Last Friday, I took 65 Christian high school students to the largest mosque in Georgia. We were able to observe their service, watch their prayer ritual, and then head upstairs where we interacted with one of the Islamic leaders.
During the question and answer time, one of the Christians asked the Muslim leader about the significance of Jesus being sinless while Mohammed was not sinless—something I had taught the students earlier in the day. The Muslim leader, however, corrected him and said, “Actually, all of the prophets—Jesus, Mohammed, and the others—are sinless.” I noticed several of the students looked at me and thought, I remember you saying that Islam teaches that only Jesus is sinless. The tendency is to believe the Muslim since it’s assumed he’s the authority about his own religion.
This demonstrates an important lesson. There is a distinction between what Muslims say and what Islam teaches. Muslims say all kinds of things about Jesus, Mohammed, the Bible, and a host of other topics. Not everything they say, however, is consistent with authoritative sources in Islam.
After we left the mosque, I was able to debrief with the students and clarify this distinction. There are three key sources in Islam: the Quran (what Muslims believe are the literal words of Allah), the hadith (written traditions of what Mohammed said), and the sunnah (the life example of Mohammed). If a doctrine is found in these three sources, then it’s Islamic. If it’s contradicted by these sources, then it’s not Islamic. It doesn’t matter who is making the claim—an Islamic scholar or a Muslim queen—what they say must conform to these authoritative sources for their claim to accurately represent Islam.
Muslims, however, sometimes say things that are not consistent with those three sources. That’s what happened in our case. The Muslim leader claimed that Mohammed was sinless.
But the Quran—the highest authority in Islam—teaches the opposite. Surah 40:55, for example, says, “So be patient, [O Muhammad]. Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth. And ask forgiveness for your sin and exalt [ Allah ] with praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.” Notice, Mohammed is commanded to ask for forgiveness for his sin. Allah asks the same thing of Mohammed in Surah 47:19: “So know, [O Muhammad], that there is no deity except Allah and ask forgiveness for your sin and for the believing men and believing women. And Allah knows of your movement and your resting place.”
Why, then, did the mosque leader say Mohammed was not sinless? There could be many reasons: different sects in Islam hold different theologies, cultural traditions, political correctness, or other factors. It doesn’t ultimately matter, though. If what they’re saying doesn’t correspond with what the Quran, hadith, and sunnah teach, then it doesn’t accurately reflect orthodox Islam.
Now that the students are aware of this distinction, they’re ready for further conversations they’ll likely have in the future.