5 Things You Need to Understand about Islam
- Liz Kanoy Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2015 1 Dec
To understand Muslims better, you need to understand their worldview or system of beliefs.
Here are 5 prominent aspects of Islam to know:
1. Islam’s Beginnings
Islam, which literally means “submission” in Arabic, is a monotheistic religion and the second largest religion worldwide with over 1.5 billion followers and climbing. Only Christianity, which has a little over 2 billion followers, outnumbers it.
Officially, Islam began around 622 AD in a polytheistic culture in Saudi Arabia, with a man named Muhammad who claimed to have received direct revelation from Allah (allah is the Arabic word for god). Whereas, the Bible has many witnesses testifying to the existence God, Islam only has one. According to Islam, Muhammad was the last prophet and the only witness to the last and final revelation. And because his revelation was the last, it holds the most meaning for Muslims.
According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad wrote down messages from Allah over a 20-year period starting in 610 AD. He claimed that the angel Gabriel spoke the messages to him on behalf of Allah. These words are considered by Muslims to be the literal words of Allah, which is why the Qur’an must be read and memorized in Arabic. Other language translations of the Qur’an are believed to run the risk of corruption.
There is much more to Muhammad’s story including his escape from persecution to Medina, and his return with a conquering army to Mecca, but let's fast-forward. After Muhammad’s death around 672 AD, much of the Arab world was immersed in Islam and it has continued to grow since then.
2. Allah, Muhammad and the Prophets
Twenty-five prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, including Jesus and Muhammad, but Muslims believe there have been a vast number of prophets throughout history (pre-dating Muhammad). Some Muslims would claim the number is over 120,000.
So if Jesus is considered a prophet in Islam, why don’t Muslims find Jesus’ words in the Bible contradictory of Muhammad’s words in the Qur'an? The answer is that according to Islam, there have always been "Muslims" throughout history despite the official start date of Islam as a world religion in 622 AD. This is due to the fact that Muslims believe Allah created the world and everything in it as muslim—for Allah’s purposes and to serve Allah. According to this Islamic doctrine, Muslims have always followed the current prophet, or the last prophet as it is today.
For example, they believe that when one prophet died (like Abraham), the people were to follow the next prophet and so on. Whatever the next prophet said was to be taken at face value as the next and current revelation of wisdom from Allah. And as Islam's last prophet, Muhammad’s revelation took precedence over all the previous prophets and their messages, including Jesus. This is why Muslims will believe Muhammad's words in the Qur'an over Jesus' words in the Bible.
Also for Muslims, it doesn’t really matter what Jesus said in the Bible because they believe the Christian and Jewish sacred texts have been corrupted. They believe the original texts were misinterpreted or manipulated by followers of Christianity and Judaism. Again, this is why Muslims will only trust the text of the Qur’an as it is written in Arabic. Muslims would claim examples of corruption in the Bible to be Jesus as the Son of God (in Islam Allah cannot be triune or have a son), and according to the Qur’an Jesus did not die on the cross. Islam claims that Allah switched the bodies of Judas and Jesus on the cross and made Judas look like Jesus because Allah would not have let his prophet die an undeserving death.
This is because there is no reason in Islam for Allah to make a sacrifice for Muslims; according to Islam, Muslims are not born into sin, so there is no original sin and continued curse to pay the penalty for. However, Muslims do believe they can be tempted, hence their requirement to do good deeds and earn their way to heaven. There is no atonement for Muslims who fall short, and there is no guarantee for even the best-behaved Muslims. Muslims have no assurance of salvation; they believe they cannot know for sure where they are going until they are standing before Allah on judgment day. And according to Islamic belief, Allah may or may not have mercy on them, but either way moderate Muslims will strive to do as much good (justice and mercy to others) as they can and hope for the best.
*To clarify, I am speaking of moderate Muslims throughout this article, which make up the majority of Muslim believers today, as opposed to the Muslim extremists and terrorists who interpret the Qur’an differently.
3. Islam’s Sacred Texts
The Qur’an, which means “recitation” in Arabic, is considered to be the holy book of Islam and was compiled 30 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad. It is believed by Muslims to be a perfect copy of the Qur’an that resides with Allah in heaven, and it holds the teachings and rituals of Islam as well as the story of Muhammad. Surprisingly, Muhammad is only mentioned by name four times in the Qur’an, whereas Jesus is mentioned 59 times and Moses is actually mentioned the most at 136 times.
To become an Imam in a mosque or masjid, the Imam in training is required to recite the entire Qur'an in Arabic from memory. Muslim children are taught to memorize the Qur’an at an early age in Arabic, and the memorization of the words is considered more important than the meaning of the words. According to Islamic tradition, Muslims don’t need to understand the words as much as they need to say them and believe that they’re true. However, there are many Muslims who do seek understanding and want to know more. And Muslims who are truly seeking God will start to see the discord in their beliefs, especially when they are exposed to the Bible.
The Hadith is a separate book that is also part of the Islamic canon; Muhammad’s followers initially memorized it and passed it down by word of mouth, before it was put into book form. The Hadith outlines the life and sayings of Muhammad; the Hadith includes a story of Gabriel taking Muhammad up to see the seven heavens and the previous prophets who reside there. Muslims revere Muhammad as a peaceful upright man—the perfect role model—even though some of the writings about him reveal a dark and questionable past.
4. The 5 Pillars
Because Muslims don’t know for sure where they will go when they die, they try their best to follow the instructions presented in the Qur’an. There are 5 pillars that all Muslims, regardless of Islamic sect, are required follow:
- Shahadah: Declaring one’s faith (saying that Allah is the only god and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger)
- Salat: Ritual/memorized prayer 5 times a day (before dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and at night) facing the direction of Mecca whenever possible.
- Zakat: Giving charity to the poor, this is so the poor will not have to beg, which is discouraged in Islam.
- Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan (celebrating when they believe Muhammad first received revelations from Allah).
- Hajj: A pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once, if they can afford it and are well enough to go.
5. Islamic Sects
Sunni and Shi’a make up the two largest sects of Islam, with Sunnis vastly outnumbering Shi’as at 85% of Muslims worldwide. The major difference between the two sects is that Sunnis don’t believe Muhammad named a successor before his death; whereas, Shi’as believe Muhammad declared Ali (Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law) as the rightful successor.
Shi’as believe all Muslim rulers should come from Muhammad’s descendants, following the line of Ali. Shia’s also believe that the descendants of Muhammad, as the rightful religious and political rulers, can intercede with Allah on behalf of Muslims. But Sunni Muslims believe that the political ruler, a caliph, is to be just that—a political ruler and not a religious intercessor.
There are several other differences, but both groups agree that a “hidden Imam” will return to earth one day as a savior and restore the earth to peace.
For former Muslims who come to faith in Christ, it is like waking from a dream and discovering reality from a lie.
Pray for these believers—that come out of Islam—as they embark on a challenging journey of faith, mostly likely with little support from family and friends. Pray that God will continue to awaken the souls of other Muslims and expose them to Truth, and pray for Christians to come alongside them in discipleship.
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com
Reference consulted: http://www.patheos.com/Library/Islam/
Photo courtesy: Pixabay.com
Publication date: December 1, 2015