Five Differences between Sharia and Old Testament Law

By David Wood

Although numerous politicians, reporters, and Muslim organizations assure concerned Westerners that the actions of ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and the Taliban have little or nothing to do with Islam, anyone familiar with Islam’s most trusted sources knows that beheadings, terrorism, and the sexual exploitation of female captives were practiced and promoted by Muhammad and his companions. Hence, challenging the actions of terrorist groups ultimately requires challenging the teachings of Islam.

But there is a difficulty for Christians who oppose violence committed in the name of Allah. The Old Testament contains harsh punishments similar to those found in the Qur’an and the Hadith,1 and the wars of Joshua bear some resemblance to the wars of Muhammad and the “rightly guided” caliphs. How, then, can Christians condemn the attacks carried out by ISIS without thereby condemning our own scriptures? Are we simply being inconsistent?

In this article, we will consider five important differences between sharia (Islamic law) and Old Testament law. Before we discuss the differences, however, we should take note of the similarities that lead to charges of inconsistency.


Muslims derive the term sharia from the Qur’an, where Allah declares, “Then We put thee on the (right) way of religion: so follow thou that (way), and follow not the desires of those who know not” (45:18, Ali).2 The Arabic for “way” here is sharia, which in this context refers to the commands Allah delivered to Muhammad. Since the Qur’an (4:65) also orders Muslims to obey Muhammad’s decisions, the body of laws that came to be called “sharia” includes the commands of both Allah and Muhammad.

Mosaic Law is the collection of mitzvot (“commandments,” traditionally numbered by Jewish rabbis at 613) revealed to Moses by God. This system of commands to perform certain acts (mitzvot aseh) and to avoid certain acts (mitzvot lo taaseh) was given to the children of Israel as part of their covenant with the God who delivered them from captivity.

Both sharia and the Law of Moses prescribe harsh penalties for violating moral decrees (e.g., stoning for adultery). Both were delivered by men claiming to have received revelations from God. Both resulted in the formation of theocratic governments charged with enforcing God’s commands.

These similarities shouldn’t be surprising, for Muhammad knew many Jews in Medina and viewed himself as the Arab continuation of the Jewish line of prophets. The Qur’an even affirms the inspiration and authority of the Torah.3 Much more surprising, however, are the differences…


Five Differences between Sharia and Old Testament Law – Christian Research Institute