How can I explain to a Muslim the concept of Christ dying for our sins and the reasonableness of that position?

Hello Abdu;
I very much appreciate and value your help in understanding the mindset of followers of Mohammad.
In discussion with some Muslims with whom I worked while in their country(ies) I have never been able to understand their refusal to accept that One could bear the penalty of sin for another, in light of the following:
Islamic doctrine says that it is impossible for Christ to have died for the sins of others, all persons must bear their own judgment and punishment. They deny that there is any propitiation (expiatory work accomplished at /on the cross) available for mankind. The denial of Christ’s sacrificial death destroys the essential part that defines Christianity. And yet there seems to be plenty of examples that are claimed for the value of life given or the transfer of guilt from one party to another that is of supreme benefit to the undeserving. How do Islamic teachers/debaters explain away their main premise for denying Christ died as representative man ‘in due time’ when judgment must fall? And the value of that death?

Muslim Book 37

6665 - Abu Musa’ reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: When it will be the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire.

6666 - Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire. 'Umar b. Abd al-'Aziz took an oath: By One besides Whom there is no god but He, thrice that his father had narrated that to him from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him).

6668 - Abu Burda reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians. (As far as I think), Abu Raub said: I do not know as to who is in doubt. Abu Burda said: I narrated it to 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, whereupon he said: Was it your father who narrated it to you from Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him)? I said: Yes.

Dawud Book 14

2516 - Narrated AbudDarda’: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The intercession of a martyr will be accepted for seventy members of his family.
(this means that there is a real eternal benefit to families that have sons and daughters who are martyred in jihad–my comment)

110 Ahadith Qudsi:

Narrated Abu Musa: Allah’s Messenger said: On the Day of Resurrection, my Ummah (nation) will be gathered into three groups. One sort will enter Paradise without rendering an account (of their deeds). Another sort will be reckoned an easy account and admitted into Paradise. Yet another sort will come bearing on their backs heaps of sins like great mountains. Allah will ask the angels though He knows best about them: Who are these people? They will reply: They are humble slaves of yours. He will say: Unload the sins from them and put the same over the Jews and Christians; then let the humble slaves get into Paradise by virtue of My Mercy. This Hadith is sound and mentioned in Mustadrak of Hakim. ( 110 Ahadith Qudsi , trans.: Syed Masood-ul-Hasan, pp. 20-21.)

I have had quite a few discussions with staff while based in Khartoum on this topic. When I raised the point that Christianity was based on and was dependent on Christ paying the price for our sin, and without that fact Christianity was without grounds for existence, that was incomprehensible to them. I know that the vast majority are quite ignorant of what they really ‘believe’. How do we best handle this most important truth with them?


Hi Gary,

Thanks for your question. Very thorough and well thought out!

I think you’re right that Muslims tend to believe that there can be no propitiation for sins, yet Islamic sources, most plentiful in ahadith, tend to show that there is some kind of substitutionary sacrifice. I think it’s wise to point out those sources because it exposes either (a) a contradiction within Islam; or (b) the possibility that someone can stand in another’s place when it comes to judgment.

The rub for a Muslim will be that the Qur’an specifically says that when it comes to judgment for sin, “every should draw the meed for its acts on none but itself: No bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another” (Sura 6:164; see also Sura 17:15). Thus, it seems like there is no substitutionary atonement or intercession for one’s sins. But the ahadith seem to be in conflict with that.

But notice what the Qur’an actually says: “No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” This is where Jesus comes in as one who can take the penalty of sin as our substitute. Jesus, being perfect and sinless, does not bear any burdens of his own. Thus, he can bear our burdens for us. He has no debt to pay and so can pay our debt. And so I would ask a Muslim - given what the hadith say about payment for sins being visited upon Jews and Christians, it seems possible that people can bear other people’s sins. But the Qur’an seems to contradict that. Wouldn’t it seem more in keeping with God’s goodness and his divine consistency that he would strive to find a way to save everyone by allowing a perfect being–God the Son–to bear our burdens for us? That is the very heart of the gospel. How fascinating that the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement not only solves the Islamic contradiction, but also provides hope for our salvation!

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