Twenty years ago I took an unexpected journey. Some people moved in across the street from us and they had children that were the same age as my own. I knew we were going to be friends. However, soon I discovered that they were of a different religion that they were very devout to. I have a degree in Christian Theology but it came evident to me that I knew nothing about their religion. Because of this, I had some homework I needed to do in order to have an opportunity for fruitful discussion with my new friends.
The religious landscape of America has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. There has been an increased where a lot of people have no religion but there is also increased religious diversity do to a lot of immigration into our country. The Church, I believe, has done a very good job at addressing secularism through apologetics. Yet, I do not know that we have kept pace with the challenge of world religions that are now in our mitts and flourishing on American soil.
According to Pew Research, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and it is expected to double in the United States within the next fifteen years. Maybe you do not know a Muslim right now but chances are you will. You are going to have more Muslims in your schools, in your business contacts, in politics, and maybe even living right next door to you.
Are we ready to encounter Muslims? Do we know anything about their religion? Can we educate ourselves on the religion of Islam to have a discussion with a Muslim? I do not know if we, as Christians, are all ready for that. My goal for this talk is to give you a fly over, or an aerial tour of Islam. It is not everything you need to know, I am sure it is not, but it will give you some vocabulary to perhaps go across the street and introduce yourself to that Muslim family and start some fruitful dialogue.
You could describe the religion of Islam with one word and that is the word “submission”. In fact the word Islam means submission and the word Muslim means, “one who submits”. Muslims are the ones who practice the religion of Islam in the Qur’an, which is their holy book, it says in relation to God religion is submission. In order to submit properly there are basically five essential beliefs and five essential practices that any good Muslim is going to do. Of course not all Muslims are devout and there is a lot of diversity within Islam. Yet, if you know these five essential beliefs and five practices you will have a real good head start in dialoguing with a Muslim.
Let us look at the five essential beliefs. The first belief is in God, no surprise there, a belief in God. They use the word Allah which is just he Arabic word for God. How is God described in the Qur’an? He is described as the creator of the heavens and the earth. He is described as the maker of mankind. He is described as the who knows all and is all powerful. They describe God in many of the same ways that we as Christians describe God. That He is a one-of-a-kind being, there is nothing like him in all creation and to associate God with anything like an idol or a man is the worst kind of blaspheme or the worst kind of sin, the sin of idolatry.
Muslims believe that God could not possibly have a son because in the Qur’an it says, how could God have a son without having a consort? Because of this, they reject the idea that God could have a son. In fact you will find that if you start talking to Muslims about your faith the biggest hurdle will be first, this concept of the Son of God and then of this idea of the Trinity. It is very, very difficult for a Muslim to understand what we mean. This may mean that you will have to do some brushing up on your own Christian theology in this area if you are going to be in dialogue with Muslims. It also teaches in the Qur’an that God is merciful, loving, benevolent, and that he calls his people to submit to him. It is very interesting that there is one word that is not often used of God and that is the word “love”. He does love, but he loves conditionally, he loves the one who submits to him, ho does not live the one who does not submit to him. There we have a beautiful opening for the gospel, that while we were yet sinners God loved us enough to provide for our salvation. This is a concept that is unique to Christianity. This is the first essential belief, the belief in Allah.
The second essential belief is Spirit beings, they believe in Satan, angels, and they believe in these creatures called Jinn, where we get our word Jeanne. These little spirit creatures can cause a lot of trouble in life and you might actually find in talking to Muslims that they have concerns about some of the activity of these spirit beings.
The third essential belief is that of prophets. Mankind was born pure according but we have a real tendency to stray away from God and so God sends prophets to bring people back along to the right way. Muslims believe that Abraham, Moses, many of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus were all prophets sent by Allah to lead people back to the proper worship of God. They accept all those prophets but Mohammad is a very special prophet. He came about six hundred years after Jesus and he is considered the final prophet, the universal prophet. Mohammad is not a prophet limited to a certain group of people, at a certain time in history. He is the last prophet because he brought the last scriptures. There will be no more prophets after Muhammad and everything about his life is help up as a beautiful example of how to be a good Muslim.
The fourth essential belief is Scripture. They believe that God gave the Bible but it became corrupted, they believe that the Qur’an is the final pure scripture that corrects all the errors that are in the Bible.
Fifthly, they believe differently in judgement. There is a judgement day coming that either people might be sent to paradise if they have done a lot of good deeds or if they have done a lot of bad deeds God might send them to hell fire. The key is that it is God’s choice, he is sovereign in this matter and so a Muslim never knows whether they have done enough to earn God’s mercy and that they will be sent to paradise. They have no assurance of salvation.
These are the five essential beliefs, what about the five essential practices? Often these are called the pillars of Islam. The first of these is “confession” that there is no god but God, there is no Allah but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allan. That second part is very important acknowledging that everything Mohammed brought came from God. Saying this confession of faith is what brings a person into the religion of Islam.
The second essential practices is prayer, they pray five times daily if they are devout, these are ritual prayers. The ritual prayers are not, “Dear Lord, help me with my business” kind of prayers. These prayers are very prescribed, certain things they do, certain things they say during these prayers.
The third essential practice is fasting, no food and no water during the month of Ramadan to show their devotion to God.
The fourth pillar of Islam is that of charity. They are supposed to give 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity, either to a local mosque or to other charitable organizations.
The fifth essential practice is that of pilgrimage. If they are able, once in their life they are supposed to go on the Hajj, to Mecca, where they do a number of rituals called the pilgrimage.
These are the five essential beliefs and five practices of Islam. If we make that into a house of Islam the roof that would be The Dalwa, the call to Islam, it is the duty of every Muslim to invite other people into the faith of Islam.
What you have just read is the fly-over of Islam. Jesus gave The Church the command to go and bring this wonderful good news of The Gospel of Grace to all people, because He loves all people, and this includes the Muslim neighbor next door.
Laurie Schlepper; professor at Western Seminary
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