The major reason why the cross is such a stumbling block to Muslims is because of a lack of understanding of the nature of man and the need for atonement. Muslims believe that man is fundamentally good (Sura 30:29-30). Thus, “when Christians share the ‘good news of salvation from sin’ with Muslim friends, it is often not heard as ‘good news.’ This is largely because Muslims have traditionally not diagnosed the human condition as pessimistically as the Bible does; so they have not seen the need for as radical a solution” (1).
Despite this, Muslims believe that people are weak and capable of sin. The Qur’an says Muhammad sinned (2). Salvation, in Islam, is by works. Muslims must fulfill the Five Pillars of Islam: reciting the Shahada (confession of faith), reciting prayers five times a day (Salat), giving alms (zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Saum) and, at least once in their lifetime, participate in a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (Hajj). On top of this, jihad is also considered by some Muslims to be essential. The word means struggle or “utmost effort”, and is interpreted as holy war against “infidels” by radical Muslims. But more liberal and westernized Muslims, jihad connotes a daily struggle to be good Muslims (3).
Even if a Muslim performs all these acts of worship, they can still never be sure of their salvation. Allah can do whatever he wants, and this includes denying heaven for even the most devout Muslim. Muslims are seen not as children of God but as slaves who should never question Allah’s will. They must only submit (4).
This works-based salvation also seems contradictory in light of the Islamic view of God’s sovereignty. How can one earn their salvation if it is already predetermined who will and will not be saved?
The Bible, on the other hand, is clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) and that we are saved through faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). All have sinned and therefore all are born condemned to eternal damnation separate from God (Romans 5:12). But because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, his death and resurrection on the third day, we can be born again (John 3:3) and reconciled to God (Romans 5:11). Being born again means to die to the sinful nature we were born into and made into new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We can then be called children of God as we are born again of the spirit (John 1:12-13). God has shown us great mercy! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
(1) Woodberry, 149-150.
(2) Martin, 623.
(4) Malek, 78.
Also of Interest: Did Jesus Foretell Muhammad?