Dear Roger, There is so much interest and confusion “swirling around” the issues of Muslims, Islam, acculturalization, burqas, terrorists and Islamic extremism. Could you please give us a simple understanding of what Christians need to know about Islam? Sincerely Rachel
One Sunday morning after worship, a young man with Arabic features approached me. He looked to be in his early 30s, nicely dressed with dark slacks and a white button-down shirt. He wanted to know the differences between Christianity and Islam. When I shared the gospel, he became quite agitated. The idea that our good works counted for nothing on the road to heaven was anathema to him. Our discussion moved to a rapid conclusion when I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace we are saved through faith–and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast!” Not out of control, but clearly disagreeing, he punched the Communion Table and firmly said, “No, that cannot be.” He rapidly departed.
The Origins of Islam
Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born in 570 A.D. He spent his early years as a camel driver and managed his wife’s estate. One evening as he went to pray he heard a voice commanding him to “Read.” He countered, “But I can’t read.” Mohammed later wrote that he saw a scroll emblazoned with words and miraculously began to read. Then the angel Gabriel appeared to tell him that he was to be Allah’s messenger. For the next several years, he faced exile and persecution while he claimed to receive more messages from Allah.
Mohammed recognized Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as prophets. However, he set himself above all others. He believed he was the ultimate prophet of God. And he declared that none would follow him. When he was 60, the time had come for Mohammed to take his message to the world. He and his armies captured the city of Mecca and declared it to be “The Holy City of Islam.” Two years later he died. He instructed his followers to carry on the mission.
Some of his followers captured Jerusalem in 715 A.D. and started the rapid spread of Islam throughout northern Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the United States. That conquest continues today.
Much of Islam’s advancement is done by quiet assimilation, over time, into another culture–not by military occupation. The supplanting of one culture with or over another culture is not limited to Muslims. Historically, the assimilation of one culture into another is an ongoing process.
For example, the United States is rapidly becoming a non-European-based country. Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, Moroccans and Balkan refugees are flooding into our country, and their cultures will soon supplant our present European-American culture. Not one gunshot will be needed to accomplish the assimilation.
Like Chinatown in San Francisco, people tend to congregate with others from their own background. There will soon be more Muslims in France than Frenchmen. Unofficially, the France government is clamoring for native French people to have more babies.
Problems arise when Muslims gather in cultural groups that exclude all others and begin to superimpose their own beliefs. This process is occurring in France where Muslims have carved out their own territory, rejecting the laws of France, and wanting to live by their own laws with their own culture.
But we must remember—with all that being said—many Muslim immigrants are doing their best to respect and honor our American culture.
The Beliefs of Islam
Christianity has its own set of essential beliefs. The Bible is the Word of God. Jesus Christ is 100 percent God and 100 percent man (the hypostatic union). He died a substitutionary death on the cross in our place to save us from our sins. He was bodily resurrected on Easter Sunday morning. Whoever believes in Him will have their sins forgiven and experience eternal life.
Muslims believe that the Koran is the divine word of God. The Koran reads much like the Old Testament—same history, events and teachings. In fact, Muslims believe in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
However, Muslims believe that both Testaments have been altered by the Jews and the Christians. Wherever there are conflicts between the Bible and the Koran, the Koran takes precedent. Muslims also believe that the Koran is God’s last word to the world, and it was written by the followers of Mohammed soon after his death.
Muslims believe strongly in the prophets, with Mohammed being the greatest. They believe that Jesus was a prophet sent only to the Jews.
Muslims believe in angels as messengers of God.
Muslims believe that all men and women will be judged according to their works. Muslims will enter into Paradise. Non-Muslims will be condemned forever in burning fire.
The Five Pillars of Islam
The “Five Pillars of Islam” are the actions every Muslim is responsible for during their lifetime. However, not every Muslim group recognizes or agrees about what the five pillars are… or even how many there are.
The majority of Muslims follow the pillars recognized by the Sunni people group. The Sunnis are one of the two main branches of Islam. They seem to be a little more Orthodox than the Shias. Iran is the home for most Shias. The basic differences between the two groups focus upon who is and who isn’t one of the first three (or four) caliphs.
1. Faith: A Muslim must recite this often to show personal belief, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
2. Prayer: Prayers must be made five times a day facing Mecca.
3. Alms: 1/40 of a Muslim’s income is to be given as alms to the poor.
4. Fast: Fasting throughout the daylight hours during the time of Ramadan, a religious holiday.
5. Pilgrimage: All pilgrims must journey to Mecca sometime in their lives.
Note: A large faction of Muslims hold to a Sixth Pillar known as “Jihad” or “Holy War.” In effect, this is a requirement to kill anyone who is an unbeliever—not a faithful Muslim.
Incompatibility with Christianity
Islam asserts that the Gospel picture of Jesus is incorrect. They believe that the correct view was given by revelation to Mohammed. In other words, the Jesus revealed in the Koran is not the same Jesus who is portrayed in the Gospels.
The Gospels clearly proclaim that Jesus is virgin-born, and therefore He is God. Islam counters with a Jesus who was simply a prophet. According to the Koran, Jesus is also a prophet only for the nation of Israel. In contrast, Mohammed is the Prophet for the whole world.
The Bible declares that Jesus is the divine “Word” of God (John 1:1) who created the universe and died on the cross to forgive the sins of the world. “Word” is the Greek word logos which means “the unrevealed wisdom of God.” In John 1:14, the Bible declares that “the unrevealed wisdom of God” (Jesus) has put on an actual body.
The Koran declares that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified. Those things only “appeared” to happen. They do not believe that Jesus has anything to do with salvation or eternal life. Islam teaches salvation by works. The number and quality of deeds is weighed at the end of life, and if good works outweigh the bad ones, the individual will go to Paradise. However, if the bad ones tip the scale, the individual will go to hell.
In contrast, the Bible clearly teaches that we receive salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not because of the works we do on Earth (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Next, Mohammed’s account begins 600 years after the events of the first century. The New Testament contains eyewitness testimony of the life and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, it is more trustworthy.
How We Treat Muslims
This is the kicker. No matter what others believe—no matter how they treat us or what their religious beliefs say about who we are—Jesus calls us to love them as we love ourselves. That means we treat Muslims just as Jesus wants us to treat people everywhere.
Julie and I have traveled all over the world, and I can tell you that people everywhere are the same. Most Muslims, like all of us, want to live in peace and safety. They’d like to have a good job and good health. They want good friends and neighbors. They want to watch their children grow up to be well-adjusted adults.
When you see a woman wearing a burqa or a hijab, remember that the woman behind the veil is a real person just like everyone else. Love her the same. I know that’s tough, especially because we see terror strikes by Muslim extremists in the news every day. But catch that word, “extremists.” Muslims who act in hate and violence are the minority. You do not have to fear them. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Author’s Note: Much of the material on Islam was gleaned from the book by Josh McDowell, Answers to Tough Questions. I recommend that you look there for more helpful information.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.