Islam

[Introduction] [Growth in the United States] [Definitions] [Schools of Islam] [History] [Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations]
[Islamic Beliefs] [Sin and Salvation] [Sharing the Gospel] [The Nation of Islam]


Introduction

Islam is a great world religion with very distinctly different views from Christianity.  It is the world's second largest religion with numbers that will eclipse Christianity within a few years.  There are mosques appearing throughout the United States in every increasing numbers as immigrants from Islamic countries come into this country.  Entire countries are fueled by Islamic doctrines, and much of the Western world is dependent on Islamic nations for their oil and other petroleum needs.  Without the favor of these countries, many Western countries would be plunged into economic chaos.  Unfortunately, very few Christians have any good view as to Islamic beliefs and are frequently rather intimidated by their Islamic brothers.

Islam is becoming more important in America as its numbers grow - especially among Black Americans.  Christianity Today reports that between 1989 and 1998, the Islamic population in Europe grew over 100% to 14 million (approximately 2% of the population).  During the same period, the Moslem population in America grew by 25%.  An estimated 4 to 6 million Muslims live in the United States today, and Islam will probably become the second largest religion in America by 2015, surpassing Judaism according to some estimates.  Other estimates indicate Islam has achieved this rank already.

Moslems are everywhere.  A hospital in Detroit offers Moslems a copy of the Quran, and Denver International Airport has a chapel for Muslim prayers.  The United States Senate has invited a Muslim cleric to open its session in prayer, the military has hired four Muslim chaplains, the White House sends greetings on Id al"Firr - the feast that ends Ramadan.  Ira Rifkin of Religion News Service (Nov. 30, 1999) writes, "On Capitol Hill ... weekly Muslim prayer services and forums to expose congressional staffers to Muslim viewpoints have become regular fare" and "a bill has been introduced in Congress to issue a postage stamp commemorating Ramadan."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is very politically active promoting the cause of Islam in the United States.  In the Fall of 1999, American Muslims were called upon to boycott Disney by CAIR to protest the Jerusalem exhibit at Disney World's EPCOT.  They cited Israel's "illegal occupation and annexation" of Jerusalem, saying Disney ignored the city's significance to Islam.  "Since Disney has elected to venture from entertainment into politics, the corporation must see that our community will not accept its endorsement of Israel's acquisition of territory by force," said Khalid Turaani, executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem.

Muslim influence has extended into the arena of the public school system.  CAIR notes that American public schools are a "major area in which Muslim apprehension about the lack of religious accommodation is growing."  The report did note progress in Chicago, where alternative foods are made available when pork is served, and in Fairfax County, Virginia where a "pig" sign on school menu indicates items that include pork; and in Paterson, New Jersey where the school district cancels classes on two Muslim holidays.

Islam is also evangelistic.  Mission Frontiers (October 1999), the journal arm of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, spearheads a "massive Islamic missionary effort...Vast sums of [oil] money are used to propagate Islam around the world: aid to countries considered sympathetic, building mosques, sending missionaries, literature, radio, etc.  The world's largest printing presses are located here, and they churn out 28 million copies of the Koran every year for worldwide distribution."  Islam views the West as one of its final missionary frontiers.  David Echols, the outreach director of the South Asian Friendship Center in Chicago who has worked in Pakistan for 25 years, notes, "They see us [in the West] as having forsaken the foundations of our faith" and view Westerners as ripe for conversion to Islam.  Samuel Naaman, a Pakistani whose Muslim father was a terrorist before converting to Christianity,  notes, "In their minds and hearts Muslims believe firmly that Christianity has failed on the racial, social, and religious perspectives.  Look at society and the people who claim to be Christians.  What is the difference between them?  Muslims believe they have a mandate from God that the whole world has to come under the banner of Islam."  Indeed, Islamic missionary efforts are productive, especially in United States prisons and university campuses.  The majority of American converts to Islam - 75 to 90 percent - are black.  Of the estimated 6 million Muslims in the United States, 2.6 million are black.  Carl Ellis notes, "One out of every 15 blacks identifies him or herself as Muslim." (Christianity Today, April 3, 2000).  Furthermore, The United States military has tripled the number of Muslim chaplains in the ranks.  In 1999, Georgetown University began a three-year project "to document the impact of Muslim Americans on the American horizon.  Islamic Horizons is one of the most influential Muslim journals in America with a distribution of more than 60,000.  They noted in an article "Why Muslim Americans Need to Vote" that "Muslim Americans have power and its accompanying responsibility.  We represent $75 billion of collective annual income, more than any Muslim country can produce."  The same issue related how Muslim American complaints about a CNN online posting referring to Jerusalem as "the capital of Israel" prompted CNN to make appropriate changes quickly.  

The growing influence of Muslim Americans has not been lost on politicians either.  Former New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd Whitman signed a bill making New Jersey (home to an estimated 400,000 Muslims_ "the first state to enact a law ensuring the authenticity of Halal food."  Two Muslim Americans made history recently by delivering the benedictions on the first day of both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.  Also, in 2000, Congress called upon the United States Postal Service to issue a postal stamp commemorating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  At the same time Islam is targeting the American Christian community for converts, Christians don't understand Islam and have no way to counter-evangelize.  Most Christians view Islam as so foreign to their way of thinking and their culture that they are unwilling to even learn the fundamentals of the faith let alone evangelism techniques.

While Muslim gain greater rights and political influence in the West, persecution of religious minorities by extreme Islamic elements in Muslim countries continues in some Asian and middle Eastern countries.  The 1999 United States State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom notes that in Pakistan, for example, "discriminatory legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance.'  The report notes that Christians "face harassment and intimidation."  In Saudi Arabia, "any attempt to convert a Muslim to another faith is subject to criminal prosecution.  Public religious worship by any non-Muslim is a criminal offense."  In Sunday, "Christians, practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, and Muslims who deviate from the Government's interpretation of Islam are subject to severe limits on religious freedom, including killing, prolonged arbitrary detention or imprisonment, threats, violence, and force conversion to Islam."

"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet (or messenger) of Allah" is the great confession or Shahada which faithful Muslims around the world declare daily.  Almost a billion people worldwide claim Allah as their God, and Muhammad as their prophet, and it is this belief that separates Islam from Christianity and all other world religions.  According to most reports, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.  For example, in Europe, according to United Nations statistics, between 1989 and 1998 the Islamic population grew by more than 100% to about 14 million or 2% of the population.  At the current rate of growth, it is estimated that Islam's population by the year 2025 will be 1.9 billion (about 24 percent of the total European population.

One of the most common misconceptions Westerners have about Muslims is that most of them are Arabic.  "The major sections of Muslim populations are concentrated in Asia and Africa.  Muslims are, by and large, people of color."  Missiologist Roland Miller relates that more than 68% of all Muslims live in Asia and more than 27% live in Africa.  Indonesia has roughly 15% of the world's Muslim population, and in South Asia almost one-third of the world's Muslim population live in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.

The growth rate of Islam in Western nations (including the US and Canada) primarily comes through a high Muslim birth rate and immigration, nor from converts.  Both Christian and Muslim sources assert that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States.  The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2000 gives the figure of 3,950,000 Muslims in America today.  Islamic Horizons states that there are eight to ten million Muslims in North America.  The most common figure cited (the statistic the United States government frequently uses) is about 6 million.  The largest concentration of Muslims are in California, New York and Illinois - with an estimated 400,000 in the Chicago area.  According to United Nations statistics, the Muslim population in the United States grew by 25% between 1989 and 1998.  In 1990 there were only about 50 Islamic schools in America.  Today the number is over 200.  Since about 1990 the number of "registered Islamic centers and mosques" has tripled to "more than 2,500."

 Factors for Growth in the United States

In the book, The Muslims of America, Prof. Yvonne Haddad notes the factors responsible for the phenomenal growth of Islam in the United States, "The dramatic growth of the Muslim community in the United States is a recent phenomenon, taking place primarily over the last three decades in response to changes in American immigration laws and the demands of the labor market."  Islamic Horizons echoes this assertion, "The Muslims of North America proudly flaunt the fact that they are a people with a population over eight million and growing.... These figures do not, however, highlight the fact that a vast majority of these eight million are Muslims who either came to this continent after the 1960's or are reverts [i.e., people who return to their former Muslim beliefs]."

Thus, conversion has not been the major factor for the growth of Islam in the United States - with two major exceptions.  The first is given by Wendy Zoba in a Christianity Today cover story entitled "Islam, U.S.A.": "Islam is gaining most of its U.S. converts in prisons and on university campuses as we have noted previously.  The second is the number of American women who marry Muslim men and convert - this number is estimated to be about 7,000 a year.

Definitions

Islam is the name of a religion that came out of the revelations and teachings of Muhammad, and is the Arabic word for "submission."  Muslim is the name given to one who practices the religion of Islam.  Muslin is a cognate of Islam, and means 'one who submits" to the will of Allah as expressed through Muhammad.

Allah is the Islamic name for God and cannot be translated into English.  One Muslim writer indicated that "The word means the unique God Who possesses all the attributes of perfection and beauty in their infinitude.  Muslims feel strongly that the English word 'God' does not convey the real meaning of the word "Allah." (Bedru D. Kateregga, with David W. Shenk, Islam and Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980),1).

Muhammad was an Arab born in the city of Mecca in A.D. 570 who claimed that he was the prophet to restore true religion and the praise of Allah throughout the World, much like Christ was a prophet in His time for His people.  Muhammad means "the one who is praised."  The Quran is Arabic for "the recitation," and relies upon the collection of revelations which were given to Muhammad from Allah.  Muslims believe in the Law of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Injil or gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, they believe that those Scriptures and traditions were superceded by the scriptures given through Muhammad, and that the Bible is a distorted version of those scriptures.  Wherever the Bible contradicts the Quran, the Bible is wrong for the Quran is a more perfect manifestation of God's will and mind.  The Quran contains 1143 revelations, each composing one Sura or chapter.  The shortest revelations appear first, while the longest ones appear last, but there is no chronological arrangement.  Also important is the Hadith or "collected traditions."  These are the supposed words of Muhammad and are the customs and traditions which provide for the intricate political and social structure of Islam.  A Caliph is Arabid for "deputy"  and refers to the main leaders of Islam - especially the immediate successors of Muhammad.  An Ayatollah refers to a spiritual leader in Shi'ite Islam.

"Schools" of Islam

Just as with Christianity, Islam is divided upon many religions doctrines and traditions.  By far the greatest number of Muslims worldwide are members of the Sunnite faith who accept the first four caliphs in direct succession from Muhammad and no others.  Ninety percent of the Muslims in the Middle East are Sunnis (90% of the Egyptian Muslims, 90% of the Jordanian Muslims, 90% of the Saudi Muslims, and 98% of the Libyan Muslims.

The second largest school of Islam is the Shi'ite school.  It is much smaller that the Sunnite part, and has a much more literal and dogmatic approach to Islam and is generally much more militant.  Ninety-five of Iran's Muslims are Shi'ites, as are most of the Islam in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen.  The name Shi'ite is a corruption of Shi'at Ali ("partisans of Ali") as they reject all subsequent caliphs who are not descendants of Ali.  For the Twelver Shi'ites, there followed a line of twelve Imams or spiritual leaders who all claim Ali as an ancestor.  Most of them were killed, and the twelfth and final Imam - Muhammad - mysteriously disappeared.  It is believed that he will miraculously return to the earth as the Mahdi - a manner similar to the Judeo-Christian Messiah.  This hidden Imam will bring about a golden age of Islam before the end of the world.  The Ismailites, or Sevener Shi'ites, hold that Ishmail was the final Imam.  The billionaire Aga Khan is the current head of the Ishmailites.

The Ahmdiyan school, was founded by Mirza Ahmad (1839-1908) of Punjab, India.  He claimed to be the Messiah and the very image of Muhammad.  He taught that Christ fainted on the cross, but was revived by medicatoin (called the "Jesus salve") only to die later in Kashmir.  This small group has produced much of the Islamic apologetic against Christianity, and are highly visible in American campuses using aggressive proselytizing techniques.

The Sufi School is the mystical school of Islam and are rejected by many conservative Muslims.The Alawites are also considered outside of orthodox Islam, live primarily in Israel and Lebanon, and claim  to be followers of Ali.  They believe in reincarnation, that women do not have souls, that God presented himself as divine emanations through Salman, Muhammad, and Ali.  They have a separate holy gook and have Gnostic and even Masonic elements.  President Anwar Sadat of Syria is an Alawite, and are most populous in his country - although still a minority.

History

According to the Scriptures, the modern Arabs can be traced back to Shem and are therefore properly known as Semites.  Shem's descendant Eber gave rise to two lines: Peleg's line from which Abraham is descended, and Joktan's line which contains the names of many Arab nationalities.  However, many Arab tribes will trace their ancestry back to Ishmael who was the firstborn son of Abraham.  Being "Arab" originally referred to Arabic speakers and those living in Saudi Arabia.  Being Arab is inherited through the male since intermarriage with non-Arab women was common and is still permitted by the Quran.

The first extrabiblical mention of the Arabs was during the reign of King Shalmanesar III (859-8243 B.C.).  Among nomadic groups, the leader was the sheikh; he had no authoritative powers but was considered "first among equals."  Their religion was polytheistic and related to the paganism of the early Semites.  The beings they worshipped were the inhabitants and patrons of single places, such as a tree, and sacred stones.  Additionally, there were some gods in the traditional sense as well, who could transcend the boundaries and authority of a tribal cult.  The three most important of these transcendent deities were Manat, Uzza and Allat.  These three were themselves descended from a single higher deity - usually called Allah.  The tribes were migratory and carried their gods with them in a red tent, forming a kind of ark of the covenant.  The tribal faith usually centered around the tribal god symbolized by a stone or by some other object that was guarded by the "sheikhly house."

The Koran mentions these pagan deities in Sura 53:19-20: "Have ye seen Lat, and Uzza, and another, the third (goddess), Manat."  This is followed by an assertion that these three goddesses, the daughters of Allah the moon god according to pre-Islamic Arab theology, are mere human creations that divide Gode into three parts (Sura 53:21-23).  There is ample evidence to suggest that the Allah of the Islamic faith found its first expression in pre-Islamic times as the moon-god (Allah); the feminized version of which is Allat.  A suggestion of this association is found in the symbolism of the Islamic faith - the crescent moon.

Muhammad was born in Mecca to Abdullah, who died two months after he was born, and Aminah, who died when he was six years old.  Mecca was a large commercial city known for its Ka'aba ("cube"); a building famous for its 360 idols containing images of the moon god Hubal, al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat, and the Black Stone.  Muhammad's fakmily was from the Hashemite clan of the Quraysh tribe.  After the death of his mother, Muhammad went to live with his grandfather, Abd-al-Mutalib, who probided a Bedouin foster mother for him.  After the death of his grandfather when Muhammad was eight, he then returned to Mecca to live with his uncle, Abu Talib.  At the age of 25, Muhammad married a wealthy forty-year-old, Khadijah.  He remained with Khadijah for 25 years, and she bore him two sons who died in infancy, and four daughters.  After Khadijah died in 619 or 620, Muhammad married a widow of a disciple and a seven-year-old, Ayisha.  By the time of his death, Muhammad had twelve wives and two concubines (including Maryan (Mary), an Egyptian Coptic slave - a Christian who chose to remain a slave rather than convert to Islam).

According to extra-Quran sources, Muhammad's first mystical experience was being attacked by two men who cut open his belly in search of something.  His foster mother thought he was demon-possessed after finding him standing and apparently not the victim of any violence at all. Muhammad later claimed his attackers to be angels who cleansed his heart.  In 610 A.D., Muhammad claimed to receive his first of a series of revelations of the Quran from God through the angel Gabriel.  His first disciple was his wife, then his cousin Ali, then his slave, and then his friend Abu Bakr.  His following consistently grew without many problems, first with slaves, the poor and the oppressed, but then with some wealthy clans. According to some, he used the so-called Satanic verses (a now-deleted version of Sura 53:19 that advocated the worship of the three daughters of Allah.  Later, Gabriel chided Muhammad for claiming divine inspiration for this verse and told him he did so while under the power of Satan).  Muslim apologists claim that the Satanic verses incident never happened and that Muhammad always derided the existence of pagan gods. At any rate, others begin to challenge his power although the movement continued to grow.  His wife and his uncle, his main protectors, both died in 619 or 620; the following year, he was offered protection from powerful families in Yathrib.

The "hijra" or "migration" is the next significant event to occur in Islamic history.  After his uncle Abu Talib died, the leaders of various Meccan tribes tried to assassinate him.  The angel Gabriel warned Muhammad of their intent, and he and his friend Abu Bakr fled to Yathrib, 280 miles north of Mecca.  At that time, Yathrib was a town dominated by Jewish groups but was without a stable government.  Muhammad arrived on September 20, 622 and started to establish his power base.  Soon, he established the umma; a theocracy under his authority, and was able to obtain complete control of Yathrib, renaming it Medina.  Fearing the growing power of Muhammed, a Meccan army of 10,000 arrived in Medina to attack him, but Muhammad and an army of 3000 men had prepared by digging a trench around the city.  The Meccans gave up and turned back home.  The Medinans under Muhammad retaliated by attacking a Jewish tribe for allegedly conspiring with the Meccans, killing all 800 adult male Jews of this tribe while selling the women and children into slavery.  Finally, in 630, forces under Muhammad were able to conquer Mecca, and on June 8, 632 Muhammad died.  His successors were able to obtain Palestine and Syria away from the Byzantines (629-641), conquered Iraq and Persia (6334-63), Egypt (69), Tripoli (644), Toledo in Spain and western India (712).  Later, Crete (825), and Sicily (899) fell under Islamic domination.

Arab domination of conquered lands did not last forever, however. Soon, many Muslim states began to declare their independence. In the early 1000s, the Seljuk Turks, who had recently embraced Islam, began to claim land for themselves gradually displacing the Arab Muslims. By 1055, Tughrul Beg, who was the leader of the Seljuk Turks, took control of Baghdad. The Ottomon Turks supplanted the Seljuks and became even more of a military force in the region. Under their domination, Muslims went far into continental Europe conquering Serbia (1459), Greece (1461), Bosnia (1463), Herzegovina (1483), Montenegro (1499), parts of Hungary (1526-1547), and even Poland (1676). The Ottoman Empire had such great domination over the area that many countries did not regain their independence until the 1800s. Montenegro did not win independence until 1799, Serbia in 1817, Greece in 1821, and Bulgaria in 1878. The hold of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East was eventually broken under Napoleon, and were then later held by the British and French.

Many Middle Eastern countries did not come into existence until very recently in the 20th century. For example, Iraq became independence in 1921, Egypt in 1937, Lebanon in 1945, Syria in 1946, Jordan in 1946, and Kuwait in 1961.

Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations

Originally, the Muslims had great tolerance toward other religions. For example, Sura 2:256 says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." Later, Muhammad seemed to have a much harsher attitude. Indeed, Sura 9:5 says, "Fight and slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and seize them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them." Furthermore, any resistance was to be met forcefully. Sura 5:33 notes, "The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land." Jews and Christians were considered "People of the Book" (Sura 5:5). However, tolerance for other religions ended there, for Jews were called people "who will listen to any lie" And Christians are "enemies" (Sura 5:14). Furthermore, Muslims were to keep apart from Christians and Jews and not to have them as friends (Sura 5:15).

Those with different beliefs also had difficulty living in lands controlled by the Muslims. The Pact of Omar, written originally in about 637 by Christians under Caliph Omar 1, made Christians agree not to repair damaged churches or erect new ones, not to display crosses on their churches, not to bear arms, and not to preach too loudly when a Muslim happened to be present. They could not adopt any aspect of Muslim culture, or fraternize with Muslims; to do otherwise was to risk loss of protection and encourage possible persecution. However, despite these restrictions, many Christians and Jews became intellectual leaders in Muslim countries and enjoyed freedom and benefits they might not have had in their own countries.

Even though freedoms were allowed those of different religious beliefs living in Muslim lands, penalties were strict for those who failed to comply. Joel Barlow, an early American statesman, noted conditions in Turkish-controlled Algeria in 1796: "The number of mosques ... is infinite in Algiers. One can look in while passing before the door, but it is forbidden for an Infidel to enter. The penalty for this crime is to become a Mohammedan, to be hanged, or burned alive, depending on whether one is a Christian or a Jew. If it happens to me, through intoxication or some other accident to fall into this death, I shall become a Muhammadan immediately, for I have not enough religion of any kind to make me a martyr."

Christians and Jews living under Islamic rule generally did well, however - in many cases better than they would have experienced while living in Roman Catholic Western Europe. Most Spanish Christians viewed Muslims as fellow monotheists who held the Bible in high regard. One priest complained about the large numbers of Spaniards who preferred to study Arabic literature rather than Scriptures. Eulogius (d. 859) denounced Islam as a heresy and branded Muhammad "the Antichrist" and a false prophet. From then on, relationships between Christians and Muslims living in Spain were less cordial. Still, there have been very few evangelistic activities directed toward the Muslims over the years with the exception of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and Raymond Lull (1235-1315).

Religious persecution has been common under the rule of Islam. For recent examples, we have only to note the 50,000 Greeks and Armenians massacred in 1822, the 10,000 Armenians and Nestorians murdered in 1850, 11,000 Maronites and Syrians in 1860, 15,000 Bulgarians in 1876, 10,000 Armenians in 1894, 325,000 Armenians from 1895-1908, 30,000 Armenians in 1909, and 80 percent of the Armenians people (1.5 million) between 1915 and 1918. Opposition to Christians has been particularly severe in Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Even in relatively moderate Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, importation of a Bible, Christians evangelism, and conversion from Islam may be considered capital offenses.

Islamic Beliefs

Many Christians hold the belief that Islam is very similar to Christianity, believing that we both worship the same God. An extension of this belief is that Christianity and Islam are very similar, being different in only some rather minor respects. However, Islam is clearly very different from Christianity, as they reject the divinity of Christ, the approachability of God, as well as the Trinity.

God

For the Muslim, Allah is the only one true God; belief in the Trinity would be considered blasphemous. The Muslim concept of God is very different from the Christian, for he is unapproachable by sinful man. It is the Muslim's desire to submit to the will of God to the extent where the judging arm of Allah can be held back and where he can then inherit eternal life. Muslims have no concept of God as being a loving and compassionate Father. Allah can be merciful, however. Sura 11:90 says, "Ask forgiveness of your Lord, then repent to Him; surely my Lord is All-compassionate, All-loving" and 85:14 notes, "He is the All-forgiving, the All-loving." Other than these two passages, there is not a single passage in the Quran that indicates God loves any portion of mankind. People cannot come to know God in any kind of a personal, intimate manner, for God in unapproachable.

To the Muslim, God has no likeness for he is transcendent (Sura 4:171) and unknowable. Allah is wholly other and different from mankind, for he is neither spirit nor physical. For the Christian, man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and we have a knowledge of God in our hearts (Romans 1:19-20). For the Christian, God is a spirit (John 4:24) although not physical.

One of the prerogatives of the Quran is abrogation, a term referring to the "destruction or annulling of a former law by an act of the legislative power, by constitutional authority or by usage." This is taught in three separate places in the Quran. Sura 2:100/106 notes, "And for whatever verse we abrogate or cast into oblivion, we bring one better or like it"; Sura 13:39 says, "Every term has a Book. God blots out, and He establishes whatsoever He will; and with Him is the Mother of all Books"; and sura 16:1201, "And when we exchange a verse in the place of another verse - and God knows very well what He is sending down - they says, 'The art a mere forger!' Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge. Say: 'The Holy Spirit [in Islam the Holy Spirit is Gabriel] sent it down from the Lord in truth, and to confirm those who believe, and to be a guidance and good tidings to those who surrender." For the Christian, God's Word is Eternal - just as eternal as God Himself for there is no real difference! The Bible notes that heaven and earth would pass away before even the smallest jot or tittle of the scriptures would change (Matthew 5:18). The Bible is never "abrogated", because God does not change (Malachi 3:6). If the Quran can be changed, then there are a multitude of thorny theological problems:
 

  • The Quran cannot then be trusted because it then would contain contradictions. If God is abrogating his own revelation, the "eternal speech of God," then how can we be certain He will not change his mind when it comes to our eternal salvation?
  • Some Muslims may argue that the Quran cannot be abrogated in the future because Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. But how do we know that God won't abrogate that revelation and send yet another even greater prophet?
  • If God has done any abrogation, as the Quran indicates, then it is not a process of progressive revelation (which builds upon other revelation and is additive in nature), but rather contradiction and annulment (which displaces and discards what previously was considered true). This would mean that God changed his mind, or did not know how things were going to turn out.
  • If the Muslim God is not consistent with his dealings with man, then his creatures have no absolute moral standards for their conduct either. Morality and ethics must either be absolute, invariant and universal, or relative, variant, and not universal. We would then become autonomous because we would then lack any divine standard upon which to base our conduct.
Jesus Christ

For the Muslim, Jesus Christ is not the unique Son of God; rather, He is only one of the many prophets of Allah (Sura 4:171, 5:74), and is superceded by Muhammad. Christ for the Muslim is nothing more than a slave upon whom God showed favor (Sura 43:59). Christ was sinless (Sura 3:46) although he did not atone for anyone's sins. The Quran indicates that Christ performed many miracles (Sura 3:49) and was the Messiah (Sura 3:45, 4:157, 171). However, Jesus Christ did not die on the cross. There are various explanations as to what actually happened. Some traditions hold that Christ miraculously substituted Judas Iscariot for Himself, or that God miraculously delivered him from the hands of the Romans and Jews before he could be crucified. Most Muslims believe Christ was taken into heaven without having died (Sura 4:157).

What is even more interesting, however, is to compare Jesus Christ with Muhammad according to the Quran. Jesus did miracles (Sura 3:49, 5:110), but Muhammad did not (Sura 13:8). Jesus was sinless (Sura 3:46) while Muhammad sinned and needed forgiveness (Sura 40:55: "ask forgiveness of thy sin"; 42:5: "ask forgiveness for those on the Earth"; 47:19: "ask forgiveness for thy sin"; 48:2: "that Allah may forgive thee of thy sin"). Jesus is called "the Messiah" and was born of a virgin (3:45-57). Still, Muhammad is considered the greater prophet.

Sin and Salvation

The Quran indicates that all have sinned: "If God were to take mankind to task for their wrongdoing, he would not leave here one living creature" (Sura 16:61a), and were created weak (Sura 4:28). Indeed, as we have seen before, even Muhammad sinned. Every Muslim who wishes to escape the wrath of God must fulfill the works of the Five Pillars of the Faith (Sura 10:109):
 

  • Recitation of the Shahada ("There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah");
  • Give daily prescribed prayers in Arabic. These prayers include genuflection and prostration in the direction of Mecca - the holy city;
  • Almsgiving, which is unlike the tithe as the Muslim is only required to give one-fortieth of their income as charitable contribution,
  • Fasting during the entire holy month of Ramadan, when Moslems are supposed to fast from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset in atonement for their own sins over the previous year. After sunset, the situation is different, and many Muslims enjoy a feast, and then get up before sunrise to eat some more before the sun rises again the fast begins again.
  • A pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, the holy city, at least once in their lifetime.
Holy war (gihad) also used to be a condition of faith whereby the early Muslims believed it was their sacred duty to murder anybody who would not embrace the one true faith. However, Islam is more tolerant today, although some groups talk about restoring the jihad as one of the essentials of Islamic faith.

Sharing the Gospel with a Muslim

Historically, discussion between a Christian and a Muslim has been rare, because there is so little understanding of each other's faith. The key topics for discussion between the two should center upon the identity of Christ, salvation by grace rather than works, and characteristics of God. For the Christian, God loves His creation, and we can have a close and personal relationship with Him. This concept is missing from Islam and yet is essential for peace and happiness with God. Many Muslims will refuse to listen, claiming that the Bible is distorted and untrustworthy. Christians should respond to this challenge the same way they should respond to any challenge to the authority and inspiration of the Bible by referring them to works showing the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible - both the Old and New Testament.

Another approach would be to show how the Muslim God is unreliable, abrogating at will Scriptures, thereby undermining any belief in absolute Truth. Such a God is self-contradictory, preventing us from ever really knowing anything for certain; especially our salvation. The Muslims might state that the Bible is mistranslated by both Jews and Christians, but the Quran says that they only misinterpret and disbelieve it (Sura 3:70-71). According to the Quran, only the Jews have mistranslated Scripture (Sura 2:75-79; 4:46). All textural variations of the Quran were destroyed by Caliph Uthman (ruled 646-656); his version is the only one to have survived.

The Old Testament has had several versions existing for many years before the Quran was ever written, such as the Septuagint and the Syrian Peshitta, along with the Targums. The New Testament has at least 9,000 manuscript copies existing before Muhammad, and 36,000 quotations in the writings of the early Church Fathers. The Quran sites its elegance as evidence for its divine inspiration, but certainly there are many books that were not divinely inspired but are nonetheless elegant. Some might claim that the rapid spread of Islam speaks to its divine nature, but there were other empires that spread even faster which were certainly not divine, such as that under Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.

The Muslim should be told about the good news of the Gospel; that salvation and peace with God are gifts and not dependent upon works. No man can work his way into heaven. Biblical salvation does not depend upon our own effort, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam is a very popular organization claiming about 100,000 members in the United States. The movement has been well publicized in Spike Lee's 1992 film, Malcolm X, and the many published works of Rev. Louis Farrakhan and Khallid Abdul Muhammad. It is influential among African Americans of many ages, but particularly among the young. Rappers and rap music artists such as Public Enemy and Ice Cube have further popularized the movement, and numerous African-American colleges and university publications actively promote the organization and its beliefs.

The Nation of Islam originated in a group called the Moorish American Science Temple in Newark, N.J. in 1913 by B. Timothy Drew (1866-1929). Drew, who later changed his name to Noble Drew Ali, was a North Carolinian who claimed to have received a commission from the King of Morocco to spread the beliefs of Islam throughout the United States. Christianity was the white European man's religion, and Islam is for the Asian - or particularly the Moor's (Black Man). After Drew died, his following was split between John Givens El in Chicago and William D. Fard (or Farad) in Detroit, each claiming to be his reincarnation. El's fathers are known as the Moorish Americans and Fard's as Black Muslims of the Nation.

Fard claimed to have born in Mecca in 1877 and to have been trained as a diplomat for the Arabian Kingdom. However, it seems as though he really worked as a street vendor and amateur magician before becoming a minister in the Nation. He felt that Blacks were intrinsically good whereas Whites were intrinsically bad or evil. Using the various scriptures of the Bible, the Quran, and his own books, he worked out a strange theology by which Asians and Whites would fight it out at the Battle of Armageddon. Interestingly, even thou Fard felt Whites were inferior, he himself was half white. Fard's parents were the British Zared Ford and Maori Beatrice Ford of New Zealand (a Maori). In 1930, Fard opened a temple in Detroit, marking the birth of the Nation of Islam. The next year, Fard claimed to be God (Allah) and was sent to resurrect the lost tribe of Shabazz - the Black people of America. In addition to these doctrines, Fard became well known because of his very light complexion - a reflection of his being half white. In 1931 while preaching at his mosque in Detroit, Fard met Elijah Poole who he was able to recruit into the Nation. Poole later changed his name to Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad and Fard then preached throughout the United States to Black America teaching that Blacks must take the responsibility for their own advancement and should separate themselves from the White establishment. Black America was blamed for allowing themselves to become so subservient to the White power structure, as well as for abusing alcohol, engaging in gambling, and for not being respectful to women. Fard left the nation under somewhat mysterious circumstances in 1933. It was claimed by many at the time that Fard was murdered by Elijah Muhammad, an allegation vigorously denied by Muhammad who insisted Fard returned to Mecca. It also soon became clear that Elijah Muhammad was an astute businessman in addition to being a religious leader. His businesses flourished and he was able to move his Nation from Detroit to a Chicago mosque he purchased which would become its world headquarters. He was able to speak to the masses of Black people through publications; a well known book, "Message to the Black People" and his newspaper, "Muhammad Speaks."

Perhaps the most influential person reached through these efforts was a young black named Malcolm Little. Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1929. At the age of six his father who was a preacher was found beaten to death. Later on he moved to Boston for a while to live with his sister then later moved to Harlem NY to live on his own. After a time of selling drugs and engaging in petty burglary, Malcolm was sentenced to 9 years in prison. It was in prison where he was introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Upon his release from prison Malcolm changed his name to Malcolm X and moved to Detroit to preach in Muhammad's mosque. Malcolm X continued to gain power in the Nation after he set up mosques in Boston and Harlem. But people in the Nation of Islam grew tired of Malcolm and said that he was just trying to steal the spotlight from the Nation and that they wanted him out of the Nation of Islam. But Malcolm was already planning to leave the Nation because of the rumors that Elijah Muhammad had many illegitimate children and was not following the Islamic beliefs that the Nation was trying to uphold. He started the Muslim Mosque Inc. and announced his break from the Nation of Islam. He decided to take a holy pilgrimage to Mecca where he learned that people of all races were Muslim and that the teaching of hate based on the Muslim faith was wrong. Then on February 21 1965 he was assassinated in New York while preparing to give a speech. He was killed by three black men who were supposedly tied to the Nation of Islam. After Elijah Muhammad died in 1975 the Nation of Islam was taken over by Elijah's son Wallace Muhammad (later Warith Deen Muhammad) who wanted to change the Nation to a more orthodox version of Islam for the "religious unification of all the worlds Muslims." Then in May 1985 he announced the end of the Nation in order to fulfill his vision and unify the worldwide Muslim community. The Nation became The World Community of Al-Islam in the West (later the American Muslim Mission). This group has rejected the racial separatism, racism, and discriminatory beliefs of Wallace Fard. Ministers became imams, temples became mosques, and the belief that American Blacks were descendants of the Asian tribe of Shabazz was changed to a belief that they are Bilalians - that is, they have a special bond with the first Ethiopians who became Muslim "Bilal." Thus, the newspaper of the Nation (Muhammad Speaks) became the Bilalian News, and then later the Muslim Journal.

A separatist group led by Louis Farrakhan was formed in 1977 and upheld the separatist beliefs of the old Nation of Islam as enunciated under Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan is a very charismatic leader who appeared on television numerous times, is a sought after speaker by college and university student groups, and publishes his opinions and beliefs in The Final Call. He is perhaps best known for his diatribes against and hatred of all whites and Jews, and has been accused of by the widow of Malcolm X of being involved in his assassination. In 1984, Farrakhan denounced Judaism as a "gutter religion" and referred to Adolf Hitler as a "wickedly great man." More recently, he has tried to modify his public image by presenting himself as a more moderate religious leader and political leader. He has tried to reach out to the political mainstream and "progressive" African-Americans and has become involved in a national summit of black political leaders, including many from the Black Congressional Caucus. Despite his attempts to reach out to moderate America, he has agreed with the "truths" announced by their spokesman, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, in Kean College in New Jersey on November 29, 1993. In this speech, Muhammad called the Pope a "cracker" and referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers" who are in a conspiracy to control the economy of the United States. Farrakhan later condemned whites and jews with his own inflammatory rhetoric. Despite this, a 1994 poll showed that 63% of African Americans believe Farrakhan speaks the truth, and that one-third of African Americans expressed a favorable opinion according to a New York Times poll.

The rhetoric of Farrakhan is consistent with the historical beliefs of the Nation. They believe that all members of the Nation are God, but that Allah was incarnate only in Wallace Fard Muhammad, who is the Mahdi and the Messiah. Also, they assert that God was once a scientist who wanted to create a single language on the earth, but sadly was unable to do so. After this failure, he decided to destroy the earth - the site of his failure - but only was able to cause the moon to separate from the earth 66 trillion years ago. They reject the concept that God is a spirit - or as they say, a "spook."

Another rather odd historical belief of the Nation is that the earth and the original Black Man were created by Allah, and that all living blacks are descendants of the tribe of Shabazz. Fifth thousand years ago, the members of this tribe suffered the strange misfortunate at the hands of another mad scientist who turned their hair kinky. Subsequently, many years later, another 600 year old scientist, Yakub, began experimenting with genetics and created the brown man. Then, two hundred years later, this same scientist then created the red man, and then the yellow man in another 200 years, and then finally the white man. This was about 6000 years ago, or in 4004 B.C. This Yakub is the same Jacob of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, allegedly distorted by the writers of the King James Version of the Bible. According to the Nation, these writers included William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon - facts that certainly would have been news to them! The white man is the devil incarnate, and was given 6000 years to rule the earth; a period that ended in 1914. Because the white man is so evil, it should come as no surprise that he is responsible for creation of concentration camps, nuclear weapons, and even the virus which caused AIDS. The Quran, however, says that Allah created mankind (not a mad scientist), and that it was created in different colors as a sign of his glory (Sura 30:22).

The Nation holds that the Jewish people are the "brains" of the white-dominated world, and are thus largely guilty of the oppression of the Black people. The Jews are thus acting out their evil destiny as people controlled by Satan, and are thus inherently evil. Further, one evil (White) group killing another evil group is only a problem for the devil as they are both his possession. Thus, when Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews in concentration camps, the Nation believes this is only one group of evil whites killing another group of evil whites; therefore not a problem. Farrakhan says he is not anti-Semitic because he is not for the extermination of the Jewish people. Farrakhan it would seem has made his own definition of anti-Semitism, although it may certainly include that meaning. Perhaps a more correct definition of anti-Semitism might be, "hostile expressions toward, or negative behavior against, individuals or groups because of their Jewish faith or heritage." As a part of his unique anthropology, Farrakhan holds that modern Jews are descendants of the Khazars - a Turkish tribe that lived in the Caucasus Mountains from about 700-1100 - another bizarre rewriting of history. Furthermore, their book, The Secrete Relationship between Blacks and Jews, holds that modern day Jews - as descendants of the Khazars - are the people primarily responsible for African slavery.

The nation holds that slavery is a practice endured by Blacks for 400 years under white Christian America. While certainly, this is a horrible record for these Christians who did not follow biblical teaching on respecting their fellow human beings created as equals by God, it must also be acknowledged that Islam is also culpable in the African slave trade. Indeed, history records that slavery was practiced by Muslim countries much earlier than in white European countries - and that it is still practiced today. Muhammad held slaves, and this practice was extended to Africa after his death. The first West Africans enslaved by Europeans were brought to Portugal in 1441, and African slaves were first brought to what is now the United States in 1618. As David Brion Davis notes, "Although black captives had appeared in Egyptian iconography in the third millennium B.C. ... through Hellenistic and Roman times, the Arabs and their Muslim allies were the first people to develop a specialized, long-distance slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa. They were also the first people to view blacks as suited by nature for the lowest and most degrading forms of bondage." (Slavery and Human Progress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).

The theology of the Nation of Islam is rejected by all orthodox Muslim religious leaders, and clearly violates the unitarian concept of God held so dearly by Islam. The Nation also differs from Islam (and Christianity) by denying a physical resurrection and rather affirms only a mental resurrection. They also hold to the Ahmdiyan Islam belief that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but rather escaped crucifixion only to die in Kashmir.  There is located in that Indian state a grave purportedly belonging to Christ.

Witnessing to modern members of the Nation of Islam can be very difficult. Generally, these members will hold Christians in utter contempt, believing that they are responsible for years of slaver in the past, and at least partially for the economic enslavement of the Black in the present. IT is important to recognize this antipathy, and to admit that enslavement of Blacks by Christian America was certainly a corruption of biblical Christianity. Also, many blacks have experienced discrimination and frank hatred directed toward them from alleged Christians, a fact which makes effective witnessing extremely difficult. Black Muslims in general do not understand biblical Christianity, as it has never been explained to them in a logical, understandable manner. They have been taught that the Bible is full of internal inconsistencies, and that Christianity itself is a bundle of illogic beliefs. They would point to the disagreement among churches over many basic Christian doctrines as a testimony of the confusion which exists in the Christian world. Far from embracing racism, however, the Bible clearly condemns it (Acts 8:26-40, Galatians 2:11-21; 3:28).

Finally, the Nation - like most cults - is a works related religion. It is a religion where strict adherence to a long litany of restrictions is encouraged if not demanded. Roboteau notes that they demand that, "the federal government set aside separate land for Afro-Americans in reparation for slavery. Black Muslims refused to vote [this has been lifted under Farrakhan], to participate in armed services, or to salute the flag. The separate identity of members of hte Nation of Islam was reinforced by a strict ethical code. Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sports, movies, and cosmetics were forbidden, along with pork and other foods identified as unclean or unhealthy." (Albert J. Raboteau, "Afro-American Religion: Muslim Movements." Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), 101-102). Like traditional Islam, the Nation is a strict, works related religion. Exposure to the Christian doctrine of grace can be a very effective witness. To both of these groups, the doctrine of unearned grace should be "good news" indeed.


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