Major World Religions Resource Sheet: Exploring Islam
“Islam” means “submission.” A Muslim is one who submits to Allah and to the teachings of the one true religion, Islam.
Founder: Muslims believe that Muhammad, who lived in the 7th century AD, is the greatest prophet of Allah/God and that he spoke authoritatively and infallibly on God’s behalf.
Locations: Islam has more than 1 billion followers worldwide, with a focus in the Middle East, North Africa, and Arabian Peninsula. Islam is growing rapidly in America.
Sacred Writing: Muslims believe that the Quran/ “Koran,” which contains 114 suras/chapters, contain God’s words given to Muhammad. Though Muhammad actually wrote nothing down, his followers recorded what he said. The Koran is considered inerrant (without error) only in its original language, Arabic. For questions not addressed in the Koran itself, Muslims look to the hadiths, a collection of information about Muhammad’s life and his sayings, to show them how to live as Muhammad did. Finally, the shari’a or Islamic law is consulted as the authoritative interpretation of the Koran and the hadiths.
God: Allah is absolute unity – One God, who is completely above His creation. Belief in God as Father, Son, and Spirit –the Trinity – is blasphemous to Muslims because it implies that God somehow sexually bore a son.
Jesus: Jesus, “Isa,” was a great prophet (among others), but not as great as Muhammad. Jesus prophesied about Muhammad, was born of a virgin, and will return, but he is not God. Jesus was not crucified on the cross since God would never allow one of His prophets to die a shameful death. Judas or Simon of Cyrene took his place, or God fooled the Jews into thinking they had crucified him when they had not.
Humans: Humans are created by Allah to obey him. Humans are basically good.
Sin: Anyone who does not submit to Allah and his will as taught in the Koran is an infidel, a sinner of the worst sort.
Salvation: A person must fully surrender to Allah by obeying all commands in order to be eternally saved, that is, get to go to heaven. One can never be certain he has earned heaven.
Afterlife: Every person will be resurrected and judged according to his good works/obedience to Allah. Those who demonstrated sincere obedience to Allah will go to heaven and vice versa. One cannot be sure of salvation in this life.
Practices: In daily life Islam focuses more on practices than beliefs. The main five obligations (called “pillars”) of Islam include the following practices:
- Confession: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the apostle of God.” To become a Muslim, sincerely recite this confession. This is the first step toward salvation.
- Prayer: Perfom the required ritual prayer five times each day. Followers may pray anywhere but men are encouraged to pray at the mosque. Visitors to Muslim countries will often hear the calls to prayer from the mosque by the muezzin (official caller) or a loud –speaker system during the day.
- Fasting: In memory of Muhammad’s receiving the first revelations during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast (no eating, or drinking at all) during daylight hours throughout this month. Since the Muslim calendar is lunar, being twelve days shorter than our solar calendar, the specific timing of Ramadan each year varies.
- Almsgiving: Though the Koran describes this as a voluntary gift for the poor, in the shari’a (Muslim Law) it is mandated as 2.5 per cent of any net profit. So, though required, it is much less than tithe.
- Pilgrimage: Followers should visit Mecca at least once in his lifetime and the last month of the Islamic calendar is designated as the official pilgrimage time. If unable to travel, one may designate another.
*Other obligations include eating only permissible foods. No pork, pork products, or alcohol are permitted. Requirements for women’s dress vary by culture and is not described specifically in the Koran, except to say that a woman should dress so as not to call attention to her beauty. (Sura 24:31)
Branches: Two main branches—Sunnis and Shi’ites
- Sunni-Sunnis make up the majority (80%) of Muslims and practice traditional Islam. They chose Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, as caliph (successor) after Muhammad’s death and later, Umar, then Uthman, who is credited with compiling the one authoritative version of the Koran and destroying all others.
- Shi-ite: They separated from the Sunnis because they believed the leaders to succeed Muhammad should come through Muhammad’s bloodline, beginning with Ali his son-in-law (since he had no son.) After Ali, the mantle fell to one of his sons, Husayn, whom the Sunnis killed. The Shi-ite’s still memorialize him and that succession still continues, with each new successor receiving authority from his predecessor and supernatural spiritual knowledge to implement his prophetic leadership.
*Folk Islam mixes animistic beliefs into traditional Islam. It is not unusual to find those practicing folk Islam praying to keep away the jinn (evil spirits) rather than worship God. They may believe in ancestral and nature spirits, while mixing in aspects of traditional Islam.
Keys to sharing Christ with a Muslim:
- Put away any prejudices you have regarding Muslims being terrorists because most, of course, hate terrorism. They will, however, often have a very different view on the Middle East and the US role. Most do not embrace Jihad (holy war), except in the sense of a spiritual struggle, though some radical Muslims treat jihad as a sixth pillar.
- Practice sharing the basics of the Christian faith, focusing on points of misunderstanding by Muslims.
- Christians do not believe in polytheism (specifically tri-theism, the worship of 3 gods). While the Trinity is impossible to fully understand, that does not make it polytheism. Like Muslims, we are monotheistic – we worship one God: one nature in three Persons, because that is how the Bible reveals God’s identity. Rather than 1+1+1=3; 1x1x1=1!
- Christians do not worship Jesus, who was a man, as God. According to the Bible, we worship one God, who took on human nature in the Person Jesus, entering the world to pay our penalty for sin (Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 3).
- Muslims argue that because the Bible was recopied many times, our current copy is corrupted. In contrast, they say the Arabic Koran (and only the Arabic translation) is inerrant. Actually, the numerous ancient copies we possess (we do not have the original) support the Bible’s accuracy because we can compare them and identify discrepancies. The Bible is the most accurate of any ancient document, by far, and we can confidently restore the original writing text for more than 99% of the Bible, with no discrepancy affecting any major Christian doctrine!
Muslims can claim that the Arabic Koran is inerrant because ancient leader Uthman compiled all writings into one and destroyed all other copies. (I have seen more than one English version.) Do share that Muhammad himself did not question the Bible’s accuracy. The Koran points to the Bible more than 120 times. It references numerous biblical characters, events, and materials, but often gives a different version of biblical accounts. Ishmael, for instance, was offered by Abraham, not Isaac.
- In the Koran, sura 3 describes Jesus’ virgin conception and birth. Former Muslims say Jesus’ miraculous conception is powerful evidence of Jesus’ supremacy over Muhammad. But do not disparage Muhammad as a prophet, especially being careful at the beginning of the relationship. Do pray in Jesus’ name. Do show physical respect for your Bible. The New Testament is called “Injil.”
- Avoid praying to God as “Father,” since to Muslims this may imply that God as “Father” had sexual relations with Mary to bear the Son. Instead, pray to God as “Lord God.”
- Act like Christ. Practice modesty and honor local customs that do not require you to compromise your faith. Do interact man-to-man and woman-to-woman. Be aware of customs such as using only the right hand (the “clean” hand) for eating and shaking hands.
*Islam and Christianity. Torrance, California: Rose Publishing-R.W Research, Inc., 2004
*Ron Rhodes, World Religions: What You Need to Know, Quick Reference Guide, Eugene, Oregon, Harevest House Publishers, 2007
*Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998.