James R. White recently finished a new book entitled, "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an," where he sets forth an honest account and fair reading of the Islamic holy book. He also details what Islam teaches about Christianity as he focuses on the misrepresentations of Christian doctrine.
The issue surrounding interfaith understanding is important to provide for peaceful co-existence, given that a recent poll conducted by the Barna Group showed that more than half of evangelical Christians-52 percent- view Islam as "essentially a violent religion." Only about a quarter- 26 percent- of all American adults feel the same way. On a more positive note, 68 percent of evangelicals did agree with the statement "peace between Christians and Muslims is possible."
So while a majority of evangelicals believe that peace is possible with Muslims, why are there such a large percentage of evangelicals that view it as a religion steeped in bloodshed?
"The vast majority of Christians know nothing of the Qur'an and the vast majority of Muslims know nothing of the Bible so therefore we generally talk past each other," White told The Christian Post during a recent interview.
"Most Christians are afraid to talk to Muslims, are scared of them because what they have seen on TV and don't know Muslims themselves. They are also scared because when you are ignorant of another faith you are concerned about offending or not being able to communicate … so the desire is to introduce Islam through an accurate discussion about the key teachings about its central sacred texts," he added.
The Qur'an is considered by Muslims as a divine text that was given to the prophet Muhammad. Arabic is the recognized language of the Qur'an, which can be an issue when people of other languages and cultures try to read or study the text.
"There is a vast difference in the form of the Qur'an in the way that it was revealed- the view of inspirations- there are also major differences that Christians need to be made aware of because they'll assume their language and their terminology just transfers over to the Qur'an and it just doesn't," White explained.
Qur'an translated means "recitation," and at the most basic level is structurally different than the Bible. It is roughly the length of the New Testament, containing 114 surahs or chapters and 6,226 ayat or verses. Muslims believe the Qur'an to be the exact record the angel Gabriel's revelations to Muhammad from 610 A.D. until his death in 632 A.D., and while the revelations took place over 22 years, Muhammad received the entire Qur'anic text in one night.
One of the misunderstandings that Islam holds of Christianity that White details is the issue of the trinity in which God comprises three entities– Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"The holy spirit in Islamic understanding is the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) … there isn't any interaction on the part of the Qur'an with the actual doctrine of the trinity because I don't believe that writer of the Qur'an understood what the doctrine of the trinity was," White said. "In fact the only place where you have three individuals named in the context of a polemic in Christianity is Surah 5:116 and describes Allah, Mary and Jesus. So it would seem that the Qur'anic understanding of the trinity is that God had a wife and a kid named Jesus."
This is the key issue. The vast majority of Muslims believe, based on Islamic texts, that Christians are polytheists and believe in more than one god.
So why do Muslims not believe in the trinity, but still hold Jesus in such high regard? It has to do with their perception of the returning prophet and the message that he supposedly will bring.
"According to Islamic teaching God has sent different prophets at different times throughout history. Jesus is also a mighty prophet of his time and will come back as a prophet and will come back to lead all humanity as a final prophet and he will say that he was the son of Mary and not the son of God," Imam Rasul Tahiry told The Christian Post.
Of course, even the newest followers of Christ will see fault in his logic, as they hold the divinity of Jesus as central to Christianity. There are also issues that arise, because Muslims believe Jesus never said he was the son of God in the Bible, but continue to hold him in high esteem.
"In the Bible Jesus never claims to be the son of God so in Islam God is the creator, the sustainer, the master and the cherisher of all humankind in heaven and earth. For the guidance of mankind God has sent prophets over time such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad they did their job and then they left. For Muslims who do not believe in Jesus they cannot be a Muslim. Muslims love Jesus because Muslims believe that he was a mighty prophet," Imam Rasul Tahiry added.
While there is common ground that can be used to plant the seeds of a fruitful and beneficial discussion between the world's two largest religions, a better understanding can be achieved by both sides through conversation, prayer, and seeking understanding. Were Christians to interact with Muslims more, White says evangelism could become more effective.
"I am attempting to tell Christians what the Qur'an says and what barriers it presents to evangelism and the dialogue with Muslims," White said.