Islam is like any world religion. It is based on a philosophy and belief that in order to get to heaven, one must do good works in order to “merit” heaven. Whether or not this is according to the teachings of Islam or not, in my discussion with a Muslim recently, he explained to me that his belief was that all people would eventually go to heaven. That, in fact, is a lot like the teaching of Nirvana, as found in Hinduism, which states that people will eventually all reach Nirvana .
But fundamentally, getting back to the question as to how people actually get to heaven, Muslims believe that one must do good works. And, in their view, God, who is merciful, is the one who will bring them to heaven. However, God is not merciful enough to let them know, with any type of assurance, ahead of time, whether or not they will actually reach heaven! This, then, poses a great problem for the Muslim, because he or she never knows whether or not he will be accepted.
Contrast this with Christianity, and you have a radical difference, indeed. Christians – the true ones, who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior – have full assurance of going to heaven when they die, not on account of their good works, but on account of their having received the free gift of eternal life – something which God freely gives to anyone who will receive it (John 1:12). While this may not seem “fair” to the Muslim (because no one has to work in order to go to heaven), yet, according to the Bible, it is the only system that God has instituted, and the Bible declares that no one will be justified in God’s sight on account of their works. (Galatians 2:16)
The Bible tells us that God’s system means that there is no one good enough to merit heaven (except Jesus). We are all sinners in God’s sight. And because we are sinners, we cannot, in our own strength, cleanse our own sin. It is, after all, our sin that separates us from God. This a Muslim would agree with. However, how does one become clean or forgiven in God’s sight? The Bible’s answer for this is that man must receive forgiveness for his sin. And only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). More than that, we cannot “earn” our forgiveness, because, according to the Bible, that would be boasting. But the Bible says we have nothing to boast about and no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight on account of our works.
The Bible says that Jesus took our place of suffering. We read in the Bible that Jesus is the perfect “lamb of God” (sacrifice), who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). While this may not seem “fair”, because we do not have to work for it, it certainly does show that God is merciful. He has forgiven us and removed our guilt, not on account of our works, but on account of what Jesus did for us in dying on the cross. For this, Christians all around the world give thanks to God, and are greatly humbled, because we know we have not done anything at all in order to merit heaven. All we did was to repent (turn away from our old life of sin) and believe. According to the Bible, these are the two things that God asks us to do. That’s it.
Where then are the good works? The good works are still there, but they come after salvation, not in order to obtain it. Yes, the Bible says that God has “prepared” for us good works to do, but in the very same passage it says that those good works cannot save us (Ephesians 2:8-10). The good works of a Christian are in response to God’s goodness at having saved him from the penalty for sin, which is a life separated from the goodness of God, in hell. In heaven, there will be eternal thanksgiving and praise offered to God on account of what he has done for us! We will not stop praising him!
Now if you want to reach a Muslim, there is one thing you have to focus in on, and that is the assurance of going to heaven. For the Christian knows that he is going to heaven, because he has trusted in Christ, and he knows that his works cannot save him. But the Muslim has no such assurance.
God will judge all sin (which a Muslim believes, too). But in Christ, God has judged sin already, by allowing Jesus to suffer on our behalf. Jesus died on a cross for our sins, yet this truth is veiled to a Muslim, for he is taught that Jesus never died on the cross. The Bible teaches us, however, that people must believe that Jesus died on a cross for their sins if they are to be saved. The message of Jesus dying on a cross is important for a Muslim to hear, because that is how he can be saved. Muslims, however, are shielded from this message, however, due to their teaching. This prevents them from receiving salvation.
Thus, one of the most loving things a Christian can do for a Muslim to explain to him that Jesus died for them on a cross. It is through this that a Muslim can have assurance of going to heaven when he or she dies. Of course, this would mean laying aside the teachings of Islam and trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Though in many instances it is a difficult thing to do, many Muslims today are trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
In a recent discussion, I asked my Muslim friend, who believes that Jesus will come back (though he does not believe that Jesus is God), “Why do you think it is that Jesus will come back? What makes him so special? Why is not Mohammad coming back? Why Jesus?” This is a good opening for a Christian, because Muslims accept that Jesus is coming back one day. The Christian needs to use this acceptance to help the Muslim see that there really is a fundamental difference between Jesus and Mohammad, and that Jesus is not just “another prophet”.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Abraham?”, he answered, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:54,58) This term, “I am” is the name that God used in the Bible when referring to himself.
The Muslim must forever be trying harder and harder to please a “merciful” God who will one day take him to heaven – if he is good enough. But if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you may rest, knowing that your acceptance before a Holy God is assured, not based on your good works, but based on what Christ has done in shedding his blood for you on the cross. He paid your debt, and you are free. Now, you can move on to a life of good works for God – not to obtain your salvation, but as a demonstration of your gratitude. This is the main, and fundamental, difference between Islam and Christianity, and between all world religions and Christianity, for that matter.
“The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (The Holy Bible, 1 John 5:10-13)
 Which is not quite the same as “heaven” in the Islamic sense, because Nirvana is being “united with” or “one with” God or “part of” God.