While writing this post, Islamic terrorists carried out a series of attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families, friends, and all those affected by these atrocious acts of barbarism. At such a time as this it is quite difficult to think about Islam in any objective light. Has true Islam been hijacked by radical elements, as many claim, or do the acts of terror that are so prevalent in the world today have epistemological roots in Islamic doctrine and theology? Political leaders call for a war on terrorism, and we think about drone strikes and military missions. Sadly, people everywhere are being drawn into this war—whether it makes sense to them or not.
I am not inclined to run around claiming that the apocalyptic end of mankind is at hand, but regarding war Jesus said,
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains. Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:5-13, NET)
So for those who think that we can somehow ‘win’ the war on terrorism, read the book. These wars will be with us to the end. Not convinced? Take a look ahead at Revelation 13:7.
But we are not called to sit by idly. Should we fight terrorism? Absolutely, with our full might—not just our military might. Jesus did not fight with the sword or attempt to raise up a militant army, but He did call upon us to spread the Gospel truth in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have to fight with the same kind of compassion, love, and commitment that Jesus taught. Not an easy thing to do at any time, let alone in the wake of terrorism. My contention in writing this series of posts is that if we are to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslims, we should know something about their faith.
Basic Islam – Part 3
In our first two posts on Islam, we’ve looked at the foundational documents of the faith and learned a bit about the history of Islam and Muhammad. In this post, we’ll take a high-level view of what Muslims believe.
As stated at the outset, the deeper you look into any major religion, the more divergent that religion becomes. It’s easy enough to go to trusted sources, say CARM for example, to get the basics, but there’s a potential inherent bias when you ask someone outside a particular faith to describe that faith. And that holds true for any major religion.
If you want to know what Muslims believe, one inside source would be IslamiCity.org. Their web page on Understanding Islam and Muslims was prepared by The Islamic Affairs Department of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC. Some Muslims would disagree with certain statements, but it is worth taking the time to read if you are interested in learning about Islam. (Hardliners within and outside the faith could argue that this representation is too polished and politically correct, and others argue that it is “anti-Western in general and anti-American in particular,” but it is helpful nonetheless.)
So, what do Muslim’s believe? In no particular order, that:
- God is singular in personhood, with no peers. There is only one God in all existence. God has complete authority over humankind in this world and life after death. In Arabic, God’s name is Allah.
- God is supreme, omniscient, omnipresent, unique from His creation, and in control of everything. Everything that exists does so by His permission and will.
- God revealed himself through a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. God’s final message to man was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
- After the supremacy of God, Muslims believe that Muhammad was the supreme and final prophet.
- Angels were created from light, and jinn are another type of being, created from fire, who are invisible yet all around us.
- The Quran is the dictated word of God and is completely authoritative. The Hadith are the collections of sayings and deeds attributed to Muhammad. Muhammad is the exemplar of Islamic faith, and Muslims seek to imitate him.
- Abraham, in the book of Genesis, is a patriarch of Islam. Abraham is believed to have built the Kaaba in Mecca.
- Mosques are the most important places of worship and are always pointed towards Mecca, the city of Muhammad’s birth. Mecca contains the Kaaba, or “House of God,” which houses a sacred stone upon which Abraham held Ishmael when he was building the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the most sacred place in Islam.
- Christians have misconceived God. Muslims strongly deny the Trinity. The greatest sin in Islam is the sin of shirk—which is equating anyone or anything to be equal with God. Muslims understand the Christian Trinity to consist of God the Father, Jesus, and Mary (not the Holy Spirit).
- Jesus was a prophet, was born miraculously from the dust like Adam (not born of a virgin), but He is not divine. He performed miracles and was a great prophet, but He was never crucified (the likeness of Jesus was put on another man, and that man was the one who was crucified). God saved Jesus by raising Jesus up to God. Jesus was not resurrected from the dead.
- There is a Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions.
- No sacrifice is required to be forgiven by Allah. Forgiveness can be achieved through faith in Allah, sincere repentance, and obedience to Islamic law. Thus, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was not necessary.
- The Hadith describe the “Five Pillars of Islam,” which are: 1) the Shahada, which is the proclamation, “There is no true God except Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” 2) Salat, the five daily prayers, 3) Sawm, fasting, 4) Zakat, charity, and 5) Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims who are able.
- Muslims who adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam, remain in the faith of Islam, and sincerely repent of their sins go to Jannah (paradise) when they die. If they do not remain in the faith, they are apostate. Apostasy is handled in different ways under Islamic laws in different countries, with punishment ranging from execution to imprisonment, but in some countries there is no punishment.
- Islamic law should govern the entire world. (Not all Muslims believe this, but many do.) The framework of Islamic law is called Sharia, and there is a great deal of controversy within Islam about what that law specifically requires and how it is enforced. Radical Islamists use particular interpretations of verses from the Quran and certain Hadith to justify their acts of jihad, which can include terrorism and other forms of barbarism.
There are sects and factions within Islam that practice religious observances and hold views that are outside the mainstream faith. Examples include the Shiite holiday Ashoura (for which I won’t even provide a hyperlink because it involves grotesque self-mutilation), honor killings, and continuing acts of terrorism carried out in the form of jihad and in the name of Allah.
If you are trying to understand “Islamic fundamentalism” or “radical Islam,” some form of interpretation of, and adherence to, Shaira law is involved. If you study Islamic history, there is no shortage of bloodshed—as Islamic-historian-turned-Christian-evangelist Dr. Mark Gabriel notes.
But we still haven’t addressed the question, “Has true Islam been hijacked by radical elements, as many claim, or do the acts of terror that are so prevalent in the world today have epistemological roots in Islamic doctrine and theology?” We will.