Talking to a Christian and Muslim

Photographed left to right is Aziz Rifai (Class of 2022), Matthew Reiad (Class of 2022), Sahmeer Odies (Class of 2021).

 

One of the great beauties of the United States is its vast religious diversity as seen on UMass Boston’s campus. As a Middle Eastern Christian, I am very privileged to know people of all faiths. Many of my close friends are Christian and Muslim, and I care deeply for the wellbeing of all my friends, regardless of their religious background. Two of my closest friends are Aziz Rifai and Sahmeer Odies. We often engage in political, religious, and social debates, so I decided to ask both of them, ten questions regarding my faith. Although I am Christian, I will try my hardest and best to use their own words and be fair in my presentation of their answers. I care deeply about the truth. Through their answers, I hope to show that although Christianity and Islam are similar, they have distinct features that present them to be different and unique religions. 

Neither of the people I interviewed intend to disrespect the other’s religion, rather, we want to discuss our religions so we can strengthen our own faiths and understand each other better.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Aziz: 

I am currently a Junior at UMass Boston pursuing a major in Communications and a minor in Arabic. I am fully Palestinian and from Lebanon, because my parents were both born there, I come from a practicing Muslim household. 

Sahmeer: 

My name is Sahmeer Odies and I am graduating this spring. I am a Mathematics major with a minor in Computer Science, and I was raised Mormon. As I came to learn more about God and the teachings of the Bible I have become a protestant Christian. I was baptized about a year ago.

 

Describe the attributes of God. 

Sahmeer:

God is all-powerful, knowing, loving, the truth, merciful, and just. When it comes down to it the only reason we can even know who God is is because he wanted to reveal himself to us. He cared enough about us to allow us to know him. This love is best shown in giving us a way back to him and even dying for us while we were still sinners (Slaves to sin; because we still sin). (Romans 5:8)

Aziz:

God, who we refer to as Allah in Islam, is the creator of everything in life. Allah is forgiving, he believes anyone can be forgiven for anything as long as they feel some sort of remorse for their actions. Allah is also merciful and accepting because he appreciates everything that one does as long as it is done with good intentions.

 

Describe the attributes of mankind.

Aziz:

Mankind is the greatest creation of Allah because all humans are born as unique individuals who have unique abilities like no other. Every human is blessed and there are distinctions between them, they are all equal.

Sahmeer:

Mankind is valuable, but broken, meaning that we purposely go against God to follow what we desire. Before God makes us alive in Christ, we constantly chase after these desires. Even after God delivers us we still struggle with sin because of this nature that we have.

Who is Jesus Christ to you?

Sahmeer:

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came in the flesh to die for the sins of the world. He is the messiah testified of in the old testament, who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5, and the rest of the chapter). Jesus even says “Before Abraham was I am” and people begin to stone him because of what they considered blasphemy. God came down because of his great love, and died to pay the penalty for our sins.

Aziz: 

Jesus Christ is one of the most significant prophets in all of Islam. He is a messenger of Allah, just like the prophet Muhammad as they witnessed each other.

 

Who is the Prophet Muhammad to you? 

Aziz:

The Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet and messenger in Islam. He was given this blessing by Allah after being asked to recite for the Angel Gabriel. We know the prophet Muhammad as the founder of Islam and is responsible for the rapid spread of the religion.

Sahmeer:

We as Christians believe that Muhammad is a false prophet that is prophesied in the bible as such. The Bible warns that there will be many false prophets who will come and lead many people astray. Luckily, when speaking of False prophets the bible says we will know them by their fruits….Surah 9 which is written last, is the most violent, stating “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. (Sahih International version) (Surah 9:29) 

 

How can one gain forgiveness from God?

Aziz:

Most importantly, you must ask for forgiveness from God and show faith in him. To do this, we say “Astaghfirullah”, which translates to “I seek forgiveness from Allah”. Any sin can be forgiven as long as they are being genuine and pure.

Sahmeer:

The Bible is clear that our forgiveness from God comes through Faith in him. God is perfectly just, and in that understands all of our sin against him. In Matthew chapter 5, we read that anyone who is angry at his brother or sister will be liable of hellfire. We read that whoever lusts after a woman has committed adultery in his heart. This begs the question of why is God so harsh. The standard that Jesus sets is far beyond that which we as humans know. We compare ourselves to fallen people, and think anyone who is not a murderer will be in heaven and have Gods forgiveness. However, Romans 3 says that no one is righteous, and only the righteous can be with God.  We see God applies the sacrifice of Jesus through our faith, giving us more grace than we could ever deserve, that way may be seen with a righteousness that is not our own, but belongs to Jesus. This is applied to us when we have faith in him, which is different that belief that he exist as the bible says that even the demons believe(James 2:18), but instead that we trust him with our lives. We die to ourselves and become alive in him. This is all because of the love that God has for us that he offered the righteous to be stricken down for us to be saved.

 

What is your holy book and why do you reject the other’s 

Sahmeer: 

Our holy book is the Bible, which is a collection of writings of prophets and God’s chosen leaders. The New testament is a collection of writings of the prophesied Messiah to come. Evidence for anything should be taken on a circumstantial basis, and other religious books will contradict the reliable manuscripts and information in the Bible, as well as give information that is provably false.

 

Aziz:

Our holy book is the Quran. The Quran is the only book we follow because it is the one that guides us towards our belief that there is only one God, Allah, and he is the creator that helps us live through life. In the Quran, we fully embrace past religions such as Christianity and Judaism but reject certain ideologies, such as the idea that Jesus is the son of God.

 

What is one common misconception about your religion that you wished people didn’t have?

Aziz:

A common misconception about Islam I wish people didn’t have would be the idea that we are sexist and don’t have women’s rights. This is a common misconception from those who cherry pick certain ideas from what they hear or read about from the Quran. Most Muslim communities are pretty progressive, so women have the ability to rise through the ranks and accomplish anything they want. Whether it is becoming a political leader, a businesswoman, or a doctor, all of these are very common in our culture today. The idea that we “force” women to do things is very subjective as well, because the Quran preaches that everything comes down to what the woman wants to do and not anyone else. Wearing the hijab is a great example, it is more than often a personal decision made to be worn in order to embrace their self-respect and religion.

 

Sahmeer:

People believe that Christianity is a spiteful religion in itself, and see it as the root of judgmentalness (if that’s a word). Our religion does not teach us to think that we are better than others, but instead that God’s grace has been given to us and that we should share this message with the hope of this grace being applied to them. There are some who use this as an opportunity to boast, but they are not doing what we are called to in that area of their life.

What is one belief that is absolutely core to your religion?

Aziz:

One belief that is absolutely core to us is the idea that there is only one God (Allah) and he is the creator of everything. This is one of our five pillars, it is known as the “Shahada”, which is declaring your belief in God and only God.

Sahmeer:

Jesus Died on the cross and resurrected on the third day. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 says “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The Gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins, becoming the only sacrifice able to pay for them, and defeated death by rising from the dead. Without this, the Gospel is not true.

 

Is there a verse or verses in your text that can describe your religion in a few sentences? 

Sahmeer: 

John 3:16-18→ ' “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. '

 

Aziz:

If I were to pick a single verse from the Quran that describes our religion, it would be Surat Al-Ilkhlas, which embraces faith in Allah. The translation from the Quran goes ““Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One. Allah, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born. Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”

I encourage people of all faiths to analyze both your own faith and the faith of others. It is only through rigorous debate, conversation and analysis, that we as humans will find the truth regarding the most fundamental questions asked by mankind. Questions regarding purpose, truths regarding the potential deity of Jesus Christ, questions surrounding the prophethood of Muhammed, who is God, and what is our purpose on earth? These are key questions we must ask ourselves. It is only through asking such questions that we will truly understand the reality of the state of mankind.

 

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