The historical record of Muhammad’s early life reveals that he was a sincere seeker of God and truth. It is certain that Muhammad had some contact with Christians. What cannot be known is whether Muhammad ever heard a clear presentation of the gospel.
Samuel Moffett, author of A History of Christianity in Asia, offers the following as possible reasons why Muhammad never became a Christian.
1. Because of the Absence of Christian Witness
From ancient times there were large numbers of Jews who lived in Arabia, even some in Mecca. In Medina, the city in which Muhammad established the first Islamic community and built the first mosque, there were three large Jewish tribes with their synagogues and their Torah. There were also several Syriac speaking Arabic tribes that had become Christian.
It seems that they had little impact on the unbelievers which surrounded them. Despite the interaction Muhammad must have had with some of these groups, they were either unable or unwilling to give him the truth. Could it have been ethnic pride and prejudice that stood in their way? Could it have been Muhammad’s ethnic pride that stood in his way of receiving the truth from them. His wealth would have afforded him the opportunity to travel wherever necessary to find the truth, but evidently he did not.
I wonder where our prejudices may be hindering the spread of the gospel today?
2. Because of the Absence of Christian Unity
Early in Islamic history, Muhammad showed a desire to unite all people under the worship of one God. He may well have rejected the idea of accomplishing that unity within any kind of a Christian context because of what he witnessed. He would have been well aware of the angry divisions of Christianity in the Middle East. Arguments over the nature of God and the Trinity had created a three-way split among the Christians of the day. The Monophysites held that Christ had only one nature and that His humanity was absorbed by His deity. The Chalcedonians maintained that Christ had a dual nature, that He was both God and man. The Nestorians emphasized the disunity between the two natures. Councils were held within these groups to “settle” the issues and disavow all contrary or opposing views.
Christianity’s political connections to Arabia’s opposing empires would have also turned him away. Byzantium to the north was Chalcedonian Orthodox, Persia to the east was mainly Nestorian and Ethiopia to the south was Monophysite. One can understand why Muhammad would not be inclined to join himself to the religion of Arabia’s enemies. Historian J. M. Watt said, “The Qur’an offered the Arabs a monotheism comparable to Judaism and Christianity but without their political ties.”
One might argue convincingly that the nature of God is an important enough issue to create debate and division if necessary. But besides the fighting and splitting over these issues, there were multiple heretical sects with all their schisms and factions. An outsider would not have understood these divisions and certainly would have been appalled at the public nature of such debates and the vitriolic spirit with which they were conducted.
I wonder who is being turned away from Christianity today because of the infinite number of divisions among us? One might argue convincingly that some of the issues of our day are important enough to require taking a stand. But do they have to be so public? Do we have to publish them for the world to see? Do we have to separate from each other so loudly? On those issues which do require separation, must we do it without any regard as to how it reflects on the image of Christ to a lost world?
3. Because of the Absence of Christian Scriptures
This is the most disturbing of all the possible reasons Muhammad never became a Christian. He never had a chance to read, hear or know the Scriptures in his mother tongue.
Early in Muhammad’s life, he seemed very open to the witness of both the Old Testament and New Testament and must have at least been given fragments of Scripture in oral form only. In a casual reading of the Qu’ran, you will find phrases and references that are very similar to some portions of Scripture. The Qu’ran even acknowledges the Scriptures to be true in their revealed form, but charges that the Jews and the Christians misinterpreted them and corrupted their religion (Surah 7:162). It is likely that Muhammad never had the opportunity to learn the whole truth. Would the availability of the whole Bible in Arabic have made a difference?
After 300 years of Christian presence in Arabia, NO ONE had made any effort to translate Scriptures into their language, leaving Muhammad without the most powerful Word on earth. The earliest surviving fragments of Scriptures in Arabic are from the ninth century, more than 200 years after Muhammad’s death. During Muhammad’s day, Asian missionaries had translated Scriptures into the languages of better known cultures such as Syriac and Chinese and even into some of the tribal languages of central Asia, but NOT into Arabic. Did they not consider Arabs worth the effort? Was there a cultural bias or ethnic prejudice? If this were the case, surely the Arabs would have come to resent being ignored by the Christians. I wonder what the Arab world would look like today if we had given them the Bible before Muhammad’s time?
L.E. Browne observed, “If Christians had seized the opportunity in that age, where Arabia was barely becoming literate, and had made the first Arabic book the Bible instead of the Qur’an, the whole course of religious history of the East might have been different.”
I wonder which unreached people group of today is the current spawning ground of a worldwide false religion that might be stopped if we get them the Word of God in time? Is there any legitimate reason why there would still be places on earth today without a Christian witness? Is there any way to take our stand for truth yet remain unified for the gospel’s sake? Is there any way to speak the truth in love – the one distinguishing mark that Christ says will make us recognizable to the world? Is there any legitimate reason that nearly half the world is still waiting for the Scriptures in their heart language?