In recent years, Islam has been in the spotlight because of the
heightened tension in the Middle East. This has served to put its
culture under the microscope of world attention. Islam is indeed
a major part of Middle Eastern culture, but it is much more.
The Muslim (var. sp: Moslem)
faith is a major driving force in the lives of many of the
nations in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa. The
impact of this faith on the world has been increasing steadily.
Today, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. In
large part, the Arab-Israel tension can be traced back to the
Not only does Islam collectively
wield a strong sword in world conflict as Muslims threaten war
with Israel, but Islamic sects also threaten even greater unrest
in the fragile Middle East and could be catalysts for greater
conflict. Right-wing Islamic fundamentalists were responsible for
both the takeover of Iran and the assassination of Egyptian
President Anwar el-Sadat.
The vast majority of Muslims,
however, are not of this militant variety. The contrast between
the moderate and progressive Islam of Egypt and the
fundamentalistic and reactionary Islam of Iran is marked. Islam
has had a great deal of positive impact on many countries where
it is a strong force. But positive influence is no reason to
follow any religion with one's life-commitment. One must examine
the teachings of Islam along with one's faith and ascertain what
is true and why.
The very impact of Islam in history also makes it worthy of study
Sir Norman Anderson capsulizes it this way:
The religion of Islam is one of the outstanding phenomena of
history. Within a century of the death of its founder, the Muslim
Empire stretched from Southern France through Spain, North
Africa, the Levant and Central Asia to the confines of China;
and, although Islam has since been virtually expelled from
Western Europe and has lost much of its political power
elsewhere, it has from time to time made notable advances in
Eastern Europe, in Africa, in India, and in Southeast Asia. Today
it extends from the Atlantic to the Philip-pines and numbers some
three hundred million adherents drawn from races as different as
the European from the Bantu, and the Aryan Indian from the
primitive Philippine tribesmen; yet it is still possible to speak
of the "World of Islam" (Sir Norman Anderson, ed., The
World's Religions, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1976, p. 52).
Today, there are an estimated 450 million members of Islam which
dominate more than three dozen countries on three continents. The
word Islam is a noun which is formed from the Arabic verb meaning
"to submit, surrender or commit oneself". Islam means
submission or surrender, and with the translation comes the idea
of action, not simple stagnation. The very act of submissive
commitment is at the heart of Islam, not simply a passive
acceptance and surrender to doctrine. Muslim, another noun form
of the same verb, means "the one who submits".
History of Islam
The early history of Islam revolves around one central figure,
Muhammad (var. sp: Muhammed, Mohammed). Although the teaching of
Islam is an interesting mixture of different religions, the
origin of the faith is found historically in the one person of
Born around 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca in Arabia, Muhammad's
father died before his birth. His mother died when he was six. He
was raised first by his grandfather and later by his uncle.
Muhammad's early background is not well known. Some scholars
believe he came from a well-respected family, but this is not
certain. What is clear is that he was of the Hashimite clan of
the Al Qu'raysh tribe. At the age of 25, he married a wealthy
40-year-old widow named Khadijah. Of his life Anderson relates:
There is evidence in a tradition which can scarcely have been
fabricated that Muhammad suffered in early life from fits. Be
that as it may, the adult Muhammad soon showed signs of a
markedly religious disposition. He would retire to caves for
seclusion and meditation; he frequently practiced fasting; and he
was prone to dreams. Profoundly dissatisfied with the polytheism
and crude superstitions of his native Mecca, he appears to have
become passionately convinced of the existence and transcendence
of one true God. How much of this conviction he owed to
Christianity or Judaism it seems impossible to determine.
Monophysite Christianity was at that time widely spread in the
Arab Kingdom of Ghassan; the Byzantine Church was represented by
hermits dotted about the Hijaz with whom he may well have come
into contact; the Nestorians were established at al Hira and in
Persia; and the Jews were strongly represented in al Madina, the
Yemen and elsewhere. There can be no manner of doubt, moreover,
that at some period of his life he absorbed much teaching from
Talmudic sources and had contact with some form of Christianity;
and it seems overwhelmingly probable that his early adoption of
monotheism can be traced to one or both of these influences
(Ibid., p. 54).
The character of Muhammad was quite a mosaic, as Anderson
For the rest, his character seems, like that of many another, to
have been a strange mixture. He was a poet rather than a
theologian: a master improvisor rather than a systematic thinker.
That he was in the main simple in his tastes and kindly in his
disposition there can be no doubt; he was generous, resolute,
genial and astute: a shrewd judge and a born leader of men. He
could, however, be cruel and vindictive to his enemies; he could
stoop to assassination; and he was undeniably sensual (Ibid., p.
Robert Payne also brings this out in his book, The Holy Sword:
It is worthwhile to pause for a moment before the quite
astonishing polarity of Muhammad's mind. Violence and gentleness
were at war within him. Sometimes he gives the appearance of
living simultaneously in two worlds, at one and the same moment
seeing the world about to be destroyed by the flames of God and
in a state of divine peace; and he seems to hold these opposing
visions only at the cost of an overwhelming sense of strain.
Sometimes the spring snaps, and we see him gazing with a look of
bafflement at the world around him, which is neither the world in
flames nor the world in a state of blessedness, but the ordinary
day-to-day world in which he was rarely at home (Robert Payne,
The Holy Sword, New York: Collier Books, 1962, p. 84).
As Muhammad grew, his views changed. He came to believe in only
one God, Allah, a monotheistic faith. He rejected the idolatrous
polytheism of those around him. By the age of 40, the now
religious Muhammad had his first vision. These revelations are
what are recorded in the Quram (Koran).
Muhammad was at first unsure of
the source of these visions, whether divine or demonic. His wife,
Khadijah, encouraged him to believe they had come from God. Later
she became his first convert. However, his most important early
convert was a wealthy merchant named Abu Bakr, who eventually
became one of his successors.
The Cambridge History of Islam comments on Muhammad's
Either in the course of the visions or shortly afterwards,
Muhammad began to receive "messages" or
"revelations" from God. Sometimes he may have heard the
words being spoken to him, but for the most part he seems simply
to have "found them in his heart!' Whatever the precise
"manner of revelation"-- and several different
"manners" were listed by Muslim scholars -the important
point is that the message was not the product of Muhammad's
conscious mind. He believed that he could easily distinguish
between his own thinking and these revelations.
The messages which thus came to
Muhammad from beyond his conscious mind were at first fairly
short, and consisted of short verses ending in a common rhyme or
assonance. They were committed to memory by Muhammad and his
followers, and recited as part of their common worship. Muhammad
continued to receive the messages at intervals until his death.
In his closing years the revelations tended to be longer, to have
much longer verses and to deal with the affairs of the community
of Muslims at Medina. All, or at least many, of the revelations
were probably written down during Muhammad's lifetime by his
secretaries (P.M. Holt, ed., The Cambridge History of Islam, Vol.
II, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 31, 32).
Alfred Guillaume states:
Now if we look at the accounts of his call, as recorded by the
early biographers, some very interesting parallels with Hebrew
prophets come to light. They say that it was his habit to leave
the haunts of men and retire to the mountains to give himself up
to prayer and meditation. One night as he was asleep the angel
Gabriel came to him with a piece of silk brocade whereon words
were written, and said "Recite!" He answered "What
shall I recite?" The order was repeated three times, while
he felt continually increasing physical pressure, until the angel
Recite in the name of thy Lord
who created Man from blood coagulated. Recite! Thy Lord is
wondrous kind Who by the pen has taught mankind Things they knew
not (being blind).
When he woke these words seemed
to be written on his heart (or, as we should say, impressed
indelibly on his mind). Then the thought came to him that he must
be a shair or possessed, he who had so hated such people
that he could not bear the sight of them; and he could not
tolerate the thought that his tribesmen would regard him as one
of them-as in fact they afterwards did. Thereupon he left the
place with the intention of throwing himself over a precipice.
But while on his way he heard a voice from heaven hailing him as
the Apostle of God, and lifting up his eyes he saw a figure
astride the horizon which turned him from his purpose and kept
him rooted to the spot. And there he remained long after his
anxious wife's messengers had returned to report that they could
not find him (Alfred Guillaume, Islam, London: Penguin Books,
1954, pp. 28, 29).
Sir Norman Anderson discusses how Muhammad at first thought he
was possessed by the demons, or Jinn, as they were called, but
later dismissed the idea:
It seems, however, that Muhammed himself was at first doubtful of
the source of these revelations, fearing that he was possessed by
one of the Jinn, or sprites, as was commonly believed to be the
case with Arab poets and soothsayers. But Khadijah and others
reassured him, and he soon began to propound divine revelations
with increasing frequency (Anderson, op. cit., p. 55).
These visions mark the start of Muhammed's prophetic call by
Allah. Muhammed received these visions during the following 22
years, until his death in 632 A.D.
The new faith encountered opposition in Muhammed's home town of
Mecca. Because of his rejection in Mecca and the ostracism of his
views, Muhammed and followers withdrew to the city now known as
Medina, which means in full, "City of the Prophet,"
renamed from its original Yathrib.
The Hijira, which means
"flight," marks the turning point in Islam. All Islamic
calendars mark this date, July 16, 622, as their beginning. Thus,
630 A.D. would be 8 A.H. (in the year of the Hijira).
In his early years in Medina,
Muhammed was sympathetic to both the Jews and Christians as well.
But they rejected him and his teaching. Upon that rejection,
Muhammed turned from Jerusalem as the center of worship of Islam,
to Mecca, where the famous black stone Ka'aba was enshrined.
Muhammed denounced all the idols which surrounded the Ka'aba and
declared it was a shrine for the one true God, Allah.
With this new emphasis on Mecca,
Muhammed realized he must soon return to his home. The rejected
prophet did return in triumph, conquering the city.
John B. Noss details some of Muhammed's actions upon his return
One of his first acts was to go reverently to the Kaaba; yet he
showed no signs of yielding to the ancient Meccan polytheism.
After honoring the Black Stone and riding seven times around the
shrine, he ordered the destruction of the idols within it and the
scraping of the paintings of Abraham and the angels from the
walls. He sanctioned the use of the well Zamzam and restored the
boundary pillars defining the sacred territory around Mecca.
Thenceforth no Muslim would have cause to hesitate about going on
a pilgrimage io the ancient holy city.
Muhammed now made sure of his
political and prophetic ascendency in Arabia. Active opponents
near at hand were conquered by the sword, and tribes far away
were invited sternly to send delegations offering their
allegience. Before his sudden death in 632 he knew he was well on
the way to unifying the Arab tribes under a theocracy governed by
the will of God (John B. Noss, Man's Religions, New York:
MacMillan Publishing Company Inc., 1974, p. 517).
Between the return to Mecca and Muhammad's death, the prophet
zealously and militantly propagated Islam, and the new faith
quickly spread throughout the area.
After Muhammad's Death
When Muhammad died he had not written a will instructing the
leadership in Islam about determining his successor. Sir Norman
Muhammad died, according to the best-supported view, without
having designated any successor (Khalifa or Caliph). As the last
and greatest of the Prophets he could not, of course, be
replaced. But the community he had founded was a theocracy with
no distinction between Church and State, and someone must clearly
succeed, not to give but to enforce the law, to lead in war and
to guide in peace. It was common ground, therefore, that a Caliph
must be appointed: and in the event 'Umar ibn al Khattab (himself
the second Caliph) succeeded in rushing the election of the aged
Abu Bakr, one of the very first believers. But the question of
the Caliphate was to cause more divisions and bloodshed than any
other issue in Islam, and almost from the first three rival
parties, in embryo at least, can be discerned. There were the
Companions of the Prophet, who believed in the eligibility of any
suitable "Early Believer" of the tribe of Quraysh;
there was the aristocracy of Mecca, who wished to capture the
Caliphate for the family of Umayya; and there were the
"legitimists," who believed that no election was
needed, but that 'Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet,
had been divinely designated as his successor (Anderson, op cit.,
Abu Bakr died less than two years after his designation as
Caliph. Upon his death, 'Umar became successor, and under him the
borders of the Islamic empire were considerably expanded.
Eventually a power struggle developed as different factions
believed their own methods of establishing a successor were
better than their rivals. The major eruption came between those
who believed the Caliph should be elected by the Islamic
leadership and those who believed the successor should be
hereditary, through Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, married to his
only daughter, Fatima. This struggle, along with others, produced
the main body of Islam known as the Sunnis (followers of the
prophet's way) as well as numerous sects.
Along with the Caliphate controversy, conflict raged on another
front, that of law and theology. Through this conflict eventually
four recognized, orthodox schools of Islamic thought emerged. All
four schools accepted the Quran (Koran), the Sunna, or the
practice of the Prophet as expressed in the Hadith (traditions)
and the four bases of Islamic Law (Sharia): the Quran,
the Hadith, the Ij'ma' (consensus of the Muslim community) and
the Qyas (use of analogical reason). These four groups came
to be called the Sunnis.
The rapid expansion of Islam confronted Muslims with other
crucial, and even more complex, decisions concerning Muslim
behavior. Situations early appeared in areas outside of Arabia
where the injunctions of the Quran proved either
insufficient or inapplicable. The natural first step in these
cases was to appeal to the sunna (the behavior or practice) of
Muhammad in Medina or to the Hadith that reported his spoken
decisions or judgments. In the event that this proved
inconclusive, the next step was to ask what the sunna and/or
consensus of opinion (Ijm_) of the Medina community was, in or
shortly after the time of Muhammad. If no light was yet
obtainable, the only recourse was either to draw an analogy
(Qiy_s) from the principles embodied in the Qur'an or in Medinan
precedents and then apply it, or to follow the consensus of
opinion of the local Muslim community as crystallized and
expressed by its Qur'anic authorities.
The Muslims who took this way of solving their behavioral
problems were, and are to this day, called Sunnites (Noss, op.
cit., p. 530).
The Majority of Islam today is Sunni.
The fourth Caliph to follow Muhammed was an early convert and
also his son-in-law, Ali. He was eventually murdered by Muawiya,
who claimed the Caliphate for himself.
The tragedy that befell the House of Al _, beginning with
the murder of Al _ himself and including the deaths of his
two sons, grandsons of Muhammad, has haunted the lives of
"the party (Shia) of 'Al _ " They have brooded
upon these dark happenings down the years as Christians do upon
the death of Jesus. A major heretical group, they have drawn the
censure and yet also have had the sympathy of the Sunnis and
Sufis. They were among the sects whose radical elements
al-Ghaz_li attacked as guilty of resting their claims on false
grounds and sinfully dividing Islam. And yet, although agreeing
with this indictment, the Muslim world at large has suppressed
its annoyance at them, because their movement goes back to the
very beginnings of Islam and has a kind of perverse
justification, even in orthodox eyes. Their critics agree that
there is little sense in it, yet it has an appeal of its own.
The partisans of 'Al _ only
gradually worked out the final claims made by the various Shiite
sects. In the beginning there was simply the assertion-which as
events unfolded became more and more heated -that only Muhammad's
direct descendants, no others, could be legitimate caliphs; only
they should have been given first place in the leadership of
Islam. This "legitimism" could be called their
political and dynastic claim, and at first this seems to have
been all that they were interested in claiming. But this was not
enough for adherents of their cause in Iraq, who over the years
developed the religious theory, perhaps as an effect of Christian
theories about God being in Christ, that every legitimate leader
of the 'Alids, beginning with 'Al _ , was an im_m m_hdi, a
divinely appointed and supernaturally guided spiritual leader,
endowed by Allah with special knowledge and insight -an assertion
that the main body of Muslims, significantly enough called
ghuluw, "exaggeration," rather than heresy (Noss, op.
cit., p. 540).
Today, the Shi'ites completely dominate Iran; their most
prominent present leader is the Ayatollah Khoumeni.
In any strong, legalistic, religious system, worship can become
mechanical and be exercised by rote, and God can become
transcendent. Such an impersonal religion often motivates people
to react. Such is the case with Islam, as the Sufis, the most
well-known Islamic mystics, have arisen in response to orthodox
Islam and to the often loose and secularist view of Islamic
leadership during some of its early days under the Ummayad and
Despite the claims of the Law, another aspect of Islam has been
almost equally important for the rank and file of the faithful
-this is Siffism: mysticism, as it is usually translated.
The S_fis are those Muslims who have most sought for direct
personal experience of the Divine. While some of them have been
legalists of the most fundamentalist stamp, their emphasis on
direct religious experience has more often led the is into
tension with the legalists, and their attitude toward the Law has
ranged from patronizing irony to outright hostility (John Alden
Williams, Islam, New York: George Braziller, 1962, p. 136).
Describing the emergence of the Sufis, Noss states:
Millions of Muslims had within themselves the natural human need
to feel their religion as a personal and emotional experience.
Islam had no priests, then Or now, ordained and set apart for a
life dedicated to the worship of God and the pursuit of holiness,
and yet everyone knew that Muhammad had been a true man of God,
wholly dedicated to his mission, who in the period before the
revelations came had retired at times from the world to meditate
in a cave. It was thus that he had become an instrument of God's
It was the popular yearning for
the presence among them of unworldly men dedicated to God,
asceticism, and holiness that encouraged the eventual emergence
of Islamic mysticism (Noss, op. cit., p. 535).
The S_fis exist today and probably are best known through their
Dervish Orders (e.g., "the whirling Dervish").
There are many other sects and divergent groups among Islam, too
numerous to detail here. One might mention that the Bahai
Faith, although significantly different from Islam today, had its
roots in Islam.
The rise of Israel as a prominent power has brought renewal to a
once anemic Islamic faith. Nationalism, coupled with the Islamic
faith, has served as a raison detat for many in the Arab
world as they stand against Israel, their enemy. At various times
in the recent past, Arab alliances have been conceived, discussed
and then have died. There was the United Arab Republic and later
an alliance discussed between Egypt, Libya and Syria.
The spectacular success of the Arab Muslims in establishing an
empire by means of a small number of campaigns against the great
powers of the day has never ceased to stimulate the wonderment
and the admiration of the Muslim world and Western scholarship
(G.E. von Grunebaum, Modern Islam, Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1962, p. 1).
It is not surprising that the Islamic world has caught the fever
of nationalism that is raging everywhere among the peoples of
Asia and Africa. The special intensity and vigour of Islamic, and
especially Arab, nationalism springs from a complex of causes
-memories of past splendour, resentment over Muslim weakness and
Christian strength, above all that obscure sense of malaise, the
feeling that in some way history has gone awry that somehow the
purposes of God are not being fulfilled as the Muslim has a right
The achievements of the post-war period have been considerable.
Egyptian self-assertion has made the Middle East one of the chief
problem areas in the world. Libya became independent after the
war. Morocco and Tunis have since won their independence. In
Algeria the story of detachment from France was long and painful.
But here too, in 1962, the goal of total independence was
attained. And so the story goes on (Stephen Neill, Christian
Faith and Other Faiths, London: Oxford University Press, 1970,
pp. 43, 44.
However, much of this discussion has been quelled with the Camp
David accords which saw peace rise out of the Middle East between
Israel and Egypt. Yet on another front, committed Islamic
fundamentalists have drawn world attention to Iran, and also in
Egypt where they allegedly assassinated President Anwar Sadat.
Nationalism is a strong sweeping movement in nations with
majority Muslim populations.
In addition, secularism has
increased as the practices of the West infiltrate nations. Some
of these Western transfusions have been sudden many Arab
countries are accumulating new and previously unknown wealth in
the form of petro-dollars. However, the secularism has also had a
backlash effect as many of the Muslim countries, in an attempt to
preserve their identity, are holding the line on imported Western
customs. Since Islam embraces not only religion but also culture,
the future of the faith will be very much dependent on the state
of the nations it thrives in today. With Arab nations prospering,
this could turn out to be both a curse and a blessing to the
Islamic faith. It may be good for its culture, but its faith
could be seriously compromised.
Islam is a rapidly spreading religion for several reasons. It is
the state religion of Moslem countries and this gives it a strong
cultural and political base. It has the appeal of a universal
message because of its simple creed and tenets. Anyone can enter
the Ummah, the community of faithful Muslims. There are no racial
barriers and thus it spreads quickly among the black communities
of Africa, and more recently, of America. Its five doctrines and
five pillars can be easily communicated. In the West it is making
appeals to the universal brotherhood of man, world peace,
temperance, and the uplifting of women (Kenneth Boa, Cults, World
Religions, and You, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1977, p. 56).
The supremacy of Islam in the political and social (as well as
religious) arenas is exemplified by the following quote from the
Believers, have fear of Allah and stand with those who uphold the
cause of truth. No cause have the people of Medina and the desert
Arabs who dwell around them to forsake Allahs apostle or to
jeopardize his life so as to safeguard their own; for they do not
expose themselves to thirst or hunger or to any ordeal on account
of the cause of Allah, nor do they stir a step which may provoke
the unbelievers. Each loss they suffer at the enemy's hands shall
be counted as a good deed in the sight of Allah: He will not deny
the righteous of their recompense. Each sum they give, be it
small or large, and each journey they undertake, shall be noted
down, so that Allah may requite them for their noblest deeds.
It is not right that all the
faithful should go to war at once. A band from each community
should stay behind to instruct themselves in religion and
admonish their men when they return, so that they may take heed.
Believers, make war on the
infidels who dwell around you. Deal courteously with them. Know
that Allah is with the righteous (N.J. Dawood, trans., The Koran,
London: Penguin Books, 1956, p. 333).
The Teachings of Islam
Faith and Duty
The teachings of Islam are comprised both of faith (imam) and
practice or duty (din). Sir Norman Anderson explains:
The faith and practice of Islam are governed by the two great
branches of Muslim learning, theology and jurisprudence, to both
of which some reference has already been made. Muslim theology
(usually called "Tawhid" from its central doctrine of
the Unity of the Godhead) defines all that a man should believe,
while the law (Sharia) prescribes everything that he should
do. There is no priesthood and no sacraments. Except among the
Sufis, Islam knows only exhortation and instruction from those
who consider themselves, or are considered by others, adequately
learned in theology or law.
Unlike any other system in the
world today the Sharia embraces every detail of human life,
from the prohibition of crime to the use of the toothpick, and
from the organization of the State to the most sacred intimacies
-or unsavoury aberrations - of family life. It is "the
science of all things, human and divine;' and divides all actions
into what is obligatory or enjoined, what is praiseworthy or
recommended, what is permitted or legally indifferent, what is
disliked or deprecated, and what is forbidden (Anderson, op.
cit., p. 78).
These practices are mainly true of Sunni Islam, not of the
The Law: Sharia
Islamic law (Sharia) plays a central role in all Islamic
culture. The structure of the law is that civil law rather than
common law is generally practiced in England and the United
It must be emphasized that the Sharia has been central to
The most important and fundamental religious concept of Islam is
that of the sharia which literally means a "path to
the watering place" but in its religious application means
the total way of life as explicitly or implicitly commanded by
God. The word has been used in the Koran, which sometimes
suggests that different religions have different shari'as but at
other times that all religions have fundamentally one sharia.
The concept as formulated by
Muslim religious teachers, includes both the doctrine or belief,
and practice or the law. But historically the formulation and
systemization of the law took place earlier than the
crystallization of the formal theology. This, as shown below, had
far-reaching consequences for the future development of Islam
(Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Islam," Chicago:
William Benton Publishing Company, 1967, p. 664).
The controversy surrounding the law and theology and the fourfold
division of the Sharia led to the formulation and
distinction of the Sunni and Shi'ite sects in Islam. Guillaume
In Chapter 5 a sketch of the sources of Muslim law and of the
formation of the four main schools has been given. In certain
countries certain matters have been taken out of the purview of
the shari'a and now come within the scope of secular courts; but,
broadly speaking, no change comparable with that which has taken
and is taking place in Islamic countries today has been seen
within Islam for a thousand years or more. Turkey, as everyone
knows, has abolished the sharia altogether. Officially it
is a secular State, though actually the influence of Islam on the
population, especially in Asia, is very considerable, and shows
signs of becoming stronger under the new democratic government.
In a series of articles in The Moslem World and elsewhere my
colleague, Mr. J.N.D. Anderson, has shown how in the Arab
countries, too, the sharia is undergoing revision. Egypt,
the Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are all on the move.
The changes which are being made illustrate how a definite
attempt to relate the sharia to the conditions of modern
life and to a more liberal view of human relations is being
realized in positive legislation (Guillaume, op. cit., pp. 166,
He then comments on one of the differences of the Shi'ites and
In theory, the Shi'ite conception of the supreme authority in law
is utterly different from that of the Sunnis, though in practice
the difference does not amount to very much. They reject the four
schools and the doctrine of ijma because their Hidden Imam has
the sole right of determining what the believer shall do and
believe. Therefore their duly accredited doctors can still
exercise the power of ijtihah or personal opinion. This power the
Sunnis lost a thousand years ago or more (Guillaume, op. cit., p.
The basis for Islamic doctrine is found in the Quran
(Koran). Boa describes the central place of the Quran in
the Islamic faith as well as the supplementary works:
The Koran is the authoritative scripture of Islam. About
four-fifths the length of the New Testament, it is divided into
114 surahs (chapters). Parts were written by Mohammed, and the
rest, based on his oral teaching, was written from memory by his
disciples after Mohammed's death.
Over the years a number of
additional sayings of Mohammed and his early disciples were
compiled. These comprise the Hadith ("tradition"), the
sayings of which are called sunna ("custom"). The
Hadith supplements the Koran much as the Talmud supplements the
Law in Judaism (Kenneth Boa, op. cit., p. 52).
The Quran is the Word of God in Islam, the holy scriptures.
As the authoritative scripture, it is the main guide for all
matters of faith and practice. The Quran was revealed to
Muhammad as the Word of God for mankind.
Other revelations include the
Torat (of Moses), the Suhuf (books of the prophets), Zabur
(psalms of David), Injil (gospel of Jesus). The Quran
supercedes all other revelations and is the only one of which we
still have the original text. All of the others have been
corrupted, almost beyond recognition.
Islam, for example, would not
consider our New Testament to be the Injil (gospel of Jesus). It
is not the words of Jesus, it is others' words about Jesus. His
original words have been corrupted and many have been lost. Only
the Quran is infallible. Muhammad and the Quran are
that which Islam is to follow.
It is well known that at many points the Quran does not
agree with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Therefore, from
the Muslim point of view, it follows of necessity that these
Scriptures must have been corrupted. Historical evidence makes no
impression on the crushing force of the syllogism. So it is, and
it can be no other way. The Muslim controversialist feels no need
to study evidence in detail. The only valid picture of Jesus
Christ is that which is to be found in the pages of the Quran
(Stephen Neill, op. cit., p. 64).
The Qur'an is comprised of 114 surahs, or chapters, all
attributed to Muhammad. The surahs are arranged in the Quran
by length - the longer in front, the shorter in back.
For the Muslims, the Koran (q.v) is the Word of God, confirming
and consummating earlier revealed books and thereby replacing
them; its instrument or agent of revelation is the Prophet
Mohammed, the last and most perfect of a series of messengers of
God to mankind -from Adam through Abraham to Moses and Jesus, the
Christian claims for whose divinity are strongly rejected.
Indeed there is no people to whom a prophet has not come.
Although Mohammed is only a human creature of God, he has
nevertheless an unequaled importance in the Koran itself which
sets him only next to God as deserving of moral and legal
obedience. Hence, his sayings and deeds (Sunna) served as a
second basis, besides the Koran, of the belief and practice of
The Koran (which, for the Muslim,
is the miracle par excellence of Mohammed, unsurpassable in form
as well as in content) is a forceful document basically
expressing an élan of religious and social justice. The early
chapters (surahs) of the Koran, reflecting Mohammed's grim
struggle against the Meccans, are characterized by grave warnings
of the imminent judgment, while the later surahs, of the Medina
period, are chiefly directed to regulating the internal and
external affairs of the young Muslim community-state, besides
narrating the stories of the earlier prophets.
The koranic theology is
rigorously monotheistic: God is absolutely unique "there is
nothing like him"-- omnipotent, omniscient, merciful. Men
are exhorted to obey his will (i.e., to be Muslim) as is
necessarily done by all inorganic objects. Special responsibility
is laid on man who willingly, although with his
characteristically foolish pride, accepted "the trust."
refused by all creation. Besides human beings and angels, the
Koran speaks of the jinn, both good and evil, to whom sometimes
the devil is represented as belonging (Encyclopedia Britannica,
op. cit., p. 663).
In modern times, the Quran has faced many of the same
dilemmas as the Bible. A major issue is the inspiration of the
Quran. Islamic scholars do not agree as a whole on how the
Quran came to be true or how much is true, although
conservative Islamic scholars accept it all as literally true.
John Alden Williams comments:
The Quran, then, is the Word of God, for Muslims. While
controversies have raged among them as to the sense in which this
is true -whether it is the created or uncreated Word, whether it
is true of every Arabic letter or only of the message as a whole,
that it is true has never been questioned by them (John Alden
Williams, op. cit., p. 15).
The Quran was revealed and written in the Arabic language.
Because of this, and the fact it was revealed by God, Muslims
deplore translations of the Quran into other languages.
There is, then, no authoritative translation for the Quran.
Anyone familiar with the reading of translations of any work
would be sympathetic to this demand. However, as rich as Arabic
is, the translations still provide a close original which can and
must be evaluated for its validity, not simply its reliability.
The Quran came into written form shortly after Muhammad's
All the sûrahs of the Koran had been recorded in writing before
the Prophet's death, and many Muslims had committed the whole
Koran to memory. But the written sûrahs were dispersed among the
people; and when, in a battle which took place during the
Caliphate of Abû Bakr-that is to say, within two years of the
Prophet's death - a large number of those who knew the whole
Koran by heart were killed, a collection of the whole Koran was
made and put in writing. In the Caliphate of Othmân, all
existing copies of sûahs were called in, and an authoritative
version, based on Abû Bakr's collection and the testimony of
those who had the whole Koran by heart, was compiled exactly in
the present form and order, which is regarded as traditional and
as the arrangement of the Prophet himself, the Caliph Othmân and
his helpers being Comrades of the Prophet and the most devout
students of the Revelation. The Koran has thus been very
carefully preserved (Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The
Meaning of the Glorious Koran, New York: Mentor Books, n.d., p.
On the origin of the Qur'an, Guillaume comments:
From the books of tradition we learn that the prophet was subject
to ecstatic seizures. He is reported to have said that when
inspiration came to him he felt as it were the painful sounding
of a bell. Even in cold weather his forehead was bathed in sweat.
On one occasion he called to his wife to wrap him in a veil. At
other times visions came to him in sleep. Religious ecstasy is a
worldwide phenomenon in one stage of human society, and in its
early stages Muhammad's verses were couched in the Semitic form
of mantic oracular utterance. The veiling of the head and the use
of rhymed prose were marks of the Arabian soothsayer, while the
feeling of physical violence and compulsion, and the outward
appearance of "possession' which seemed to the onlookers to
indicates madness or demonic possession were sometimes recorded
by, or observed in, the Hebrew prophets.
The Qur'an as we have it now is a
record of what Muhammad said while in the state or states just
mentioned. It is beyond doubt that his hearers recognized the
symptoms of revelation, otherwise his obiter dicta which the
literature of tradition purports to record would be included in
the Quran (Guillaume, op. cit., p. 56).
Five Articles of Faith
The five articles of faith are the main doctrines of Islam. All
Muslims are expected to believe these tenets.
1. God. There is only one true God and his name is Allah. Allah
is all-knowing, all-powerful and the sovereign judge. Yet Allah
is not a personal God, for he is so far above man in every way
that he is not personally knowable. Noss states:
In the famous Muslim creedal formula the first part reads: l_
il_ha illa All_h, "(There is) no god but God". This is
the most important article in Muslim theology. No statement about
God seemed to Muhammad more fundamental than the declaration that
God is one, and no sin seemed to him so unpardonable as
associating another being with God on terms of equality. God
stands alone and supreme. He existed before any other being or
thing, is self-subsistent, omniscient, omnipotent
("all-seeing, all-hearing, all-willing"). He is the
creator, and in the awful day of judgment he is the sole arbiter
who shall save the believer out of the dissolution of the world
and place him in paradise (Noss, op. cit., p. 517).
This doctrine, which makes God different from His creatures, is
strong in Islam. Allah is so different that it makes it (1)
difficult to really know very much about him, and (2) unlikely
that he is affected by his creatures' attitudes or actions.
Although Allah is said to be loving, this aspect of his nature is
almost ignored, and his supreme attribute of justice is thought
to overrule love (Anderson, op. cit., p. 79).
The emphasis of the God of Islam is on judgment, not grace; on
power, not mercy. He is the source of both good and evil and his
will is supreme.
2. Angels. The existence of
angels is fundamental to Islamic teaching. Gabriel, the leading
angel, appeared to Muhammad and was instrumental in delivering
the revelations in the Quran to Muhammad. Al Shaytan is the
devil and most likely a fallen angel or jinn. Jinn are those
creatures between angels and men which can be either good or
Angels do not perform any bodily
functions (sexual, eating, etc.) as they are created of light.
All angels have different purposes, such as Gabriel, or Jibril,
who is the messenger of inspiration. Each man or woman also has
two recording angels - one who records his good deeds, the other,
his bad deeds.
3. Scripture. There are four
inspired books in the Islamic faith. They are the Torah of Moses,
the Psalms (Zabin) of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Injil)
and the Quran. Muslims believe the former three books have
been corrupted by Jews and Christians. Also, since the Quran
is god's most recent and final word to man, it supercedes all the
4. Prophets. In Islam God has
spoken through numerous prophets down through the centuries. The
six greatest are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
Muhammad is the last and greatest of all Allah's messengers.
5. Last Days. The last day will
be a time of resurrection and judgment. Those who follow and obey
Allah and Muhammad will go to Islamic heaven, called Paradise, a
place of pleasure. Those who oppose them will be tormented in
The last day (the resurrection and the judgment) figures
prominently in Muslim thought. The day and hour is a secret to
all, but there are to be twenty-five signs of its approach. All
men will then be raised; the books kept by the recording angels
will be opened; and God as judge will weigh each mans deeds
in the balances. Some will be admitted to Paradise, where they
will recline on soft couches quaffing cups of wine handed them by
the Huris, or maidens of Paradise, of whom each man may marry as
many as he pleases; others will be consigned to the torments of
Hell. Almost all, it would seem, will have to enter the fire
temporarily, but no true Muslim will remain there forever
(Anderson, op. cit., p. 81).
Finally there is a sixth article of faith which is considered by
many to belong to the five doctrines. Whether this is one of the
articles or not, it is a central teaching of Islam -the belief in
God's decrees or Kismet, the doctrine of fate. This is a very
rigid view of predestination that states all good or evil
proceeds from divine will.
This strong fatalism has played a central role in Muslim culture.
"To this the lethargy and lack of progress which, until
recently at least, has for centuries characterized Muslim
countries, can be partially attributed" (Anderson, op. cit.,
p. 82). From this concept comes the most common Islamic phrase,
roughly translated, "It is Allah's will."
Five Pillars of Faith
Besides the five major beliefs or doctrines in Islam, there are
also "five pillars of faith". These are observances in
Islam which are foundational practices or duties every Muslim
must observe. The five are: The Creed, Prayers, Almsgiving,
Fasting and the Pilgrimage to Mecca.
1. The Creed. (Kalima).
"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of
Allah," is the bedrock of Muslim belief. One must state this
aloud publicly in order to become a Muslim. It is repeated
constantly by the faithful.
2. Prayer (Salat). Prayer as
ritual is central to a devout Muslim. Boa comments:
The practice of prayer (salat) five times a day (upon rising, at
noon, in mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before retiring). The
worshipper must recite the prescribed prayers (the first surah
and other selections from the Koran) in Arabic while facing the
Kaaba in Mecca. The Hadith (book of tradition) has turned these
prayers into a mechanical procedure of standing, kneeling, hands
and face on the ground, and so forth. The call to prayer is
sounded by the muezzin (a Muslim crier) from a tower called a
minaret which is part of the mosque (the place of public worship)
(Boa, op. cit., p. 53).
3. Almsgiving (Zakat). Muhammad, himself an orphan, had a strong
desire to help the needy. The alms originally were voluntary, but
all Muslims are legally required to give one-fortieth of their
income for the destitute. There are other rules and regulations
for produce, cattle, etc. Freewill offerings also can be
Since those to whom alms are given are helping the giver to
salvation, they feel no sense of debt to the giver. On the
contrary, it is the giver's responsibility and duty to give and
he should consider himself lucky he has someone to give to.
4. Fasting (Ramadan). Faithful
Muslims fast from sunup to sundown each day during this holy
month. The fast develops self-control, devotion to God and
identity with the destitute. No food or drink may be consumed
during the daylight hours; no smoking or sexual pleasures may be
enjoyed, either. Many Muslims eat two meals a day during Ramadan,
one before sunrise and one shortly after sunset.
5. The Pilgrimage (Hajj). The
pilgrimage is expected of all Muslims at least once in their
lifetimes. It can be extremely arduous on the old or infirm, so
in their cases they may send someone in their places. The trip is
an essential part in Muslims' gaining salvation. It involves a
set of ceremonies and rituals, many of which center around the
Ka!aba shrine, to which the pilgrimage is directed. Of the Kaaba,
Muhammad M. Pickthall comments in The Meaning of the Glorious
The Meccans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael, and
tradition stated that their temple, the Ka'aba, had been built by
Abraham for the worship of the One God. It was still called the
House of Allah, but the chief objects of worship there were a
number of idols which were called daughters of Allah and
intercessors (Pickthall, op. cit., p. ix).
The idols were destroyed by Muhammad on his return to Mecca in
power following the Hijira (exile).
When the pilgrim is about six miles from the holy city, he enters
upon the state of ihram: he casts off, after prayers, his
ordinary clothes and puts on two seamless garments; he walks
almost barefooted and neither shaves, cuts his hair nor cuts his
nails. The principle activity consists of a visit to the Sacred
mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram); the kissing of the Black Stone
(al-Hajar al-Aswad); seven circurnambulations of the Kaaba
three times running and four times slowly; the visit to the
sacred stone called Maqam Ibrahim; the ascent of and running
between Mt. Safa and Mt. Marwa seven times; the visit to Mt.
Arafat; the hearing of a sermon there and spending the night at
Muzdalifa; the throwing of stones at the three pillars at Mina
and offering sacrifice on the last day of Ihram, which is the 'id
of sacrifice (Id al-Adha) (Encyclopedia Britannica, op.
cit., p. 664).
This Muslim pilgrimage serves to heighten and solidify Islamic
There is a sixth religious duty associated with the five pillars.
This is Jihad, the Holy War. This duty requires that when the
situation warrants, men are required to go to war to spread Islam
or defend it against infidels. One who dies in a Jihad is
guaranteed eternal life in Paradise (heaven).
Islam, like Judaism, is both a religion and a cultural identity
which cannot be separated from the people. In many countries the
Islamic faith, though not strictly practiced, is woven into the
web of society at every facet.
The Cambridge History of Islam comments on this phenomenon:
Islam is a religion. It is also, inseparably from this, a
community, a civilization and a culture. It is true that many of
the countries through which the Qur'anic faith spread already
possessed ancient and important cultures. Islam absorbed these
cultures, and assimilated itself to them in various ways, to a
far greater extent than it attempted to supplant them. But in
doing this, it provided them with attributes in common, with a
common attitude toward God, to men and to the world, and thus
ensured, through the diversities of language, of history and of
race, the complex unity of the d_r al-Isl_m, the
"house" or "world" of Islam.
The history of the Muslim peoples
and countries is thus a unique example of a culture with a
religious foundation, uniting the spiritual and the temporal,
sometimes existing side by side with "secular"
cultures, but most often absorbing them by becoming very closely
interlinked with them (P M. Holt, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 569).
Language and the Arts
To doctrine which serves as both a religious and social
foundation, the Arabic language can be added as another unifying
factor which helps weld Islamic peoples together.
There is an abundance of Arabic poetry and prose in which the
Islamic faith is placed in high regard. Muslim art and
architecture also have a highly developed style. Many of the
mosques and minarets are tremendous works of art decorated with
intricate arabesque ornamentation.
The family is very important in
the social economy of Islam. Marriage is required for every
Muslim, even the ascetics. Muhammed commanded men to marry and
propagate the race. Men may not have more than four wives, yet
many cohabit with as many concubines as they choose.
Although the act of marriage is
important, the sanctity of the union is not as highly regarded. A
Muslim may divorce his wife at any time and for any reason. On
the whole, women in Islamic culture do not enjoy the status or
the privileges of the men and are very dependent on their
husbands. While this sounds cruel and sexist to Westerners, it
was a humane innovation in Muhammad's time. Islamic law requires
what was then unheard of: each wife must be treated equally.
Other practices include the
veiling of women, circumcision, abstention from alcohol, gambling
and certain foods. Many of the above, such as alcohol and
gambling, are seen as vices of the West.
Islam and Christianity
Many of the Muslim beliefs come from the Bible. The historical
foundation for the Qur'an comes from the Old Testament. Yet even
though there has been influence and there are similarities, the
differences in the beliefs of the two faiths are striking.
Islam teaches the unity of God's essence and personality,
explicitly excluding the Trinity as taught in the Bible.
This emphasis on the unity of God
comes across in other ways. Islam has God divorced from His
creation, so unified to Himself that He cannot be associated with
creation. His transcendence is so great that He acts
Because of their doctrine of
predestination and the fact that both evil and good came from
Allah, it makes their God very capricious. Whatever Allah chooses
becomes right; this makes any true standard of righteousness or
ethics hard to discern if not impossible to establish.
This is unlike the God of the
Bible who is righteous. The very word righteous means, "a
The Muslim finds it difficult to
divorce the concept of father from the physical realm. To them it
is blasphemous to call Allah or God your father. To do so is the
same as saying that your mother and Allah had sexual intercourse
to produce you!
In addition, while calling God
"Father" is to evoke thoughts of love, compassion,
tenderness and protectiveness to Christians, it is not so to the
Muslim mind. To him, a father is strict, shows no emotion, never
expresses love, and is bound to his family by duty and for what
his family can provide for him, not by devotion.
Allah is also very deficient in
such attributes as love, holiness and grace. Grace, of course, is
rooted in the character of God (Ephesians 2).
As mentioned before, the Muslim holy books include the sayings of
Moses, the prophets, David, Jesus and Muhammad. However, all of
the previous sayings have been lost or corrupted. Only the Quran,
the words of Muhammad, have been preserved free of error. They
also supercede the previous revelations. Remember, the holy books
mentioned in Islam are not exactly like our biblical Scriptures.
One would presuppose that since
the teachings of Christianity and Islam are clearly different, it
would follow that the practical and social consequences of the
doctrine would also be vastly different. This is precisely the
case. As Guillaume mentions, this is nowhere better illustrated
than in the status of women:
The Quran has more to say on the position of women than on
any other social question. The guiding note is sounded in the
words, "Women are your tillage," and the word for
marriage is that used for the sexual act. The primary object of
marriage is the propagation of children, and partly for this a
man is allowed four wives at a time and an unlimited number of
concubines. However, it is laid down that wives are to be treated
with kindness and strict impartiality; if a man cannot treat all
alike he should keep to one.
The husband pays the woman a
dowry at the time of marriage, and the money or property so
allocated remains her own. The husband may divorce his wife at
any time, but he cannot take her back until she has remarried and
been divorced by a second husband. A woman cannot sue for divorce
on any grounds, and her husband may beat her. In this matter of
the status of women lies the greatest difference between the
Muslim and the Christian world.
Since Muslim propagandists in this country persistently deny that
women are inferior to men in Islam it is worthwhile to set out
the facts. Surah 4:31 says: "Men have authority over women
because God has made the one superior to the other and because
they spend their wealth [to maintain them]. So good women are
obedient, guarding the unseen [parts] because God has guarded
[them]. As for those from whom you fear disobedience admonish
them and banish them to beds apart and beat them; then if they
obey you seek not occasion against them (Guillaume, op. cit., pp.
In Islam the person and work of Jesus Christ are not seen in the
same way as in Christianity. For the Christian the resurrection
of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God is the vital
cornerstone of faith, yet the Muslim does not hold to either of
these truths-that Christ is the Son of God or that he rose from
dead. In fact, Muslims do not even believe Jesus was crucified;
rather, many believe Judas was crucified in His place. Some,
however, believe it was Christ on the cross but that He did not
die. Islam does believe Jesus was a sinless prophet although not
as great as Muhammad. While Surah 3:45-47 in the Quran
speaks of the virgin birth of Christ, it is not the same biblical
virgin birth. Jesus is certainly not the only begotten Son of
God, and an angel -rather than the Holy Spirit-was the agency of
God's power in the conception. However, the idea that Allah had a
son is repugnant to them. Surah 4:171 states, "Jesus... was
only a messenger of
Allah ... Far is it removed from
His transcendent majesty that He should have a son."
John states concerning Christ, "And the Word became flesh,
and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only
begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth... And I have
seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God"
(John 1:14, 34).
Christ's claim for His own deity
and Sonship are unequivocal. In John 10:30 He claims equality
with the Father when He states, "I and the Father are one.
" For not only is the Sonship of Christ important per se,
but the deity of Christ is also an important point of difference
between Chris-tianity and Islam since Islam denies the doctrine
of the Trinity.
Of the crucifixion, the Qur'an
states in Surah 4:157, "They slew him not nor crucified, but
it appeared so unto them. . !'Most Muslims believe Judas was put
in the place of Christ, and Christ went to heaven. The Bible
teaches that Christ went to the cross to pay the penalty for mans
sins, died, and was raised from the dead, appeared to the
disciples and then ascended to heaven.
Paul recounts the events this
way: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I
also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the
third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to
Cephas and then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more
than five hundred" (2 Corinthians 15:3-6, NASB).
Of the importance of the resurrection, Paul states, "And if
Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are
still in your sins" (2 Corinthians 15:17, NASB).
Max Kershaw, in "How to Share the Good News with Your Muslim
In this regard, the Muslim view of Jesus is significant. The Quran
presents Jesus as one of the great prophets. He is called the
Messiah. He is declared to have been born of the virgin Mary. He
lived a sinless life (Surah 19:19). He accomplished many
wonderful miracles, such as the giving of sight to the blind,
healing of lepers and the raising of the dead (3:49). He is going
to return to the earth again to establish Islam throughout the
earth. He is called "the Word of God" (3:45) and
"the Spirit from God" (4:171). Thus, Muslims have a
high view of Jesus.
But they are adamant in declaring
that Jesus is not the Son of God and Savior. In fact, they
believe that equating anyone with God is blasphemy, the
unforgiveable sin. More than this, they do not believe that he
was crucified. Instead, God took him to heaven without dying, and
someone else died in his place. One particular passage in the
Qur'an (4:156-158) seems to say this, but it is not clear. In
fact, other Quranic passages speak of the death of Jesus
(19:33) (Max R. Kershaw, How to Share the Good News with Your
Muslim Friend, Colorado Springs: International Students, Inc.,
Unlike the God of the Bible, Allah has done nothing for man that
cost him anything. Islam makes no real provision for sin. One's
salvation is never certain since it is based on a works system
and on complete surrender ("Islam") to the will of
Allah. This religion rejects the biblical teaching of the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, though it concedes that He
was a sinless prophet. Mohammed did not rise from the dead, and
there is no basis for a resurrection in Islam (Boa, op. cit., p.
Neill states with respect to Islam and the person of Christ:
It is perfectly true that the central concern of Jesus was with
the kingdom of God. But everything depends on the meaning that is
put into the word "God." Here is perhaps the very heart
of our differences. Islam conceives the possible relationship of
man to God in one way, and the Gospel in another.
While God was the exclusive
source of the revelation to Muhammad, God himself is not the
content of the revelation. Revelation in Islamic theology does
not mean God disclosing himself. It is revelation from God, not
revelation of God. God is remote. He is inscrutable and utterly
inaccessible to human knowledge... Even though we are his
creatures whose every breath is dependent upon him, it is not in
inter-personal relationship with him that we receive guidance
At this central point the
teaching of Jesus diverges from what the Muslim believes to be
the essential prophetic witness. His God is a God who cares for
his creatures, who is prepared to enter into fellowship with
them, and is concerned that they should love him in response to
his love. Under the law man was in the position of a slave; now
under the Gospel he is called to freedom, to the freedom of
grown-up sons in their Father's house. The Qur'an never uses the
word "Father" of God. Jesus taught his disciples to
address him as "Our Father!' The whole of the Gospel is
summed up in these two words.
If the possibility is admitted
that God might be such as Jesus declared him to be, the
incarnation presents itself no longer as a blasphemous and
irrational impossibility, but as something that appears even
appropriate, in the light of this new perception of what the
fatherhood of God might be.
The death of Christ at the hands
of the Jews is rejected by Muslims on a priori grounds, which are
absolutely convincing if the major premise is admitted. It is
impossible that God should so desert a prophet in the fulfillment
of his mission. It would be contrary to His justice to permit the
suffering of an innocent on behalf of others. It would be
contrary to His omnipotence not to be able to rescue a prophet in
danger. Therefore Jesus cannot have been left helpless in the
hands of his enemies (Neill, op. cit., pp. 66, 67).
Sin and Salvation
The previous differences between Islam and Christianity find
fruit in the teachings of salvation. Neill comments:
At the heart of the Muslim-Christian disagreement, we shall find
a deep difference in the understanding of the nature of sin. It
is not true to say that the Muslim has no sense of sin or of the
need for forgiveness. He has both. But sin reveals its deadly
nature only when it is seen in its effects on personal
relationships; and such an understanding of it is almost
necessarily excluded, as we have seen, by the Muslim's concept of
the possible relationship between the believer and his God. The
believer may sin against the law and the majesty of God, and if
he does so he deserves to be punished. The idea that man by his
sin might break the heart of God is not yet within the spectrum
of the Muslim understanding of reality (Neill, op. cit., pp. 68,
The Muslim operates under a legalistic system and must earn his
salvation. He holds to the Articles of Faith and follows the
Pillars of Faith.
For the Muslim, sin is lack of obedience to Allah. Thus, man is
sinful by act only, not by nature.
The Bible teaches that man is
sinful by nature. Paul writes to the Romans, "For all have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23,
These are historical roots which
tie Islam to Christianity, yet this is where the similarity ends.
Islam rejects the key doctrines of the Christian faith -the
Trinity, the deity of Christ, Christ's crucifixion and
resurrection, and the sin of man and his salvation by grace alone
through faith in Christ.
They also reject the Bible as the
only authoritative book on which to base all matters of doctrine,
faith and practice. When Islam rejects the truth of the written
Word of God, they are left not only different from Christianity,
but opposite from Christianity on all counts. Islam was founded
by a dead prophet; Christianity was founded by the risen Savior.
Islam is one of the driving forces among world religions today,
its growth closely tied to nationalism. But growth does not mean
The God of Islam is a very
capricious one, too far removed from people to be personally
involved or concerned. Not only is he impersonal, but he also
emphasized judgment to the exclusion of love, and he motivates
people by fear rather than by grace.
Muhammad, the founder, has based
his teaching on inaccurate and untrue interpretations of the
Bible. There is no historical evidence to support Muhammad's
contentions that either the Jewish or Christian scriptures have
been corrupted. In addition, his teaching in the Quran is
based on revelations which he initially believed were demonic in
Islam is an aggressive and
impressive world religion. It appeals to those who welcome a
religious world view which permeates every facet of life.
However, it is ultimately unfulfilling. The Islamic God of strict
judgment, Allah, cannot offer the mercy, love, and ultimate
sacrifice on mankind's behalf that the Christian God, incarnate
in Jesus Christ, offers to each man even today.
Abu Bakr- (Reign: 632-634 A.D.) The first Moslem caliph,
according to Sunni Muslims. The Shiite Muslims reject this
and instead consider the fourth caliph, 'Ali, as the first true
successor to Mohammad.
Allah -The Supreme Being. The name of God, derived from the
Caliph -The title given to office of the spiritual and political
leadership which took over after Mohammad's death.
Fatima -The daughter of Mohammad and his first wife; and the wife
of 'Ali, the fourth Caliph.
Hadith -The sacred sayings of Mohammad, handed down by oral
tradition, for generations after Mohammad's death until finally
Hafi-A pilgrimage to Mecca. One of the five pillars of the
Islamic faith. Hegira -Moharnmad's flight from Mecca to present
day Medina in 622 A.D.
Imam -A Moslem who is considered by Sunnis to be an authority in
Islamic law and theology or the man who leads the prayers. Also
refers to each of the founders of the four principal sects of
Islam. The Shi'ites accept 12 great Imams.
Islam -Literally, "submission to the will of Allah."
KaAba -A small stone building located in the court of the
great mosque at Mecca containing the black stone (a meteorite)
supposedly given to Abraham by Gabriel.
Koran (Quran) -Said to be the final and complete inspired
word of God transmitted to the prophet Mohammad by the angel
Mahdi-"The guided one." A leader who will cause
righteousness to fill the earth. The Sunnites are still awaiting
his initial appearance while the Shi'ites hold that the last
Imam, who disappeared in 874 A.D. will someday reappear as the
Mecca -The birthplace of Mohammad. This city, located in Saudi
Arabia, is considered the most holy city by the Moslems.
Medina -A holy city of Islam named for Mohammad. It was
previously named Yathrib. It is the city to which Mohammad fled
in 622 A.D.
Mohammad-The prophet and founder of Islam. Born around 570 A.D.,
died 632 A.D.
Moslem (Muslim)-A follower of Mohammad. Literally, "one who
Mosque-An Islamic place of worship.
Muezzlin -A Moslem crier who announces the hour of prayer.
Mulla-A teacher of Islamic laws and doctrines.
Omar-According to the Sunnites, the second Moslem caliph and
principal advisor to the first caliph, Abu Bakr.
Purday-A veil or covering used by Moslem women to ensure them
privacy against public observation, and to indicate their
Ramadan-The ninth month of the Moslem year, when Mohammad
received the Quran from heaven, and now devoted to fasting.
Salat -The Moslem daily prayer ritual. One of the five pillars of
Shiites-A Moslem sect which rejects the first three
caliphs, insisting that Mohammad's son-in-law 'Ali was Mohammad's
rightful initial successor.
Sufis- Iranian (Persian) philosophical mystics who have largely
adapted and reinterpreted Islam for themselves.
Sunnites-The largest Moslem sect which acknowledges the first
four caliphs as Mohammad's rightful successors.
Surahs-What the chapters of the Quran are called.
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