An Introduction to History, Belief, and Lifestyle
This is a two-part series on understanding Islam and Muslims. This first article introduces their history, beliefs and lifestyle. The second will focus more on reaching Muslims. For the purpose of this article, please allow me to translate the Arabic term Allah into the English term God as it is used in the Arabic translation of the Bible. We will discuss the issue “Is Allah God?” in the next article. —Brother Wes
The second largest and fastest growing religion in the world is Islam. One out of every five people on earth is a Muslim. In a day and age of wide-scale economic trade, travel, and knowledge, the Muslim scene is coming to the forefront. There is much misunderstanding, misinformation, and even political propaganda regarding the subject.
My desire is that we as God’s people would focus on this critical issue. Several reasons demand our attention to the Muslim world.
1. The sheer size of it. Reports range between one and two billion people; a fairly conservative estimate is probably 1.4 billion. And that number is growing fast. Although high birth rates account for much of this growth, there is also a recent surge of converts, due in part to new oil wealth, which funds many Islamic “missions.” At least forty-four countries now have Muslim-majority populations. It is estimated that by 2020, Islam will replace “Christianity” as the world’s largest religion.
2. The Muslim world is by far the largest block of unreached peoples in the world. Take the country of Turkey, for instance, where almost no one out of 66 million Muslims has ever heard the words of Christ. Years ago, tribal groups were the critical issue in modern missions. Although many tribal groups remain unreached today, the number of groups has greatly diminished due to missionary and translation efforts. On the contrary, the Muslim unreached population is much larger today than it was years ago.
3. And lastly, the reason that we as God’s people need to look at Islam is because it is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. Most likely, there is a Muslim community very near to you.
May we cry with Paul, “The love of Christ constraineth us” (II Cor. 5:14). I plead with you to consider the Muslim people as our friends and not our enemies. There is long-standing strife and hatred between Christians and Muslims that dates back to the time of the Crusades. The Muslims are not responsible to reach out and break through those feelings of animosity–we are! We are the ones who have the “ministry of reconciliation.” Barring the sovereign intervention of God Himself, they absolutely cannot come to Christ unless we lay down our own rights, comforts, prejudices, and even our lives to go and win them.”
The world of Islam stands in dire need of love. Their religion knows nothing of love, while love is the very essence of our Christianity. Many Muslims were born into their religion and are not as sure of themselves as you may think. The Muslim world is reachable. We will deal with how to reach Muslims in the next issue. In this article, we will focus mainly on the history, beliefs, and lifestyles of the Muslim people.
In looking at the religion of Islam, the history is very important. It provides a backdrop against which the present state can be more clearly understood. So please join me for a quick history lesson.
In A.D. 570, a young boy was born in Arabia and given the name Mohammed. Born into an idol-worshipping culture, Mohammed was a very serious and earnest young man. He traveled with his merchant-uncle to many different places. During these travels he met with Christians and Jews. Unsatisfied with his own idol worship, he was drawn to their monotheism, or belief in only one God. However, his contact with so-called Christians was with the corrupted state church. It appears he was turned off by “Christianity” on two main points. One was their view of the Trinity, which he understood in a crassly polytheistic sense to be a Father God, a Mother God (Mary), and a baby God (Jesus). (See Qur’an 5:116.) The second issue was their greed and dishonesty in order to receive materialistic gain. This is evident by the warnings given in the Qur’an of the business principles of the “people of the book.”
Mohammed was convinced there was a way to worship the one true God and to have a religion that affected the entire life and community as well. Back in Arabia, he began having spiritual dreams or visions. At first, they scared him, but his wife encouraged him to give himself to these revelations and to study. Mohammed received the Qur’an, or “final revelation of God,” by an angel whom he took to be Gabriel. He was told to warn the Arab people of the judgment of an angry God, and to bring them into obedience and submission to His laws.
Mohammed’s message met with fierce opposition in the idolatrous city of Mecca, and he was forced to flee to Medina. However, in the coming years, the Arab people accepted his religion known as Islam (submission). It was a great uniting force, bringing clans and tribes together under one God. Soon they began a conquest, supposing to claim the entire world for God and Islam. They spread quickly across North Africa to Spain, and also north to Turkey. They were opposed and held back by “Christian” armies in Europe.
They occupied much of present-day Israel and Jerusalem, causing the corrupt church of Rome to send soldiers in “holy crusades” to drive them back to Arabia. Years of fighting and hatred ensued, which has not been forgotten by either side up to this day.
In more recent history, Islam has begun to spread again, this time mainly in Southeast Asia and also in Europe. Why?
In this writer’s opinion, two main points in Islam are extremely appealing to the natural man, and account for the large growth of the religion. One is the belief in “the only true God, Creator and Sustainer of all things,” as often quoted by Muslims. This appeals to all men, particularly those weary of worshipping many idols. The other is the righteousness of the law. To become a Muslim requires no repentance, no breaking of one’s pride and will. One simply has to submit to the laws of God as stated in the Qur’an. This appeals much to a man’s intellect and desire to do something for his salvation.
The most well known practices of Islam are often summed up as “The Five Pillars.” It should be noted, however, that these are only practices. They spring out of deep-rooted beliefs about God and His relationship to men. The Qur’an presents God as transcendent, or unknowable. He is “Wholly Other” and “There is nothing like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11). He reveals His will, but not Himself. Man’s separation from God is viewed as a fact rather than a problem. Reconciliation is not the issue, but rather submission and obedience are taught to put man into the correct slave/master relationship with God. No new nature is needed, only better works and obedience.
From these basic concepts of God and man flow the five practices or Pillars:
Confession, Prayers, Alms, Fasting, and Pilgrimage. It is hoped that obeying these five practices will invoke the mercy of God. The Qur’an teaches that although God is not loving, He is merciful and beneficent, granting favors and pardons rather like a wealthy philanthropist, not a loving Father.
It is believed that two angels are assigned to each person, one to sit on the left shoulder and record evil deeds, the other to on the right and record the good deeds. In the final judgment, the deeds will be weighed in the balances, and he who has “surrendered his purpose to God while doing good to men” will be allowed into paradise. It is interesting to note that congruent with Islam’s teaching of God’s transcendence and impersonal nature, God Himself is not in paradise. It is rather a place of the culmination of all earth’s pleasures, somewhat of a luxurious retirement.
Following the foundational teaching of God’s nature, the Qur’an refutes Christ’s deity vehemently. Interestingly enough, Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is given a very high place of honor in the Qur’an, including titles of respect not given to Mohammed, such as “Messiah,” “Illustrious in this world and the next,” and “Word from God.” However, His status remains that of a prophet and “slave of Allah” (Qur’an 19:30), a title given to mankind in general. His suffering and death as recorded in the Gospels are considered by Muslims to be the worst of perversions. This is based on a belief that death is the ultimate enemy, and therefore God would never allow one of His holy prophets to die an ignoble or cursed death. (They will even quote the Scripture, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree”—Gal. 3:13b.) The resurrection is likewise nullified, and it is hinted that Christ simply ascended to paradise to end His life.
Muslims believe that Christ foretold the coming of Mohammed as the “seal of the prophets.” To Mohammed was given the Qur’an, or the “final revelation.” The Qur’an, therefore, while endorsing and quoting from the Law, Psalms, and the Gospels, supersedes and overrides all other holy books. To question the authority of the Qur’an is unthinkable to a Muslim, because he believes it was given directly by God Himself, word for word. When a Muslim finds that the Scriptures do not line up with Qur’anic teachings (as he would suppose they should, according to the Qur’an), he assumes the Scriptures have been corrupted textually by translation. The Qur’an remains in the original unaltered language of Arabic, and so is considered inspired beyond question or criticism.
This is a very brief summary of Islam, and not comprehensive by any means. If you feel God stirring a burden in your heart for the Muslim people, I would encourage you towards further study. With prayer and solid Biblical backing, examine Islamic teachings, along with Qur’anic references. You will find Islam’s carnally minded reasoning to be logical. Satan is not so ignorant as to invent a totally irrational counterfeit. I believe Islam is the greatest deception and counterfeit to Christianity ever invented. But the Spirit of Christ can and will prevail!_
To define Muslim lifestyle is difficult because it varies greatly from country to country. Most of us picture the Arab Middle East as synonymous with Muslim culture. But in fact, there are more Muslims in Indonesia and Bangladesh than in all the Arab countries put together! There are over twice as many Muslims in Nigeria as in Saudi Arabia.
In many cases in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and other parts of the world, large groups of people or even whole nations have become Muslim almost “overnight.” Obviously, many of the individuals involved are not necessarily personally devoted to Islam. They are community-oriented and have “become Muslims” as a uniting factor with their people, or perhaps even to achieve higher social status in their country.
There are two main trends in modern Islam:
1. Secularization. Western culture from America and Europe is making an impact on many countries through the oil trade and technology imports. Many countries that formerly staunchly opposed anything from outside the Muslim world are cracking their doors to commerce and tourism. Examples are Algeria, Turkey, and Qatar. Along with this openness comes the corruption and filth of Western television and media. Opposition to these influences brings the second main trend.
2. Islamists, or radical Muslim groups. Less than 10% of all Muslims are fundamental, strictly practicing their religion. However, this 10% is a very outspoken and zealous arm of Islam. Fundamentalists or conservatives often turn into Islamists, radical in their pursuit of an ideal Muslim society. They are particularly active among student groups and use radio broadcasts, literature, mosque building, and even terrorism to bring their countries under Islamic law.
There are approximately twenty-three Islamic states in the world today, countries that operate under Qur’anic law. An Islamic state is very restrictive of personal rights, the status of women, and any practice considered Western or modern. Christians, intellectuals, journalists, and freethinkers are often targeted as enemies of the Islamic state.
Most Muslims today find themselves caught between these two evils: the moral-less West and the terrifying Islamists.
At the same time, many Muslims are on a search for a deeper reality than what they experience at the mosque. There is no personal encounter with God, no warm filling of His Spirit, no display of His power. Rather, there are only the endless repetitious prayers, and the singsong recitals of the Qur’an in a language many don’t understand—Arabic.
To answer their soul’s need of a divine touch, they turn to alternatives, often forms of worship practiced in their region before they became Muslims, such as ancestor worship, blood sacrifices, familiar spirits, divination, and fortune telling. Their hungry souls grasp at anything that seems to have meaning or power. Up to 70% of all Muslims practice folk religion at some level as a supplement to their faith in Islam.
Perhaps this gives us a clue to the spiritual lack that still exists in their lives. The Bible says that Christ is the “fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Oh, that these millions of Muslims might know God through His Son! Jesus told us in John 14:9, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
The only hope for the Muslim world is contained and culminated in the glorious Person whom they know only as a prophet. May you and I be His ambassador to preach unto them Christ and Him crucified, who is “the hope of glory”!
—to be continued—
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