The Basic Beliefs of Islam
Twelve centuries ago a religious movement thundered out of the Arabian Desert forever changing the course of human history. It's fiery leader, Mohammed, and his people, Muslims, now intrude into American religious life in an unprecedented way. The challenge they pose to New Testament Christianity is very real. Any sort of realistic defense that would be made against Islamic teaching must be based on an understanding of basic Islamic beliefs. This article will explore the fundamental tenets of the Muslim religion and their implications to Christianity.
Muslims are taught to practice their religion via the five "pillars" of Islam. These five pillars provide an excellent place to begin studying Islam. The first pillar is the reciting of the creed "There is no god but the One God, and Muhammad is his prophet." Muslims repeat this many times every day, believing that saying this in faith and sincerity is what makes one a Muslim. The second pillar is daily prayer. Muslims must pray five times each day, facing Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia. The third pillar is the giving of alms. Muslims are very concerned about caring for the poor. Set percentages of income are given to aid the impoverished. The fourth pillar is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year and commemorates the giving of the Quran to Mohammed. All faithful Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during this month. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, Ramadan comes at different times each year. The final pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every adult Muslim who is financially and physically able is expected to travel to Mecca once in his or her lifetime in the month of Dhul-Hijah. Various rituals and rites are performed during the time in Mecca.
Having examined the five pillars of Islam I believe we can distill Islam down to three foundational beliefs. First, at the core of everything Muslim is the idea of only one God. This is reflected in the first pillar, but also in everything else that Islam is and stands for. To the Muslim, God is One sovereign, all-mighty and unique Being. In Islam man is not to know God and become more like Him, but to learn God's will and become more obedient to His commands. To associate anything or anyone with Allah is incomprehensible to a Muslim and constitutes blasphemy. God is absolutely alone in the place given to Him by Islam. The Quran says "He is God; there is no god but he. He is the Knower of the unseen and the visible; He is the All-merciful, the All compassionate. He is God. There is no God but He. He is the King, the All-holy, the All-peace, the Guardian of Faith, the All-preserver, the All-mighty, the All-compeller, the All-sublime. Glory be to God . . . He is God the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper. To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the All-mighty, the All-wise." (59:22, all quotations from Pickthall's translation of the Quran).
Second, almost important as the idea of one God, is the concept of Mohammed being Allah's prophet. Muslims do not worship Mohammed (that is for Allah alone) but they do so reverence, glorify, and adore him that one might imagine he was deity. Muslim literature overflows with great tales of Mohammed. He is said to be a religious teacher, social reformer, tremendous administrator, military genius, perfect husband and father, and faithful friend. One Muslim writes "No other man in history ever excelled or equaled him in any of these different aspects of life." An unbiased examination of history will quickly find that Mohammed was not nearly as perfect or brilliant as Muslims want to believe. He sanctioned polygamy, ruthlessly exterminated his enemies, changed "divine law" whenever it suited him (2:217; 66:2) and took to himself privileges no other Muslim could have (33:50). He appears to have been little more than a very ambitious chieftain who founded a religion because he needed something to weld together various warring Arab tribes so he could fight against the Jews and Christians. His success is undeniable. His greatness is, to say the least, subject to debate.
Third, and tightly linked with the other two core beliefs, is the idea that the Quran is the absolute word of God. Muslims believe the Quran was given via the angel Gabriel to Mohammed when he was about forty years old. Supposedly Mohammed memorized it and dictated it to his companions who then wrote it down. Actually the Quran was collected from various writings after Mohammed had died. Nevertheless, the Quran is accepted as the last revealed word from God, and it supplants and supersedes every other prior revelation of God (i.e., the Bible). Muslims are taught that not one word of its 114 chapters have been changed in any way at all. This is, of course, not true. Islam does not even possess the original Quran. The oldest existing Quran is dated about 200 years after Mohammed. There are different early codexes of the Quran in existence that contain textual variants. The Quran itself contains contradictions (compare 7:54 and 32:4 to 41:9-12) and evidence of a progressively changing theology (see 2:106 and 9:54). Muslims will, however, vehemently deny that there are any problems of any kind with the Quran.
What are the ramifications of Islamic beliefs for Christians? First, if Allah is one then Jesus is not deity. The Quran contains several passages that are very explicit in stating that Jesus is certainly not God. "People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds in your religion, and say not as to God but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God... So believe in God and His Messengers, and say not, 'Three.' Refrain: better is it for you. God is only one God. Glory be to Him - He is above having a son" (4:171). Muslims believe Jesus was only a prophet of God (and a prophet not as great as Mohammed at that). He was not crucified, nor did He arise from the dead. Muslims love to quote from liberal Bible scholars who deny Jesus' deity, miracles, and the Bible's inspiration and integrity. These only reinforce the Muslim idea that Jesus is not God. Second, faith in the Quran means the Bible is insufficient, flawed and inaccurate. All Bible statements that contradict Islamic teaching or teach that Jesus is divine are either explained away or said to represent "corruption" in the Bible. Muslims claim to believe the Bible but they really don't, and usually know very little about it. It does not seem to faze or bother Muslims to believe that God allowed His word to be changed and altered. Further, they will not concede that if God allowed that to happen to the Bible logically the same could happen to the Quran. In fact, following this premise consistently would lead us all to be Mormons --- after all they have an even latter-day revelation!
So one can see that Islam and Christianity are forever set against each other as mortal enemies. Mohammed would destroy faith in our Savior and the Book that tells us of Him. Surely we must answer the rising threat of Islam or see many forfeit their souls in this false religion. It seems to me that dialogue with Muslims must begin by establishing the Bible's inspiration, reliability and veracity. Like all groups that accept and are guided by additional "revelation" no progress can be made until genuine faith in the Bible is established. It is not too difficult to show Muslims they should trust the Bible. Their Quran teaches Jesus was a prophet who should be believed (4:171; 5:78). Mohammed claimed his revelations could be verified by New Testament teachings (10:95). The New Testament of 700 AD (Mohammed's time) is the same as today (in fact, we have manuscripts that go back even further). If Mohammed was satisfied with the New Testament of his day Muslims should be too. It is the same book! Further, the Quran teaches that the Bible is the "word of Allah" (6:115-116) and "there is no changing the Words of Allah" (10:65). What Muslim can then believe the Bible was corrupted and changed? Other evidences for the Bible truthfulness, particularly manuscript evidence, can easily be had from any good handbook on apologetics. Gather this kind of material and prepare yourself to establish the Bible as God's only Word. Only in this way can we turn so many zealous followers of a deluded man into followers of the Christ of God.
By Mark Roberts
From Expository Files 8.11; November 2001