Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023

What do Christians and Muslims
Have in Common?


In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

 I am very happy to be able to share with you some reflections about commonalities and differences between Islam and Christianity and how we should treat them. Before I start mentioning our commonalities I need to make some introductory points which I think are very important for anyone who wants to work in the interfaith field.

 We human beings instinctively notice differences before we notice commonalities. I was reflecting on the reason for this, and my conclusion is that this is part of our defense system. For example, if I go into a room in which there is one person who looks different from the rest. I focus on that person because he or she could pose a threat to me. In a similar way, if I see a number of stationary things and then one of them moves, that’s where I will instinctively focus my attention.

 We need to train ourselves so  that we do not always let our instincts determine how we react so that we can give equal attention to both differences and commonalities. If we find that they are not equally important, we can then give each side its due significance rather than giving too much attention to something that is different just because it is different.

This tendency to focus on difference also applies to community or family relations. Sometimes husbands and wives who have been living together for years experience two or three problems and decide that they can no longer live together, even though over the years they have agreed on hundreds of things. The same can be true of business partners. Sometimes a business can collapse because there have been two or three transactions about which the partners do not agree.

Focusing on difference is one of the games our mind plays on us, and for that reason we have to train our mind. If you simply follow the way your mind instinctively takes you, you will end up with many problems. You have to keep telling yourself, “Is this difference such a big issue that we cannot work around it?

In the world of inter- or intra-religious relations, we have to be careful not to let differences dominate all our thinking and judging. There are all too many instances of conflict between people of different denominations of the same religion who excommunicate and even kill those with whom they disagree. The reason this has happened over the centuries and continues to happen today is because differences have dominated their attention to such a degree that they cannot see the commonalities that exist among them.

By taking time, by being more mature, more spiritual, more openminded, and especially by being more humble, you will come to realize that you are not the center of the world, nor are you the only ones who believe in God. There are others who are honestly trying to worship and please God.

At the present time, there are many Christians and Muslims who, despite recognizing their theological differences, believe in unity, believe that they are brothers and sisters in God. Have they solved all the theological problems? No. Rather, they are able to place differences in a wider framework rather than allowing them to dominate everything else.

Yesterday I had a discussion with two of the sisters. I asked them a question that I think is fundamental for all of us. If someone shares your language, don’t you feel happy and united, especially if you meet one another in another country where people speak a different language? Isn’t this all the more true if you find that you are both from the same city, or even the same neighborhood?

My question then is this. If I discover that someone else worships the same God I worship, the God of Abraham, the personal God, how much do we share? Can you give me a percentage? If you say 10%, 20%, 30%, even 70%, none of these does justice to the centrality of God. If someone shares with me their love and devotion to the same God I believe in, we share more than 99%. You could even say 100%, because for us, God is everything. The expression “Allahu Akbar,” does not mean that other things are great, but that God is greater. It means that God is greater than can be described. There is nothing that can be compared with God.

For example, let’s say I have a cousin who is from my country and so speaks the same language I do. He is also a Shi‘a Muslim but does not practice his faith. HH He does not believe in the centrality of God, nor has he based his life on seeking God. Then I meet a Sunni Muslim or a Christian who has made God the center of his or her life. Is my cousin closer to me than this Sunni or this Christian? If I accept the premise that God is the center of everything, then the person who is closer to God must also be closer to me.

According to traditional paradigm, a Shi‘a Muslim would be closer to me than a Sunni Muslim or a Christian because the Shi‘a and I share the same doctrines and the same practices. A wider circle would include Muslims in general because we believe in the same Qur’an, Mecca, Prophet. A still wider circle would include Christians and followers of Abraham because we believe in the same God and share many commonalities. Then would come people who believe in a God other than the God of Abraham, and then people of good will, even if they have no faith. This paradigm is not wrong, but it is not the whole picture because it is based on doctrines and theories. But when we come to the essence of faith, which is to turn toward God with humility, gratitude, openness, submission, then who is closer to me? Those who share more of the theories and doctrines I hold, or those who share my love for God to a greater degree?

One of the gifts we have received from God through our coming to know our Christian brothers and sisters over a period of more than twenty-five years in different parts of the world and with different groups and denominations, is discovering Christians who are really devoted to God. Because of what I have witnessed, I cannot accept the statement of those who say that Christians do not believe in God or are not honest. I have seen their love for God and have even been embarrassed at times because I have not shown as much love for God as they have. The same is true for some Sunni Muslims who surpass me in their love for God and the Prophet. I can now see that people are connected to God in different ways.

I am not in favor of pluralism in the sense that everyone can pick and choose as they like. We can and should discuss our theological differences, but this doesn’t prevent me from seeing beauty elsewhere. A theology that cannot explain the presence of real faith in other religious traditions is a theology that is lacking. God is present in the lives of many, many people, and we should be happy when we see good things in other faith communities.

As believers, we need to be grateful to God. What do you thank God for? Do you thank God for the flowers that are only in your garden, or do you thank God for the flowers in everyone else’s garden? It is not enough to thank God for the flowers in my garden alone. I should thank God for any flower in any garden. If I see that there are Shi‘a, or Sunni, or Catholics, or Protestants who are doing good work, I should thank God, and I should also thank them. One of the things that we always try to do is to show our appreciation for sisters, nuns, and monks because, as Muslim brothers and sisters, we appreciate that you are gifting your life to God. I thank God who has shown this path to you and chosen you, and I thank you for responding to the call of God. This is my job as a believer in God. If I as a Muslim do not see the beauty of God here, I have a problem with being a Muslim.

We have a practice of visiting other groups on site, for example, at monasteries or at the Mariapolis centers of the Focolare movement in Italy and other countries. Normally, when I visit a place, my intention is to establish a permanent relationship with it. For example, when we came here to the Subiaco Center in 2017 for our Monastic-Shi‘a dialogue, Subiaco touched my heart. So every time I am back in Nairobi, I visit Subiaco. When some of our brothers come to Nairobi, I tell them they should visit Subiaco.

Someone once asked me why I visited all these places. I said that if you love an artist and have a favorite work of that artist in your home, but you know that there are works of this artist in other places, don’t you want to go to see those other works? Or do you say, “One piece is enough”? God is my artist, and God has different works of art in different places. If there is a work of God in another place, I want to visit it. And not only once, but as often as I can, because I am enriched by God’s works, wherever they are.

Don’t thank God only for the flowers in your garden. Thank God for all the flowers. This means you have to see flowers. Don’t say that the flowers in your neighbor’s garden are thorns; no, they are flowers.

And now, after this introduction, let us look at some of the commonalities that exist in Islam and Christianity. What I will present here is part of my short book, Mary, Jesus and Christianity: An Islamic Perspective, which was published in 2004. Nineteen years have passed, but I do not regret anything I said in this book. On the contrary, I am now even more certain that what I wrote there is true.

After writing about our respective ways of regarding Jesus and Mary, I said that the reason I was interested in Muslim-Christian dialogue was because I found so many commonalities in our two traditions.

First of all, we both believe in and worship the same God. For me, this is what is fundamental. We worship the same God who is one. Unfortunately, there are some Muslims who think that Christians do not believe in one God but in many gods. They don’t understand Trinity in the way that Christians understand it. Christians are the first to say that they are monotheists. We both believe in one God who is merciful, benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and we can engage in endless discussion and sharing about each of these attributes.

Today, unfortunately there are many people who do not believe in God, who do not associate themselves with any faith. So when someone says they believe in God, we should be extremely happy. Unfortunately, all too often our first and instinctive response is, “OK, you believe in God, but we have differences.”

Muslims and Christians love God immensely, try to devote themselves to him and gain proximity to him. We read in Psalm 42, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” And in the Qur’an we read, “To God belongs the East and the West; wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God” (Al-Baqara [The Cow] 2:115). This concept of seeking the face of God is amazing; it can summarize our entire life. What are you seeking? You are seeking the face of God. The problem is that we are not always able to find the face of God in places that are not familiar to us. For example, if you have always gone to one particular church and then you go to another church where the architecture is different, you will have trouble finding the face of God there. Some Muslims can find God anywhere, can say their prayers anywhere, but there are also some—not the majority—who have difficulty finding God in a church. They can find God in a mosque or on the street, but not in a church. The same would hold true for a Christian who can find God in a church but not in a mosque.

Those who are spiritual, enlightened, can find the face of God everywhere, and they can certainly find God more easily in a place of worship, even if it is not their own. Let us be honest. How is it possible that I as a Muslim or Christian can go to the place of worship of another tradition and not see any beauty in the worship that believers have offered in that place over many years? If I cannot smell the fragrance of the worship and glorification of God in the church or mosque of believers who belong to a tradition different from my own, what is wrong with me? Why am I so biased? Why can’t I find the face of God who has been worshipped there? I am not saying that all places of worship are equal. You can love your church or mosque more than any other, but you should be able to find the face of God in other places of worship. Don’t restrict God. Unfortunately, we who are small also make God small. We think that our God cannot be present everywhere because we are not present everywhere. This kind of God is the God of an individual or a tribe or a sect. The real God is universal.

There is a very rich and significantly similar spirituality in both religions. When we enter the field of mysticism and spirituality, we find even more similarities. Mystics are better at acknowledging the love for God that we share.

Second, we both believe in human free will and our responsibility and accountability before God. We also share an understanding of basic moral values and virtues. Can you identify one virtue about which we disagree? For example, can you identify something that Christians would call a virtue and Muslims would call a vice? To what degree we exhibit those values in our lives is a question. I am sure that no one would say that everyone in their community is outstanding in virtue. We are all human beings with shortcoming, but this doesn’t reflect our faiths, which say that everyone should be virtuous.

Third, we both believe in resurrection and God’s treatment of everyone with justice and mercy. God never acts unjustly. In fact, we fear his justice (in the sense of giving us only what we deserve); we prefer that God would treat us with mercy and generosity.

Fourth, we both have high esteem for the gift of reason and conscience. Our second round of Shi‘a-Catholic dialogue in 2005 was on reason and faith in theory and practice. In some Muslim and Christian traditions this is even clearer. For example, Shi‘as and Catholics have great respect for reason and the intellect. At the same time we recognize that we need revelation to help us. 

Fifth, we both believe that all human beings come from the same father and mother. Just having the same God is enough to make us feel united, but on top of that, we also have been given the same father and mother. Muslims and Christians believe that Adam and Eve are our parents. This is very important because it means that we are all brothers and sisters. We have a great sense of fellowship and deny any form of racism. There may be some Christians and Muslims who have been or still are racist, but Islam and Christianity have no place for racism. We believe in the dignity of all human beings and reject any unjust treatment of humankind. We appreciate the value of human life as a great divine gift, and for this reason, the sacredness of life has been the topic of some of our conferences.

Sixth, we both believe in prophethood and share a long history of prophecy from the beginning of the history of humankind. We have a different understanding of Jesus, but for the prophets who came before Jesus, we have the same understanding of prophethood.

Seventh, we both have great respect for the Prophet Abraham, and we regard him as the role model of all who believe, as the champion of monotheism.

Eighth, we both have great reverence and love for Lady Mary and her Son Jesus (upon them be peace). We believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and we await his second coming. Actually, my belief that we need to be united at the end of time so that together we can welcome Jesus and the Twelfth Imam[1] to this world is what makes me so interested in working to bring Christians and Muslims together.

Ninth, we both share a great concern about the challenges the contemporary culture of materialism and secularism poses to living a life of faith in today’s world. The document on human fraternity[2] signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, has highlighted the many problems that we have today. We share the same concerns.

Tenth, I believe in a complete harmony between all divine revelations and prophecies. There has never been any rivalry or enmity between the prophets. The late Ayatullah Khomeini used to say, “If all the prophets—we believe there were 124,000 prophets—were living together, there would not be the slightest conflict among them.” 124,000 prophets can live together peacefully, but sometimes two believers cannot live together peacefully. As a Muslim, I have no need to deny Jesus or his mission. Indeed, I have to be faithful to Jesus because my faith requires that of me. Being a Muslim requires me to believe in Jesus, to believe in Moses, to believe in Abraham. I cannot discriminate against even one of the 124,000 prophets. Any person who is chosen by God is my hero, my role model.

The Qur’an says, “Say, ‘We believe in God and we believe in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and in the Books given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and another” ( Al-‘Imran [The Family of ‘Imran] 3:84).  I don’t need to deny or cover up the gifts of Jesus or the valuable qualities of Christianity. These are all signs of greatness of the same God. These are all divine blessings that increase my sense of richness, for which I must be very thankful. So when I see Christian organizations or institutions who work for God, I feel grateful. I say, “These are gifts of God.”

Eleventh. I have no need to compromise my faith in order to enter into a genuine, sustainable, and fruitful dialogue. You can have your faith and still be other to each other and have great dialogue. It is actually the Qur’an itself that asks me to call for dialogue and for a common word.[3]

Twelfth. The Qur’an shows great affection for Christians because of their humility, their search for truth, and their sympathy with Muslims. For example, we read in the Qur’an, “You will find the nearest among men to the believers to be those who say, ‘We are Christians,” because there are among them priests and monks and because they are not arrogant” (Maida [The Table Spread] 5:84). This is a very important verse. Please keep this in mind: Islam came as a new call towards God, and if this was the work of the Prophet as a human being, he would have looked on Christians, especially priests and monks as rivals. If this had been a human work, the Prophet would have regarded other religions as a challenge and his concern would have been to find a way to get rid of them. But this was the work of God, and God says that Christians have great qualities. And why? Because among them there are priests and monks. The Qur’an acknowledges the work of priest and monks in making Christians better.

Thirteenth. Through my close and intimate relationships with many Christians, I have come to the conclusion that the Qur’anic praise of Christians at the time of the Prophet Mohammed can be witnessed in Christians today. Sincere and humble Christians have not perished, thanks be to God. Not every Christian, not every Muslim. But there are sincere and sympathetic Christians who have devoted their lives to God, and I see no reason why I should not regard these people as representatives of Christianity.

When you meet someone from another tradition who is good, you can say, “This person is good because he follows that tradition.” But if you do not have a good impression of another tradition and meet someone from that tradition who is good, you will probably say, “This person is an exception.” But if I see a good Christian, I do not say this is an exception. I say, “This is what a Christian is supposed to be.” If  someone is a bad Christian, that is an exception. I don’t look at quantity or statistics. I say, “Good ones are the real ones.” Good Sunnis are the real Sunnis; if there are bad Sunnis, they are not Sunni. Human beings can hide their weaknesses behind their faith. The real Sunnis, Shi‘as, Catholics are those who are virtuous. No faith tells you to cheat. So if you see a Muslim or a Catholic cheating, they are not representing their faith.

Finally, I would say it helps me to see that my Christian friends also echo my appreciation and my respect and love for them. Please remember that in interfaith dialogue, in the work you do for unity, you should not expect to receive mutual appreciation or reward.  Don’t lose hope if you find people who have no interest in interfaith activities. You are not doing this to gain their respect or admiration. You do it for the sake of God. You don’t make the admiration of people a condition for praying or fasting. You should work for unity in the same way you pray and fast: for the sake of God. Some people may appreciate what you do; those who do not may need time. But it helps if we see support from the leaders of the other faith, and this is the case with the Catholic Church.

Let me now refer to some statements the Catholic Church has made about Islam.

Pope John Paul said,

The Catholic Church wishes to pursue a sincere and fruitful interreligious dialogue with the members of the Jewish faith and the followers of Islam. Such a dialogue is not an attempt to impose our views upon others. What it demands of all of us is that, holding to what we believe, we listen respectfully to one another, seek to discern all that is good and holy in each other’s teachings, and cooperate in supporting everything that favors mutual understanding and peace.[4]

More than openness for dialogue, there is a high regard for Muslims. For example, here is a quotation from Nostra Ætate:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting (#3).

The Catholic Church also recognizes salvation for Muslims. This is what appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day (841).

The Catholic Church recognizes Islam as a sister faith and Muslims as sisters and brothers. For example, Pope John Paul II addressed the Catholic community in Ankara in 1979 saying, “They have like you the faith of Abraham in the one and mighty and merciful God.”[5]

The Catholic Church also has respect for the Prophet Mohammad. For example, in 1977 the President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, said,

How is it possible to appreciate Islam and Muslims without showing appreciation for the Prophet of Islam and the values he promoted? Not to do this would not only be a lack of respect to which the Vatican Council exhorted Christians but also neglect of the religious factor of which account must be taken in theological reflection and religious awareness.

And so I say to my Muslim brothers and sisters—and I think our Christian brothers and sisters will agree—we have all that we need in terms of support from our Scriptures, our leaders, our documents, and from our personal experience to regard each other as brothers and sisters in a real sense. This is not just a matter of being diplomatic. Of course, it is good to be diplomatic, but we must be honest. We are brothers and sisters in the same God, and we need to work together, to praise God together, to pray to God together, and to bring the light of God to ourselves and to others.


[1] Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Mahdī is believed by the Twelver Shia to be the last of the Twelve Imams and the eschatological Mahdi, who will emerge in the end of time to establish peace and justice and redeem Islam (Wikipedia).

[2]Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together

[3] The Qur’an says: "Say: 'O People of the Scripture! come to a common word as between us and you: that we worship none but God’…"

[4]Interreligious Meeting at the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute, Jerusalem, 23 March 2000

[5]  «  . . . ils ont donc comme vous, la foi d’Abraham dans le Dieu unique tout-puissant et miséricordieux. » To the Catholic community of Anaka, November 29, 1979.

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