Islam and Political Correctness

All of us are trying to learn more about Islam, but sometimes political correctness has clouded our thinking about Islam. Are Jesus and Muhammad the same? Is Islam a religion of peace? Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Kerby Anderson looks at some of these politically correct beliefs.

Muhammad and Islam

Nearly everyone can remember what they were doing on September 11, 2001. That fateful day affected all of us and certainly increased our desire to know more about Islam. In the years following, we have all learned more about the world’s second largest religion. But sometimes, political correctness has clouded clear thinking about Islam.

We hear that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Some even say, “The God of Islam is the same God as the God of the Jews and the Christians.” So what is the truth about these statements about Islam?

I want to look at some of these statements and provide a biblically-based response. We need to know the facts about Islam and this current war on terror.

The first statement we will address is often heard in religion classes on college campuses. That is that “Muhammad is like every other religious founder.” This simply is not the case. For example, nearly every major religion in the world teaches a variation of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Islam does not have a Golden Rule. Instead, it makes very definite distinctions in the way Muslims are to treat believers and unbelievers. The latter are called infidels and are often treated harshly or killed. This religious perspective is very different from other religions.

For a moment, let’s compare Jesus and Muhammad. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final prophet from Allah. He is referred to as the “seal of the prophets” (Sura 33:40). But while he is revered as the greatest of the prophets, most do not teach that he was sinless. The Qur’an does not make the claim that he was sinless, and there are passages that teach that Muhammad was a man like us (Sura 18:110) and that Allah told Muhammad that he must repent of his sins (Sura 40:55).

By contrast, Jesus claimed to be God and claimed to have the powers and authority that only God could possess. The New Testament provides eyewitness accounts or records of eyewitness accounts of the claims that Jesus made and the miracles he performed. Moreover, the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ lived a perfect and sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21).

Muhammad’s every action is to be imitated by Muslims. His life is a model for these believers. Some Muslims even avoid eating food that Muhammad avoided or never was able to eat. In fact, Muhammad is so revered by Muslims that no perceived criticism upon him or even his likeness (e.g., through a cartoon) may be allowed.

Muhammad also taught that Muslims are to fight in the cause of Allah (Sura 4:76) and fight against the unbelievers (Sura 9:123). By contrast, Jesus taught that Christians are to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39).

In conclusion, we can see that the life of Muhammad is different from many of the other founders of religion. Moreover, the life of Muhammad and the life of Jesus Christ are very different.

Islam: A Religion of Peace?

One politically correct phrase that is often repeated is that “Islam is a religion of peace.” While it is true that many Muslims are peace-loving, is it also true that Islam is a religion of peace? To answer that question, it is important to understand the meaning of jihad.

The word jihad is actually the noun of the Arabic verb jahidi, which means to “strive hard.” This verse is an example: “O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, and evil refuge indeed” (Sura 9:73).

Although some Muslims understand this striving to be merely intellectual and philosophical, the usual translation of jihad involves a holy war. That has been the traditional interpretation since the time of Muhammad.

Jihad was to be waged on the battlefield. Sura 47:4 says, “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.” Sura 9:5 says, “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleager them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”

Consider some of these other passages concerning jihad. Faithful Muslims wage jihad against unbelievers: “O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that Allah is with those who fear Him” (Sura 9:123).

Muslims are also to wage jihad not only against unbelievers but against those who have strayed from the faith: “Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: and evil fate” (Sura 9:73).

Another way to understand the term “jihad” is to look at the historical context. After Muhammad’s success in the Battle of Badr, he set forth various principles of warfare. For example, according to Sura 9:29, jihad is a religious duty. He taught in Sura 9:111 that martyrdom in jihad is the highest good and guarantees salvation. Sura 9:5 says that Muslims engaged in jihad should not show tolerance toward unbelievers. And acts of terrorism are justified in Sura 8:12.

While it may be true that there are peaceful Muslims, it is not true that Islam has always been a peaceful religion. The teaching of jihad and the current interpretation by radical Muslims of this concept can easily be seen in the acts of terrorism around the world.

The Qur’an and the Bible are Both Violent Books

Whenever verses of the sword from the Qur’an are quoted, you can be sure that someone will quickly point out that the Old Testament calls for violence. But are these two books morally equivalent? Let’s look at some of these passages and see.

The Qur’an calls for jihad against the unbelievers (or infidels). Sura 9:5 says, “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleager them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”

Sura 9:29 says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Prophet, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah [per capita tax imposed on non-Muslim adult males] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Sura 47:4-7 says, “When you meet unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads…And those who are slain in the way of God, He will not send their works astray. He will guide them, and dispose their minds aright, and He will admit them to Paradise, that He has made known to them.”

In the Old Testament, you have a call for military action against specific groups. Deuteronomy 7:1-2 says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.”

1 Samuel 15:2-3 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

While there are some similarities, notice the difference. In the Old Testament, there was a direct and specific command to fight against a particular group of people. These passages do not apply to you unless you are a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, Jebusite, or Amalekite. These commands given during the Old Testament theocracy apply only to those people at that time.

However, the passages in the Qur’an apply to all unbelievers at all times. Notice that there is no time limit on these universally binding commands to all Muslims at all times.

No Christian leader is calling for a Holy War against infidels. But many Muslim leaders cite the Qur’an for that very action. Osama bin Laden, for example, quotes many of these verses of the sword just cited within his various fatwas [legal pronouncement].

And contrast this with the New Testament which calls for believers to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). In conclusion, the Bible and the Qur’an are very different in regard in calling to an act of violence.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

One politically correct phrase that is often repeated is that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” It is understandable that people might say that. Both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic, even though a foundational difference is the Christian belief in the trinity.

Certainly the most foundational doctrine in Islam is monotheism. This doctrine is encapsulated in the creed: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.” And not only is it a creed, it is a statement of faith that routinely heard from the lips of every faithful Muslim. It the creed by which every Muslim is called to prayer five times a day.

Because of this strong emphasis on monotheism, Muslims reject the idea that God could be more than one person or that God could have a partner. The Qur’an teaches that Allah is one God and the same God for all people. Anyone who does not believe this is guilty of the sin of shirk. This is the quintessential sin in Islam. According to Islam, God cannot have a partner and cannot be joined together in the Godhead with other persons. Muslims therefore reject the Christian idea of the Trinity.

Muslims and Christians also differ in their understanding of the nature and character of God. The God of the Bible is knowable. Jesus came into the world that we might know God (John 17:3).

Islam teaches a very different view of God. Allah is transcendent and distant. He is separate from His creation. He is exalted and far removed from mankind. While we may know His will, we cannot know Him personally. In fact, there is very little written about the character of God. Allah is the creator and sustainer of the creation, but He is also unknowable. No person can ever personally know and have a relationship with Allah. Instead, humans are to be in total submission to the will of Allah.

Moreover, Allah does not personally enter into human history. Instead, he deals with the world through His word (the Qur’an), through His prophets (such as Muhammad), and through angels (such as Gabriel).

If you ask a Muslim to describe Allah, most likely they will recite to you a key passage that lists some of the names of God (Sura 59). The Qur’an requires that God be called by these “beautiful names.” This passage describes him as Most Gracious, Most Merciful, The Sovereign, The Holy One, The Guardian of Faith, The Preserver of Safety, The Exalted in Might, etc.

Finally, a Christian and Muslim perspective on God’s love is also very different. Christians begin with the belief that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). By contrast, Muslims grow up hearing about all the people Allah does not love. Sura 2:190 says, “For Allah loves not transgressors.” Sura 3:32 says, “Allah loves not the unbelievers.” And Sura 3:57 says, “For Allah loves not the evildoers.”

In conclusion, we can see that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

Are the Bible and Qur’an the Same?

A student in a university religion class may hear that all religions are basically the same. They only differ on minor details. This leads some to argue that the Bible and the Qur’an are compatible teachings. This is not true and is a disservice to both Islam and Christianity.

We should acknowledge the few similarities. Both the Bible and the Qur’an claim to be divine revelation. And both books claim to have been accurately preserved through the centuries.

But it is also true that the Bible and the Qur’an disagree with one another on major issues. The two books make contradictory claims about God, Jesus, salvation, and biblical history. Both claims cannot be true. They both could be false, but they cannot both be true because the accounts contradict each other. Here are just a few examples of these contradictions:

  • The Qur’an teaches (Sura 5:116) that Christians worship three gods: the Father, the Mother (Mary) and the Son (Jesus). But the Bible actually teaches that there is one God in three persons (the Trinity).
  • Muslims say that Abraham was going to sacrifice Ishmael, while the Bible teaches that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac.
  • The Qur’an teaches (Sura 4:157) that Jesus was not crucified. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross.

Before we conclude, we should also mention that many of the statements in the Qur’an are also at odds with historical facts that can be verified through historical accounts.

  • The Qur’an says (Sura 20:85-97) that the Samaritans tricked the Israelites at the Exodus and were the ones who built the golden calf. For the record, the word Samaritan wasn’t even used until 722 B.C. which is several hundred years after the Exodus.
  • The Qur’an also states (Sura 18:89-98) that Alexander the Great was a Muslim who worshiped Allah. Alexander lived from 356 B.C. to 323 B.C. which was hundreds of years before Muhammad proclaimed his revelation which became the religion of Islam.

In conclusion, we can see that the Bible and the Qur’an are not the same and do not have compatible teachings.

© 2006 Probe Ministries

 




Breaching the Barriers of Islam: Sharing Christ with Muslims

Steve Cable writes that Christ-followers can use some intriguing verses in the Koran as a way to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims.

Barriers to Islamic Evangelism

Even in these tense times, we can be confident that God loves the followers of Islam and desires for them to receive redemption through Jesus Christ. Paul writes in First Timothy, “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3). However, many Christians feel like the gulf is too wide and the walls are too high to share the truth with Muslims. Yet, our God is a “rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6), working in providential ways to make truth known.

In this article, we will discuss one way God is breaching the barriers of Islam. Let’s begin by looking at the very real barriers to Islamic evangelism.

The first decade of the twenty-first century is becoming known for the greatest clash between the Western world and Islam since the Crusades. The recent furor over cartoons showing caricatures of Mohammed is a violent example of the chasm. This radical fanaticism is an extreme expression of the barriers that have existed for centuries as Christians have tried to share their faith with followers of Islam. Around the globe, missionaries have typically seen fewer converts from Islam than from other religions. Let’s consider a few of the bricks from which this barrier is constructed:

• The higher way syndrome–According to Islam, earlier prophets such as Moses and Jesus brought truth from God, but over time their followers corrupted God’s true intent. Mohammed came to correct those perversions. Therefore, the Bible has been corrupted and is no longer reliable

• The final word–Mohammed is the last of the prophets; there can be no further revelation. Questioning the meaning of the Koran as held by the local Imam is strictly prohibited

• The greater reward–Zeal and strict adherence to the tenets of Islam will result in great rewards in paradise. A zealous Muslim will be proselytizing others, not allowing someone to try to convert him.

These first three bricks share much in common with reasons why it should be hard to convert a devout Christian to another world religion. But Islam adds a fourth brick that is distinctly different:

• The ultimate penalty–As reported by Ibn Warraq, “It is quite clear that under Islamic law, an apostate must be put to death. . . . If [even] a pubescent boy apostatizes, he is imprisoned until he comes of age, when if he persists in rejecting Islam, he must be put to death.”{1} The death penalty for conversion certainly puts a damper on openness to considering the claims of other religions.

These bricks and others build a solid fortress making it difficult for evangelism among Muslims.

Once More into the Breach

Even though certain aspects of Islam create a formidable wall for those desiring to share Christ, God has equipped us for “the destruction of fortresses . . . and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4). As David Garrison reports, “More Muslims have come to Christ in the past two decades than at any other time in history.{2}

Before modern artillery, a high, thick wall was an effective fortress. If the fortress was well supplied or time was a critical factor for the attacking army, a breach had to be created in the wall through artillery or siege works. The first group of troops to enter the breach would take on the brunt of the fortress’s defenses and suffer extremely heavy casualties. During the Napoleonic wars, the British army called the first attackers the Forlorn Hope, offering promotions to any survivors. Shakespeare honored the Forlorn Hope in “King Henry V” as Henry rallied his troops shouting “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!”{3}

Is it possible that a Forlorn Hope entering a God-given breach in the barriers of Islam could spread the light of the gospel in an Islamic country?

In a South Asian country, Abdul, a teenager, was expelled from his Islamic school for asking too many questions about the Koran. Because of Islamic law, he was held as a captive by his family and condemned to death upon coming of age. Secretly freed by his mother, he fled from his home. A chance encounter with a Christian missionary as he walked a country road dramatically changed his life. The missionary showed such love and concern that Abdul had to touch him to assure himself that this was a man and not an angel. Abdul gave his life to Christ and was baptized. Abdul was one of a handful of converts from Islam witnessed by this missionary over a period of thirty years.

Banished from his home, Abdul spent several years studying and growing in his faith in another part of the country. Led by God to return to his village, Abdul took up residence in the home of a childhood friend as he was still banished by his family. After a few months of studying the Koran and the Bible, his friend was ready to be baptized. When his family learned about it, they rounded up the villagers, took Abdul to the local soccer field and proceeded to beat him. Left for dead, his friend came to his aid and Abdul survived. When Abdul baptized his friend, he prayed “Thank you, God for my friend. Yesterday, I was the only believer in this village. Today there are two. Tomorrow, there can be two hundred if it is your will.”

Within a few years, all 1,800 people in Abdul’s village became Christians including those who left him for dead. These new believers were discipled and more villages were touched. Since that time, over 500,000 Muslim background believers have joined in following Jesus Christ. This unprecedented response also resulted in the murder of Abdul’s friend by Islamic radicals. Their willingness to act as the Forlorn Hope, entering the breach with no regard for their own lives, was a central part of this wonderful awakening.

The Breach in the Barrier

What was the breach in the fortress of Islam allowing the message of Christ to be heard? Remember Abdul used the Koran and the Bible to bring his friend to faith. The breach in the barrier is the Koran itself. According to others working in Abdul’s country, “Good Muslims have been taught from childhood that the Koran is the only true word of God. They may not know the meaning of the Koran’s text, but nonetheless, they believe it is true. When approached with the Bible, Muslims immediately become defensive, but they cannot and will not deny the Koran. Relating to a Muslim from the Koran guarantees a listening ear.”{4}

Many Muslims do not know that the following assertions appear in the Koran:

  • If you are in doubt about the truth, ask those who read the Scripture that came before you.{5}
  • To be a proper Muslim, one must read the Before Books (the Old and New Testaments).{6}
  • Christians are humble and compassionate and know the truth when they hear it.{7}
  • Those who observe the teaching of the Torah and the Gospels will go to heaven.{8}
  • Mohammed states he is not the greatest prophet, he does not know what will happen to his followers (after death) and he is only a Warner.{9}
  • Jesus knows the way to Allah.{10}

The strongest passage to foster a discussion about Jesus is Surah Al-Imran 3:42-55. This passage states:

  • Mary was chosen by God,
  • Jesus was born of a virgin,
  • Jesus is the Messiah,
  • Jesus has power over death, and
  • Jesus knows the way to heaven.

An honest, open reading raises “Jesus from ‘Prophet’ status closer to ‘Savior’ status.”{11} For example verse 3:45 reads, “O Maryam! Allah gives you the good news . . . that you will be given a son; his name will be Messiah, Isa the son of Maryam.”{12} And 3:49 reads, “[Jesus] will heal the blind and the lepers, and raise the dead to life, by Allah’s leave.”{13} This passage clearly ascribes to Jesus a position and power that Mohammed does not ascribe to himself.

Don’t Misuse the Koran

We rightfully accuse some cults of using proof texts from the Bible to promote distorted religions. Do the verses introduced above relate the overwhelming message of the Koran? Absolutely not. There are other passages which are critical of Christianity and particularly the idea that Jesus is “another God” apart from Allah. Lest we be guilty of “proof-texting,” someone approaching a Muslim with passages from the Koran must be clear on their objective. We should keep in mind four points:

• Be humble. Freely admit that you are not an expert in the Koran. You want to understand how they view these passages.

• Be simple. Do not expound on the doctrine of the Koran or attribute inspiration to its teaching. Simply point out that the Koran seems to encourage Muslims to study our Bible and understand more about Jesus.

• Be sensitive. Don’t think that you are going to use the Koran to lead someone to Christ. You are discussing the Koran to see if they are open to further exploration of Jesus’ teaching.

• Be positive. People who have grown up studying the Koran have used this approach to bring hundreds of thousands of Muslims to faith in Christ over the last decade.

In his book Camel Training Manual, Kevin Greeson points out that Paul’s custom when entering a new area was to begin teaching Christ in the synagogue from their Scripture, the Old Testament. In a similar fashion, we can approach a Muslim with the question, “I have discovered an amazing truth in the Koran that gives hope of eternal life in heaven. Would you read this passage with me so that we can talk about it?”{14}

The purpose of this discussion is not to show how much you know about the Koran or how little they may know. In humility, the purpose is to ask them to consider the implications of this passage stating Jesus had authority over death and Jesus knows the way to heaven. They know these statements are true because they are in the Koran. If they are concerned about death and want to know the way to heaven, they may want to learn more about Jesus to follow the Koran’s injunction to obey Jesus.

This teaching about Jesus is especially important in the light of Surah The Chambers 46:9 which reads, “I [Mohammed] am no prodigy among the prophets; nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow only what is revealed to me, and I am no more than a plain Warner.” So, the Koran teaches Mohammed is a warner (calling people to fully obey God) while Jesus is the Messiah (knowing the way to God). A serious Muslim should have a desire to learn about Jesus.

A Person of Peace

Please note that the purpose of discussing the Koran is not to teach someone how to receive God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The purpose is to identify people who are open to learning more about Jesus. People whose hearts are prepared through diligently seeking to know God. In his book Church Planting Movements, Kevin Greeson refers to this as “finding a Person of Peace.”

This term refers to Jesus sending seventy of the disciples ahead of Him to witness in every city and place where He was going. Jesus commanded the seventy, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-7). Jesus was telling them to use a non-threatening, culturally appropriate way to determine whether a person is open to learning more about Jesus. An open, interested person is a “person of peace” and you should invest your time in them. If they are not interested, then shake the dust from your feet and move on. It will only antagonize them and their community if you insist on forcing yourself upon them. Once an interest in knowing more about Jesus is confirmed, you set the Koran aside and turn to the Bible (the “Before Book” in Koran terminology) to teach them about Jesus and redemption.

One concern about sharing in this manner is the danger of producing a group of pseudo-believers who add a distorted view of Christ to their religious practice without truly putting their faith in Christ. This danger is why the Koran must be viewed only as the breach getting you into the fortress. The Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit supplies the words that lead to salvation. Discipleship must be strictly based on the Bible.

In addition to the large numbers of conversions in Abdul’s country, the level of commitment by these new believers is encouraging. In 2002, a team from a U.S. mission organization conducted an investigation of the churches resulting from this movement. They found that

  • over 2/3 of the new converts had been active followers of Islam,
  • less than 25% were mingling old Islamic beliefs with their new Christian ones, and
  • less than 10% of the people know of any Christian returning to Islam.{15}

When Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20), He did not add a caveat excluding those hostile cultures with strong barriers to the truth. Instead, He promised to be with us and equip us with divinely powerful weapons to breach those fortresses. Hopefully, you are encouraged to reach out in love to Muslims as God brings them into your life. To learn more, take a look at the Camel Training Manual from WIGTake Resources.{16}

Notes

1. Ibn Warraq, “Apostasy and Human Rights”, Free Inquiry, February/March 2006, vol 26 No. 2.
2. Church Planting Movements, How God Is Redeeming a Lost World, David Garrison, WIFTake Resources, 2004.
3. King Henry V, William Shakespeare.
4. Kevin Greeson, Camel Training Manual (Midlothian: WIGTake Resources, 2004).
5. Koran Surah Jonah 10:94.
6. Koran Surah The Woman 4:136.
7. Koran Surah The Table Spread 5:82-83.
8. Koran Surah The Table Spread 5:65-66.
9. Koran Surah The Sandhills 46:9.
10. Koran Surah Al-Imran 3:42-55.
11. Greeson.
12. English translation of Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik, Al-Qur’an, The Guidance for Mankind (Institute of Islamic Knowledge, 1997).
13. Ibid.
14. Greeson.
15. Garrison.
16. Available online at the Church Planting Movement’s Web site at www.churchplantingmovements.com/camel_training_manual.htm.

© 2006 Probe Ministries

 

 




Why Radical Muslims Hate You (Short op-ed piece)

If you are a Westerner, an American, a non-Muslim, or a Muslim of a different stripe than they, then some radical Muslims hate you.

Why? The complex answer involves history, culture, politics, religion and psychology. Of course, many–some would say most–Muslims are peace loving and deplore terrorism. Islam is quite diverse. Extremist Muslims do not represent all Muslims any more than white supremacists represent all Christians. Not all “radical” Muslims are violent or hateful. But understanding extremist Muslim hatred is essential to interpreting our post-9/11 world.

Osama Bin Ladin calls on Muslims to “obey God’s command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions…to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military….” He and his sympathizers want to eliminate Western influence and restore their version of Islam to the world.

Would you believe that dancing in American churches helped fuel some radical Muslim anger today? Princeton Near East scholar Bernard Lewis illustrates.

In 1948, Sayyid Qutb visited the United States for Egypt’s Ministry of Education. His stay left him shocked with what he perceived as moral degeneracy and sexual promiscuity.

He wrote that even American religion was tainted by materialism and consumerism. Churches marketed their services to the public like merchants and entertainers. Success, big numbers, “fun” and having “a good time” seemed crucial to American churches.

He especially deplored clergy-sanctioned dances at church recreation halls. When the ministers lowered the lights, the dances became hot. Qutb’s PG description: “The dance is inflamed by the notes of the gramophone…the dance-hall becomes a whirl of heels and thighs, arms enfold hips, lips and breasts meet, and the air is full of lust.” He cited the famous Kinsey Reports as evidence of American sexual debauchery.

Qutb, who was dark skinned, also experienced racism in America. Back in Egypt, Qutb joined the Muslim Brothers organization. Imprisonment and torture made his writings more militant. Qutb became what Georgetown University religion and international affairs professor John Esposito calls “the architect of radical Islam.”

Some Muslim Brotherhood groups, offshoots, and alumni are mainstream and nonviolent. Others have a violent legacy. A militant offshoot, Islamic Jihad, assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Esposito notes that Abdullah Azzam, a radicalized former Muslim Brother, significantly influenced Osama bin Ladin. Former CIA Middle East case officer Robert Baer observes that a Kuwaiti Muslim Brother, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, became a bin Ladin terror chief.

Princeton’s Lewis notes that Sayyid Qutb’s denunciation of American moral character became incorporated into radical Islamic ideology. For instance, he says Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, in calling the U.S. the “Great Satan,” was being consistent with the Koranic depiction of Satan not as an “imperialist” or “exploiter” but as a seducer, “the insidious tempter who whispers in the hearts of men.”

The founder of the faith I follow, Jesus of Nazareth, told people to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It is not emotionally easy for me to love Osama bin Ladin or to pray for him. I have to ask God for strength for that.

Certainly bin Ladin’s hatred of me and my compatriots–flawed though we may be–does not justify his campaign of terror. His campaign rightly prompts national vigilance, a proverbial cost of freedom. But as we keep the powder dry, might it also be appropriate to individually reflect on the character that seems so offensive to him and his colleagues?

© 2003 Rusty Wright




Islam and Christianity: Common Misconceptions Reveal Their Stark Differences

Muslims and Christians often misunderstand what the other actually believes about God and salvation. Don Closson attempts to clear up some of these misconceptions.

In a recent meeting of evangelical leaders, anti-Islamic comments made by Christians in the Western media were denounced as “dangerous” and “unhelpful.” Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals stated that “Since we are in a global community, no doubt about it, we must temper our speech and we must communicate primarily through actions.”{1} Another prominent president of a Christian relief agency added that “It’s very dangerous to build more barriers when we’re supposed to be following [the] one who pulled the barriers down,” an obvious reference to the sacrificial death of Christ. They also concluded that it was “nave” to merely dialogue “with Muslims in a way that minimized theological and political differences.”{2}

So what kind of exchange of ideas is helpful between Christians and Muslims? We might start by beginning to clear up some of the common misconceptions that each hold about the other. This has become more important recently due to heightened religious passions since 9/11 and the war in Iraq. Muslims, both here in America and abroad, are highly suspicious of America’s intentions in the world and some Americans see every Muslim as a potential terrorist who threatens our freedom and democracy. There are obviously reasons behind both of these perceptions. America does tend to favor Israel over its Arab neighbors, and Muslims have committed atrocities against civilians around the world, but this only means that we must work harder at communicating clearly with Muslims when we have opportunity. The over one billion Muslims in the world constitute a large part of the mission field given to us by the Lord’s Great Commission. We cannot turn away from them simply because of the difficulties we face.

That said, we need to realize that both Muslims and Christians hold to ideas about the other that are either completely wrong or merely too broadly applied. Some of these misconceptions are cultural issues and some are theological. Culturally, there are significant differences in how Islam and Christianity relate to society and government. Gender roles are also a source of confusion. Theologically, there is much to clarify regarding the respective roles of Jesus and Muhammad in each religious tradition. There is also misunderstanding regarding the origins and transmission of the sacred texts, the Koran and the Bible. Although the religions share commonalities–one God, the reality of a spiritual dimension, a universal moral order, and a final judgment–Islam and Christianity differ significantly in the details and in the most crucial issue of how one is justified before God.

Jesus and Muhammad

Let’s look at some common misconceptions that people have about Islam and Christianity, beginning with how people often confuse the roles that Jesus and Muhammad play in their respective traditions.

Christians often make the mistake of equating the place that Muhammad has in Islam with the role played by Jesus in Christianity. Although Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final prophet from Allah, most do not teach that he was sinless. On the other hand, Muslims see Muhammad’s life and example as near to perfection as one can get. One Muslim scholar has noted, “Know that the key to happiness is to follow the sunna [Muhammad’s actions] and to imitate the Messenger of God in all his coming and going, his movement and rest, in his way of eating, his attitude, his sleep and his talk…”{3} Every action of Muhammad is considered a model for believers. Some Muslims even avoid eating food that Muhammad disdained. At the same time, Muslims are offended at the term “Mohammedanism” sometimes used as a reference to Islam. It is not Muhammad’s religion; he is only a messenger of Allah. Muslims believe that Muhammad’s messages revived and reformed religious truth that had been lost.

Even so, any disparaging words aimed at Muhammad will be taken very seriously by a Muslim. As William Cantrell Smith once said, “Muslims will allow attacks on Allah: there are atheists and atheistic publications, and rationalistic societies; but to disparage Muhammad will provoke from even the most ‘liberal’ sections of the community a fanaticism of blazing vehemence.”{4}

Muslims accuse Christians of elevating Jesus in an inappropriate manner. They argue that Jesus was just a prophet to the Jews, and that he heralded the coming of Muhammad as the seal of the prophets. The problem with this view is that it doesn’t fit the earliest historical data we have regarding the life and teachings of Christ. There is considerable manuscript evidence for the authenticity and early date of the New Testament. In these early manuscripts, Jesus claims to have the powers and authority that only God could possess. These teachings and events were recorded by eyewitnesses or by second generation Christians like Luke who was a close companion to Paul.

What is missing is an early text that affirms what Muslims claim about Jesus. Muslims argue that the New Testament has been corrupted and that texts supporting the idea that Jesus is the Son of God were a later addition. But again, the burden of proof for this accusation is one the Muslim apologist must bear. However, they do not provide any evidence for when or where the early manuscripts became corrupted. Muslims argue that the New Testament depiction of Christ and of his death and resurrection cannot be correct because the Koran teaches otherwise. Although Christians affirm the importance and authority of revelation, true revelation will be confirmed by history.

The Bible and the Koran

There is an inherent problem when we consider the nature and content of the Bible and the Koran. Both traditions claim that their book is the result of divine revelation, and both maintain that their books have been preserved through the centuries with a high degree of accuracy. For instance, when touring a local Islamic center, I was told by the guide that the modern Koran contains the exact words given by Muhammad to his followers with absolutely no mistakes. Christians maintain that the Bible we possess is 99% accurate and has benefited from over 100 years of textual criticism and the possession of thousands of early manuscripts. The problem is that the Koran and the Bible make contradictory truth claims about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and what God expects from those who love and follow Him.

The Islamic view of the Bible is complicated by the fact that the Koran tells Muslims to accept both the Hebrew Scriptures and the “Injil,” or the gospel of Jesus, and even calls the “Book,” or Bible, the “word of God” in Sura 6:114-115.{5} On the other hand, Muslim apologists argue that both the Old and New Testaments have been corrupted and contain little if any truth about God and His people. They contend that a lost gospel of Jesus has been replaced with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

This view contains a number of problems. The Koran calls the Bible the word of God, and acknowledges that it is a revelation from God. It also teaches that Jesus was a prophet and that his teaching has authority. Finally, when the Koran was given by Muhammad it supported the New Testament of Muhammad’s time by telling Muslims to go to Christians, who had been reading the Bible, to affirm Muhammad’s message.{6} If this is so, we can assume that Muhammad believed that the Bible available in the seventh century was accurate. The Bible we use today is virtually unchanged from the Bible in the seventh century.In fact, it is probably more faithful to the earliest manuscript evidence. If the Bible of Muhammad’s time was accurate, why isn’t today’s copy? Again, Muslims must do more than just claim that errors have occurred in the Bible, they must be able to show us when and where the errors occurred.

The Koran suffers from textual questions as well. Between Muhammad’s death and the compilation of the Koran, some of what Muhammad had recited as revelation had already been lost due to the death of companions who had memorized specific passages.{7} Later, when multiple versions of the Koran caused controversy among Muslims, the Caliph Uthman ordered Zaid bin Thabit to collect all the copies in use, create a standard version and destroy the rest.

We have reasonably good copies of both the original Bible and the Uthmanic version of the Koran. However, both documents cannot represent revelation from God because the messages they contain cannot be reconciled.

Human Nature, Gender, and Salvation

Islam and Christianity view the human predicament differently. According to Islam, when Adam sinned he asked for forgiveness and it was granted by Allah. A Muslim author writes, “…Islam teaches that people are born innocent and remain so until each makes him or herself guilty by a guilty deed. Islam does not believe in ‘original sin’; and its scripture interprets Adam’s disobedience as his own personal misdeed–a misdeed for which he repented and which God forgave.”{8} In fact, it is common among Muslims to see human failings as the result of forgetfulness or as merely making mistakes. People are frail, imperfect, constantly forgetful of God, and even intrinsically weak, but they do not have a sin nature. As a result, salvation is won by diligently observing the religious rituals prescribed by the five pillars of Islam, reciting the confession or Shahada, prayer, fasting, divine tax, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Bible teaches that Adam’s sin has affected all humanity. Romans 5:12 reads, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . .” Paul later adds that, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” We are made righteous not by doing good works but by faith in the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf. Jesus bore our penalty for sin; he literally stood in our place and took our punishment.

Not only do Muslims and Christians have different views on human nature and salvation, but they also have dissimilar perceptions about gender. Although both religions teach that men and women have equal status before God, in reality the experience of women differs greatly under the two systems. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which Islam rejects, helps Christians to understand how women can be equal to men and yet accept a submissive role in the family. The incarnate Jesus took on the submissive role of a Son and yet he was still fully God. There is no similar doctrine in Islam that teaches role differentiation between men and women and yet encourages gender equality before God. Islam places men over women in a way that Christianity does not. Islam allows for polygamy, and while men can marry non-Muslims, women cannot. Muslim men can divorce with a simple proclamation, women cannot. And although women have inheritance rights, they are always inferior to a man’s. Finally, Muslim women do not enjoy equal legal rights, and Muslim men are instructed to strike their wives if they are disloyal.

Religion and the State

How do the two traditions view the role of religion in society?

Christians in the West often view Islam through the lens of Western tolerance. In America especially, we are used to the separation of church and state, and assume that people everywhere enjoy such freedom. Many Muslims neither experience such separation nor see it as a good thing. For those who take the Koran seriously, Islam and Islamic law regulate all of life. The history of Islam supports the idea that the state should be involved in both the spread of Islam and the enforcement of religious duties by individual Muslims in Islamic societies.

Beginning with Muhammad, who was both a religious and political leader, down through the Caliphs and Islamic Empires, there has been little separation between religious and political law enforcement. Today in Saudi Arabia, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (mutawwa’in, in Arabic) patrol public places in order to enforce religious laws, particularly the dress and habits of women in public.

In fact, the ultimate goal of many Muslims is what might be called a worldwide Islamic peace enforced by Islamic law. When Muslims talk of Islam being a religion of peace, it is often understood that this peace will occur only when Islam rules the world with Islamic law applied universally. As Syrian born Harvard professor Bassam Tibi has written, “…the quest of converting the entire world to Islam is an immutable fixture of the Muslim worldview. Only if this task is accomplished, if the world has become a ‘Dar al-Islam [house of Islam],’ will it also be a ‘Dar al-Salam,’ or a house of peace.”{9}

Unfortunately, Christianity has at times had similar views regarding the use of government to enforce religious laws. Between the fourth century and the Reformation, the Christian practice of religious tolerance was spotty at best. But the growth of the separation of church and state in the West, which greatly enhanced religious tolerance, has led to another misconception. Muslims often assume that everyone in the West is a Christian. When they see the sexual immorality, drug use, and decline of the family in Western nations, they assume that this is what Christianity endorses. Christians need to be careful to separate themselves from the culture in which they live and help Muslims to see that our secular governments and society have mostly rejected Christian virtues. It is also helpful to communicate to Muslims that becoming a Christian is more than believing certain things to be true regarding Jesus and the Bible. It is about becoming a new creature in Christ through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. It is about trusting in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

Notes

1. The New York Times, May 8, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/08/national/08CHRI.html?th
2. Ibid.
3. Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), p. 82.
4. Ibid., 80.
5. See also Sura 2:75 and Sura 5:46, 67, 69, 71.
6. Sura 10:94.
7. Ibin Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p. 23.
8. Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, p. 43.
9. Downloaded from NewsMax.com on 5/22/2003 at tinyurl.com/2tbwo6

© 2003 Probe Ministries




Islam and the Sword

Don Closson provides a consideration of the role that violence has played in both historical and contemporary Islam.

On September 11, 2001 Americans found themselves confronted by an enemy they knew little about. We had suddenly lost more lives to a sneak attack than had been lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor and yet few understood the reasons for the hatred that prompted the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and part of the Pentagon. Even in the days that followed, Americans were getting mixed signals from the media and from national politicians. One voice focused on the peaceful nature of Islam, going so far as to argue that Osama bin Laden could not be a faithful Muslim and commit the acts attributed to him. Others warned that bin Laden has a considerable following in the Muslim world and that even if he was removed as a potential threat many would step in to replace him with equal or greater fervor.

Some argued that fundamentalist Muslims are no different than fundamentalist believers of any religion. The problem is not Islam, but religious belief of any type when taken too seriously. This view holds that all forms of religious belief, Christian, Jewish, or Islamic can promote terrorism. Robert Wright, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania writes that:

If Osama Bin Laden were a Christian, and he still wanted to destroy the World Trade Center, he would cite Jesus’ rampage against the money-changers. If he didn’t want to destroy the World Trade Center, he could stress the Sermon on the Mount.{1}

His view is that terrorism can be justified by any religion when people are economically depressed. He adds “there is no timeless, immutable essence of Islam, rooted in the Quran, that condemns it to a medieval morality.”{2}

This claim points to the question: Is there something inherent in Islam that makes it more likely to resort to violence than other world religions like Christianity or Buddhism? While it is important to admit that all religions and ideologies have adherents that are willing to use violence to achieve what they believe are justified ends, it does not follow that all religions and ideologies teach equally the legitimacy of violent means.

People have committed horrible atrocities in the name of Jesus Christ, from the inquisitions to the slaying of abortionists. However, it is my position that it is not possible to justify these actions from the teachings of Christ Himself. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus teach that one should kill for the sake of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, or to defend the honor of Jesus Himself.

What about Islam? My contention is that Islam’s founder Muhammad, and the Qur’an, its holy book, condone violence as a legitimate tool for furthering Allah’s goals. And that those who use violence in the name of Allah are following a tradition that began with the very birth of Islam.

Muhammad

As mentioned earlier, there are followers in most of the world’s belief systems that justify the use of violence to achieve their religious or political goals. However, this says more about the sinfulness of humanity than it does about the belief system itself. It is important to look past the individual behavior of a few followers to the message and actions of the founder of each system and his or her closest disciples. In the case of Islam, this means Muhammad and the leadership of Islam after Muhammad’s death.

One cannot overstate the centrality of Muhammad’s example within the religion of Islam. One of the greatest Muslim theologians, al- Ghazzali, writes of Muhammad:

Know that the key to happiness is to follow the sunna [Muhammad’s actions] and to imitate the Messenger of God in all his coming and going, his movement and rest, in his way of eating, his attitude, his sleep and his talk . . . God has said: “What the messenger has brought—accept it, and what he has prohibited—refrain from it!” (59:7). That means, you have to sit while putting on trousers, and to stand when winding a turban, and to begin with the right foot when putting on shoes.{3}

Although considered only human, one Muslim writer describes Muhammad as “[T]he best model for man in piety and perfection. He is a living proof of what man can be and of what he can accomplish in the realm of excellence and virtue. . . .”{4} So it is important to note that Muhammad believed that violence is a natural part of Islam. Many passages of the Quran, which came from Muhammad’s lips support violence. Followers are told to “fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them (9:5),” and to “Fight those who believe not in God, nor the Last Day.” (9:29) Muhammad also promises paradise for those who die in battle for Allah, “Those who left their homes . . . or fought or been slain,—Verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;—A reward from the Presence of God.” (3:195; cf. 2:244; 4:95)

While living in Medina, having escaped from persecution in Mecca, Muhammad supported himself and his group of followers by raiding Meccan caravans. His fame grew after a stunning defeat of a large, well-defended caravan at Badr. Muhammad was also willing to have assassinated those who merely ridiculed his prophetic claims. The list of those killed included Jews, old men and women, slaves, and a mother of five children who was killed while she slept.{5} Also, in order to violate a long-standing ban against warfare during a sacred month, he claimed a new revelation that gave him permission to kill his enemies.{6}

Violent expediency seems to have been the guiding rule of Muhammad’s ethics.

Early Islam

Muhammad’s life as a prophet was a precarious one. After fleeing Mecca and establishing himself in Medina, Muhammad was constantly being tested militarily by those who considered him a religious and political threat. Although at an initial disadvantage, Muhammad wore down his opponents by raiding their caravans, seizing valuable property, taking hostages and disrupting the all-important economic trade Mecca enjoyed with the surrounding area.{7} The turning point for Muhammad and his followers seems to have come in what is known as the Battle of the Ditch or the Siege of Medina. A large Meccan force failed to take the city and destroy the new religion. Suspecting that a local Jewish tribe had plotted with the Meccans to destroy him, Muhammad had all the men of the tribe killed and the women and children sold into slavery.{8} In A.D. 630 Muhammad returned to Mecca with a large force and took it with little bloodshed. He rewarded many of its leaders financially for surrendering and within a short period of time a large number of the surrounding tribes came over to this new and powerful religious and political movement.

Muhammad continued building his following by using a combination of material enticements, his religious message, and force when necessary. With the fall of Mecca, many other tribes realized Muhammad’s position as the most powerful political leader in western Arabia and sent representatives to negotiate agreements with him.

Muhammad’s death in 632, just two years after his triumphant return to Mecca, thrust an important decision on the community of believers. Should they choose one person to lead in Muhammad’s place or do they separate into many communities. The decision was made to pick Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s father-in-law and early supporter to assume the role of caliph or successor to Muhammad. Immediately, many who had submitted to Muhammad refused to do so to Abu Bakr. Several tribes wanted political independence, some sought to break religiously as well. The result is known as the Apostasy wars. At the end of two years of fighting to put down both religious and political threats, Abu Bakr had extended his control to include the entire Arabian Peninsula. Islam was now in position to extend its influence beyond Arabia with a large standing army of believers.

Violence and warfare seems to have dominated early Islam. Two of the first four caliphs were assassinated by internal rivals, and within the first fifty years of its existence Islam experienced two bloody civil wars. Rival tribal loyalties within and the religious struggle or jihad against the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires made the first century of Islam a bloody one.

Jihad

Historian Paul Johnson writes,

[T]he history of Islam has essentially been a history of conquest and re-conquest. The 7th-century “breakout” of Islam from Arabia was followed by the rapid conquest of North Africa, the invasion and virtual conquest of Spain, and a thrust into France that carried the crescent to the gates of Paris.{9}

From the beginning, Muslims “saw their mission as jihad, or militant effort to combat evil and to spread Muhammad’s message of monotheism and righteousness far and wide.”{10} Although many Muslims in America have argued that jihad primarily refers to a struggle or striving for personal righteousness, Bernard Lewis, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University writes that, “The more common interpretation, and that of the overwhelming majority of the classical jurists and commentators, presents jihad as armed struggle for Islam against infidels and apostates.”{11}

Although highly regulated by Islamic law, the call for every able- bodied Muslim to defend Islam began with Muhammad and has continued with the fatwas of Osama bin Laden in 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden argues that his attacks on American civilians and military personnel conform to Islamic law because America is acting as an imperialistic aggressor against Islam. He has three specific complaints: America has placed infidel troops on holy soil in Saudi Arabia; America has caused the death of over a million Iraqi children since Desert Storm; and American support for the evil Zionist nation of Israel.

Regarding the history of jihad in Islam, an ex-chief justice of Saudi Arabia has written “[A]t first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory, . . .” Muslims are to fight against those who oppress Islam and who worship others along with Allah.{12} He adds that even though fighting is disliked by the human soul, Allah has made ready an immense reward beyond imagination for those who obey. He also quotes Islamic tradition, which says, “Paradise has one hundred grades which Allah has reserved for the Mujahidin who fight in His Cause.”{13}

Numerous passages in the Qur’an refer to Allah’s use of violence. A surah titled “The Spoils of War” states, “O Prophet! Rouse the Believers to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you . . . they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the Unbelievers: for these are a people without understanding.”{14} Another says, “O ye who believe! When ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them. . . .”{15} It adds that those who do will find themselves in hell, a significant incentive to fight on.

Muslims and Modernity

Islam was born in the midst of persecution and eventually conquest. Muhammad was adept at both religious and military leadership, but what about modern Islam? Do all Muslims see jihad in the light of conquest and warfare?

While it is probably safe to say that American born Muslims apply the teachings of Muhammad and Islamic traditions differently than Saudi or Iranian Muslims. The use of violence in the propagation of Islam enjoys wide support. Part of the reason is that the concept of separation of church and state is alien to Islam. Muhammad Iqbal, architect of Pakistan’s split from Hindu India, wrote, “The truth is that Islam is not a church. It is a state conceived as a contractual organism. . . .”{16} Responding to the inability of Islam to accommodate the modern world, an Algerian Islamic activist points to the example of Muhammad:

The Prophet himself did not opt to live far away from the camp of men. He did not say to youth: “Sell what you have and follow me. . . .” At Medina, he was not content merely to be the preacher of the new faith: he became also the leader of the new city, where he organized the religious, social and economic life. . . . Later, carrying arms, he put himself at the head of his troops.{17}

The powerful combination within Islam of immediate paradise for those who die while fighting for Allah and the unity of political, religious, and economic structures, helps us to understand the source of suicide bombers and children who dream of becoming one. Young Palestinians are lining up by the hundreds in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to volunteer for suicide missions. Eyad Sarraj, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project, detects a widespread zeal. “If they are turned down they become depressed. They feel they have been deprived of the ultimate award of dying for God.”{18} Palestinian support for suicide bombers is now at 70 to 80 percent.

Islam and Christianity both require its followers to sacrifice and turn from the world and self. Yet while Islam equates political conquest with the furtherance of Allah’s reign, Jesus taught that we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Christianity recognizes that the advancement of God’s kingdom is not necessarily a political one. The New Testament did not advocate the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Muslims are given the example of Muhammad’s personal sacrifice in battle so that Allah’s enemies might be defeated. Christians are given the example of Christ who gave His life as a sacrifice, so that even His enemies might believe and have eternal life.

Notes

1. Robert Wright, www.msnbc.com/news, 10/30/2001.
2. Ibid.
3. Norman L. Geisler & Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), p 82.
4. Ibid., 84.
5. Ibid., 175.
6. The Quran states, “They ask thee Concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: ‘Fighting therein is a grave (offense)’; But graver is it In the sight of God To prevent access to the path of God.” (2:217)
7. John Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p 10.
8. Geisler & Saleeb, p 79.
9. Paul Johnson, National Review, October 15, 2001.
10. John Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, p 13.
11. Bernard Lewis, “Jihad vs. Crusade,” The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2001.
12. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Muhammad Bin Humaid, “Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah,” http://islamworld.net/jihad.html, p 4.
13. Ibid., p 8.
14. Qur’an 8:65.
15. Qur’an 8:15-16.
16. Kenneth Cragg & Marston Speight, Islam From Within, (Wadsworth Inc., 1980), p 213
17. Ibid., p 228.
18. Eric Silver, “Bomber quit intelligence service to join Hamas two days before
attack,” Independent Digital (UK) Ltd, 03 December 2001, www.independent.co.uk.

©2002 Probe Ministries.




A Christian Student of Islam Responds to the Sept. 11 Attacks

The events of Sept. 11 have left the nation stunned, and horrified. We all can empathize with Mayor Giuliani when he said, “I can’t believe they would do this to our city!” The events have also left us with many questions. Following is a brief response to a couple of the most obvious questions most of us are asking.

1) Do acts like those perpetrated on Sept. 11 find any justification in Muslim theology?

This is an important question, and one which would probably be answered in different ways by different muslim groups and leaders. First, there is no question that there are passages in the Qur’an and in the Hadith (sayings traditionally attributed to Muhammad) which endorse the concept of “jihad.” I am not going to quote them here. But any reader can look up the following references in the Koran (2:244; 3:195; 4:95; 9:5; 47:4), or passages in the Hadith collected by Al-Bukhari. It is no secret that the early spread of Islam was due in great measure to the carrying out of these injunctions by muslim forces. And today, extremist groups within the muslim world appeal to such passages as justification for their violent actions.

Jihad basically means “struggle” or “exertion,” and refers to efforts aimed at defending or advancing the cause of Islam in the world. Many muslims consider jihad to be a sixth basic obligation, in addition to the traditional five pillars of Islam. Jihad, however, is not limited to the popular concept of “holy war.” One muslim writer describes four types of jihad: that waged by the heart (the individual muslim’s internal spiritual and moral struggle against evil, often called the “greater jihad”), that waged by the tongue (speaking in behalf of Islam), by the hand (setting forth a good example for Islam), and by the sword (armed conflict with the enemies of Islam, the “lesser jihad”). (See the book entitled Jihad: A Commitment to Universal Peace, by Michael A. Boisard, p. 24.)

It must be noted, however, that the Koran itself places some limits on the practice of jihad: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors . . . . And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (2:190-193). Theoretically, then, “holy war” must be seen as justified by the “oppression” and “injustice” of the “enemies of Islam.” While many, perhaps most, muslims may condemn the actions carried out on Sept. 11, the extremists who do not can be expected to justify them on the grounds that in their eyes they were retribution for “injustice and oppression” against Islam.

2) What should our response be, as Christians, to these events?

This is not an easy or simple matter, for as Christians we find ourselves to be citizens of two kingdoms–one temporal and political, and the other spiritual and eternal. We must keep this in mind, as we prayerfully shape our response. Here are one Christian’s thoughts.

First, we must pray. Pray for the more moderate leaders in the muslim world. Pray that they will see the folly of endorsing these acts of terror. Pray that their voice will be heard, and that they will find the courage to distance themselves from the extremist groups. We must pray also for those who are committed to violence, that God will frustrate their plans. “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan, that can succeed against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30).

We must pray for the leaders of our country, and of other countries that join with us (I Tim. 2:1-3). God has entrusted to government the responsibility of rewarding righteousness and punishing evil, and this includes the right to “bear the sword” or use military power in defense against evil (Rom. 13:1-5). We must pray for wisdom and courage on the part of our leaders, and that any military response will be shaped by the principles of the “just war” theory that has guided Christian thought since the time of St. Augustine. Any response must be “proportionate” and aimed at crippling the aggressor’s ability to wage war, not at inflicting needless suffering on the innocent. As Christian citizens we should not only be prepared to pray for and support our government’s response, but if called upon to serve in her defense.

Second, as Christian disciples, we must individually and personally turn to God at this time of great need. We must follow the example of the psalmist who said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4) It is only human to experience fear at a time such as this. But we must bring our fears to God, and rest on his almighty arm. Remember God’s great and precious promises: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10)! We must draw near to God in personal repentance and faith, turning away from trust in any false “gods,” for He alone is “our refuge and strength,” our “ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We must be alert as well to opportunities to help others who are in search of a spiritual anchor in times of crisis. We can help by listening to people’s concerns, by offering to pray for them or help in some practical way. We should not pretend that we are unaffected by the events that are unfolding; but we can let it be known that we are finding hope and peace as we lean on our faithful God.

As followers of Christ, we must remember that at the level of our personal attitude and of our personal relationships, we are called not to hate but to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-28), not to return evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17, 21). Many will allow these awful events to justify their own hatred and bigotry. We must not. While supporting the righteous actions of our government and of our military, we can at the same time ask God to lead us in showing love toward those in our personal circle of influence, whom others may be tempted to hate.

May God be gracious to us in protecting our land and our people. May He give wisdom and courage to our leaders, and to people of good will in every country. May He frustrate the plans of those who would spread terror. As He did in the days of Joseph, may He take that which is meant for evil and use it for good. May his goodness, justice, and faithfulness be magnified in all his works, and in us as his people. Amen.

©2001 Probe Ministries.

 




Conversation with a Muslim and a Christian

An e-mail conversation between a Christian (Don Closson) and an earnest Muslim revealed the mindset and attitudes of a follower of Allah.

Introduction

It is always easier to deal with religious belief systems in the abstract. Cataloguing what a particular religion believes concerning the nature of God, human nature, salvation, and morality is usually a straightforward affair. Actually dialoguing with someone who holds to these beliefs can be far more interesting and challenging. So, although I possessed a general knowledge of what Islam teaches, I found that only by carrying on a long-term discussion with a Muslim did I gain a sense of the mindset and attitudes of a follower of Allah. A door was opened for me to experience some of the passion and zeal to be found in the Muslim evangelist. The discussion occurred via email, which muted some of the emotions that often accompany religious exchanges, but they still came through with considerable intensity.

The opportunity to carry on a discussion with a Muslim apologist arose when a campus minister asked if I would help respond to charges against the claims of Christianity being made by an Islamic leader at his school. I agreed, and soon realized that a number of others, both Muslim and Christian would be listening in on our discussion. Once introduced to my Muslim counterpart, let’s call him Ali, the interchange began quickly. I wish that I could report that at the end of our discussion Ali placed his faith in Christ. In fact, I don’t think that I made much of an impact at all on his thinking. Ali, as with all of us, chooses what to accept as evidence. He refused to even attempt to see any of the issues we discussed from a Christian perspective. All I can do is pray that God might use our discussion down the road sometime, if God chooses to soften Ali’s heart.

Over a six month period our discussion primarily focused on the person of Christ. Ali would ask questions and I would attempt to give an answer. I quickly realized that Ali’s tactics and intentions were different from mine. He often used ridicule and intimidation in his responses and would pick and choose what to discuss and what to ignore, deciding when to move on to another topic in order to avoid really considering the material at hand. I have never considered myself a debater, I would much rather have a discussion with people who are really interested in the topic and graciously exchange viewpoints. If I were to enter another dialogue like the one with Ali, I would have to realize that I cannot assume that everyone thinks the way I do regarding dialogue across religious worldviews. The Bible tells us to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ, and to do so with gentleness and respect. Don’t assume the other person will follow the same rules.

Next we will look at the issue of the person of Jesus Christ from a Muslim perspective and begin to consider how one might make a biblical response.

Christological Mathematics

Since I had never spoken to a Muslim regarding the claims of Christianity, I was looking forward to the kinds of questions that might be raised. I was not surprised that the first issue that came up was the nature of Jesus Christ, since this really is the heart of the matter. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, perhaps even a unique prophet, but not in any sense God. Ali got the conversation going by declaring that there was no place in the Bible that says that Jesus is both 100 percent God and 100 percent man. Along with this initial challenge Ali pointed out that he was very sensitive to proper interpretation and would be looking for incidents of verse twisting in order to make a passage say something that it actually doesn’t.

I sent Ali a 2500 word essay that I had written earlier that contained multiple arguments for the deity of Christ and numerous biblical examples of Jesus saying and doing things that only make sense if He were indeed equal with God the Father. My response included indications of Christ’s self-perception as God, as well as statements made by His disciples portraying their belief in His deity. I assumed that Christ’s humanity was not the real issue. So I did not see a need to defend it. Ali’s response was interesting. He noted that Muslims do indeed believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and performed many miracles, with the help of God. But then he stated, “From your response I think we both agree that the Bible does not claim that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man.” He later added, “If you don’t have any verses to give us then let’s move on to the next point.”

At first I thought that Ali had not gotten my entire essay. How could he have missed my point? He reassured me that he had gotten it and then declared that since there is no verse that states the 100 percent deity and 100 percent humanity of Christ, we can go on. What I eventually realized was that he was demanding a single verse that actually declared a mathematical set of percentages for the mixture of deity and humanity in Christ. I was a bit surprised to say the least. When I asked for confirmation, he said that that was indeed what he was looking for.

Most people know that the verse numbers in the Bible were added at a later date for convenience sake. After reminding Ali of passages like Philippians 2:6-7 and the first chapter of John, I asked him why it was necessary to find this complex truth in one verse. He ignored my question and responded by claiming victory that indeed, the Bible does not claim in one verse that Jesus is 100 percent God and 100 percent man, and he declared that we would now move on to the next point.

I must admit that I was a bit baffled, but not ready to concede the issue.

The Importance of Context

Ali’s debating tactics might be called the “slash and burn” technique: never admit to using a weak argument and make good use of sarcasm to intimidate your opponent. He also likes to claim victory in the middle of an exchange of ideas and then declare that we are moving on to the next issue. However, before I moved on to his next question I tried once more to answer his first. All that got me was the charge that I was avoiding his second point. He wrote,

You see Don, what you have done in your last email is you completely avoided this verse, and then you went looking in the Bible for other verses in which you think Jesus claimed to be God and gave them to us thinking that it would some how make us “forget” about John 5:30.

What about John 5:30? Jesus says; “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” Ali claims that the verse shows that Jesus is inferior and helpless, that in fact He can do nothing. The key to this passage, as always, is in the context. I pointed out to Ali that in John 5:19-23 Jesus says that “He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Jesus raises the dead, has been given all judgment, and is to be given the same honor that the Father is given. Ali replied, “Great, this is what a messenger does, this doesn’t make him god.”

I pointed out to him that a messenger communicates on behalf of someone else. He does not claim to do what someone else does. Muhammad claimed to be a messenger of Allah, not to do what Allah does. In fact, Jesus didn’t claim to show the way as a messenger might, but He claimed that He was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). In fact, the same chapter says that the Jews recognized that Jesus was claiming equality with God the Father and tried all the harder to kill him (John 5:18). Ali might disagree with this claim, that Jesus is God, but that is exactly the argument that is being made by this chapter and the rest of the book of John.

Ali pulls verses from their context and refuses to deal with the entire passage. When given evidence from the chapter that contradicts his views, he changes the meanings of words and ridicules what he finds to be unreasonable. Next we will look at Ali’s rejection of the Trinity.

The Trinity

It is not surprising that Ali does not understand nor acknowledge the Trinitarian relationship between Jesus and the Father. Surah 4 verse 171 in the Qur’an calls on people of the book, Christians, not to commit excesses in their religion. It claims that Jesus was just a messenger of Allah and His Word, which was given to Mary. It literally tells Christians to “say not Trinity” for Allah is one. It is possible that Muhammad believed that the Trinity consisted of Jesus, the Father, and Mary. He rejected Jesus as the Son of God because he pictured Jesus as a physical offspring from a union of God the Father and Mary. This would commit the ultimate sin in the eyes of Islam, equating a physical thing with God the Creator (shirk). Ali writes, “To say that Jesus is God or Son of God is not only a mockery of Godhood, but blasphemy of the lowest order and an insult to the intelligence of men.”

As a result, Ali alternates between denying that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God and ridiculing as illogical the notion the Jesus can be both God and man. He refuses to acknowledge the notion of the Trinity, even when it is the best way to bring together difficult passages. When enough evidence is given that the Bible does teach that Jesus is both God and man, admittedly a difficult concept, Muslims reject the Bible as having been corrupted. They really have no other choice since the Qur’an specifically rejects the Trinity. It literally comes down to either rejecting their prophet Muhammad or accepting the validity and message of the Bible.

An interesting side note to this discussion is that Ali’s position is very similar to believers of other religious groups who respect Jesus but reject Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the Bible was corrupted following the passing of the apostles, and that they now have its correct interpretation, as do Mormons and the Baha’is, an offshoot of Islam. Mormons claim that their prophet Joseph Smith received their view of Jesus, found in the Book of Mormon, from the angel Moroni. Muhammad claimed to have received the Qur’an from the angel Gabriel. It is obvious that all of these revelations cannot be true as they each give us a very different Jesus. Paul has something to say about these different gospels. He writes to the church in Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-8)

A Difficult Decision

As I mentioned earlier, the outcome of the six-month interchange was neither a conversion, nor even a congenial agree-to-disagree ending. In fact, I ended the dialogue after realizing that continuing the exchange could profit little and that my time might be better spent elsewhere. I must add that this was not an easy decision to make. I wondered whether I had given up too easily or had somehow not communicated adequately the hope that I have in Christ.

However, any hesitation to end the conversation was erased when I received a reply to my note to terminate the exchange. Ali told me that I could not quit. That in fact, he would announce on various web sites that both I and Probe Ministries had nothing to say regarding the reliability of the Bible if I did not respond to his challenges. This confirmed to me that Ali was simply using me to gain access to a larger audience in order to get out his message. He had no interest in a real discussion where ideas are considered and a minimal amount of graciousness exists.

I went back to the Scriptures to see how Jesus handled such people and what He taught His followers to do when they encountered ears that would not hear. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus told his apostles that, “[I]f any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” The meaning communicated was that those who reject the gospel must now answer for themselves. When the gospel is taught, it brings both judgment and salvation.

In Matthew 7:6 Jesus tells the apostles, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Dogs and pigs do not signify any specific race or ethnic group. Jesus is teaching that those who have treated the gospel with scorn and clearly rejected the salvation it offers and have been hardened by their contempt are to be avoided.

When Paul and Timothy were opposed by the Jews, who became abusive, the book of Acts (18:5) records, “[H]e shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility.'”

I get little pleasure from reading these passages. I wanted to change Ali’s mind. However, when I told Ali that I was praying for him, he replied, “Don’t preach to me, prove it to me.” Given that he had ignored much evidence already, it told me that his ears were closed. However, I will continue to pray that God will soften Ali’s heart and that one day he might have ears to hear the Gospel.

©2001 Probe Ministries.




What is Islam? – And a Christian Response

It’s not every day that religion appears as a front page story in today’s newspapers, particularly on a regular basis. But over the past 20 years one religion has made the front page perhaps more than any other . . . the religion of Islam. Islam claims up to one billion followers worldwide. It is not only the fastest growing religion in the world, but its influence touches virtually every area of life–not only the spiritual, but the political and economic as well. What is more, its influence is being felt closer and closer to home. There are now up to 5 million Muslims in the U.S., and over 1,100 mosques or Islamic centers.

What does Islam teach? How are the teachings of Islam similar to those of Christianity? How are they different? What should our attitude be toward Islam, and toward those who follow this powerful religion? These are some of the questions we want to address in this essay.

The History of Islam

First, we want to take a look back at the history of Islam. Islam was founded in the early seventh century by Muhammed. When he was 40 years of age, in A.D. 610, Muhammed claimed to be receiving messages from God. These messages were later compiled and recorded in the Koran–Islam’s holy book.

About this same time, Muhammed began preaching against the greed, economic oppression, and idolatry that plagued the Arab peoples. He called on the many factions of the Arab peoples to unite under the worship of Allah, the chief god of the Arab pantheon of deities. Though his message was initially rejected, by the year 630 he had succeeded in gaining control of Mecca, the economic and religious center of the Arabian peninsula.

Though Muhammed died two years later, the religious/political movement he founded rapidly spread throughout the Arab world, and far beyond. By A.D. 750, the Muslim empire spanned from Spain in the west to India in the east. In the centuries that followed, Islam penetrated deeper into Africa and Asia, extending as far as the Philippines. During its “golden era” Islam claimed some of the world’s finest philosophers and mathematicians. It was during this time also that Islam and Christianity clashed as a result of the Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Beginning around 1500, and accelerating after the industrial revolution of the 1700-1800s, Islam felt the increasing influence of the European powers. Eventually, large portions of the Muslim world were colonized by European countries. This political and economic domination by Europe continued until the end of WWII, after which Muslim countries began to attain political independence. With the discovery and development of the vast oil reserves in many Muslim lands, economic independence suddenly came within reach also. At last, Islam had in its grasp both the opportunity and the resources to reassert itself as a powerful force in the world. After being on the defensive for many centuries, Islam was now on the offensive!

The Current Status of Islam

At this point we should discuss the current status of Islam. In doing so, it’s important to realize that Islam is not a monolithic system. Though all Muslims draw their inspiration from Muhammed and the Koran, there are many identifiable groups and movements within Islam.

The most obvious division is that between Sunni and Shia Islam. The Sunnis (who compose about 90% of all Muslims) draw their name from the fact that they look both to the Koran and to the “sunna” in establishing proper Muslim conduct. The “sunna” is the behavior or example of Muhammed and of the early Muslim community. Of course, there are many sub-divisions among the Sunnis, but they all identify themselves as Sunni.

The other major group of Muslims are the Shi’ites (who compose about 10% of all Muslims and reside mainly in Iraq and Iran). The word Shi’ite means “partisan,” and refers to the fact that Shi’ites are “partisans of Ali.” Ali was the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammed and one of the early Caliphs or successors to Muhammed as leader of the Muslim people. Shi’ites believe that the leader of Islam should be among the descendants of Ali, whom they believe possess a special divine anointing for this task. The last of these divinely appointed leaders, or “imams” most Shi’ites believe to be in “hiding” in another realm of existence. The Ayatollah Khomeini was believed to have been a spokesman for this “hidden imam.”

A third group that should be mentioned are the Sufis–those Muslims (among both Sunni and Shia) who seek a mystical experience of God, rather than a merely intellectual knowledge of Him, and who also are given to a number of superstitious practices.

In addition to these divisions within Islam, mention must also be made of attitudes among Muslims toward their contact with the Western world in modern times. Though the situation is much more complex than we are capable of dealing with in this pamphlet, two broad trends have been evident within Islam.

One trend is toward some degree of accommodation and adjustment to the West and to modern ways of life. This has manifested itself most obviously in countries like Turkey, which have instituted largely secular forms of government and Western ways of life, while maintaining Islamic religious practices.

The opposite trend is toward a return to a more traditional approach to Islamic life and a rejection of Western and modern ways. The most extreme expression of this trend is manifest in the various forms of Islamic fundamentalism, which insist on the implementation of Muslim law (called the Sharia) in every area of life. Fundamentalists have been most successful in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan; but they are active in virtually every Muslim country, at times resorting to violence and terrorism in attempting to implement their agenda.

In understanding this potent religious and political movement, it is important to understand the various divisions and attitudes within Islam and the basic beliefs at Islam’s core.

The Basic Beliefs of Islam

Though the beliefs of Muslims worldwide are about as diverse as those among Christians, there are six basic articles of faith common to nearly all Muslims.

The first of these is that there is no God but Allah. The pre- Islamic Arabs were polytheists. But Muhammed succeeded in leading them to devote themselves solely to the chief God of the pantheon whom they called Allah (which simply means God). To worship or attribute deity to any other being is considered shirk or blasphemy. The Koran mentions numerous names of Allah, and these names are found frequently on the lips of devout Muslims who believe them to have a nearly magical power.

The second article of faith is belief in angels and jinn. Jinn are spirit beings capable of both good and evil actions and of possessing human beings. Above the jinn in rank are the angels of God. Two of them are believed to accompany every Muslim, one on the right to record his good deeds, and one on the left to record his evil deeds.

The third article is belief in God’s holy books, 104 of which are referred to in the Koran. Chief among these are the Law given to Moses, the Psalms given to David, the Gospel (or Injil) given to Jesus, and the Koran given to Muhammed. Each of these is conceived to have communicated the same basic message of God’s will to man. Obvious discrepancies between the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and the Koran (particularly with reference to Jesus and Muhammed) were accounted for by Muhammed in his suggestion that the Bible had been tampered with by Jews and Christians.

The fourth article of faith is belief in God’s prophets, through whom Allah appealed to man to follow His will as revealed in His holy books. There is no agreement as to how many prophets there have been–some say hundreds of thousands. Among them were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. But all agree that Muhammed was God’s final and supreme prophet–the “seal” of the prophets. Though Muhammed himself said that he was a sinner, nonetheless there are many Muslims throughout the world who appear to come close to worshiping him.

The fifth article of faith is belief in the absolute predestinating will of Allah. Though some Muslims have modified this doctrine somewhat, the Koran seems to support the idea that all things (both good and evil) are the direct result of God’s will. Those who conclude that Islam is a fatalistic religion have good reason for doing so.

The sixth and final article of faith is belief in the resurrection and final judgment. At the end of history, God will judge the works of all men. Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will enter into paradise (pictured in rather sensual terms). The rest will be consigned to hell. The paramount feature of Islamic belief, aside from its strong monotheism, is that it is a religion of human works. One’s position with regard to Allah is determined by his success in keeping His laws.

The Basic Practices of Islam

Now we want to focus on the most important of those works. These are summarized in what are usually called the “Five Pillars of Islam.”

The first pillar is recitation of the creed: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet.” It is commonly held that to recite this creed in the presence of two witnesses is to constitute oneself a Muslim–one in submission to God. Of course, the word Islam simply means “submission.”

The second pillar is the regular practice of prayers. Sunni Muslims are required to recite specific prayers accompanied by prescribed motions five times daily. (Shi’ites do so only three times a day.) All male Muslims are also enjoined to meet for community prayer (and sermon) each Friday at noon.

The third pillar is almsgiving. Born an orphan himself, Muhammed was deeply concerned for the needy. The Koran requires that 2.5% of one’s income be given to the poor or to the spread of Islam.

The fourth pillar of Islam is the fast during the month of Ramadan (the ninth lunar month of the Muslim calendar, during which Muhammed is said to have received the first of his revelations from God, and during which he and his followers made their historic trek from Mecca to Medina). During this month, Muslims in good health are required to forego all food and liquid during daylight hours. This fast promotes the Muslim’s self-discipline, dependence on Allah, and compassion for the needy.

The fifth pillar is the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. If possible, every Muslim is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once during his life. It can be made properly only on a few days during the last month of the Muslim year. The Hajj promotes the ideas of worldwide unity and equality among Muslims. But it also contains many elements of prescribed activity that are of pagan origin.

A sixth pillar, that of jihad, is often added. (The term means “exertion” or “struggle” in behalf of God.) Jihad is the means by which those who are outside the household of Islam are brought into its fold. Jihad may be by persuasion, or it may be by force or “holy war.” The fact that any Muslim who dies in a holy war is assured his place in paradise provides strong incentive for participation!

Muslims around the world look to these pillars for guidance in shaping their religious practice. But in addition to these pillars, there are numerous laws and traditions contained in the Hadith– literature that was compiled after the completion of the Koran, that reportedly contains the example and statements of Muhammed on many topics. Because the laws of the Hadith and Koran cover virtually every area of life, Islam has well been referred to as an all-encompassing way of life, as well as a religion.

A Christian Perspective on Islam

At this point it is appropriate to offer a brief evaluation of Islam from a Christian perspective.

At the outset, it must be stated that there is much in Islam that the Christian can affirm. Among the most significant Islamic doctrines that can be genuinely affirmed by the Christian are its belief in one God, its recognition of Jesus as the virgin born, sinless prophet and messiah of God, and its expectation of a future resurrection and judgment.

There are, however, some very significant areas of difference. We will mention just a few. First, the Muslim perception of God is by no means the same as that revealed in the Bible. Islam portrays God as ultimately unknowable. In fact, in the Koran, Allah reveals His will, but He never reveals Himself. Neither is He ever portrayed as a Father to His people, as He is in the Bible.

Second, though Jesus is presented as a miracle working prophet and messiah, and even without sin, Islam denies that He is the Son of God or Savior of the world. Indeed, it is denied that Jesus ever died at all, least of all for the sins of the world.

Third, though mankind is depicted as weak and prone to error, Islam denies that man is a sinner by nature and in need of a Savior, as the Bible so clearly teaches. People are capable of submitting to God’s laws and meriting his ultimate approval. According to Islam, man’s spiritual need is not for a savior but for guidance.

This leads to the fact that since in Islam, acceptance by God is something we must earn by our works, it cannot possibly provide the sense of security that can be found in the grace of God as taught in the Bible.

Many of us will find opportunities to befriend Muslim neighbors, co-workers, or friends. As we do, we should be aware of some of the barriers that exist between Muslims and Christians, due to past and current animosities.

The attitude of many Muslims toward Christianity and toward the West is colored by the history of conflict that has found expression in the Crusades of Medieval times, European domination and colonialism, as well as Western support for Zionism in most recent times. We must allow the love of God to overcome our own fear and defensiveness and to penetrate these barriers.

In the past several years many Muslims have been deeply impressed by the compassion shown by Westerners (and particularly the United States) toward Muslim countries that have endured severe hardship. This kind of compassion can be shown on an individual level as well. As we do, we can then invite our Muslim friends to join us in a study of the New Testament, which reveals the only source of acceptance before God in His love and grace, expressed through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ and His gift of the Holy Spirit.

©1994 Probe Ministries.