"Repent! Otherwise you have blasphemed!"
Her brother had seethed with rage, his words still echoing in Fatima’s mind. Repent! You have blasphemed! They were laced with threat: The penalty for blasphemy was death. Had she really blasphemed? She had not meant to. It had been a heated argument, and she accidentally blurted out some words . . . but what now? How could this have happened? She was struggling to think clearly. Her very life was in jeopardy.
Lifting her face from her hands, Fatima glanced at her computer. It was where she had confided her most private thoughts and inner struggles, where she could discuss new ideas and share opinions with compassionate ears. Her computer was her window to friends and freedom.
But today, it had betrayed her. As a result, she had been locked in her room for hours and feared for her life. Her brother could return at any moment, and unless she repented, it could be the end. She had to think. She had to think quickly and clearly.
Despite the treachery, her computer remained her only recourse. As she had done so many times before, she returned to her laptop to help her process. Logging onto an Arabic forum, she began a post.
Time stamp: 5:15 a.m., July 24, 2008
She had been signing on for years as “Rania,” but the forum knew her well. They knew that she was really twenty-six- year- old Sara Fatima al-Mutairi, a spirited young woman, a passionate teacher, a patriotic Saudi, and a recent convert to Christianity.
Born in the province of Qasim, Fatima’s family came from a distinguished Bedouin tribe and had raised her in accordance with their ancestral religion of Islam. Desiring a devout daughter, her mother had enrolled her in a Quran school at a young age, and Fatima began to take her Islamic faith very seriously. She started learning the Quran, scrupulously covering her hair with her hijab, and even fasting twice a week. She began to outstrip her family in religious zeal, avoiding television and secular music, and ultimately giving up friends on account of her fervor.
Fatima’s mother grew concerned. She desired a faithful daughter, not a fanatical one. This was not the Islam that she knew. Regretting her decision, she took Fatima out of the Quran school and enrolled her in the state system.
Over the ensuing years Fatima’s life normalized, yet she maintained a passion for her religion. She engaged in online debates with agnostics and apostates, defending her beloved prophet and religion from their attacks. In the course of these dialogues she investigated Islamic history and theology carefully, confident her faith would stand up to scrutiny. Yet in the course of these debates she realized, amid anguish and despair, that she could no longer follow Islam. She stopped eating for several days, fell into depression, and became an atheist.
But something told her this was not the answer. She began her search for God anew, this time calling out to him for help. It was then that she came across the Gospels, particularly the gospel of Matthew. It captivated her. She read it four times, being most moved by the Sermon on the Mount. After months of deliberation and investigation, she accepted its message. The Christian community with whom she connected advised her to keep her new faith a secret, as leaving Islam in Arabia incurs the penalty of death. This was difficult for Fatima, passionate and outspoken as she was, but she hid her conversion from all, keeping her private thoughts on her computer and conversing with her Christian community only online.
It was to this online community that she now returned, in her moment of critical despair. After a brief thought, she titled her post and continued:
Time stamp: 5:15 a.m., July 24, 2008
Title: I am in big trouble
Body: The peace of our Lord and our God and Jesus the Messiah. I am in big trouble. My family has started to doubt me because of a religious argument this evening with my mother and brother. . .
Her brother. Fatima did not need to explain to the forum how dangerous an argument with him could be. Fatima’s brother had a similar start in the same family, but his story progressed very differently. His fervor for Islam had only grown since childhood, and he had become a fanatic. Ultimately he joined the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” Saudi Arabia’s religious police, dedicated to enforcing a stringent version of Islam upon its citizens. Although many Muslims take issue with the Commission in specific and Saudi Arabia’s dogmatic version of Islam in general, the religious stringency attracts zealous young men like Fatima’s brother.
Fatima’s fingers flew across the keyboard, the words now pouring out of her as she recounted the harrowing events of the evening. She explained that, in a moment of weakness, she had complained about her lack of religious freedom in Islam. When her family pressed her to explain herself, she had blurted, “The way of the Messiah is purer than the way of the Messenger, and there is a great difference between them!” Her brother flew into a rage, threatening, “Repent! Otherwise you have blasphemed!” Even though Fatima tried to apologize, he broke into her room, took her computer, and started searching through her files. There he found Fatima’s journals, her Christian confessions, and even a picture of the cross.
His darkest suspicions were confirmed. A sharp malice flooded his eyes. He left her, giving her four hours to consider what she had done. Repent! You have blasphemed!
As she came to the end of her post, she made a simple request: “His glance frightened me. I do not trust him. Pray for me, please . . .” Four hours had passed. Her brother would return at any moment.
She had to choose: Would she repent and embrace Islam, or would she stand firm in her Christian faith, potentially at the cost of her life? Which would it be, Islam or Christianity?
Islam or Christianity?
For Fatima, absolutely everything hinged on that question. No matter the strength of her convictions, when faced with the threat of death, she probably had a moment of considering how certain she really was: Is the way of the Messiah truly all that different from the way of the Messenger? Can we really be confident that one religion or the other is true? Even so, is the truth worth dying for?
Every year, millions are faced with Fatima’s dilemma: to follow Islam or Christianity, to worship Allah or Jesus. Like Fatima, unless the seeker lives in a nominal or secular environment, the stakes are high: It can cost a seeker her family, her friends, her job, and potentially her life. For such seekers, it is not simply a matter of believing whatever seems right. They need to be sure, and they need to be sure it is worth the sacrifice.
For me, it has been a decade since I decided to leave Islam, and the fallout of my decision haunts me every day. I knew it would, well before I ever converted, but I also knew that I was sure. I was sure that Islam and Christianity are not just two paths that lead to the same God, but two very different paths that lead very different ways. I was sure that I had excellent historical reason to believe the gospel. I was sure that, though I loved Islam, I could not ignore the problems that crippled its foundations.
But most of all, I was sure that following the one true God would be worth all trials and all suffering. I had to follow the evidence and the truth, no matter the cost.
I left my religion of twenty-two years and became a follower of Jesus in 2005. In 2009, after graduating from medical school, I decided to leave medicine in order to share what I had learned about the gospel, the message of Christianity. I sincerely believe that this message has the power to transform hearts and change the world. The God it proclaims is unlike any other, and it is an unfathomable honor that we get to be a part of his story and introduce people to him.
While sharing this message, I often come across two kinds of people: Christians who enjoy criticizing Islam, and Muslims who want to argue but do not want to learn. I am not writing this book for either of them. I am writing for people who—like Fatima and I did—need the answers to these questions:
- What are the differences between Islam and Christianity?
- Can we be confident that Christianity or Islam is true?
- Is the truth worth dying for?
It took me four years to answer these questions, and they remain so important to me that I have studied them for another decade beyond. This book (No God but One: Allah or Jesus?) is my brief answer. After I share my findings, we will see how Fatima answered the same questions and discover the outcome of her story.
Full table of contents
Prologue: Fatima's Dilemma
QUESTION 1: ARE ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY REALLY ALL THAT DIFFERENT?
Introduction to Question One: No God but One
PART 1: SHARIA OR THE GOSPEL: TWO DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS
1. The Way to Life
2. Comparing Sharia and the Gospel
3. Questioning Grace
4. Diagnosis and Deliverance
PART 2: TAWHID OR THE TRINITY: TWO DIFFERENT GODS
5. The Islamic Inquisition
6. Comparing Tawhid and the Trinity
7. Questioning Complexity
8. Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
PART 3: MUHAMMAD OR JESUS: TWO DIFFERENT FOUNDERS
9. The Council of Nicaea
10. Comparing the Messenger and the Messiah
11. Questioning the God-Man
12. Libya's Best Friend
PART 4: THE QURAN OR THE BIBLE: TWO DIFFERENT SCRIPTURES
13. Burning Scripture
14. Comparing the Quran and the Bible
15. Questioning Texts
16. The First Burning of the Quran
PART 5: JIHAD OR THE CRUSADES: TWO DIFFERENT HOLY WARS
17. The First Crusade
18. Comparing the Traditions of the Founders
19. Questioning Christian Peacefulness
20. Jesus Versus Jihad
QUESTION 2: CAN WE KNOW WHETHER ISLAM OR CHRISTIANITY IS TRUE?
Introduction to Question Two: Investigating Islam and Christianity
PART 6: DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?
21. The Positive Case: Unanimous Records
22. The Islamic Response: It Was Made to Appear So
23. Assessing the Islamic Response: The Quran and the Historical Jesus
24. Conclusion: Jesus Died by Crucifixion
PART 7: DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD?
25. The Positive Case: The Best Explanation of the Facts
26. The Islamic Response: All Paul's Fault
27. Assessing the Islamic Response: Paul and the Disciples in Proper Perspective
28. Conclusion: Jesus Rose from the Dead
PART 8: DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD?
29. The Positive Case: Jesus Was Always God
30. The Islamic Response: Did Jesus Really Say 'I Am God?'
31. Assessing the Islamic Response: Letting the Context Speak
32. Conclusion: Jesus Claimed to Be God
A Midway Summary to Question Two: Assessing the Case for Christianity and Islam's Efforts to Account for Christian Origins
PART 9: IS MUHAMMAD A PROPHET OF GOD?
33. The Positive Case: The Foretold Paragon
34. The Response: Don't Forget the Counterevidence
35. Assessing the Response: Hadith Versus History
36. Conclusion: The Dilemma of the Historical Muhammad
PART 10: IS THE QURAN THE WORD OF GOD?
37. The Positive Case: There Is No Other Book Like It
38. The Response: In What Way Is That Miraculous?
39. Assessing the Response: What Kind of Book Is the Quran?
40. Conclusion: There Is No Compelling Reason to Think the Quran Is the Word of God
Conclusion to Question Two: Islam or Christianity? The Evidence Is Clear
Conclusion: Is the Truth Worth Dying For?