Basic Islam – Part 1

Mecca

Mecca, 2015
(Photo credit: Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

At a recent apologetics conference, one of the speakers I was most interested to hear could not finish his presentation on Islam. He was thoroughly prepared, but the audience interrupted him with so many questions that he only got through a few slides. It was clear they were eager to know more about Islam.

Most Christians, myself included, have spent little time studying Islam. Don’t agree? Did you recognize the photo above without reading the caption? I’ve heard about Mecca all my life, but can’t recall ever seeing a single photograph of it—as if it were a mythical place. The Atlantic Monthly did a recent photo essay showing the development of Mecca over the past 128 years. The development has caused quite a bit of controversy, even within the Islamic world.

Truth be told, our ignorance can be a barrier to understanding why there is so much strife between Christians, Jews, and Muslims throughout the world, and to sharing our faith. This new blog series on Islam will lay out the basics—without being disrespectful and without being naïve. (This is Veracity after all.) The posts will be short, in the hope that you will follow the hyperlinks to learn more about Islam.

One caveat before we start. If you asked someone to explain Christianity, consider how the answer might be shaped by the person answering the question. Depending on whom you asked, you might get an informed, orthodox answer or a completely off-the-wall distortion. To get the essence of Christianity, you have to get the Bible right. So for these posts on Islam we will focus on the orthodoxy of the Quran, the Hadith Collections, and the biography of Muhammad—the foundational documents of Islam. There are profound contradictions in these documents, ranging from peaceful and passive teaching to calls for extreme violence. Much of the material in these sources is contradictory, so we’ll spend some time on the Islamic Doctrine of Abrogation as well.

What is Islam?

Islam is a monotheistic religion that traces its roots all the way back through Abraham and Ishmael in the Book of Genesis. Islam is defined by:

Adherents of Islam are called Muslims, and believe that the Quran was dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Muslims are taught to accept the authority of the Quran. The word ‘Quran’ means “the recitation.”

The small building at the center of Mecca is the Kaaba, which is considered to be the “House of God.” The Kaaba is considered the holiest site in Islam. Muslims must pray their Salah five times each day facing the Kaaba. The Salah is part of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are mandatory for Muslims.

Start with the Quran

The Quran can be found online here. (This site loads the Arabic script with the English translation and individual pages can take some time to load, so be patient; their legacy Quran version seems to load faster.) There are many English translations. If you prefer to have it read to you, Audible has an English version of the Quran in three volumes (that will take 19 hours to hear). The only authoritative version of the Quran is in Arabic, although today 85 percent of the Islamic world does not speak Arabic.

The Quran is organized into 114 chapters, called suras, roughly arranged in descending length (not chronological or thematic order). Each surah is divided into verses, the smallest having three and the largest having 286. Of the 114 suras, 86 are classified as Meccan, while 28 are Medinan. Each surah has a name, and how each name was ascribed is unclear, although some were named directly by Muhammad.

Most Christians will never read the Quran. Even if that’s true for you, at least read Surah 1 and Surah 2. One of the keys to Islam is Surah 2:106. It might help to understand while reading these suras that Muslims believe Christians—by way of belief in the Trinity—are ‘polytheists.’ They also believe that the Christian Trinity consists of God the Father, Jesus, and Mary (not the Holy Spirit).

So why study Islam? Why take the time to read the Quran? Maybe we can gain some insight into the religious strife that grips our world. Well, maybe. Reading the Quran and studying Islam won’t give us credentials, but it does take away the rejoinder, “Have you ever read the Quran?

More importantly, maybe by first reading the Quran we can then have informed, empathetic, civil discussions about Christianity with Muslims.

About John Paine

This blog is topical and devotional--we post whatever interests us, whenever. If you want to follow in an orderly fashion, please see our Kaqexeß page. View all posts by John Paine

6 responses to “Basic Islam – Part 1

  • John asby

    John , thanks for doing this series. Many folks are unaware of the foundations and history of Islam. As I heard a former Muslim state “Muslims are generally good people until they read the Quran , then they become killers”. I will post this person’s video piece soon and pass along. It’s intriguing and enlightening.

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    • John Paine

      I know a fair number of Muslims, most of whom are very fine, likeable people. Islam has violent roots, but I hope that this series will help balance an objective understanding of the violent aspects of Islam with the sincere desire of adherents to worship God as they understand Him. I’ll try to focus on that understanding in the hope that it will help all of us to open doors. Thanks for commenting!

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  • john asby

    John..Here is the short testimony of a former Muslim who has now been called to educate Muslim women in Sweden. This is powerful and enlightening. i think it changed my view on “Muslims” quite a bit..It confirmed my research on Islam. The similarity of Muslims and Christians is interesting concerning one who reads the Bible and one who reads the Quran. Many folks who consider themselves Christians know very little of the Bible. I think she makes the same case for Muslims. Great story and such a brave and committed young lady. Also, John Ankerberg did some great interviews with former Muslim terrorists and members of the Muslim brotherhood. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2015/April/Ex-Muslim-Koran-Revealed-a-Religion-I-Did-Not-Like/

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  • John Paine

    Thanks, John. I included Mona Walter in Part 5 of this series. It is incredible what converts from Islam to Christianity have to endure.

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    • John Asby

      John. Thanks for doing this series. I haven’t been able to keep up as we are dealing with a family crisis but I look forward to finally viewing your research. I have some more valuable info to share and hopefully can get it over to you soon. This is important information you are sharing so thanks immensely for all the hard work.

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  • dwwork

    Reblogged this on Reasons For The Hope Blog and commented:
    I have been taking a break from blogging and the computer.After spending almost my entire 38 year career using computers, from the first PC as well as mainframes, it was a nice break. I want to share this series written by my friend John at Veracity. Considering all that is happening in the world today it is helpful to see what and why Muslims believe what they believe. Have a blessed day, David

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