Understanding Islam Part 1: History
There is a growing interest in the beliefs of Islam fueled in large part by various media stories that mention the religion. Some years ago I had a research team put together a short summary of Islamic beliefs as a basic introduction and am now posting that work as a three-part blog series. My hope is that some Christians will be inclined to study Islam more and get to know and love their Muslim neighbors for the sake of greater mutual understanding.
“Islam” means “submission or surrender to the will of Allah”— and this definition sums up Islam. The teachings of Islam are comprised of both faith and duty (din). One branch of Muslim learning, “Tawhid”, defines all that a human should believe, while the other branch, “Shari’a,” prescribes everything that he should do. There is no priesthood and no sacraments. Except among the Sufis, Muslims receive instruction only from those who consider themselves adequately learned in theology or law.
The basis for Islamic doctrine is found in the Qur’an (Koran). It is the scripture of Islam, written by Muhammad and his disciples as reportedly dictated by the Angel Gabriel. It alone is infallible and without error according to Islam. The Qur’an is comprised of 114 surahs, or chapters, arranged from longest to shortest. For Muslims, the Qur’an is the word of God, and the carrier of the revelation of Muhammad, the last and most perfect of God’s messengers to mankind.
In addition to the Qur’an, other documents are also referred to by followers of Islam. A number of additional sayings of Muhammad were complied in the Hadith (“tradition”). The Torat (of Moses), Suhuf (books of the prophets), Zabur (psalms of David), and the Injil (gospel of Jesus) are also studied and considered to be revelations, although they are believed to have been corrupted through time.
Five Articles of Faith
The five articles of faith are the main doctrines of Islam. All Muslims are expected to believe the following:
- God. There is one true God and his name is Allah.
- Angels. Angels exist and interact with human lives. They are comprised of light, and each have different purposes or messages to bring to earth. Each man or woman has two angels who record his actions; one records good deeds, the other bad deeds.
- Scripture. There are four inspired books, the Torah of Moses, the Psalms (Zabin) of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Injil) and the Qur’an. All but the Qur’an have been corrupted by Jews and Christians.
- Prophets. God has spoken through numerous prophets throughout time. The six greatest are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Muhammad is the last and greatest of Allah’s messengers.
- Last Days. On the last day there will be a time of resurrection and judgment. Those who follow Allah and Muhammad will go to Islamic heaven, or Paradise. Those who do not will go to hell.
The Five Pillars of Faith
The five pillars of faith are observances in Islam which are duties each Muslim must perform.
- Creed (Kalima)- One must state, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah.” publicly to become a Muslim.
- Prayer (Salat)- Prayer must be done five times a day (upon rising, at noon, in mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before going to sleep) towards the direction of Mecca. The call to prayer is sounded by the muezzin (Muslim crier) from a tower (minaret) within the mosque.
- Almsgiving (Zakat)- Muslims are legally required to give one-fortieth of their income to the needy. Since those whom alms are given are helping the giver achieve salvation, there is no sense of shame in receiving charity.
- Fasting (Ramadan)- During the holy month of Ramadan, faithful Muslims fast from sunup to sundown each day. This develops self-control, devotion to God, and identity with the needy.
- Pilgrimage (Hajj)- Each Muslim is expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do it and are physically capable of the trip. It is an essential part of gaining salvation, so the old or infirm may send someone in their place. It involves a set of rituals and ceremonies.
A sixth religious duty associated with the five pillars is Jihad, or Holy War. This duty requires that if the situation warrants, men are required to go to war to defend or spread Islam. If they are killed, they are guaranteed eternal life in Paradise.
Today, there are over 7,000,000 Muslims in the United States alone. That’s more than all the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists combined.
Let’s take a look at the faith of Mohammed. When he was born in Mecca in 570 AD, the black Kaaba Stone was the religious center of all Arabia. In Mohammed’s day, 365 idols were worshipped there, standing in the great courtyard. One of those deities was called Allah and was the god of the Quarish tribe, of which Mohammed was a member. When the Quarish tribe took control of Mecca, all the idols except Allah, the idol of their tribe, were destroyed.
The Koran tells us that Mohammed drove the other idols away; his god was now the only god and he was its messenger. But he kept the Kaaba as a holy, sacred place and confirmed that the black stone had the power to take away man’s sins. He obligated every believer to make a pilgrimage to the stone at least once in his lifetime. (Sura 22:26-37)
Islam began when Muhammad claimed to have mystic visions. For six months he had been in solitary meditation in a cave. According to Islam, at ago 40 Muhammad entered the cave and was confronted by a being who identified himself at the angel Gabriel. Choking Muhammad, Gabriel declared, “Proclaim! Proclaim in the name of the Lord the Creator who created humans from a clot of blood.” During his frequent visits to the cave, the revelations increased. What he heard and was told to write was summarized in what is Islam’s sacred book, the Quran. Over a 22-year time he memorized all 78,000 words of the Quran’s 114 chapters and transmitted it teachings about Allah orally. He was illiterate.
As a young boy he met many Jews and Christians on travels. From these encounters he learned the beliefs of Jews and Christians. In Muhammad’s time, the area in which he lived was also filled by wandering tribes of people that practiced polytheistic idolatry. The group of gods they worshipped included angels, demons, and a supreme god named Allah. It looks as if Muhammad borrowed some from this religion as well as from the Jews and Christians.
Islam’s message insisted that people share their wealth with the poor in exchange for the promise of a glorious afterlife. Allah was a great being in charge of everything and he judged as he desired. At the day of Judgment there will be severe punishment for unbelievers, those who did not submit. On the last days, each individual has their actions, deeds, and life judged on a scale. On one side are all the good deeds and on the other side are all the bad deeds. If you have more good than bad then you go to heaven. If you have more bad then good then you get punished. Heaven is described to be very sensual where green meadows, rivers of wine, and women wait for the faithful Muslim. All of which they can not have during their life on earth.
Islam sees the Bible as a corrupt testimony and inferior to Muhammad’s message. Muhummad is believed to be the last and greatest of prophets sent by Allah to the world. Muslims believe that every word was literally said by God to Muhammad.
Though Allah is said to know all, be all-merciful and compassionate, Islam teaches that Allah is so far away from creation that he is unapproachable. Allah is to be feared and strictly obeyed. Allah demands submission, but he offers no forgiveness of sin. But in John 3:16, the Bible teaches that “God loved the world.” The certainty of salvation known by Christians (see John 3:36 and John 5:24) is not a hope for the Muslims who await the Day of Judgment when works, not grace, will determine their destiny in the next life.
Islam combines elements from the Old Testament and some of the New Testament and accepts Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, John and others as prophets of Allah. It claim that Muhammad is the last and greatest of the prophets and that the Quran is the final revelation of Allah and that Islam, not Christianity, is the true continuation of the Old Testament faith.
570 A.D. – Mohammad is born
609/10 A.D. – Mohammad receives his first visions
622 A.D. – Mohammad flees to Medina (known as the Hijra); this event initiates the Muslim calendar
630 A.D. – Muslims take Mecca (allegedly with little struggle)
632 A.D. – Mohammad dies
636-640 A.D. – The early conquests of Damascus, Jerusalem, Egypt and Persia
650 A.D. – The canon of the Qur’an established