A critique of the Islamic faith from a Christian perspecitveIntroduction
One seventh of the world's population follow the teachings of the prophet Mohammed. It is a very strong religion and has been little affected by Christian missionary efforts. Its strengths lies in its simplicity, its book The Koran, regulations for salvation that can be achieved, and a past glorious history. Islam is a Religious/Political system affecting every aspect of its followers lives.
Today, Islam is in a state of flux. Materialism, secularization and the spread of Western education has caused a falling-away of devout Moslems. In response to this there has been a growing militant fundamentalist movement that has already brought down one government (Iran) and has caused trouble in other countries. Russia's incursion into Afghanistan was linked with the fear of a fanatical Islam that could easily flow over Russia's borders. The resurgence of Islam is fueled by the massive oil wealth now held by Islamic countries.
Arabia, at the time of Mohammed's birth, was made up of small independent city states. Mecca, one of these states, was on the caravan route between Yemen and Syria. It was a religious centre, for it housed the Kaaba (or cube) named "The house of Allah (Arabic for the Unseen God)." Tradition has it that it was built by Abraham and Ishmael. Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Sarah, is the father of the Arabic people. Mecca was therefore the religious centre for the Arabic people. Their tradition was to walk 7 times around the Kaaba and then kiss the black meteorite set in its wall. They worshipped Allah plus many other idols that were set up inside the Kaaba. There were some Jewish as well as Christian Arab tribes at this time, but they seemed to have had little impact upon the other tribes.
In 570AD. Mohammed (Praised) was born in Mecca to a poor family. By the age of six he was orphaned and lived in poverty until at age 25 he married a rich widow. This gave him the leisure to study and by 610AD. he led a group called "seekers for truth" away from the corrupted worship (Idols) of the Kaaba to a cave nearby. Here he had a vision of the angel Gabriel saying "recite thou in the name of the Lord who created man from clots of blood." After two years he began to have further revelations which were recorded and after his death, these revelations were compiled into the Koran.
His newly evolved message was simple - Allah is the one true God. He made everything and we are his slaves. He cares for us and we must be grateful. A day is coming when the dead will come alive for judgement. The evil, idolaters, etc. will go to hell. The good to a sensual paradise.
He set out preaching and soon had 100 followers - "slaves of God". By 622 increasing opposition forced him to flee with his followers to Madina. On reaching Madina, the place where his camel stopped became their place of worship. A Mosque was built there. The day was a Friday and this became their day of worship and also the Islamic calendar was dated from this point (O Hegira).
Half of the population of Madina were Jews. Initially he was friendly toward them on the basis of a revelation "let there be no compulsion in religion", but after the Jews would not admit to there being prophecies concerning his coming in their scriptures, he accused them of removing references to him and on the basis of a new revelation, "contend against the infidels", he and his followers persecuted them. All the men in the last of the Madina tribes to stand against him, the Banu Quraiza, were executed.
To maintain his position in Madina he set about raiding caravan trains. A 10,000 man army from Mecca in 626AD attempted to destroy him, but Mohammed and his followers, although outnumbered, were able to hold out. In 620 Mohammed's first wife died and so he took two more. During his stay at Madina he added others including his adopted son's wife. In the end he had 12 wives plus 2 concubines.
By means of the sword he was able to increase the number of his followers. As each tribe fell to his armies they were either forced to submit to him or die. To live you had to confess that "there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the apostle of Allah."
In 628, with a growing number of followers, he was able to force a 10 year truce on Mecca which he quickly broke to capture the city without bloodshed. Islam quickly spread following new revelations, "when the sacred months are past, kill those who join other gods with God whenever you shall find them, and seize them, besiege them, and lay await for them with every kind of ambush, but if they shall convert and observe prayer and pay the obligatory alms, let them go their way." (Sura 9:5).
Strangely, he allowed the Christian Nestorian church to continue in South Arabia after the payment of tribute, but elsewhere it was submit or die.
In 632AD (10th Hegira) he died. A power struggle ensued with numerous leaders being assassinated, yet the armies of Islam were able to defeat Persia, Byzantine armies, Egypt, North Africa, move into Spain, India and were only just stopped in 732AD by Charles at the battle of Tours in France.
From AD 750-1265 was a period of richness in all forms of human endeavour throughout Islam. While Europe slept in the dark ages, Islam abounded. This was followed by a period of fossilization caused by a literal and minute interpretation of the Koran applied to the whole of life. Diversity and experimentation was suppressed.
With the spread of western imperialism, Islamic nations found it impossible to stand against the renewed might of the Western Nations. Defeat, want and disease produced a ghetto mentality. All they had left was their faith. The final blow came in 1918 with the disemboweling of the Ottoman Empire.
Today we are witnessing a modern resurgence of Islam. There are three basic causes:
i] Education. The western analytic method is replacing rote learning.
ii] Political and economic recovery caused by independence and oil wealth.
iii] Reform brought about by a socially concerned and educated new elite.
Yet this resurgence has its problems:
i] The relationship between church and state is exceedingly difficult to resolve in a modern society, cf. Turkey, a secular Islamic State, and Saudi Arabia a religious Islamic State.
ii] The Koran doesn't easily answer the problems caused by materialism and wealth - eg. social needs to be met by alms giving, or no interest to be charged on loans.
iii] The modernization of Islam has caused a fundamentalist backlash. All reform is seen as evil and only a literal interpretation of the Koran is valid. Iran is a perfect example of this problem and demonstrates the dangers facing Islamic societies, as well as the world.
Allah, the God, is one. He is without body or spirit, he is creator, all powerful, merciful (forgiving) all knowing. He sees, speaks, hears, wills, knows - he is life.
Created sinless beings who do God's will and help Muslim believers. The archangels are Gabriel, Michael, Izrail angel of death and Israfil who will blow the trumpet on the last day. Iblis, or Satan, was cast out of heaven because he wouldn't recognize Adam.
A creation of God. Tends to sin because he is simple, weak and ignorant.
i] Recognize that God is one and Mohammed is his prophet.
ii] Accept slavery to God by performing the "pillars of faith" - prayers, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage to Mecca and Holy War.
In the day of Judgement these acts will be weighed in the balance of justice and if there is enough of them, then they will cancel out all evil deeds and so allow escape from punishment.
5. Prophets of God
Adam, followed by Old Testament prophets. Jesus, the 2nd last great prophet, taught God's word, said Ahmad (Mohammed) would follow him. Jesus did not die on the cross, Judas died. Jesus went to heaven from whence he will return. Mohammed is the greatest and last prophet.
God reveals his will in books, but each new revelation supersedes the first. Thus the first recorded revelation to Adam was superseded by .... and so on to the gospels of Jesus, all of which were superseded by the Koran. The Koran is a collection of recorded revelations to Mohammed. The collection was set between 644-656 AD. It is in Arabic, written in quite a beautiful style.
There are two Muslim sects. Sunnites, the largest group and Shiite (Iran). Shiites believe that only a member of Mohammed's family could succeed him as ruler. Only one, Ali, the husband of Fatima, a daughter of Mohammed, succeeded in ruling. The last Imam, Mahdi was translated in 873AD and will return in the last days to establish a rule of righteousness (possibly with Jesus).
8. The end of the world
In the last day the world will be shaken. The trumpet will sound and all will die, then it will sound again and all will rise for the judgement. The evil will fall into hell while the good will cross over to live in luxury surrounded by dark-eyed maidens. Martyrs killed in a holy war go straight to heaven.
Duties, or "Worship", are performed to escape punishment and in gratitude to God for his goodness.
i] Prayers. Five times a day (Shiites 3 times) facing the Kaaba. Prayers at Mosque on Fridays.
ii] Fasting. Ramadan in the ninth lunar month. No eating or drinking during daylight hours. A time of religious fervour.
iii] Alms-giving. About one tenth of a person's income is to go to the poor.
iv] Pilgrimage. To Mecca once in a lifetime.
v] Holy War (Jihad). The forcible extension of Islam over all infidels (Non Muslims) by the sword. Conservative Muslims interpret this as a spiritual struggle and apply it to missionary effort. It is, none-the-less, part of the culture and should be of great concern to Western countries.
Other practices include, circumcision, veiling of women, Old Testament food laws and abstinence from alcoholic drinks.
A Christian assessment
i] An outward religion - You can be evil and still fulfill the religious duties. Jesus says our problem is inward and so unless a man is born anew he cannot see the Kingdom of God.
ii] Salvation by works, yet you can never be sure if your good deeds outweigh your evil deeds, Eph.2:8.
iii] A personal experience of God is non existent, whereas Jesus offers a new relationship with the Father.
iv] Although Mohammed's revelations are supposed to follow the earlier revelations from God, they differ greatly from the Bible in both teaching and spiritual depth. It is probable Mohammed was unable to read and never really understood the Jewish or Christian faiths. He certainly badly misquotes the Bible. Muslims answer this by saying the Bible has been altered since Mohammed's time; it is a forgery. Yet, there are too many texts of the Bible dating from the 2nd - 3rd centuries to give this claim any weight.
v] Mohammed was obviously a sincere seeker after truth, but he failed to examine the Bible properly. Thus, he never arrived at the truth and was soon corrupted by power, polygamy, murder, theft, lying etc.
vi] Christians have quite a bit in common with Muslims. They are a bit like a Christian sect. Yet, to communicate with them requires an indepth understanding of their faith which most Westerners don't have. There are Christian missionary groups focused on Islam and they do have the background knowledge required to communicate the gospel.
vii] A Muslim's understanding of the character of God is limited, so much so that they may in fact worship another god, who is no god. Certainly their understanding is only partial. It is possible to give the creator God a cultural name, although it is better to stick with the name he has revealed to humanity in the scriptures. Yet, when we start describing God in terms which do not reflect his true character, then we are most likely speaking of a god other than our creator God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
a) A Muslim's God is not a God of love. Note the Bible, 1 John 4:7-21. Obviously a far greater revelation.
b) They do not accept the Trinity. They say we worship, God, Jesus and Mary.
c) God is not "Father".
d) God is unknowable. He is "different" from whatever we think - cf. John 14:9-10, Col.1:15, 11 Cor.5:19.
viii] Moslems badly represent Jesus. He is supposed to have been created in the womb of Mary. He is not the Son of God, He did not die on the cross and he is the forerunner of Mohammed.
ix] It is claimed Jesus predicted the coming of Mohammed in John 16:7. The Christians changed "periclutos" (Praised - Mohammed in Arabic) to "paracletos" (possibly comforter). All 2nd and 3rd century texts have "paracletos".
x] Their view of humanity is quite different to a Christian view. Mankind is not affected by Adam's sin. Mankind is simply weak and ignorant and needs a teacher to stay on the right path. We say people are sinners and need a saviour.
Muslims and the Christian faith
Although a tremendous amount of time and effort has been put into evangelizing Moslems, there has been little in the way of results. The religious, social and political barriers are overwhelming. To become a Christian, a Moslem must abandon everything they have ever known. Their family will class them as dead.
There are four important factors in witnessing to Moslems:
i] Centre on the relationship possible with God through Jesus (Isa).
ii] The life-style of the witness and the church.
iii] The Bible. Compare it with the Koran. Many Moslems have been converted by simply reading the Bible.
iv] Remove peripheral barriers. This approach has been well developed by the International Christian Fellowship. "As far as possible, all peripheral barriers to Muslims becoming Christians are to be removed. If there are obstacles to faith, let it be in the area of theological confrontation", eg.
Humble attitude of witness.
Adoption to culture of Target group - dress etc.
Missionaries to live in villages in typical homes.
Adoption of Moslem religious forms such as language, washing before prayers, prayer times, stance etc., food laws, Bible on a wooden stand, embracing, Fridays emphasized, fasting.
Name Christian group - "Followers of Isa."
Mosque structure and organization for the church.
Converts to remain in their villages bearing a "discreet witness".
September 11 and Islamic terrorism
Fundamentalism is now a driving force in all the major world religions, including Christianity. In Islam, the focus of fanatic fundamentalists is on Israel's annexation of Palestine and the subjugation of the Palestinian people, most of whom are Muslims. America's Middle East policy has tended to support Israel in their quest for a greater Israel. The American embassy is now in Jerusalem while other governments still have their embassies in Tel Aviv. This support has focused terrorist organizations like Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Al Qaeeda on both Israel and America
Most Muslims are peace loving people who want to be left alone to practise their religion and live fulfilled lives with their families and friends. Yet, there is a small group of fundamentalists who are determined to undertake a "Jihad" (striving or contending for God) against Israel, America and its allies. Most Muslims understand "Contending for God" in an inner moral and spiritual sense. It is viewed in terms of an application of effort to resist evil and progress personal faith. Fundamentalists see it as war against the infidel who will either "die or embrace Islam."
The literal idea of "Jihad" is found in the Quran. In the Meccan Suras, when Muhammad had only a few supporters, his revelations tended to be non-confrontational and so he calls for debate rather than war. In the Medinan Suras, when Muhammad had an army of followers and was in conflict with his enemies, his revelations speak of holy war. "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them and take them, and besiege them and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor due, then leave their way free", 9,5. In interpreting the Quran, it is normal to give greater weight to later revelations, so as the more aggressive texts for engaging in holy war are late, the fundamentalists do have a case for their aggression. The Sunna also contains some aggressive texts, although they do not have the weight of the Quran. "It is reported by Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah said, 'I have been commanded to fight against people as long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, [and] ..... that Muhommad is the Messenger of Allah" 30,33.
So, the fundamentalists do draw on an Islamic tradition of holy war. As Ibn Kathir puts it, the infidel "will have no choice but to die or to embrace Islam." On the other hand, moderates such as Muhammad al-Ashmawy, chief justice of the High Criminal Court of Egypt, says that "Jihad is self-defence and nothing more. It is not aggression, hostility, or confrontation."
Sadly, the West's response to nine eleven has only furthered the cause of the militants.
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