FIGURE IN HISTORY:
Muhammad (A.D. 570–632)
OF ITS ESTABLISHMENT:
Worldwide: Estimated 800 million to 1 billion; 58 percent
live in South and Southeast Asia; 28 percent in Africa;
9 percent in Near and Middle East; 5 percent other.
U.S.: Estimated 6.5 to 8 million.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Islam is the world’s
youngest major world religion. It claims to be the restoration
of original monotheism and truth and thus supersedes
both Judaism and Christianity. It stresses submission
to Allah, the Arabic name for God, and conformity to
the "five pillars" or disciplines of that
religion as essential for salvation. From its inception,
Islam was an aggressively missionary-oriented religion.
Within one century of its formation, and often using
military force, Islam had spread across the Middle East,
most of North Africa, and as far east as India. While
God is, in the understanding of most Muslims, unknowable
personally, His will is believed to be perfectly revealed
in the holy book, the Qur’an. The Qur’an
is to be followed completely and its teaching forms
a complete guide for life and society.
WHO WAS MUHAMMAD?
Muhammad is believed by
Muslims to be the last and greatest prophet of God—"the
seal of the prophets." It was through him that
the Qur’an was dictated, thus according him the
supreme place among the seers of God. A native of Mecca,
Muhammad was forced to flee that city in A.D. 622 after
preaching vigorously against the paganism of the city.
Having secured his leadership in Medina, and with several
military victories to his credit, Muhammad returned
in triumph to Mecca in A.D. 630. There, he established
Islam as the religion of all Arabia.
WHAT IS THE QUR’AN?
The Qur’an is the
sacred book of Islam and the perfect word of God for
the Muslim. It is claimed that the Qur’an was
dictated in Arabic by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad
and were God’s precise words. As such, it had
preexisted from eternity in heaven with God as the "Mother
of the Book" and was in that form uncreated and
co-eternal with God. Islam teaches that it contains
the total and perfect revelation and will of God. The
Qur’an is about four-fifths the length of the
New Testament and is divided into 114 surahs or chapters.
While Islam respects the Torah, the psalms of David,
and the four Gospels, the Qur’an stands alone
in its authority and absoluteness. It is believed to
be most perfectly understood in Arabic and it is a religious
obligation to seek to read and quote it in the original
WHAT ARE THE "FIVE PILLARS"?
They are the framework for
the Muslims’ life and discipline. Successful and
satisfactory adherence to the pillars satisfies the
will of Allah. They form the basis for the Muslim’s
hope for salvation along with faith and belief in Allah’s
existence, the authority of Muhammad as a prophet, and
the finality and perfection of the Qur’an. The
five pillars are:
The confession of Faith
or Shahada: It is the declaration that there is no god
but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. Sincerity in
the voicing of the confession is necessary for it to
be valid. It must be held until death, and repudiation
of the Shahada nullifies hope for salvation.
Prayer of Salat: Five times
a day, preceded by ceremonial washing, the Muslim is
required to pray facing Mecca. Specific formulas recited
from the Qur’an (in Arabic), along with prostrations,
are included. Prayer is, in this sense, an expression
of submission to the will of Allah. While most of Islam
has no hierarchical priesthood, prayers are led in mosques
by respected lay leaders. The five times of prayer are
before sunrise, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and prior
Almsgiving or Zakat: The
Qur’an teaches the giving of two-and-a-half percent
of one’s capital wealth to the poor and/or for
the propagation of Islam. By doing so, the Muslim’s
remaining wealth is purified.
The Fast or Sawm: during
the course of the lunar month of Ramadan, a fast is
to be ob- served by every Muslim from sunrise to sunset.
Nothing is to pass over the lips during this time, and
they should refrain from sexual relations. After sunset,
feasting and other celebrations often occur. The daylight
hours are set aside for self-purification. The month
is used to remember the giving of the Qur’an to
Pilgrimage or Hajj: All
Muslims who are economically and physically able are
required to journey to Mecca at least once in their
lifetime. The required simple pilgrim’s dress
stresses the notion of equality before God. Another
element of the Hajj is the mandatory walk of each pilgrim
seven times around the Kaabah—the shrine of the
black rock, the holiest site of Islam. Muhammad taught
that the Kaabah was the original place of worship for
Adam and later for Abraham. The Kaabah is thus venerated
as the site of true religion, the absolute monotheism
THE DOCTRINES OF ISLAM
God: He is numerically and
absolutely one. Allah is beyond the understanding of
man so that only his will may be revealed and known.
He is confessed as the "merciful and compassionate
Sin: The most serious sin
that can be ascribed to people is that of shirk or considering
god as more than one. Original sin is viewed as a "lapse"
by Adam. Humankind is considered weak and forgetful
but not as fallen.
Angels: Islam affirms the
reality of angels as messengers and agents of god. Evil
spirits or Jinn also exist. Satan is a fallen angel.
Angels perform important functions for Allah both now
and at the end of time.
Final Judgment: The world
will be judged at the end of time by Allah. The good
deeds and obedience of all people to the five pillars
and the Qur’an will serve as the basis of judgment.
Salvation: It is determined
by faith, as defined by Islam, as well as by compiling
good deeds primarily in conformity to the five pillars.
Marriage: Muslims uphold marriage as honorable and condemn
adultery. While many Muslim marriages are monogamous,
Islamic states allow as many as four wives. Men consider
a woman as less than an equal, and while a man has the
right to divorce his wife, the wife has no similar power
(see Surah 2:228, 4:34). Nonetheless, the female has
a right to own and dispose of property. Modesty in dress
is encouraged for both men and women.
War: The term jihad or "struggle"
is often considered as both external and internal, both
a physical and spiritual struggle. The enemies of Islam
or "idolaters," states the Qur’an, may
be slain "wherever you find them" (Surah:5).
(See Surah 47:4). Paradise is promised for those who
die fighting in the cause of Islam (see Surah 3:195,
2:224). Moderate Muslims emphasize the spiritual dimension
of Jihad and not its political element.
ANSWERING MUSLIM OBJECTIONS TO
Christians and Jews are acknowledged as "people
of the book," although their failure to conform
to the confession of Islam labels them as unbelievers.
Following are several questions that Muslims have about
Is the Trinity a belief
in three gods? Christians are monotheistic and believe
that God is one. But both in His work in accomplishing
salvation through the person of Jesus Christ and through
biblical study it has become clear that His oneness
in fact comprises three persons —Father, Son (Jesus
Christ), and the third person of the Godhead, the Holy
Spirit. Mary is not part of the Godhead. The notion
of God, who is three-in-one, is part of both the mystery
and greatness of God. God is in essence one while in
persons three. This truth helps us understand God as
truly personal and having the capacity to relate to
other persons. As well, Christians confirm the holiness,
sovereignty, and greatness of God. How can Jesus be
the Son of God? Scripture affirms that Jesus was conceived
supernaturally by the Holy Spirit and was born of the
Virgin Mary. It does not in any way claim that Jesus
was directly God the Father’s biological and physical
son. It rejects the notion of the Arabic word for son,
walad, meaning physical son, for the word ibin, which
is the title of relationship. Jesus is the Son in a
symbolic manner designating that He was God the Word
who became man in order to save humankind from its sin.
The virgin birth was supernatural as God the Holy Spirit
conceived in Mary, without physical relations, Jesus
the Messiah. In this manner even the Qur’an affirms
the miraculous birth of Christ (see Surah 19:16–21).
Jesus was in this sense "God’s unique Son."
During His earthly ministry He carried out the will
of the Father. Notably the Qur’an affirms Jesus’
supernatural birth, life of miracles, His compassion,
and ascension to heaven (see Surah 19:16–21,29–31,
How could Jesus have died
on the cross especially if He’s God’s son?
The testimony of history and the Injil, or the four
Gospels, is that Jesus died on the cross. If it is understood
that God is love, and that humankind is lost in sin,
then is it not likely that God would have provided a
sacrifice for sin? Jesus is God’s sacrifice for
all the sins of the world and is a bridge from a holy
God to fallen and sinful humans. This truth is revealed
in the Injil, John 3:16. Even the Qur’an states
in Surah 3:55 that "Allah said: O Isa [Jesus],
I am going to terminate [to put to death] the period
of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto
Me." What other way could this concept have any
meaning apart from Jesus’ death for sin and His
subsequent resurrection? Muslims believe that God took
Jesus from the cross and substituted Judas in His place,
or at least someone who looked like Jesus. He was then
taken to heaven where He is alive and from where one
day He will return.
ANSWERING MUSLIMS’ QUESTIONS
TO CHRISTIANS ABOUT ISLAM
What do you think about
the prophet Muhammad? Muhammad was apparently a well-meaning
man who sought to oppose paganism and evil in his day.
While he succeeded in uniting the Arabian Peninsula
and upheld several important virtues, we do not believe
he received a fresh revelation from God. Jesus Christ
fulfilled not only the final prophetic role from God,
but He is the Savior or the world and God the Son. While
Islam believes that some Bible passages refer to Muhammad
(see Deut. 18:18–19; John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7),
that is clearly not the meaning of the texts. Other
passages may help in understanding and interpreting
the previous texts (see Matthew 21:11; Luke 24:19; John
6;14; 7:40; Acts 1:8–16; 7:37).
What is your opinion of
the Qur’an? It is a greatly valued book for the
Muslim. It is not received or believed to be a divine
book by the Christian. The statements of the Qur’an
are accepted only where they agree with the Bible.
What is your opinion about
the five pillars? Salvation is from God and comes only
through the saving work of Jesus Christ. When we put
our faith in Him, we may be saved (see John 3:16–21,31–36).
WITNESSING TO MUSLIMS
Be courteous and loving.
Reflect interest in their
beliefs. Allow them time to articulate their views.
Be acquainted with their
Be willing to examine
passages of the Qur’an concerning their beliefs.
Stick to the cardinal
doctrines of the Christian faith but also take time
to respond to all sincere questions.
Point out the centrality
of the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation.
Stress that because of
Jesus, His cross, and resurrection, one may have the
full assurance of salvation, both now and for eternity
(see 1 John 5:13).
Share the plan of salvation
with the Muslim. Point out that salvation is a gift
and not to be earned.
Pray for th fullness of
the Holy Spirit. Trust Him to provide wisdom and grace.
Be willing to become a
friend and a personal evangelist to Muslims.
Phil Roberts, Director of Interfaith
Evangelism. Copyright 1996 North American Mission Board
of the Southern Baptist Convention, Alpharetta, Georgia.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.