Muslims have often pointed to the divisions between different Christian denominations.
They say such things as,
“Christians are unable to agree on what the Bible says. For instance, Catholics have more books in their Bibles than Protestants. Worse than that, there are so many Protestant translations. The denominations also differ about their rituals. There are also so many big theological differences between modernists, conservatives, neo-orthodox and fundamentalists. Aren’t all these divisions an unmistakable proof of their weakness and corruption?”
Many Muslims, who have said this, add:
“By contrast, Muslims are united under the banner of a single confession of faith (Shahada) by means of the five pillars.”
What is the answer?
It is true that Christianity is divided into several denominations. It is also true that many Christians are working together for these barriers to fall, however in thinking that Muslims are more united than the Christians, is simply not true. This is no excuse for Christians, but it shows that when Muslims use this argument they are undermining their own position.
Did you know that there are more than 150 branches or groups in Islam? The two main ‘denominations’ or groupings are the Sunnites and the Shiites, which in their turn have a large number of subdivisions.
Some Muslims who belong in both groups find themselves in a third called Sufi Islam. It is more of a mystic group.
These three groups share the Muslim world and are spread through it with different authority structures, each of which is opposed to the teachings of the others. The division is so real that some Shiite Muslims or “Chi’a” do not even consider Sunnis as Muslims, and some Sunnis say that the Shiites have nothing to do with Islam.
In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed 47 people including Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. In September that year the Iranian authorities banned their citizens from making the Hajj. “Cruel”, “Unbelievers”, “Blasphemers”, “Murderers” and “satanists” were some of the epithets that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini directed towards the Saudi royal family in a fierce rhetoric that Tehran usually reserves for its Western enemies. More importantly, the ayatollah called on the Islamic world to review the way in which Mecca and Haj are managed, meaning that these are to be taken out of Saudi control.
The highest spiritual authority in Saudi Arabia responded with sanctions in an inflamed speech calling the Iranians “non-Muslims”. The great mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz Al Sheikh said: “One should not be surprised at the remarks of the ayatollah; after all, Iranians are not really Muslims. ” Such is the schism between the Sunnites and the Shiites that the Hajj is supposed to transcend!
Instead of Mecca, during the Hajj, many Iranians chose to make their pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq, one of the most sacred sites of Shiite Islam. Meanwhile, the Saudis launched a television channel broadcasting live in Farsi (the language of the Iranians) all the Haj rituals to show the Iranians what they were missing!
Muslims only point to certain “marginal groups” who, of course, diverge from the majority of those who believe in Jesus Christ, who rejects them. Comparing quasi-Christian sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to true Christianity amounts to putting all Islam in the same bag as the theology of the Ahmaddiyyas. The “Ahmadiyya” movement, also known as “Qadianism” was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani (Qadiana is the name of his native village) in Pakistan, and subsequently became an influential voice in Islam in many countries. Yet many Muslims see it as a heretical sect whose teaching has nothing to do with true Islam. Ghulam Ahmad claims to have received a direct revelation from God urging him to gather the world around him to fulfill the major prophecies contained in the sacred texts of Islam about a world reformer. He announced that just as Christians anticipate the second coming of Jesus, Muslims are waiting for the Mahdi, Hindus look for Krishna and Buddhists wait for the Buddha, He was for all of them the promised Messiah. He claims that he has been sent to revive the true faith and lead the spiritual struggle against evil.
Although Shiites, Sunnis and Sufis deny any association with the Ahmadiyya sect, they continue to accuse Christianity of heretical divisions.
The fundamental beliefs of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead are points of faith that can not be negotiated with anyone, be it Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. In this respect, true Christianity is more than ever united.
The major historic division is a simple one. It has to do with authority. The Bible is the sole authority in all matters of faith and conduct for all true Christians. This is what really separates those who wish to take the name Christian to themselves. Once people add traditions or extra revelations to the Bible they move outside the boundary of true Christianity.
Most Muslims are aware that true Christians also believe that the death of Jesus once on the Cross was sufficient as a sacrifice for sin. Most Muslims know that Christians are not trying to earn their salvation. Those who still want to take the name of Christian, but who mix Jesus and their own good works to help with their salvation are simply inventing a form of Christianity that cannot be found in the Bible.
The only source of teaching about what Christianity is or isn’t is the Bible. True Christians are united about that, and are therefore united on the great and central teachings of the Injil.
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