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Can Muslims Respect Christians?

26 December, 2016
Q Why do Muslims claim that they must respect the Jews and Christians as People of the Book, but also say that they--especially Christians--commit unforgivable sins in associating partners with God?


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally addresses this question in the video below:


Safiyyah Ally: OK, Dr. Shabir Ally, here is a question from a Christian. He said:

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“I’ve heard that Muslims must respect Jews and Christians as People the Book. Yet, I’ve also heard that the one unforgivable sin is shirk, which involves equating anyone with God which includes belief in the Christian Trinity. This seems to lead to a confusing an ambivalent position for Christians such as myself. Could you please clear this up?”

Dr. Shabir Ally: Uh huh, yeah, in fact it is confusing from Muslims as well. On the one hand, we speak respectfully of the Jews and Christians. We refer to them as People at the Book. And on the other hand, we say that shirk is the one unforgivable sin.

And, when one gets into the details of what shirk entails, it seems that taking Jesus as the son of God literally and the Christian Trinity must fall under that belief of Muslims that is classified as shirk. And so how do we explain that?

First of all, I should explain the word “shirk”.

Shirk in Arabic means association or partnership. And as the technical religious term, it means considering someone to be on equal terms or partner with God, or and to give to someone else, or some other entity, that sort of worship and devotion which is due only to God, to confuse the categories between God and His creation.

All of this is referred to as shirk.  And so, then, how do we reconcile these two apparently conflicting things? It seems to me that the best way of reconciling this is to say that- God is more broad-minded then we are.

When He revealed the Quranic message to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and by extension to those who will follow the prophet, then He is laying out a strict sort of definition: this is what I want you to follow.

But at the same time, He is allowing for the fact of human nature and how people are, and what can be expected in terms of change.

Since, before the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came on the scene, there were already existing religions: you do not expect all of the people to give up all of their religions all at once, and then follow the religion of Islam as now taught by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

So, there’s a certain degree of tolerance on the part of God to accept people who are close to that, at least in intention, even if not–from the Quranic point of view–not quite there.

And so, Muslim scholars for example, have had to think about this, and some of them said; well, the common people won’t be responsible for their beliefs which are outside of the parameters of acceptable Islamic belief because this is what they have been taught, through, since childhood.

And they know nothing better than this. But, their leaders, who should have known better—who are educated and schooled, and so on, literate—they could have evaluated and known what is the truth: they will be responsible for teaching their people the falsehood.

But that still means that God is, in the breath of things, allowing for people to have salvation even if they had beliefs which are outside of the parameters of the Muslim strict interpretation of monotheism.

Safiyyah Ally: So, the Quran seems to expect that Muslims will respect Christians and Jews.

Dr. Shabir Ally: Yes, and the basis of that respect, like why Christians and Jews particularly, for Jews in particular, have maintained the monotheism in the widest and broadest interpretation of Judaism. And the mainstream following have regarded the declaration that there is only one God as being non-negotiable.

There have been some other sort of interpretations which have thought of there being demi-gods or something like this—some intermediaries between God and man—and so on.

But very strictly speaking, the Torah is very clear that there is only one God. And that has been followed. in Christianity, there is still that declaration that there is only one God, even though one understands the Trinity to be a representation of that one God.

I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Faiths Seek Common Ground at San Diego Univ.

The Prophet’s Kindness Towards People of the Book

Religious Tolerance in Muslim History