-Just and only accept perfection?

For starters the question is a straw man. Islam does not expect Muslims to perfectly follow each Islamic ruling or law. Secondly, the question seems to demand perfection, yet God did not create us perfect, God created us with free will, and knew that we would fall sometimes, so you can’t demand perfection when you haven’t been created to be capable of being a perfect saint. Thirdly, in Islam God expects us to sin, because when we sin we turn back to God in repentance. In essence this is a way to open up a relationship with God! In Islam God expects you to fall, but it’s about picking yourself up, learning from your mistakes, and moving on. Fourthly, not all Muslims will automatically go to heaven, many will go to hell where they will be cleansed of their sins, as for Muslims who do go straight to heaven, they will be punished in this life as a way to get rid of that sin, as the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught, punishments in this life is a form of taking the sin away and being saved in the hereafter. Fifthly, let us use some logic and rationality as God would want us to, saying a bad word is a sin, punching someone is a sin, etc., yet these are minor sins at most, do you really expect God to send you to hell for eternity for such a small sin? God never created us with the intention of being perfect, hence to assume perfection is a straw man, a straw man Christians can’t impose on us as Muslims.

Allah said:

Surah 16:61

And if Allâh were to seize mankind for their wrongdoing, He would not leave on it (the earth) a single moving (living) creature

Thus, anyone who invokes Allah for His Wrath against his own self will be taking foolishness as their way.  Those who have sane minds, in contrast, invoke Allah for His Mercy and only invoke Him for His Wrath with their enemies.  This is because Allah’s Mercy encompasses everything:

Surah 7:156

(As to) My punishment I afflict therewith whom I will and My Mercy embraces all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who are the Muttaqûn (the pious), and give Zakât; and those who believe in Our Ayât (revelations,

Allah does not require anyone to perfectly fulfill His commandments, but to be as righteous as they humanly can:

Surah 2:256

“Allâh burdens not a person beyond his scope”

Surah 64:16

So keep your duty to Allâh and fear Him as much as you can

Thus, Allah shows His Kindness to His creation that He treats them with His Mercy. How can this be a source of criticism?  We thank Allah that He treats us with His Mercy, that He only requires us to do what we can in return for His Promise of Paradise, {(Allah said) eat of the Tayyibât (good lawful things) wherewith We have provided you, and commit no transgression or oppression therein, lest My Anger should justly descend on you. And he on whom My Anger descends, he is indeed perished. And verily, I am indeed forgiving to him who repents, believes (in My Oneness, and associates none in worship with Me) and does righteous good deeds, and then remains constant in doing them (until his death).} (Surah 20:81-82)

We reiterate the point that display of Mercy does not necessarily contradict the notion of being Just. Justice does not equal revenge. Justice equals fairness. Allah could forgive someone fairly without punishing him because that person repented from his sin sincerely and was too weak by his own nature to resist committing it. We are not saying that the weakness of humans justifies their committing sins. There are minor and major sins and there usually aren’t any good excuses for one to commit major sins. Also, it depends on how frequent one is sinning. But what matters the most is how the person picks himself up after sinning. That would determine how Allah would deal with such a person. Whether Allah chooses to forgive or punish, at the end no matter what He does He is being fair.


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