Book Review: No God but One

by Brian Watson

Introduction

Over the past fifteen years, there has been an increased interest in Islam in the Western world. Islamic terrorism, the rise of ISIS, the increased numbers of Muslims living in the West, and the rhetoric of political candidates have all generated more discussions of Islam. Some people dismiss Islam without knowing anything about it. Some people think Islam and Christianity are essentially the same. Those who are committed philosophical pluralists (to use a term employed by D. A. Carson) like to think both religions worship the same God. Those who are atheists dismiss both religions, asserting that both are equally false and equally destructive.

A greater understanding of the Islamic faith is needed. What does Islam teach about God? What do Muslims believe? What are the historical origins of this faith? What does the Quran teach? How does Islam differ from Christianity? What evidence is used to support the claim that Islam is true? These are the questions that should be asked and answered.

Fortunately, we now have an accessible, well-written book that answers these questions. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus[1] and Answering Jihad,[2] has written a third book that compares Christianity and Islam. His latest book is No God but One.[3] In the space below, I will summarize and critique this book. Most of this review will consist of summary, since the contents of the book are important. A short critique will follow.

I should state up front that I received a free copy of an advanced reading copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review. Though not required to provide a positive review, I will say that I enjoyed this book enough to purchase my own copy on Amazon.com. (The advanced copy wasn’t the same as the published version, and I like to have books that I can cite in my writings. My purchase of the book is indicative of how useful I found the book to be—I plan on citing it in the future.)

Summary

Qureshi’s purpose in writing this book is rather straightforward: “In the course of this book, I hope to elucidate two overarching matters in particular: that the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims” (page 13). Qureshi begins by mentioning the real-life case of a Muslim woman named Fatima who, while living in Saudi Arabia, became a Christian and was thus threatened by her brother, a zealous Muslim who demanded that she renounce her newfound faith in Christ. Fatima was now the possibility of dying because she moved from one religion to another. Who would die for believing one religion is true and the other religion is false?  Is this really something to die for? “Is the truth worthy dying for?” (21).

Qureshi lets that last question hang in the air as he begins this book. He then tells his own story of converting from Islam to Christianity. As a young college student, he was devoted to Islam. He had memorized portions of the Quran and he grew up attending Mosque. He came to Old Dominion University armed with arguments in support of Islam and against Christianity. Yet Qureshi made another student named David Wood, who was on the debate team with him. Wood, a committed Christian, started to informally debate against Qureshi. For Qureshi, the process of weighing the evidence in favor of Christianity and against Islam took four years, but in 2005, the year he graduated college, he became a Christian.

As a former Muslim and now a Christian (who, after completing an MD, decided not to pursue a career in medicine but rather a career as a Christian apologist), Qureshi is an ideal candidate to write a book comparing Christianity and Islam, because he does so with knowledge, understanding, and grace.

The book is devoted to two questions. Parts 1-5 answer the question, “Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?” Parts 6-10 answer the question, “Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is true?”

In Part 1, Qureshi begins to compare these two religions by sketching out their respective worldviews. Islam means “submission,” which is the relationship that Allah’s followers have to their God. They must submit to his sovereign will. According to Islam, “the fundamental problem of mankind is ignorance” (33). The solution is what to believe (aqeeda) and how to live (sharia). “Once people learn what to believe, aqeeda, and how to live, sharia, they will earn the pleasure of Allah” (33).

The major beliefs of Islam are six: “belief in Allah as the only God, belief in the prophets [(the greatest of which is Muhammad], belief in divinely inspired books, belief in angels, and the unseen, belief in the day of judgment, and belief in Allah’s predestining sovereignty” (33). These are the six articles of Islamic faith. Sharia is Islamic law, literally “way.”  “Sharia dictates virtually every respect of a devout Muslim’s life, from what foods to eat, to proper forms of currency, to exact words to recite during prayers” (34). The five most important practices of Islam are known as its five pillars: “proclaiming the Islamic motto, the Shahada: ‘There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger’; praying the five daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alms; and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca” (34). It is important to observe that in Islam, on the day of judgment, those who have obeyed Allah will be rewarded. Salvation is through obedience, not through sheer grace.

In Christianity, on the other hand, God is love. This is only possible because God is triune. He is a trinity: One Being in three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit). The fact that God is triune means he is inherently a community of love. Prior to the creation of the universe and of people, God is love, because the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and they love the Spirit, and so forth. The same cannot be said of Allah.

Christianity states that the problem of mankind (and all of nature) is sin. Sin is “a rejection of the Source of Life” (35). It’s a turning from God. “It is rebellion against the Sustainer of the universe. It is the most destructive force in the cosmos, the ultimate root of every pained heart, every broken family, every pointless war, every heinous genocide. Sin spreads through generations like a malignant cancer, and it razes civilizations like a plague” (35).

The solution to this problem is what is called the gospel, which means “good news.” The good news is that God the Father sent God the Son into the world to live the life that we are incapable of living because of our sin and to die in place of sinners, bearing the holy and just condemnation that sin and sinners deserve. Not only did Jesus die on the cross in place of sinners, but he rose from the grave. Qureshi’s description of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection bears reading:

            From the perspective of a human watching Jesus, it might have looked like just another man dying just another death. So to prove to the world that His death was not just another death but one that brings life to the world, and to prove that He was indeed the God He claimed to be, He rose from the dead. On the one hand, this was a sign to all who were skeptical that Jesus truly has supernatural authority and deserves to be heard. On the other hand, it was a symbol for those who believe in Him that death has been defeated. Jesus has conquered it for us (36).

Salvation in Christianity is achieved by grace (it is a gift from God, not earned) through faith (those who believe/trust in Jesus are saved, not those who have done more good works than bad).

It should be clear how Islam and Christianity differ. In Islam, Allah is Unitarian (one God, one Person), whereas in Christianity, God is Trinitarian (one God, three Persons). In Islam, which denies original sin, the problem is ignorance, which is solved by right beliefs and right living (obedience to sharia). In Christianity, the problem is the power of sin, which has invaded the world and dwells within us. The solution is a rescue from God, who becomes man and lives a righteous life in our place (satisfying a holy God’s demands) and dies in our place (satisfying a holy God’s justice) and is raised to life (offering proof of who he is, what he’s done, and what he will do when he returns and all his followers are resurrected to eternal life). Additionally, Christianity teaches that God gives us himself: The third Person of God, the Holy Spirit, comes to dwell in Christians, empowering them to live a life pleasing to God. Islam teaches salvation is achieved through obedience, whereas Christianity teaches that salvation is through faith.

Since grace is a message Muslims struggle with, Qureshi spends some time defending it. “Herein lies the genius and infinitude of the love of God: He doesn’t draw the line [between mercy and justice]. He offers mercy to everyone who has ever sinned while also demanding justice for every sin ever committed” (41). Qureshi also states that the message of Christianity, particularly with regard to our problem and God’s solution, “resonates with reality” (45).

Thus ends Part 1 of the book. In Part 2, Qureshi compares the Islamic doctrine know as Tawhid with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Tawhid teaches that Allah is absolutely one. It teaches that there can be nothing else alongside of Allah that is eternal, including any attributes that are not eternal, or not part of his essence. This is significant with respect to the Quran, because some Muslims believe the Quran to be eternal and uncreated. In other words, it has always existed. But this threatens the doctrine of Tawhid! In fact, early in Islam, that belief regarding the Quran was condemned. But it has now become a majority view. The belief that Allah and the Quran are eternal is a contradiction to Tawhid.

Yet Muslims find the doctrine of the Trinity to be incoherent. They believe it “an indefensible, self-contradictory, polytheistic doctrine” (52). For this reason, Qureshi devotes a fair amount of space to the definition and defense of the Trinity. Since the Trinity is so essential to the Christian doctrine of God, it is difficult to say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Part 3 of the book compares Jesus to Muhammad. While Muhammad is not analogous to Jesus in all ways (Muhammad is not God, nor is he eternal or a savior), Jesus and Muhammad are central to the Christian and Islamic faiths, respectively. Jesus is the God who, without forfeiting his divine nature, added a second nature, that of a human, when he entered into his own creation. He is both Savior and the ultimate exemplar. Muhammad, though only a prophet and not a savior figure, is the prime exemplar for Muslims.

In Part 4, Qureshi compares the Bible and the Quran. Muslims view the Quran with the utmost respect. They do not believe the Quran was in any way written by men or a man, but it was dictated to Muhammad, who preached these recitations (“Quran” means “recitation”), which were later written down. Muslims also believe that the Quran is only the word of God if it’s in Arabic, the language in which it was written. In other words, this book cannot truly be translated. “Muslims are hesitant to call non-Arabic versions of the Quran ‘translations,’ believing that there is mystical value and hidden meaning in the Arabic that cannot be translated” (106). By contrast, the Bible is the product of God and human beings. God is the ultimate and final author, but he wrote through human beings, using their personalities, experiences, and historical and cultural contexts to write what he wanted. It was written in history, as opposed to the belief that the Quran is eternal. Also, the Bible can be translated because it is the message of the Bible, and not any particular language, that is important.

Part 5 is devoted to a discussion of the Crusades. Though Qureshi does not aim to defend all that occurred in the Crusades, he does show them in context. The Crusades were conducted in response to Muslim attacks on so-called “Christian lands.” Muslims had attacked and conquered nations that had been predominantly Christian from the mid-600s well into the second millennium. “The reality is that the Crusades were launched in defense of the Byzantine Empire after two-thirds of the Christian world had been conquered by centuries of Muslim attacks. Muslims understood this and held no grudge against crusaders until modern times, when postcolonial narratives came into vogue” (133). Qureshi compares the violence inherent in Islam with the peacefulness of Christianity. He acknowledges that many—probably the vast majority of— Muslims are peaceful. But Muhammad and the early caliphs were not, and the Quran most certainly has passages that command violence. And these passages were not abrogated or limited to one time and place.

Clearly, the answer to the first question, which asks if these religions are different, is yes.

The second half of the book examines the truth claims of both religions. Qureshi identifies three central truth claims of Christianity: “(1) that Jesus died, (2) that He rose from the dead, and (3) that He is God” (153). The two central claims of Islam, beyond the existence of Allah as the one true God, is that Muhammad was a prophet and that the Quran is the word of God. These five truth claims are examined one by one in Parts 6-10 of the book.

In order to make this already long review shorter, I will move quickly through these parts. However, I should add that it was this part of the book that felt more coherent, and more central to the debate. It’s important to observe the differences between the religion (as Qureshi does in the first half of the book). But it’s more important to know whether one religion (or, at the least, some of one religion) is true.

That Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross in Jerusalem when Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea is one of the surest facts of ancient history. Virtually no scholar denies this. Yet the Quran does deny that Jesus actually died on the cross. (It should be noted that in Islam, Jesus is not the Son of God, but he is a prophet. He was born of Mary and ascended into heaven, but, according to Islam, he did not die and therefore he did not rise from the grave.) Since all the evidence we have points to the fact that Jesus died on the cross, Islam is wrong in this regard.

Jesus’ resurrection is more debated. There are a number of biblical scholars who don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the grave in a physical body. But the majority of scholars do agree on three basic points: (1) Jesus died, (2) his followers claimed that they had seen him after his death, and (3) some people who didn’t follow Jesus prior to his death (namely, Paul and James, but also Jude) claimed to have seen him after he died and their lives were changed. The only hypothesis that can adequately account for these facts is the resurrection. This is the argument made by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, the argument known as the “Minimal Facts Approach.”

Muslims believe that Jesus’ message was somehow corrupted immediately after his ascension, but there is simply no evidence to support that view. Muslims believe that Paul corrupted Jesus’ message, but Qureshi shows that Paul had nothing to gain in doing so. Also, Paul’s message was the same as the message of Peter and the other apostles.

Qureshi demonstrates effectively that the consistent witness of the New Testament is that Jesus is God. This was not a claim fabricated by a later generation of Christians. It is demonstrated in the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, as well as the latest one, the Gospel of John. It is also very clear in Paul’s letters, some of which are among the earliest Christian documents that we have.

These issues were not, for Qureshi, dry and academic. As he was weighing the evidence for Christianity, he realized that the evidence in favor of the truthfulness of this faith was very strong. But he still was reluctant to leave Islam. He had to consider, as objectively as possible, whether the evidence for Islam was as strong as the evidence in favor of Christianity.

Therefore, Qureshi considered whether Muhammad was really a prophet of God. He had been taught that Muhammad was meek, humble, a champion for widows and orphans, and a great leader of impeccable character. He had been taught that the Bible actually prophesied the coming of Muhammad (in Deuteronomy 18 and John 16, among other places). He had been taught that Muhammad had attained miraculous knowledge of science that would have been otherwise unknown in his day.

Yet when Qureshi examined these teachings, he found them not to be true. Muhammad may have been admirable in some regards, but he also was a man who committed great violence. He sent assassins to kill his enemies in their sleep. He punished his enemies by cutting off their hands and feet and branding their eyes with a hot iron, and had killed the men of a tribe while making slaves out of their women and children.  He allowed his men to rape female captives and he declared that women were mentally inferior to men. He even said the majority of those in hell would be women.

Qureshi easily shows that Muhammad was not the prophet prophesied in Deuteronomy 18 (that would be Jesus) nor is he the “paraclete” prophesied in John 16 (that would be the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, Muhammad did not have miraculous scientific knowledge. When we read passages from the Bible and the Quran in context, we see that the claims of Muslims are easily refuted.

Interestingly, there are some scholars who question whether Muhammad actually existed, given that most of our knowledge of him comes from the hadith, which are traditions of Muhammad’s life written down centuries after he lived. Qureshi boldly writes, “”There is almost nothing we can know with certainty about the historical Muhammad” (263).

Finally, Qureshi considers whether the Quran really is the word of God. Muslims claim that the Quran is the best piece of literature, so great that it must be of divine origin. They claim that there are prophesies in the Quran which have been fulfilled in history, that the Quran teaches knowledge that would not be discovered by scientists until centuries later, that there is something of a mathematical code in the text of the Quran, and that it has been perfectly preserved from error.

Qureshi shows that the first argument is completely subjective. Who is to say what is the best piece of literature? The prophesies that have been fulfilled in history are dubious, as is the so-called “science” of the Quran. The claim that the Quran evidences a mathematical structure can only be supported through a very selective sifting of evidence, and the Quran has actually been edited as late as the early twentieth century.

In short, the evidence in favor of the truthfulness of Islam is slim. Therefore, if one were to test both Christianity and Islam in as objective a manner as possible, one would discover that Christianity is true.

Qureshi ends by continuing the story of Fatima, the one that began the book. She was killed by her own brother because she became a Christian. Shortly before dying, she published a poem online. The last lines of that poem are:

My last words I pray to the Lord of the worlds,
Jesus the Messiah, the Light of Clear Guidance:
Change their heats and set right their discernment.
May he spread love among you, O Muslims (296).

Critique

Qureshi has written a book that is clear and accessible to the motivated reader. It is very difficult to summarize, compare, and then explore the veracity of two religions. Qureshi does so in as succinct a manner as possible, without sacrificing important details and all the while adding in enough autobiographical details to keep readers interested.

I could quibble with how he describes elements of the Christian faith, but, on the whole, Qureshi does a good job describing the basic elements of the faith. I trust he has done the same with Islam.

My main critique would be that I would like to see a more coherent structure in the first half of the book. I would also have appreciated a bit more history, particularly of the origins of Islam. If I were to write the book, I might have started there. He does discuss Islamic and Christian history throughout the book, but in not in the systematic way he discusses the Trinity and the identity of Jesus.

However, if Qureshi went into greater detail, whether discussing history or theology, the book would become much longer, and I’m sure that would attract fewer readers. Readers who demand more information will have to go elsewhere.

I have two critiques directed towards the publisher, Zondervan. One, the book has endnotes instead of footnotes. I don’t know why this is the case, since the number of notes is relatively small. As a reader, I detest flipping back and forth between the body of content and the endnotes. A second critique is that the book lacks indexes. There should be a subject index as well as index of Scripture (the Bible and the Quran). I believe that would make the book more useful as a reference.

However, even as it stands, No God but One is a valuable resource for those who want to know how Christianity and Islam differ and why anyone should adhere to either of these religions.

Notes

[1] Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

[2] Nabeel Qureshi, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

[3] Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

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