The influence and control of religion seep beyond the walls of any place of worship. Its significance can be found in the laws that countries are built upon, the reasons why many holidays are celebrated and how many societies function. One of the most recognized and influential religions in the world is Islam. With control in the greater parts of the Eastern world and the influence within Western culture, the understanding of its religious heritage and characteristics are even more valuable. The study of Islam allows discernment in the approach of interacting with Muslims, as well as communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an effective, yet sympathetic matter.
The roots of Islam can be traced all the way back through the lineage of Abraham and even to the Fall of Man. As an Abrahamic monotheistic religious group, there are influences of Judaism that can be identified. The book of Islam tells of how Abraham and Isma’il built the holiest sanctuaries which are called the Ka’bah. They worship only one God, or otherwise known as Allah in Arabic.
Islam as an organized religion did not solidify until the 7th century in Saudi Arabia (2). Before this era emerged, there was a lack of political organization and organized religion in Arabia. Much of the authority in communities was relinquished to the chiefs of the tribes. These chiefs relied heavily on moral judgment instead of political gain (2). Due to the lawlessness, there was often the occurrence of awful acts and warring between tribes. It was common practice to own slaves, maintain racial inequality and practice polytheism.
It wasn’t until around 570 CE that the tribes stirred away from ancient polytheism and was “largely replaced by Jewish and Christian influences” (Schimmel 7). During this era, there were several caves and stones that were believed to be sacred and gave favor to those that revered it. One particular stone was apotheosized more than any other and now is a major component to the Islamic faith. This black stone is called Mecca and is located in Saudi Arabia. During the pilgrimage to pay tribute to this stone and other sacred places, trade fairs and markets would take root and disputes between tribes would be prohibited (Schimmel 7). The time before Muhammad’s birth, Muslims regard it as a “time of ignorance” or jahiliyya.
The jahiliyya came to an end when Muhammad was born. Born in Mecca around 570 CE, he was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib. He was “a member of the Hashim clan of the Quraish, to which most of the notables of Mecca belonged” (Schimmel 11). His family was devoted as trading merchants, they traveled often to Syria. After several successful journeys, Muhammad married his employer, Khadija and had several children together. Khadija and Muhammad’s uncle supported his spiritual pursuit and revelations up to their deaths.
Muhammad often retreated to a cave in Mt. Hira and it was there that he experienced several revelations and angelic visitations from Allah in the later years of his life (1). Muhammad waited three years after his first revelation to begin preaching. One of his first revelations he spoke publically of was about the coming Judgement Day. Muhammad also brought good tidings–that if every man who follows Allah’s law will enter a paradise of beautiful gardens and virgins for him (Schimmel 13). He preached these revelations publically and soon after, these divine messages were written down by scribes.
Few Meccan merchants took Muhammad’s messages seriously. Much of his words seemed impossible and ridiculous and was quickly discarded. The greatest hostility came from the Meccan polytheists, but this did not hinder or discourage Muhammad from telling of his revelations. The pilgrims that traveled to Mecca to Medina invited him to their city when they deemed him as a prophet. In 622, after gaining followers, he and his followers left Mecca to escape persecution and their migration was later known as the hijrah. Eight years later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with an army of 10,000 followers and purged the Ka’bah of idols and converting many Meccans to Islam.
Muhammad was known as Khatam an-Nabiyyin which is typically translated as “Seal of Prophets”. This title was given to him in the Quran which identifies him as the last of the prophet. The Quran is the book of Muhammad’s revelations and is the foundation of Islam. The articles of faith and acts of worship can be found in this book.
Islam follows that Islamic creed and is characterized as six articles of faith. The concept of Allah is strictly monotheistic. Allah is described as the one and only, eternal, beyond all comprehension, and that there is no one like Him. Islam also rejects Allah as the Trinity and that no man should not give Him human characteristics.
Islam attributes the creation of everything from Allah calling it to be and that existence is to worship Allah . Islam has no mediators or priests. They view Allah as a god who can be known and responds to those who call upon Him. Even more, the will of Allah is predestined for His people and everything in His creation.
Angels play a major role in Islam. These celestial beings are not subject to temptation and their duties are to carry messages from Allah, worshiping Allah, and being the carrier of a person’s soul when death comes. There is little Islamic art that depicts angels, but it is believed that they are made of light and has wings. These angels are indispensable in the Islamic faith and are a part of the articles of faith.
Another fundamental part of Islam is the recognition of revelations given by Allah to various prophets. The Torah and the Gospels are believed to be corrupted. It is the Quran that is viewed as the literal word of Allah and through Muhammad, the final revelations were given. These revelations are believed to have been delivered to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel. These messages and experiences occurred between 610 CE until Muhammad died in 632. These revelations were written down by scribes, but more commonly the teaching was passed along orally. The Quran is originally written in Arabic and Muslims believe that any other translation is insufficient. Much of these writing addressed moral matters and principles rather than legislation and politics.
There are also the prophets and Sunnah that is highly valued in Islam. Muslims believe that it is Allah who chooses humans to be his messengers. It was these prophets that were to deliver the message of the “will of God”, These prophets are not believed to be divine, though some make that claim. Some of the most recognized prophets of Islam are also men found in the Bible: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Islam teaches that Muhammad is the last prophet. The actions and life that Muhammad led is the life that Muslims are encouraged to imitate. This imitation is called the Sunnah and is seen as crucial in the Muslims’ walk of faith.
Muslims believe in the “day of Resurrection” is a part of the articles of faith. They believe that Allah has preordained a time that He will raise the dead and bring justice to all people. He will judge the good and bad deeds and is given either praise or hell. The Qur’an contains a list of bad deeds that will condemn a person to hell. Two major sins are the Skirk which places anything before Allah and Kufr which is unbelief and ungratefulness to Allah. Still, redemption is readily given to those who repent. The afterlife or paradise is the man’s souls will be close to God and there will be castles, favored food, and beautiful virgins. Hell is much different. Sinners and non-believers will experience agony through fire, boiling water and chains. Muslims believe that hell will not last forever for believers who had done bad deeds. The believers will eventually be brought to paradise and it is only the non-believers that will be left in hell.
Beyond the articles of faith is the acts of worship that is imperative for all Muslims. It is required for Muslims to receive under oath the Shahadah and in prayer. The Shahadah goes “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. Individuals who convert to Islam must recite the Shahadah. Along with this prayer is the Salat which are ritual prayers that are performed five times a day. The time of prayer is known as the adhan. Faithful Muslims perform the ritual cleansing with water, face Mecca, and recite prayers. These prayers are commonly verses from the Quran and are spoken in Arabic. The intention of this discipline is to worship, express thanks, and focus on Allah.
It is at a mosque that Muslims gather to pray and worship. On Fridays, many Muslims come together for masjid jami, or Friday prayers. Every day these prayers are called by a vocal call performed by a muezzin, five times a day. The mosques are also a place that the Muslim community meets to study the Quran. There are other mosques that serve other purposes like a shelter for the homeless. The value that Muslims place on charity very high and is a religious obligation. This practice is called zakat and Muslims are expected to be given by the well-off is based on a fixed portion– 2.5% of a person’s income. The Quran encourages giving money to the poor beyond what is expected.
Along with the Shahdah and giving to the poor, Muslims are to memorize and recite the Quran. Many Muslims recite the whole Quran during the fast of Ramadan. The practice of fasting is also an act of worship. During the month of Ramadan, anyone beyond puberty does not partake of food and drink between dawn to dusk. Abstention from sex and smoking is required for the whole month of Ramadan. The infirm, sick, menstruating women, nursing children are exempt. This is to express thankfulness and bring to Muslims closer to Allah through self-control and giving to the poor.
None of these acts of worship compare to the hajj, which is the obligatory pilgrimage. Any Muslim who has the ability and finances to travel must go to Mecca. This is expected to be done at least once in a lifetime. This pilgrimage follows the steps of Abraham, as well as sleeping in the desert and in tents. When they finally arrive at Mecca, Muslims are to walk around the Kaaba seven times. This is one of the most revered acts of worship that Muslims practice.
With forty-three primarily Islamic nation-states have been created, the knowledge of how to effectively communicate and demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so desperately needed. One of the greatest tools that a Christian has is the power of God’s Word and the moving of His Holy Spirit. When preaching the Gospel, preach it as it is. Be clear about what you believe and why you believe it. Knowing the Scriptures well and understanding your own personal relationship with God makes it much easier to talk to Muslims. When talking to a Muslim, ask questions. Build a relationship that goes beyond just attempting to convert a person. Learn their name, ask them about their faith and do they believe that they will be in heaven at some point. This presents the opportunity to discuss the assurance Christians have in their faith and the work that Christ did upon the cross. Focus on accurately communicating grace and sin. When evangelizing, avoid being result oriented. Instead, preach the Gospel and let the conviction of the Holy Spirit do its work. Also be intentional to not use Christian jargon. Use the names that Jesus is given– “Son of God”, “Lamb of God’ “Savior”. Through all of this, remember to lead your actions to match your words. Be charitable and kind and understanding, even if you find that the Gospel of Christ offends someone. The love of Christ translates beyond language and pain. Focus of Christ’s example and be a reflection of His love.