By Theodore Riginiotis, Orthodox theologian
In the history of religions, Christ is not the Christian counterpart of Muhammad; He is the Christian counterpart of Allah. According to Islam, Allah “sends his apostle” Muhammad to the people, while Christ sends His own Apostles to the nations. Christ gives commandments; He teaches the people and is their God and Savior.
Where Christ differs from the Muslims’ Allah is that Christ is the Only-begotten Son of God: He is God, Who exists within a loving Trinity of Godhood – something entirely impossible and unacceptable for Muslims to embrace – and He is also the God who condescended to become an incarnate, weak human, by temporarily “vacating” Himself of His divine vastness and omnipotence in order to save mankind, who would become united to Him - and through Him, to God the Father – thus making mankind “communicants of divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Unlike Christ, the Muslim God never leaves heaven, never “vacates” himself nor sacrifices himself for the sake of mankind, never allows himself to be defeated (an inconceivable idea for Islam, which is a religion with a belligerent mentality) and never becomes united with mankind.
These are the reasons why it is inappropriate to compare Muhammad to Christ. The former is the “apostle and prophet of God/Allah”, whereas the latter is God Himself, Who sent forth His apostles and prophets into the world (as clearly stated by Christ Himself, in Matthew 23:34 – “Behold, I will send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city.”)
Christ had many apostles who could be compared to Muhammad. And there have indeed been many, throughout all the following generations, who had lived (and still live) as saints, perfectly united “in Christ” with the Triadic God, who could compare just the same. Not by comparing the more superficial events of their lives, but their relationship to God, their calling by God, the revelations that they received from God, their labors for the dissemination of God’s word to mankind (in which they did not resort to shedding human blood, but instead gave their own blood as offering), and their miracle-working charismas.
I have chosen the Apostle Paul as the most outstanding example – in my opinion – who can be compared to the more obvious and collective analogies to Muhammad (the way that Islam sees him). To a Christian, the Apostle Paul is everything that Islam ascribes to Muhammad: i.e., an Apostle of God (the greatest of all, who was personally called upon by God), who saw God’s divine Light (which Muslims cannot see and thus assert that it is not visible in this life); and who actually spoke with God (Acts of the Apostles 9:1-7). Paul’s direct conversing with God (Christ) continued throughout his entire life (Acts 22:17-21; 2 Cor.12:8-9). God had also sent him to spread His word among the nations:
God’s witness regarding Paul, as spoken to Saint Ananias in Acts 9:10-16: “Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
And in Acts13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work to which I have called them.'”
Also in Acts 13:47: “For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you (Paul) as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’"
Also in Acts 22:21: “Then He said to me (Paul), ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”
We note that God spoke to the saints about Paul, referring to him as “the light of nations” and a “chosen vessel”.
Paul had also ascended to the “third heaven” where he heard “ineffable words” – words that cannot be expressed by human lips – and was bestowed with revelations of breathtaking magnitude, which he humbly reported in his Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:1-10): “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man (Paul humbly implies himself) in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For, though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He also prophesied about the outcome of mankind, in 2 Thess. 2:1-2: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.”
And he also spoke of the resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Christ according to the will of God and the revelations that he received from God, in the entire Chapter 15 of his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, also in Chapter 4 of his 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
And in Chapter 5 of the same Epistle : “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.”
He was granted a tremendous miracle-working charisma: raising a dead person, expelling demons (Acts 16:16-18; 19:11-12; 20:9-12). Sorcerers publicly burnt their books of witchcraft and believed in God, after listening to Paul’s teachings (Acts 19:19).
Paul travelled throughout the lands of the Mediterranean, disseminating the word of God in many places, among dangerous idolaters, and he brought thousands of people to the true Faith, in an expanse stretching from Cyprus and as far as Spain. He suffered whipping, stoning, imprisonment; he was stabbed, he was shipwrecked (Acts 21:14-44; 2 Cor.11:24-32 – see Notes below also) and was finally decapitated by the Romans.
Many of his disciples are saints and teachers of Christianity – such as Titus, Timothy, Luke, Aquilas, Priscilla, Apollos, Onesimus, Dionysius the Areopagite, Stachys, Apelles, Flegon, Phoebe and many others. Several of them were also martyred, thus offering their life for their “in Christ” love of God. There is absolutely no evidence or indication whatsoever that any of these persons had fought any wars or had prompted people to fight or to take human lives – either in the name of God and “divine law”, or for any other reason.
Paul founded dozens of Christian communities, even in the most dangerous of places, where he himself had suffered beatings, imprisonments, and in many instances, near death - for example, at Lystra (Acts 14:8-22), at Philippi (Acts 16:19-34); at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-30) – communities which he guided with love and caring, like a father (1 Cor. 4:14-15; Gal. 4:19-20), during his entire lifetime (see Philippians chapter 1), both with his oral teachings as well as with his Epistles, which contain everything that man needs for his salvation. This is what makes his Epistles equivalent to the Koran – the way that Muslims regard it of course – except that the Epistles do not have the form of a political and social law with Old Testament style punishments and stipulations like the Koran does, because the content of Paul’s Epistles originates from God’s direct revelation to him (a divine inspiration). Wherever Paul refers to his own views and not to a revelation by God, he always mentions it clearly.
In 1 Cor.7:10-12: “I command - yet not I, but the Lord… but to the rest I, not the Lord, say…”
In 1 Cor.7:25: “…I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.”
In Cor.11: 23: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…”
Unlike Muhammad, Paul was well aware that the devil can “transform himself into an angel of light” in order to fool people (2 Cor. 11:14; Gal. 1:18), but he himself was not fooled (Acts 16:16-18), and he taught the people not to be fooled either.
Paul never resorted to wars, nor did he ever receive any instruction by God to fight His enemies – instead, he was instructed to love them. He never armed anyone, nor did he ever lead anyone into battle. Instead, he taught only love and non-violence, thus keeping faithfully to the teaching of Jesus Christ and all the Apostles. This is the same path that was followed by all those who were faithful to the true God. They were martyred by the thousands, thus offering their own blood as sacrifice, without killing anyone.
Furthermore, Paul did not establish any terrestrial state or empire, like the one that Muhammad and his successors had created in the name of Allah, which had murders as an inevitable consequence – a thing entirely different (or more correctly, opposite) to the kingdom of heaven that Christ and His successors-disciples had established among mankind. (Refer also to Christ’s response to Pilate in John 18:36, but also to the reason that Christianity could not be an earthly kingdom – as mentioned by Paul himself in his Epistle to Hebrews 13:14: “For we do not have here a permanent city, but we seek the one that will be”).*
In spite of all the above, Paul was victorious. The Christian faith spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, at its European, its Asian and its African sides. And, three centuries later, the Emperor of Rome himself became a Christian.
Paul’s teaching is of course devastating for the teaching of the Koran. God’s triadic reality and Christ’s Divinity, His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, as well as all the other elements of the Christian Faith, are confirmed by God’s Apostle in a manner that does not leave any margins for doubt. This was not a teaching fabricated by the Apostle Paul (as some entirely arbitrarily claim); it is a teaching that agrees in every detail with all of the Apostles, with all of the writers of the New Testament, i.e. the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James and Jude Thaddeus. However, we also discern the agreement in the teachings of the other holy apostles, in the concordance of faith in the Christian communities of the 1st and 2nd century A.D., from Britain as far as India – regardless which apostle had founded the faith in those lands.
These are the reasons the Apostle of Nations – Paul – is being constantly defamed by the enemies of the true God, the way that Muslims feel that Muhammad is being defamed. However, no Christian spiritual struggler who is faithful to the teaching of Christ, Paul, and all of the Apostles of Christ the Lord, has ever aggressively attacked the Lord’s defamers (not even when He was still living among us, nor during the pursuant history of Christianity); they only confined themselves to words for a verbal defense of the Faith, with the sole interest of leading the sycophants to their salvation, and continuing to act towards them with love, the way that Christ the Lord loves them and all of mankind.
I would venture to say that the last hope of our Muslim brothers in their attempts to debunk the validity of the Apostle Paul’s testimony regarding the truth of the Christian Faith, is to assert that the New Testament contains falsehoods as regards Paul’s conversation with Christ, or the miracles he performed and the revelations that he had received throughout his Christian labors – in the same way that has been observed with the Apostle Peter’s testimony. I have no doubt that attempts will likewise be made to mar his person also – an action that has already occurred in the past.
Nevertheless, the undeniable facts of his life remain, and they can reveal to any well-meaning researcher of the truth all the other details, such as: the fact that Paul had initially been a dedicated persecutor of Christians and had suddenly and miraculously converted to Christianity, but without ever ceasing to feel guilty for those actions for the rest of his life (1 Cor. 15:8-11); that he had abandoned his home and the honorary status that he held in the leadership of the Hebrews (Gal. 1:13-14); that he had dedicated his life to the dissemination of God’s word throughout the Mediterranean – ever homeless and always a stranger wherever he went, reaping only toils, wounds, insults, arrests, pains and dangers (by idolaters, Jews and fanatic Judeo-Christians); and that he was finally put to death for Christ, without gaining any worldly benefits, or riches, or authority, or triumph in military victories, or respite,; nor did he secure any “holy book” that would impose a “faith in God and His apostle, Paul” - by which he would actually command any “holy war” that must kill by the sword anyone who betrayed that faith.
When Paul defends his apostolic status and enumerates his labors for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. Ch.11-12), he does so in response to the frightful treachery of the Judeo-Christians who were hindering the very salvation of the faithful and yet – take note – he does not draw a knife, nor does he command the followers of the true God to kill his sycophants. (Not to mention that he had already stressed to the recipients of the Epistle that he considered himself an insignificant individual, thus refusing to be regarded as the leader of a religious group: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” – 1 Cor. 3:5-7). The matter of the Judeo-Christians was resolved, not through violence, but by the Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem, with the participation of ALL the Apostles and the Elders, in which Council Paul had no leading role whatsoever, whereas in the introductions by the major Apostles Peter and James, one can see the consequences of Paul’s teaching with the spiritual inheritance of Christ.
Who, then, is the true Apostle of God - Paul or Muhammad? Let each interested party reach his own conclusions, by searching the historical facts with sincerity.
* This is why regardless what excuses the contemporary Muslim missionaries may give to justify Muhammad’s war enterprises and his successors’, Islam will always be a vast difference from Christianity, as vast as the difference between the heavenly kingdom and the terrestrial Arab empire – in other words, as far off as the sky is from earth.
To be fair, however, it suffices to compare only the first 4 Muslim caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (note: before Islam had begun to become secular, according to Muslim tradition, during which periods however, the entire Persian empire and vast expanses of Christian Romaic lands had already been conquered: the conquest of Alexandria, raids against Cyprus, Rhodes and Asia Minor, with the capital Constantinople also in danger, if the Arab fleet had not been destroyed by a tempest on the shores of Chalcedon in 653, while there were also invasions in Iran, Afghanistan and Armenia) with the first three centuries of Christianity. They were centuries of martyrs, prior to the first Christian Roman emperor, after whom the Muslims could assert that Christianity had turned into a theocratic empire which acted in the name of God – the way that the Islamic Caliphate did.
But even this assertion would not be true, because during Byzantium, the imperial authority was always different compared to the leadership of the Church, and quite often, there had been unjust or heretical emperors who had exiled or taken the lives of ecclesiastic leaders and a host of saints.
“Byzantium” was not a theocracy; it was a political State, with political laws. It did NOT use its Holy Bible to lead throngs of warriors and exhort them to acts of war – as the Koran does. This is what Papism resorted to at a later date, which is why it constitutes a devastating heresy that stained people’s hands with Muslim and Christian blood.
To read about the war operations and conquests of the first 4 Caliphs, you can browse this article:
"The Rashidun Caliphate expanded gradually, with the time span of 24 years of conquest a vast territory was conquered comprising North Africa, the Middle East, Transoxiana, the Caucasus, parts of Anatolia, the whole of the Sassanid Persian empire, the Greater Khorasan, the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes and Sicily, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded, and Baluchistan was conquered, the empires eastern frontiers reaching the lower Indus river in the Indian subcontinent and western frontiers to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Islamic Invasion of Sassanid Persia resulted in the conquest of the whole Sassanid Persian empire, after the Persians declined to submit and continued to strive to re-capture their lost territory. Unlike the Sassanid Persians, the Byzantines after losing Syria, retreated back to western Anatolia and as a result, also lost Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, Cyprus and Rhodes to the invading Rashidun army, although the civil wars among the Muslims halted the war of conquest for many years and this gave time for the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire to recover."
Despite the peaceful tradition of the large populations of Egypt and Syria, we note on account of their opposition to Byzantine administration, a history of audacious and continuing wars in the name of Allah with significant exhortations by the Koran. Regardless of the pretext that supported those wars (for example, if they had to do with deception by the enemy or for reasons of defense – which are the excuses given by Muslims), that behavior is an entirely materialistic and unacceptable one in the eyes of the true God, and far below the teaching of Christ, Who called upon Christians to forgive their enemies and prefer to be martyred – NOT to resort to bloodshed, and clearly NOT to found and expand a State.
It should be noted that Byzantium – despite the many civil wars (a totally unacceptable thing of course) – did not aspire to expansionist wars, only defensive ones, and it did not secure conquered peoples for itself; it provided equal terms for all the ethnicities that lived within the Empire. Even the renowned recapture of the West by Justinian was a defensive war, for the liberation of the Western peoples from the various German tribal conquerors. However, even that cannot be regarded as a part of the Christian religion, nor was it guided by the Bible or the holy Fathers and teachers of Christianity.
Just one quote here, as regards the Crusades: "We note, finally, that the 'soteriological' aspect of the Crusades, which guaranteed the absolution of sins for those who had participated in them – a practice that has always been repelled by the Orthodox Church despite the persistence of strong-willed emperors like Nicephoros Phocas – had surprised the Byzantines, who were not in the least moved by the eschatological spirit that reigned in the West at the time." (Helena Glykatzi-Arveler, The Political Ideology of the Byzantine Empire, Psychoyios Publications, Athens 1988, p.92).
A brief examination of the Orthodox Church’s stance with regard to war:
Basil the Great – Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader during the second half of the 4th century A.D. – a very few years after Rome’s reconciliation with Christianity had drafted the renowned Canons regarding war. Those canons were also validated by the Quinisext Ecumenical Council in 692 A.D.
Canon 8 of the Quinisext Council “On Murder and Murderers” (which, like his Canons 56 and 13, was validated by the Quinisext Council as a Canon of an Ecumenical Council) includes the “wittingly murdering” – those who murder during war offensives: “Entirely wittingly and without any doubt are the instances of robbers and war offensives. Because the former will murder for money while avoiding to be checked, whereas the latter come to wars to commit murders; not to intimidate, nor to rehabilitate, but to kill the opponents, with intent to be obvious.”
Consequently they fall under Canon 56 for the witting murderer, and as such are subject to an excommunication of 20 years, the first four years of which he must stand outside the church confessing his crime and asking for the Christians’ prayers.
Canon 13, "On those who have murdered during wars", pertains clearly to defensive wars, and calls for the Christian to abstain for three years from Holy Communion if he has taken the life in a defensive war.
Furthermore, Apostolic Canon 66 defrocks the clergyman and excommunicates the layperson (denies him Holy Communion) who kill during a war: “Should any clergyman strike someone in battle and after one strike unwittingly kills him, let him be defrocked for his precociousness. If he be a layperson, let him be excommunicated.”
According to the 5th Canon by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, even the one who kills unwittingly is barred from priesthood: “Even if unwittingly one becomes a miasma on account of murder, having thus become sacrilegious according to the saints, the Canon declares him as exempt of the gift of priesthood.”
“That is, whosoever murders – even if pressured and unwittingly – if he be a layman he cannot become a priest, and if a Priest, he is defrocked” - according to the comment by Saint Nikodemos in the Pedalion (Rudder), pp.657-658.
It is very clear that no honor is reserved for killing during a war against any unfaithful, nor any promises of sainthood for the warrior who loses his life therein. The manner in which national anniversaries are celebrated in our country is a secular one – human of course, but not Christian by nature. Christianically speaking, a defensive or liberation war is tolerated with sorrow (simply because the Church cannot force anyone to become a martyr); however, it is not the warriors who are saints and martyrs – it is the lambs.
The implementation in practice of the Church’s view against war can be seen in the Book of Saints:
Α) Those killed in war against the unfaithful are not honored as martyrs and saints (this was requested by Nicephoros Phocas, but the Patriarch at the time and the Council had rejected the request, by invoking Canon 13 by Basil the Great); instead, only those who were put to death during various persecutions, without having fought. For the slain warriors, the Church offers Her prayers for the repose of their souls, because it is not certain that they were indeed saved.
Β) The military saints are also martyrs as a general rule – that is, they have washed away the blood of the enemy (even if they had spilled it during defensive wars) with their own blood. Even Nicephoros Phocas, who is a saint, had died by stabbing – is not honored because he liberated lands from the cruel Arabic occupation, but was honored for his piety, which was expressed by an intensely ascetic way of life and incessant prayer. And yet, he died of a knife wound in his conjugal bed (and not in the “glorious” fielf of battle)! Was that just a coincidence?
C) Apart from the thousands of martyrs of the persecutions, there are other saints who had refused to fight, having understood their spiritual inheritance’s view regarding war. Saint Boniface – the Enlightener of the Germans – in 754 AD had refused to defend himself when he was attacked by barbarians in the forests beyond the Rhine, and simply covered his head with a manuscript of the Gospel. He was killed and thus earned the crown of martyrdom and sainthood.
The Russian holy princes Boris and Gleb, in 1015 when their elder brother Sviatopolk invited them to his palace had understood that he intended to kill them, and yet they still went there, and in fact separately, one month apart, having considered it contrary to their Christian belief to make their own soldiers fight for their sake.
In 452 AD, when Rome had been besieged by Attila the Hun, the holy Pope Leo the Great had averted to occupation of the city by going out to meet him, unarmed, and together with the priests of Rome. This feat was repeated by the holy Pope Gregory II (717-731 AD), in order to avert the occupation of Rome by the Lombard king, Liutprand.
Saint Sigbert, king of East Anglia in 637 AD, was, under pressure, forced to lead his army into battle, although he had resigned from his throne and become a monk. He went there, unarmed, holding only a staff, and was of course killed. We do not know if he had prayed for his soldiers (that they may be forgiven for the enemies that they would kill), or even if he had come forth unarmed to offer himself as sacrifice for his soldiers.
There are many more similar cases.