The Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity


So what is the big story, and why does that matter?

In a day and age when it is in vogue to bring "religious others" to the table to eat, talk, and discuss, it is conceivable that the very big picture or the big story of each faith tradition is blurred or obscured or even sidelined in the process. Christians are in the most vulnerable spot because they follow Jesus' commands to love others who are different from themselves and even to love those who are hostile to them. However, one must always keep that injunction in mind with the injunction to be wise as serpents, who have an uncanny knack for using their sense of smell to clearly identify who or what is really in front of them.

As well, the Bible exhorts us with the example of Paul who "took everything thought captive" which was set up in defiance of Christ.

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). 

This short piece proposes to look at the meta-narratives of Islam and Christianity from their own texts, and from which a person of that tradition could say, "Yes, that accurately describes me." They are purposely written in a mirror fashion to make comparison and contrast easier.

From these metanarratives we can actually see motivations for action for what they are. 

The metanarrative of Islam: "If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Allāh is better and so is Muḥammad his messenger, along with striving with all means in your power to do all the right things and avoiding the bad, [Arabic: al- amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahy ʿani l-munkar] along with the purpose of convincing the whole world in any way — peaceful or violent — about this, then you are perhaps on the straight path to the Islamic paradise." Consequently Islam makes the promise, "Do All of This and Maybe Live." The ethical behavior of you and the Muslim community will be dictated by WWMD: What Did Muḥammad Do?[1]

The metanarrative of Christianity: "If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father who raised him, you will want to please Him for what he has done in accomplishing salvation history, by fulfilling every promise, and let the world know about this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the straight path and the destination to the Heavenly city where He already reigns." Consequently, Christianity makes the promise, "Because God in Christ Did All of This, You Will Live." The ethical behavior of you and those who are in Christ will be dictated by WDJD: What Did Jesus Do?

A close glance will see common elements of confession, pleasing behavior, mission practice, paradise, and ethics. Yet in each case, these superficial similarities have dramatically different theological foundations and dramatically different outworkings.[2] One is the outworking of human striving, the other the outworking of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Trinitas Gloria

[1] ʿAlī, Meaning of the Glorious, suggested that Islam can be encapsulated by the phrase "constant striving by all means in their power." Note 205 on Q. 2:191. Muḥammad Iqbāl expresses this in a similar fashion when he states, "To those who exert themselves We show our Path" referring likely to Q. 29:69. David A. Kerr  "Muḥammad Iqbāl's thoughts on religion : reflections in the spirit of christian-muslim dialogue"  Islamochristiana 15 (1989), pp. 25-55, here p. 30.  Another overarching theme of Islam is the need for constant guidance to stay on the straight path [Ar. sharīʿah ]. This does not come from the ever-present Holy Spirit as in the Christian life and following Jesus who is the Way, but rather from constant repetition of the Qurʾān to prevent forgetfulness, constant recollection of the names of Allāh, and constant avoidance of the prohibited [Ar. ḥarām ] and continual embracing of the permitted [Ar.  ḥalāl ].  The comprehensive worldview of Islam can be summarized in the Arabic words Dīn, Dawla, Dunyā [religion, state and worldly affairs].

 K. A. Nizami in his  "Models of Holiness for Muslims" utilizes five examples of 'holy men' from India who attempted to live out to the fullest the Qurʾānic injunction "Do whatever the Prophet orders you to do, and abstain from whatever he forbids you from" (Q. 59:7). He details the basis behind the W.W.M.D. thinking of Islam. In Islamochristiana , 11 (1985), pp. 51-67

[2] Angelika Neuwirth in her "Two Views of History and Human Future: Qurʾānic and Biblical Renderings of Divine Promises" compares the Biblical and Qurʾānic views of history by a study of Psalm 136 and Q. 55 in which she suggests that the later "eclipses" and "radically" remodels the first for its Islamic agenda. She concludes that the Psalm recounts YHWH's faithful acts in salvation history and their consequent promises, whereas Q. 55 is a recounting that creation has order to it, all moving towards a Paradise which will compensate for all the sensual deprivations of earthly living. In the Journal of Qurʾānic Studies 8 (2008), pp. 1–20

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   There is a glaring typographic error in the above article.

Please change the all occurences of the word "metanarrative" to "mega-narrative."

Sorry for the confusion.



Hi Salaam, 

You are actually able to make any changes yourself! If you go into your posts (found on the right-side of the page after clicking on "My Account"), you can click "New Draft" and make any changes. Thanks for reaching out!