Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Similarities Between Islam and Catholicism

The comparison of some of the beliefs shared in common by Catholicism and Islam helps us to understand why the Pope is working toward a new partnership with Muslims by acknowledging the commonality between their respective faiths. The basis for such partnership is not merely a generic view of God, but a similar autocratic form of church government, as well as similar beliefs in such areas as the role of good works in salvation, the intercessory role of human agents, the immortality of the soul, the coercive methods of evangelism, and the vision of purgatory and hell.

by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D.

Pope John Paul II worked hard to woo Mecca to Rome. In May, 2001, the Pope made history by becoming the first Catholic leader to set foot in a mosque and participate in an organized prayer service. The symbolic meeting took place when the Pope entered the Umayyad Mosque in the Syrian capital of Damascus. This mosque has significance for both Muslims and Christians. For Muslims it is the oldest stone mosque in the world, while for Christians it is the alleged place where John the Baptist was buried.

The Pope led in Christian prayers, while his Muslim counterpart, Sheikh Ahmed Kataro, led in Muslim prayers. By this dramatic act of worshipping in a mosque, the Pope underlined his commitment to work toward a rapprochement with the Muslims.

Twelve days after the horrors of September 11, 2001, the Pope renewed his commitment to work toward a new partnership with Muslims in his message to the predominantly Muslim nation of Kazakhstan. The Pope declared: "There is one God. The Apostle proclaims before all else the absolute oneness of God. This is a truth which Christians inherited from the children of Israel and which they share with Muslims: it is faith in the one God, Lord of heaven and earth (Luke 10:21), almighty and merciful. In the name of this one God, I turn to the people of deep and ancient religious traditions, the people of Kazakhstan." [1]

The Pope then appealed to both Muslims and Christians to work together to build a civilization of love:

"This logic of love is what he [the Messiah] holds out to us, asking us to live it above all through generosity to those in need. It is a logic which can bring together Christians and Muslims, and commit them to work together for the civilization of love. It is a logic which overcomes all the cunning of this world and allows us to make true friends who will welcome us into the eternal dwelling-places (Luke 16:9), into the homeland of heaven." [2]

In his final prayer, the Pope again appealed for Christians and Muslims to work together side by side in fulfilling God's will:

"And in this celebration we want to pray for Kazakhstan and its inhabitants, so that this vast nation, with all its ethnic, cultural, and religious variety, will grow stronger in justice, solidarity, and peace. May it progress on the basis in particular of cooperation between Christians and Muslims, committed day by day, side by side, in the effort to fulfill God's will." [3]

In spite of the catastrophic events of September 11th, the Pope is still committed to work toward a partnership with the Muslims. The basis of this partnership is the belief that Catholics and Muslims worship the same God of Abraham.

This belief is clearly expressed in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which speaks of the new Catholic relationship with the Muslims in these terms: "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." [4]

The Catechism continues affirming that

"The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, whose faith Muslims eagerly link to their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devotedly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds, and fasting." [5]

It is evident that the Catholic estimation of Islam has undergone a fundamental change from the religion of infidels to that of believers who worship the same God of Abraham. While in the past the Catholic Church denounced Islam as an evil religion to be suppressed by crusades (Holy War), today, she welcomes and affirms Muslims as having the same faith of Abraham as herself.

The driving force behind this tactical reappraisal of Islam is the determination of the Vatican to bring about a New World Order under the moral and religious leadership of the Pope. This goal was expressed at Vatican II, which declares: "The encouragement of unity is in harmony with the deepest nature of the [Roman Catholic] Church's missions." [6]

The profound danger facing Evangelical Christians today is to naively accept the Pope's claim to be the official spokesman for Christ on earth -- a deception that is deeply embedded in the new thrust to create a global coalition of nations on the basis of a politically constructed god which can be adapted to different religious systems.

The determination of the Pope to develop a partnership with Muslims stems from the simple fact that their 1.3 billion members outnumber the one billion Catholic members. By acknowledging the legitimacy of the Islam faith, the Pope is facilitating the Muslim's acceptance of his role as the leader of a future New World Order.

In the light of the radical differences between the Biblical and Koranic Gods, one wonders: How can the Pope work toward a new partnership with Muslims by praising their faith as being the same faith of Abraham? Could it be that the Pope feels drawn to Islam more than to any other non-Christian religion because there are significant similarities between Islam and Catholicism? To test the validity of this assumption, let us take a brief look at some significant similarities between the two religions.

Autocratic Form of Church Government

In the first place both Islam and Catholicism have a similar autocratic form of church government where the seat of authority resides in one person: the Pope in Catholicism and Muhammad in Islam. What the Pope is to Catholics, Muhammad is to the Muslims. Both of them are accepted as God's representatives on earth. The Pope claims to be the vicar of Christ, and Muhammad proclaimed himself to be Allah's greatest prophet, superseding the Messiah himself. What this means is that both the Catholics and Muslims share the same admiration and veneration for a human leader who dictates their beliefs and practices.

Importance of Good Works to Earn Salvation

A second striking similarity between Islam and Catholicism is their respective understanding of the importance of good works to earn salvation. Both in Catholicism and Islam salvation is the result of a combination of grace and works. In Catholicism, God's grace is infused into believers to enable them to do the necessary good works to merit salvation on the day of judgment.

On a similar vein in Islam, salvation is a combination of Allah's grace and Muslim's works. On the Day of Judgment, if a Muslim’s good works outweigh their bad ones, and if Allah accepts their good works, then they may be forgiven of all their sins and enter into Paradise. Therefore, Islam is a religion of salvation by works because it combines man's works with Allah's grace.

A few verses from the Koran suffice to exemplify the importance of works: "To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward (Surah 5:9). Then those whose balance [of good deeds] is heavy, they will be successful. But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in hell will they abide" (Surah 23:102-103).

The Muslims understanding of good works is largely determined by the performance of the Five Pillars of Islam. These are: (1) the recitation of the creed that there is only one true God, Allah, and Muhammad his prophet; (2) Praying five times a day; (3) Fasting and abstaining from sexual relations during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan; (4) Almsgiving to the poor; (5) Pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible, at least once in the lifetime.

Similar Definition of Good Works

The Roman Catholic understanding of good works is strikingly similar. Like the Muslims, the Catholics recite the Apostles Creed in their church service. The recitation of prayers is also an important part of Catholic piety. I vividly recall my Catholic relatives reciting their prayers in the evening. They held a rosary in their hands to count the number of Ave Marias and Pater Nosters (Lord).

Fasting also is recommended to Catholics, especially as a form of penance to expiate sins confessed to a priest. Almsgiving is also an important aspect of Catholic piety. Alms are usually given in the form of charitable contributions to various religious (monastic) organizations that minister to the orphans and the poor.

Like the Muslims, Catholics are also encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Rome, especially during the Anno Santo, that is, the Holy Year, which is now celebrated every 25 years. During the last Jubilee (Holy) Year of the year 2000, it is estimated that over 40 million Catholics made their pilgrimage to Rome, seeking remission of their sins, and indulgences for their loved ones in Purgatory. An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment for sins on behalf of loved ones, that can be obtained through prayers, pilgrimages, and special masses. These can shorten the duration of the punishment experienced by loved ones in purgatory.

It is evident that the methods of salvation in Islam and Roman Catholicism are strikingly similar. Unfortunately, both religious systems ignore the fact that salvation is a divine gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8) and not a human achievement. Works of obedience are not the basis of our salvation, but a loving response to the gracious provision of salvation. It is because the love of Christ compels us (II Corinthians 5:14), that we observe his commandments (John 14:15).

Human Intercessors

A third striking doctrinal similarity between Catholicism and Islam is the intercessory role of human agents. In Catholicism, believers pray to Mary and the Saints to intercede with God on their behalf, or on behalf of their loved ones. We noted earlier that the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, acknowledges that Muslims venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devotedly invoke.

For Muslims, the supreme intercessory role is reserved for Muhammad. On the final day of judgment, the Prophet will prostrate himself before God who, according to tradition, will say to him: O Muhammad! raise up your head, and speak, it will be heard; and ask, it will be given; and intercede, and it will be approved." [7] The text continues indicating that God will pull out of the hellfire those for whom Muhammad will intercede.

The notion of human mediators interceding with God on behalf of others, is foreign to Scripture. The Bible teaches that there is one God, and "there is but one Mediator between God and humanity, Yeshua the Messiah, himself human" (I Timothy 2:5, Jewish New Testament). It is only "the Messiah Yeshua, who died and -- more than that -- has been raised, is at the right hand of God and is actually pleading on our behalf!" (Romans 8:34, ibid.).

Immortality of the Soul

A fourth outstanding doctrinal similarity between Catholicism and Islam, is the belief in the survival of the soul apart from the body at the moment of death. A host of heresies derive, or are largely dependent upon, the belief that the soul is immortal by nature and survives the body at death.

For example, the belief in the intercessory role of Muhammad, Mary, and the saints mentioned above, stems from the belief that at death the souls of the faithful ascend to the beatitude of Paradise, known as The Garden in the Koran. Similarly the belief that at death the souls of those whose sins are pardonable transit to purgatory, while the souls of impenitent sinners are cast into eternal hellfire, is based on the belief in the immortality of the soul. Both Catholicism and Islam hold to the belief of purgatory and hell.

It is humorous to read some of the Islamic manuals describing the process of the extraction of the soul from the body. For example, Al-Ghazali, in al-Durra al-fakhira offers this colorful description:

"And when one’s destiny approaches, that is, his earthly death, then four angels descend to him; the angel who pulls the soul from his right foot, the angel who pulls it from the left foot, the angel who pulls it from his right hand, and the angel who pulls it from his left hand....Then he is silent so that his tongue is tied, while they pull the soul from the tips of his fingers. The good soul slips out like the jetting of water from a waterskin, but the profligate's spirit squeaks out like a skewer from wet wool." [8]

Once the soul is extracted from the body, the angels take it to one of three places: Paradise (the Garden), Purgatory, or Hell, depending upon God's judgment on the individual. Since we discussed earlier the pleasures of the Garden granted to faithful Muslims, we shall limit our comments to purgatory and hell.

Purgatory and Hell

The two doctrines of purgatory and hell are remarkably similar in both Catholicism and Islam. Both religions believe that the souls of penitent sinners need to go through a purgation or purification process before they can be admitted to Paradise. In Catholic teachings the suffering of purgatory is needed to pay for the temporal punishment of sins committed on this earth. In Islam the suffering is inflicted as punishment for sins of omission.

Jane Smith and Yvonne Haddad, explain that in Islamic teaching the suffering of purgatory is needed, because despite all that the pious believer may have done according to the commandments of God while on earth, he still may have committed some transgressions, however slight, or failed to do certain things that he should have done. Many of the traditions suggest punishment for single sins of omission. “Why are you punishing me when I carry out prayer and pay alms and fast in Ramadan thus and thus? The angel replied, I am punishing you because you one day passed by an oppressed person who was calling for your help, but you did not help him. One day you prayed, but you had not cleansed yourself before urinating.” [9] The last sin refers to the requirement of the Koran to rinse the sexual organs before praying a common practice in the Muslim world even today.

The notion of believers suffering in purgatory to pay for the punishment of their sins before they are admitted into Paradise, negates the all sufficiency of the Messiah’s substitutionary sacrifice to pay the penalty of our sins. Scripture clearly teaches that the Messiah has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26; cf. I Corinthians 15:3). The Good News of the Gospel is that God showed His love for us in that while we were yet sinners the Messiah died for us (Romans 5:8). There is no need for penitent sinners to suffer the punishment of their sins in this present life or the next, because the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice has paid the penalty for our sins.

The Islamic vision of Hell is remarkably similar to the Catholic one. In fact, some writers suggest that the seven stories Inferno of Dante Alighieri, was inspired by the Islamic hell with seven stories, each of which is for a distinct class of wicked.

In his thesis on the Eschatological Teachings of Islam, Wadie Farag writes:

“Hardly a cruder or more barbarous picture of hell could be conceived than that depicted in the Koran and Hadith. The fires of hell are seventy times the intensity of terrestrial fire. The wicked who will suffer in it throughout eternity, will forget that they ever enjoyed any pleasure on this earth. Their tongues will drag out and men will stamp upon them. They will suffer hunger and when given food it will stick in their throats. They will be given hot water served to them, with iron hooks; and when it comes near their faces it will scorch them, and when it goes into their bellies will tear everything there into pieces.” [10]

Adds Smith and Haddad --

“Scorpions as big as mules and snakes like camels torment them; stinking rivers full of vile creatures entrap them; the damned have black charred skins, huge long tongues, mouths vomiting pus and blood, entrails filled with fire; their bodies will be greatly enlarged so that they can more adequately experience the torture. All suffer by fire, although the degree of punishment differs according to one’s sins. The damned attempt to escape, but each time the guardians of the Fire seize them and throw them down again.” [11]

The gruesome and barbarous description of hell, that is common to both Islam and Catholicism, may serve the cause of promoting the worship of their awful god -- a god to be feared rather than loved, but it defames the Biblical God who in His mercy will annihilate the evildoers at His Coming (II Thessalonians 1:9; I Thessalonians 5:2-3; Galatians 6:8).

Prayer Beads

The use of prayer beads spans the globe. The earliest examples, according to the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology, date from the eighth century B.C. in India; the word “bead” itself comes from a Middle English word for prayer. Most such beads serve the same basic function: to help worshipers count prayers or other ritual recitations. Islam and Catholicism are among the faiths that employ prayer beads; the Catholic beads, known as rosaries, have a more formal sacred function than the more generally assistive role of Islamic prayer beads.

Rosary Beads

The word “rosary” comes from the Latin term meaning "rose garden." The name is metaphorical, denoting a "garden of prayer," according to the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology. The rose, as a symbol of perfection, is associated with the Virgin Mary, and the rosary's beads count prayers in her honor. A rosary has 59 beads, six of them larger than the others. They are grouped into "decades," five sections of 10 small beads and one larger one; the remaining three beads, two small and one large, form a pendant from which hangs a cross or crucifix.

Rosary Prayers

The term "rosary" also can refer to the prayers recited with the aid of the beads. Among so-called Christians, the practice began with medieval monks; Pope Leo X bestowed the Catholic Church’s formal approval of rosary prayers in 1520. The prayers, like the beads, constitute five sections, each corresponding with a "decade" grouping of beads. Each sequence of prayers begins with the Lord's Prayer, also called the "Our Father"; the 10 prayers of each decade are the "Hail Mary." Depending on the time of year and day of the week, worshipers meditate on a different sequence of "Mysteries" while praying each sequence of beads. During Advent, for instance, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends worshipers recite the "Five Joyful Mysteries," from Annunciation through Jesus’ "Finding in the Temple." Additional prayers said at specific times during recitation of the rosary are the "Apostles' Creed," the "Glory Be," and the "Hail, Holy Queen."

Islamic Beads

Muslims in India call prayer beads "subha," which means "to exalt" in the Urdu language. The Arabic term is "tasbih." Both words often are translated into English as "rosary," although the "rose garden" metaphor is less exact than the connotation of praise or exaltation. A string of prayer beads includes either 33 or 99 beads, with a single, elongated marker bead at the end. If the string includes 99 beads, marker beads separate them into sets of 33. Like Catholic rosaries, Islamic prayer beads can use any material, but jeweler Oppi Untracht relates one tradition, that of the mystical mendicants known as fakirs, in which the prayer "beads" are really snake vertebrae; such bead strings show that a fakir knows a charm that cures snakebite.

The snake is also a symbol of the great deceiver, Satan!

According to Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone --

“Prayer beads, or prayer rosaries, are really another form of the “witch’s ladder,” a knotted rope or cord used to count repetitions during a spell or ritual. Praying with beads is a spiritual practice with a long history in most of the world’s religions” (Sacred Mists Shoppe).

Writes Patricia A. Dilley: “Often, when religions sought converts, they allowed them to retain some of their pagan ways: ceremonial garb, heathen rituals and traditions; in order to add to their numbers. This led to spiritual pollution” (A History of Praying On Beads). The Bible warns us against use of prayer beads. Matthew 6:7 says – “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." The Rosary is of pagan origin and no Christian prior to 1000 AD used beads to pray. This is another example of the common pagan practices shared by Catholicism and Islam.

Mary in Islam

The so-called Virgin Mary has a very exalted place in Muslim belief. The very story of the birth of Mary is found in the Quran:

"A woman of (the House of Imran) prayed: 'O my sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow (the child) that is in my womb to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!' But when she had given birth to the child, she said: 'O my sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female' -- the while God [Allah] had been fully aware of what she would give birth to -- 'and the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed'" (3:35-36).

Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the entirety of the Quran, and the 19th Chapter of the Quran is named specifically after her. Moreover, Allah singles out Mary as the ideal example of the believer:

"And God [Allah] cites as an example of those who believed...Mary, the daughter of Imran. She maintained her chastity, then we blew into her from Our spirit. She believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures; she was obedient" (66:11-12).

This has been the case for over fourteen centuries, and it should come as no surprise that such a prominent figure in Catholicism should have such an exalted place in Islam. No devout Muslim would ever fathom attacking the character of the so-called Virgin Mary!


The preceding comparison of some of the beliefs shared in common by Catholicism and Islam, helps us to understand why the Pope is working toward a new partnership with Muslims by acknowledging the commonality between their respective faiths. We have seen that the basis for such partnership is not merely a generic view of God, but a similar autocratic form of church government, as well as similar beliefs in such areas as the role of good works in salvation, the intercessory role of human agents, the immortality of the soul, the coercive methods of evangelism, and the vision of purgatory and hell.


[1]. Homily of the Pope, in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Sunday, 23 September 2001. www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/2001/documents/ hf_jpii_ hom_20010923_kazakhstan_astana_en.html

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Ibid.

[4]. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (San Francisco, CA, 1994) Paragraph 841.

[5]. Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, No. 56, Nostra Aetate, Austin P. Flannery, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI, 1975 & 1984) Vol. I, pp. 739-740.

[6]. Ibid., No. 64, Gaudium et Spes, Vol. I, Sec. 42, p. 942.

[7]. A. N. Matthews, Translator, Mishcat-ul-Masabih, The Tibrizi Collection, (Calcutta, 1810), vol. 1, p. 607.

[8]. Cited by Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection, (State University of New York Press, 1981) (n. 14), p. 37.

[9]. Ibid., p. 48.

[10]. Wadie Farag, Eschatological Teachings of Islam, A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 1949, pp. 74-75.

[11]. Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection, (n. 14), p. 87.



Hope of Israel Ministries -- Proclaiming the Good News of the Soon-Coming Kingdom of YEHOVAH God Here On This Earth!

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