In recent years, Islam has been in the spotlight because of the heightened tension in the Middle East. This has served to put its culture under the microscope of world attention. Islam is indeed a major part of Middle Eastern culture, but it is much more.

The Muslim (var. sp: Moslem) faith is a major driving force in the lives of many of the nations in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa. The impact of this faith on the world has been increasing steadily. Today, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. In large part, the Arab-Israel tension can be traced back to the Islam-Judaism conflict.

Not only does Islam collectively wield a strong sword in world conflict as Muslims threaten war with Israel, but Islamic sects also threaten even greater unrest in the fragile Middle East and could be catalysts for greater conflict. Right-wing Islamic fundamentalists were responsible for both the takeover of Iran and the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat.

The vast majority of Muslims, however, are not of this militant variety. The contrast between the moderate and progressive Islam of Egypt and the fundamentalistic and reactionary Islam of Iran is marked. Islam has had a great deal of positive impact on many countries where it is a strong force. But positive influence is no reason to follow any religion with one’s life-commitment. One must examine the teachings of Islam along with one’s faith and ascertain what is true and why.
The very impact of Islam in history also makes it worthy of study Sir Norman Anderson capsulizes it this way:

The religion of Islam is one of the outstanding phenomena of history. Within a century of the death of its founder, the Muslim Empire stretched from Southern France through Spain, North Africa, the Levant and Central Asia to the confines of China; and, although Islam has since been virtually expelled from Western Europe and has lost much of its political power elsewhere, it has from time to time made notable advances in Eastern Europe, in Africa, in India, and in Southeast Asia. Today it extends from the Atlantic to the Philip-pines and numbers some three hundred million adherents drawn from races as different as the European from the Bantu, and the Aryan Indian from the primitive Philippine tribesmen; yet it is still possible to speak of the “World of Islam” (Sir Norman Anderson, ed., The World’s Religions, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, p. 52).

Today, there are an estimated 450 million members of Islam which dominate more than three dozen countries on three continents. The word Islam is a noun which is formed from the Arabic verb meaning “to submit, surrender or commit oneself”. Islam means submission or surrender, and with the translation comes the idea of action, not simple stagnation. The very act of submissive commitment is at the heart of Islam, not simply a passive acceptance and surrender to doctrine. Muslim, another noun form of the same verb, means “the one who submits”.

History of Islam

The early history of Islam revolves around one central figure, Muhammad (var. sp: Muhammed, Mohammed). Although the teaching of Islam is an interesting mixture of different religions, the origin of the faith is found historically in the one person of Muhammad.


Born around 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca in Arabia, Muhammad’s father died before his birth. His mother died when he was six. He was raised first by his grandfather and later by his uncle. Muhammad’s early background is not well known. Some scholars believe he came from a well-respected family, but this is not certain. What is clear is that he was of the Hashimite clan of the Al Qu’raysh tribe. At the age of 25, he married a wealthy 40-year-old widow named Khadijah. Of his life Anderson relates:

There is evidence in a tradition which can scarcely have been fabricated that Muhammad suffered in early life from fits. Be that as it may, the adult Muhammad soon showed signs of a markedly religious disposition. He would retire to caves for seclusion and meditation; he frequently practiced fasting; and he was prone to dreams. Profoundly dissatisfied with the polytheism and crude superstitions of his native Mecca, he appears to have become passionately convinced of the existence and transcendence of one true God. How much of this conviction he owed to Christianity or Judaism it seems impossible to determine. Monophysite Christianity was at that time widely spread in the Arab Kingdom of Ghassan; the Byzantine Church was represented by hermits dotted about the Hijaz with whom he may well have come into contact; the Nestorians were established at al Hira and in Persia; and the Jews were strongly represented in al Madina, the Yemen and elsewhere. There can be no manner of doubt, moreover, that at some period of his life he absorbed much teaching from Talmudic sources and had contact with some form of Christianity; and it seems overwhelmingly probable that his early adoption of monotheism can be traced to one or both of these influences (Ibid., p. 54).

The character of Muhammad was quite a mosaic, as Anderson summarizes:

For the rest, his character seems, like that of many another, to have been a strange mixture. He was a poet rather than a theologian: a master improvisor rather than a systematic thinker. That he was in the main simple in his tastes and kindly in his disposition there can be no doubt; he was generous, resolute, genial and astute: a shrewd judge and a born leader of men. He could, however, be cruel and vindictive to his enemies; he could stoop to assassination; and he was undeniably sensual (Ibid., p. 60).

Robert Payne also brings this out in his book, The Holy Sword:

It is worthwhile to pause for a moment before the quite astonishing polarity of Muhammad’s mind. Violence and gentleness were at war within him. Sometimes he gives the appearance of living simultaneously in two worlds, at one and the same moment seeing the world about to be destroyed by the flames of God and in a state of divine peace; and he seems to hold these opposing visions only at the cost of an overwhelming sense of strain. Sometimes the spring snaps, and we see him gazing with a look of bafflement at the world around him, which is neither the world in flames nor the world in a state of blessedness, but the ordinary day-to-day world in which he was rarely at home (Robert Payne, The Holy Sword, New York: Collier Books, 1962, p. 84).

The Call

As Muhammad grew, his views changed. He came to believe in only one God, Allah, a monotheistic faith. He rejected the idolatrous polytheism of those around him. By the age of 40, the now religious Muhammad had his first vision. These revelations are what are recorded in the Qur’am (Koran).

Muhammad was at first unsure of the source of these visions, whether divine or demonic. His wife, Khadijah, encouraged him to believe they had come from God. Later she became his first convert. However, his most important early convert was a wealthy merchant named Abu Bakr, who eventually became one of his successors.

The Cambridge History of Islam comments on Muhammad’s revelations:

Either in the course of the visions or shortly afterwards, Muhammad began to receive “messages” or “revelations” from God. Sometimes he may have heard the words being spoken to him, but for the most part he seems simply to have “found them in his heart!’ Whatever the precise “manner of revelation”– and several different “manners” were listed by Muslim scholars -the important point is that the message was not the product of Muhammad’s conscious mind. He believed that he could easily distinguish between his own thinking and these revelations.

The messages which thus came to Muhammad from beyond his conscious mind were at first fairly short, and consisted of short verses ending in a common rhyme or assonance. They were committed to memory by Muhammad and his followers, and recited as part of their common worship. Muhammad continued to receive the messages at intervals until his death. In his closing years the revelations tended to be longer, to have much longer verses and to deal with the affairs of the community of Muslims at Medina. All, or at least many, of the revelations were probably written down during Muhammad’s lifetime by his secretaries (P.M. Holt, ed., The Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. II, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 31, 32).

Alfred Guillaume states:

Now if we look at the accounts of his call, as recorded by the early biographers, some very interesting parallels with Hebrew prophets come to light. They say that it was his habit to leave the haunts of men and retire to the mountains to give himself up to prayer and meditation. One night as he was asleep the angel Gabriel came to him with a piece of silk brocade whereon words were written, and said “Recite!” He answered “What shall I recite?” The order was repeated three times, while he felt continually increasing physical pressure, until the angel said:

Recite in the name of thy Lord who created Man from blood coagulated. Recite! Thy Lord is wondrous kind Who by the pen has taught mankind Things they knew not (being blind).

When he woke these words seemed to be written on his heart (or, as we should say, impressed indelibly on his mind). Then the thought came to him that he must be a sha’ir or possessed, he who had so hated such people that he could not bear the sight of them; and he could not tolerate the thought that his tribesmen would regard him as one of them-as in fact they afterwards did. Thereupon he left the place with the intention of throwing himself over a precipice. But while on his way he heard a voice from heaven hailing him as the Apostle of God, and lifting up his eyes he saw a figure astride the horizon which turned him from his purpose and kept him rooted to the spot. And there he remained long after his anxious wife’s messengers had returned to report that they could not find him (Alfred Guillaume, Islam, London: Penguin Books, 1954, pp. 28, 29).

Sir Norman Anderson discusses how Muhammad at first thought he was possessed by the demons, or Jinn, as they were called, but later dismissed the idea:

It seems, however, that Muhammed himself was at first doubtful of the source of these revelations, fearing that he was possessed by one of the Jinn, or sprites, as was commonly believed to be the case with Arab poets and soothsayers. But Khadijah and others reassured him, and he soon began to propound divine revelations with increasing frequency (Anderson, op. cit., p. 55).

These visions mark the start of Muhammed’s prophetic call by Allah. Muhammed received these visions during the following 22 years, until his death in 632 A.D.

The Hijira

The new faith encountered opposition in Muhammed’s home town of Mecca. Because of his rejection in Mecca and the ostracism of his views, Muhammed and followers withdrew to the city now known as Medina, which means in full, “City of the Prophet,” renamed from its original Yathrib.

The Hijira, which means “flight,” marks the turning point in Islam. All Islamic calendars mark this date, July 16, 622, as their beginning. Thus, 630 A.D. would be 8 A.H. (in the year of the Hijira).

In his early years in Medina, Muhammed was sympathetic to both the Jews and Christians as well. But they rejected him and his teaching. Upon that rejection, Muhammed turned from Jerusalem as the center of worship of Islam, to Mecca, where the famous black stone Ka’aba was enshrined. Muhammed denounced all the idols which surrounded the Ka’aba and declared it was a shrine for the one true God, Allah.

With this new emphasis on Mecca, Muhammed realized he must soon return to his home. The rejected prophet did return in triumph, conquering the city.
John B. Noss details some of Muhammed’s actions upon his return to Mecca:

One of his first acts was to go reverently to the Kaaba; yet he showed no signs of yielding to the ancient Meccan polytheism. After honoring the Black Stone and riding seven times around the shrine, he ordered the destruction of the idols within it and the scraping of the paintings of Abraham and the angels from the walls. He sanctioned the use of the well Zamzam and restored the boundary pillars defining the sacred territory around Mecca. Thenceforth no Muslim would have cause to hesitate about going on a pilgrimage io the ancient holy city.

Muhammed now made sure of his political and prophetic ascendency in Arabia. Active opponents near at hand were conquered by the sword, and tribes far away were invited sternly to send delegations offering their allegience. Before his sudden death in 632 he knew he was well on the way to unifying the Arab tribes under a theocracy governed by the will of God (John B. Noss, Man’s Religions, New York: MacMillan Publishing Company Inc., 1974, p. 517).

Between the return to Mecca and Muhammad’s death, the prophet
zealously and militantly propagated Islam, and the new faith quickly spread throughout the area.

After Muhammad’s Death

When Muhammad died he had not written a will instructing the leadership in Islam about determining his successor. Sir Norman Anderson comments:

Muhammad died, according to the best-supported view, without having designated any successor (Khalifa or Caliph). As the last and greatest of the Prophets he could not, of course, be replaced. But the community he had founded was a theocracy with no distinction between Church and State, and someone must clearly succeed, not to give but to enforce the law, to lead in war and to guide in peace. It was common ground, therefore, that a Caliph must be appointed: and in the event ‘Umar ibn al Khattab (himself the second Caliph) succeeded in rushing the election of the aged Abu Bakr, one of the very first believers. But the question of the Caliphate was to cause more divisions and bloodshed than any other issue in Islam, and almost from the first three rival parties, in embryo at least, can be discerned. There were the Companions of the Prophet, who believed in the eligibility of any suitable “Early Believer” of the tribe of Quraysh; there was the aristocracy of Mecca, who wished to capture the Caliphate for the family of Umayya; and there were the “legitimists,” who believed that no election was needed, but that ‘Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, had been divinely designated as his successor (Anderson, op cit., p. 64).

Abu Bakr died less than two years after his designation as Caliph. Upon his death, ‘Umar became successor, and under him the borders of the Islamic empire were considerably expanded.
Eventually a power struggle developed as different factions believed their own methods of establishing a successor were better than their rivals. The major eruption came between those who believed the Caliph should be elected by the Islamic leadership and those who believed the successor should be hereditary, through Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, married to his only daughter, Fatima. This struggle, along with others, produced the main body of Islam known as the Sunnis (followers of the prophet’s way) as well as numerous sects.

The Sunnis

Along with the Caliphate controversy, conflict raged on another front, that of law and theology. Through this conflict eventually four recognized, orthodox schools of Islamic thought emerged. All four schools accepted the Qur’an (Koran), the Sunna, or the practice of the Prophet as expressed in the Hadith (traditions) and the four bases of Islamic Law (Shari’a): the Qur’an, the Hadith, the Ij’ma’ (consensus of the Muslim community) and the Q’yas (use of analogical reason). These four groups came to be called the Sunnis.

Noss explains:

The rapid expansion of Islam confronted Muslims with other crucial, and even more complex, decisions concerning Muslim behavior. Situations early appeared in areas outside of Arabia where the injunctions of the Qur’an proved either insufficient or inapplicable. The natural first step in these cases was to appeal to the sunna (the behavior or practice) of Muhammad in Medina or to the Hadith that reported his spoken decisions or judgments. In the event that this proved inconclusive, the next step was to ask what the sunna and/or consensus of opinion (Ijm_) of the Medina community was, in or shortly after the time of Muhammad. If no light was yet obtainable, the only recourse was either to draw an analogy (Qiy_s) from the principles embodied in the Qur’an or in Medinan precedents and then apply it, or to follow the consensus of opinion of the local Muslim community as crystallized and expressed by its Qur’anic authorities.
The Muslims who took this way of solving their behavioral problems were, and are to this day, called Sunnites (Noss, op. cit., p. 530).
The Majority of Islam today is Sunni.

The Shi’a

The fourth Caliph to follow Muhammed was an early convert and also his son-in-law, Ali. He was eventually murdered by Mu’awiya, who claimed the Caliphate for himself.

The tragedy that befell the House of ‘Al _, beginning with the murder of ‘Al _ himself and including the deaths of his two sons, grandsons of Muhammad, has haunted the lives of “the party (Shi’a) of ‘Al _ ” They have brooded upon these dark happenings down the years as Christians do upon the death of Jesus. A major heretical group, they have drawn the censure and yet also have had the sympathy of the Sunnis and Sufis. They were among the sects whose radical elements al-Ghaz_li attacked as guilty of resting their claims on false grounds and sinfully dividing Islam. And yet, although agreeing with this indictment, the Muslim world at large has suppressed its annoyance at them, because their movement goes back to the very beginnings of Islam and has a kind of perverse justification, even in orthodox eyes. Their critics agree that there is little sense in it, yet it has an appeal of its own.

The partisans of ‘Al _ only gradually worked out the final claims made by the various Shi’ite sects. In the beginning there was simply the assertion-which as events unfolded became more and more heated -that only Muhammad’s direct descendants, no others, could be legitimate caliphs; only they should have been given first place in the leadership of Islam. This “legitimism” could be called their political and dynastic claim, and at first this seems to have been all that they were interested in claiming. But this was not enough for adherents of their cause in Iraq, who over the years developed the religious theory, perhaps as an effect of Christian theories about God being in Christ, that every legitimate leader of the ‘Alids, beginning with ‘Al _ , was an im_m m_hdi, a divinely appointed and supernaturally guided spiritual leader, endowed by Allah with special knowledge and insight -an assertion that the main body of Muslims, significantly enough called ghuluw, “exaggeration,” rather than heresy (Noss, op. cit., p. 540).

Today, the Shi’ites completely dominate Iran; their most prominent present leader is the Ayatollah Khoumeni.

The Sufis

In any strong, legalistic, religious system, worship can become mechanical and be exercised by rote, and God can become transcendent. Such an impersonal religion often motivates people to react. Such is the case with Islam, as the Sufis, the most well-known Islamic mystics, have arisen in response to orthodox Islam and to the often loose and secularist view of Islamic leadership during some of its early days under the Ummayad and Abbasid dynasties.

Despite the claims of the Law, another aspect of Islam has been almost equally important for the rank and file of the faithful -this is Siffism: mysticism, as it is usually translated.
The S_fis are those Muslims who have most sought for direct personal experience of the Divine. While some of them have been legalists of the most fundamentalist stamp, their emphasis on direct religious experience has more often led the is into tension with the legalists, and their attitude toward the Law has ranged from patronizing irony to outright hostility (John Alden Williams, Islam, New York: George Braziller, 1962, p. 136).

Describing the emergence of the Sufis, Noss states:

Millions of Muslims had within themselves the natural human need to feel their religion as a personal and emotional experience. Islam had no priests, then Or now, ordained and set apart for a life dedicated to the worship of God and the pursuit of holiness, and yet everyone knew that Muhammad had been a true man of God, wholly dedicated to his mission, who in the period before the revelations came had retired at times from the world to meditate in a cave. It was thus that he had become an instrument of God’s truth.

It was the popular yearning for the presence among them of unworldly men dedicated to God, asceticism, and holiness that encouraged the eventual emergence of Islamic mysticism (Noss, op. cit., p. 535).

The S_fis exist today and probably are best known through their Dervish Orders (e.g., “the whirling Dervish”).

There are many other sects and divergent groups among Islam, too numerous to detail here. One might mention that the Baha’i Faith, although significantly different from Islam today, had its roots in Islam.

Contemporary Islam

The rise of Israel as a prominent power has brought renewal to a once anemic Islamic faith. Nationalism, coupled with the Islamic faith, has served as a raison d’etat for many in the Arab world as they stand against Israel, their enemy. At various times in the recent past, Arab alliances have been conceived, discussed and then have died. There was the United Arab Republic and later an alliance discussed between Egypt, Libya and Syria.

Grunebaum comments:

The spectacular success of the Arab Muslims in establishing an empire by means of a small number of campaigns against the great powers of the day has never ceased to stimulate the wonderment and the admiration of the Muslim world and Western scholarship (G.E. von Grunebaum, Modern Islam, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962, p. 1).

Neill amplifies:

It is not surprising that the Islamic world has caught the fever of nationalism that is raging everywhere among the peoples of Asia and Africa. The special intensity and vigour of Islamic, and especially Arab, nationalism springs from a complex of causes -memories of past splendour, resentment over Muslim weakness and Christian strength, above all that obscure sense of malaise, the feeling that in some way history has gone awry that somehow the purposes of God are not being fulfilled as the Muslim has a right to expect.

The achievements of the post-war period have been considerable. Egyptian self-assertion has made the Middle East one of the chief problem areas in the world. Libya became independent after the war. Morocco and Tunis have since won their independence. In Algeria the story of detachment from France was long and painful. But here too, in 1962, the goal of total independence was attained. And so the story goes on (Stephen Neill, Christian Faith and Other Faiths, London: Oxford University Press, 1970, pp. 43, 44.

However, much of this discussion has been quelled with the Camp David accords which saw peace rise out of the Middle East between Israel and Egypt. Yet on another front, committed Islamic fundamentalists have drawn world attention to Iran, and also in Egypt where they allegedly assassinated President Anwar Sadat. Nationalism is a strong sweeping movement in nations with majority Muslim populations.

In addition, secularism has increased as the practices of the West infiltrate nations. Some of these Western transfusions have been sudden many Arab countries are accumulating new and previously unknown wealth in the form of petro-dollars. However, the secularism has also had a backlash effect as many of the Muslim countries, in an attempt to preserve their identity, are holding the line on imported Western customs. Since Islam embraces not only religion but also culture, the future of the faith will be very much dependent on the state of the nations it thrives in today. With Arab nations prospering, this could turn out to be both a curse and a blessing to the Islamic faith. It may be good for its culture, but its faith could be seriously compromised.

Islam is a rapidly spreading religion for several reasons. It is the state religion of Moslem countries and this gives it a strong cultural and political base. It has the appeal of a universal message because of its simple creed and tenets. Anyone can enter the Ummah, the community of faithful Muslims. There are no racial barriers and thus it spreads quickly among the black communities of Africa, and more recently, of America. Its five doctrines and five pillars can be easily communicated. In the West it is making appeals to the universal brotherhood of man, world peace, temperance, and the uplifting of women (Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions, and You, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1977, p. 56).

The supremacy of Islam in the political and social (as well as religious) arenas is exemplified by the following quote from the Koran:

Believers, have fear of Allah and stand with those who uphold the cause of truth. No cause have the people of Medina and the desert Arabs who dwell around them to forsake Allah’s apostle or to jeopardize his life so as to safeguard their own; for they do not expose themselves to thirst or hunger or to any ordeal on account of the cause of Allah, nor do they stir a step which may provoke the unbelievers. Each loss they suffer at the enemy’s hands shall be counted as a good deed in the sight of Allah: He will not deny the righteous of their recompense. Each sum they give, be it small or large, and each journey they undertake, shall be noted down, so that Allah may requite them for their noblest deeds.

It is not right that all the faithful should go to war at once. A band from each community should stay behind to instruct themselves in religion and admonish their men when they return, so that they may take heed.

Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal courteously with them. Know that Allah is with the righteous (N.J. Dawood, trans., The Koran, London: Penguin Books, 1956, p. 333).

The Teachings of Islam

Faith and Duty

The teachings of Islam are comprised both of faith (imam) and practice or duty (din). Sir Norman Anderson explains:

The faith and practice of Islam are governed by the two great branches of Muslim learning, theology and jurisprudence, to both of which some reference has already been made. Muslim theology (usually called “Tawhid” from its central doctrine of the Unity of the Godhead) defines all that a man should believe, while the law (Shari’a) prescribes everything that he should do. There is no priesthood and no sacraments. Except among the Sufis, Islam knows only exhortation and instruction from those who consider themselves, or are considered by others, adequately learned in theology or law.

Unlike any other system in the world today the Shari’a embraces every detail of human life, from the prohibition of crime to the use of the toothpick, and from the organization of the State to the most sacred intimacies -or unsavoury aberrations – of family life. It is “the science of all things, human and divine;’ and divides all actions into what is obligatory or enjoined, what is praiseworthy or recommended, what is permitted or legally indifferent, what is disliked or deprecated, and what is forbidden (Anderson, op. cit., p. 78).

These practices are mainly true of Sunni Islam, not of the divergent sects.

The Law: Shari’a

Islamic law (Shari’a) plays a central role in all Islamic culture. The structure of the law is that civil law rather than common law is generally practiced in England and the United States.

It must be emphasized that the Shari’a has been central to Islamic doctrine:

The most important and fundamental religious concept of Islam is that of the shari’a which literally means a “path to the watering place” but in its religious application means the total way of life as explicitly or implicitly commanded by God. The word has been used in the Koran, which sometimes suggests that different religions have different shari’as but at other times that all religions have fundamentally one shari’a.

The concept as formulated by Muslim religious teachers, includes both the doctrine or belief, and practice or the law. But historically the formulation and systemization of the law took place earlier than the crystallization of the formal theology. This, as shown below, had far-reaching consequences for the future development of Islam (Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Islam,” Chicago: William Benton Publishing Company, 1967, p. 664).

The controversy surrounding the law and theology and the fourfold division of the Shari’a led to the formulation and distinction of the Sunni and Shi’ite sects in Islam. Guillaume explains:

In Chapter 5 a sketch of the sources of Muslim law and of the formation of the four main schools has been given. In certain countries certain matters have been taken out of the purview of the shari’a and now come within the scope of secular courts; but, broadly speaking, no change comparable with that which has taken and is taking place in Islamic countries today has been seen within Islam for a thousand years or more. Turkey, as everyone knows, has abolished the shari’a altogether. Officially it is a secular State, though actually the influence of Islam on the population, especially in Asia, is very considerable, and shows signs of becoming stronger under the new democratic government.

In a series of articles in The Moslem World and elsewhere my colleague, Mr. J.N.D. Anderson, has shown how in the Arab countries, too, the shari’a is undergoing revision. Egypt, the Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are all on the move. The changes which are being made illustrate how a definite attempt to relate the shari’a to the conditions of modern life and to a more liberal view of human relations is being realized in positive legislation (Guillaume, op. cit., pp. 166, 167).

He then comments on one of the differences of the Shi’ites and the Sunnis:

In theory, the Shi’ite conception of the supreme authority in law is utterly different from that of the Sunnis, though in practice the difference does not amount to very much. They reject the four schools and the doctrine of ijma because their Hidden Imam has the sole right of determining what the believer shall do and believe. Therefore their duly accredited doctors can still exercise the power of ijtihah or personal opinion. This power the Sunnis lost a thousand years ago or more (Guillaume, op. cit., p. 103).


The basis for Islamic doctrine is found in the Qur’an (Koran). Boa describes the central place of the Qura’n in the Islamic faith as well as the supplementary works:

The Koran is the authoritative scripture of Islam. About four-fifths the length of the New Testament, it is divided into 114 surahs (chapters). Parts were written by Mohammed, and the rest, based on his oral teaching, was written from memory by his disciples after Mohammed’s death.

Over the years a number of additional sayings of Mohammed and his early disciples were compiled. These comprise the Hadith (“tradition”), the sayings of which are called sunna (“custom”). The Hadith supplements the Koran much as the Talmud supplements the Law in Judaism (Kenneth Boa, op. cit., p. 52).

The Qur’an is the Word of God in Islam, the holy scriptures. As the authoritative scripture, it is the main guide for all matters of faith and practice. The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad as the Word of God for mankind.

Other revelations include the Torat (of Moses), the Suhuf (books of the prophets), Zabur (psalms of David), Injil (gospel of Jesus). The Qur’an supercedes all other revelations and is the only one of which we still have the original text. All of the others have been corrupted, almost beyond recognition.

Islam, for example, would not consider our New Testament to be the Injil (gospel of Jesus). It is not the words of Jesus, it is others’ words about Jesus. His original words have been corrupted and many have been lost. Only the Qur’an is infallible. Muhammad and the Qur’an are that which Islam is to follow.

Neill comments:

It is well known that at many points the Qur’an does not agree with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Therefore, from the Muslim point of view, it follows of necessity that these Scriptures must have been corrupted. Historical evidence makes no impression on the crushing force of the syllogism. So it is, and it can be no other way. The Muslim controversialist feels no need to study evidence in detail. The only valid picture of Jesus Christ is that which is to be found in the pages of the Qur’an (Stephen Neill, op. cit., p. 64).

The Qur’an is comprised of 114 surahs, or chapters, all attributed to Muhammad. The surahs are arranged in the Qur’an by length – the longer in front, the shorter in back.

For the Muslims, the Koran (q.v) is the Word of God, confirming and consummating earlier revealed books and thereby replacing them; its instrument or agent of revelation is the Prophet Mohammed, the last and most perfect of a series of messengers of God to mankind -from Adam through Abraham to Moses and Jesus, the Christian claims for whose divinity are strongly rejected.

Indeed there is no people to whom a prophet has not come. Although Mohammed is only a human creature of God, he has nevertheless an unequaled importance in the Koran itself which sets him only next to God as deserving of moral and legal obedience. Hence, his sayings and deeds (Sunna) served as a second basis, besides the Koran, of the belief and practice of Islam.

The Koran (which, for the Muslim, is the miracle par excellence of Mohammed, unsurpassable in form as well as in content) is a forceful document basically expressing an élan of religious and social justice. The early chapters (surahs) of the Koran, reflecting Mohammed’s grim struggle against the Meccans, are characterized by grave warnings of the imminent judgment, while the later surahs, of the Medina period, are chiefly directed to regulating the internal and external affairs of the young Muslim community-state, besides narrating the stories of the earlier prophets.

The koranic theology is rigorously monotheistic: God is absolutely unique “there is nothing like him”– omnipotent, omniscient, merciful. Men are exhorted to obey his will (i.e., to be Muslim) as is necessarily done by all inorganic objects. Special responsibility is laid on man who willingly, although with his characteristically foolish pride, accepted “the trust.” refused by all creation. Besides human beings and angels, the Koran speaks of the jinn, both good and evil, to whom sometimes the devil is represented as belonging (Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., p. 663).

In modern times, the Qur’an has faced many of the same dilemmas as the Bible. A major issue is the inspiration of the Qur’an. Islamic scholars do not agree as a whole on how the Qur’an came to be true or how much is true, although conservative Islamic scholars accept it all as literally true. John Alden Williams comments:

The Qur’an, then, is the Word of God, for Muslims. While controversies have raged among them as to the sense in which this is true -whether it is the created or uncreated Word, whether it is true of every Arabic letter or only of the message as a whole, that it is true has never been questioned by them (John Alden Williams, op. cit., p. 15).

The Qur’an was revealed and written in the Arabic language. Because of this, and the fact it was revealed by God, Muslims deplore translations of the Qur’an into other languages. There is, then, no authoritative translation for the Qur’an. Anyone familiar with the reading of translations of any work would be sympathetic to this demand. However, as rich as Arabic is, the translations still provide a close original which can and must be evaluated for its validity, not simply its reliability.

The Qur’an came into written form shortly after Muhammad’s death.

All the sûrahs of the Koran had been recorded in writing before the Prophet’s death, and many Muslims had committed the whole Koran to memory. But the written sûrahs were dispersed among the people; and when, in a battle which took place during the Caliphate of Abû Bakr-that is to say, within two years of the Prophet’s death – a large number of those who knew the whole Koran by heart were killed, a collection of the whole Koran was made and put in writing. In the Caliphate of Othmân, all existing copies of sûahs were called in, and an authoritative version, based on Abû Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had the whole Koran by heart, was compiled exactly in the present form and order, which is regarded as traditional and as the arrangement of the Prophet himself, the Caliph Othmân and his helpers being Comrades of the Prophet and the most devout students of the Revelation. The Koran has thus been very carefully preserved (Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, New York: Mentor Books, n.d., p. xxviii).

On the origin of the Qur’an, Guillaume comments:

From the books of tradition we learn that the prophet was subject to ecstatic seizures. He is reported to have said that when inspiration came to him he felt as it were the painful sounding of a bell. Even in cold weather his forehead was bathed in sweat. On one occasion he called to his wife to wrap him in a veil. At other times visions came to him in sleep. Religious ecstasy is a worldwide phenomenon in one stage of human society, and in its early stages Muhammad’s verses were couched in the Semitic form of mantic oracular utterance. The veiling of the head and the use of rhymed prose were marks of the Arabian soothsayer, while the feeling of physical violence and compulsion, and the outward appearance of “possession’ which seemed to the onlookers to indicates madness or demonic possession were sometimes recorded by, or observed in, the Hebrew prophets.

The Qur’an as we have it now is a record of what Muhammad said while in the state or states just mentioned. It is beyond doubt that his hearers recognized the symptoms of revelation, otherwise his obiter dicta which the literature of tradition purports to record would be included in the Qur’an (Guillaume, op. cit., p. 56).

Five Articles of Faith

The five articles of faith are the main doctrines of Islam. All Muslims are expected to believe these tenets.

1. God. There is only one true God and his name is Allah. Allah is all-knowing, all-powerful and the sovereign judge. Yet Allah is not a personal God, for he is so far above man in every way that he is not personally knowable. Noss states:

In the famous Muslim creedal formula the first part reads: l_ il_ha illa All_h, “(There is) no god but God”. This is the most important article in Muslim theology. No statement about God seemed to Muhammad more fundamental than the declaration that God is one, and no sin seemed to him so unpardonable as associating another being with God on terms of equality. God stands alone and supreme. He existed before any other being or thing, is self-subsistent, omniscient, omnipotent (“all-seeing, all-hearing, all-willing”). He is the creator, and in the awful day of judgment he is the sole arbiter who shall save the believer out of the dissolution of the world and place him in paradise (Noss, op. cit., p. 517).

This doctrine, which makes God different from His creatures, is strong in Islam. Allah is so different that it makes it (1) difficult to really know very much about him, and (2) unlikely that he is affected by his creatures’ attitudes or actions. Although Allah is said to be loving, this aspect of his nature is almost ignored, and his supreme attribute of justice is thought to overrule love (Anderson, op. cit., p. 79).

The emphasis of the God of Islam is on judgment, not grace; on power, not mercy. He is the source of both good and evil and his will is supreme.

2. Angels. The existence of angels is fundamental to Islamic teaching. Gabriel, the leading angel, appeared to Muhammad and was instrumental in delivering the revelations in the Qur’an to Muhammad. Al Shaytan is the devil and most likely a fallen angel or jinn. Jinn are those creatures between angels and men which can be either good or evil.

Angels do not perform any bodily functions (sexual, eating, etc.) as they are created of light. All angels have different purposes, such as Gabriel, or Jibril, who is the messenger of inspiration. Each man or woman also has two recording angels – one who records his good deeds, the other, his bad deeds.

3. Scripture. There are four inspired books in the Islamic faith. They are the Torah of Moses, the Psalms (Zabin) of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Injil) and the Qur’an. Muslims believe the former three books have been corrupted by Jews and Christians. Also, since the Qur’an is god’s most recent and final word to man, it supercedes all the other works.

4. Prophets. In Islam God has spoken through numerous prophets down through the centuries. The six greatest are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Muhammad is the last and greatest of all Allah’s messengers.

5. Last Days. The last day will be a time of resurrection and judgment. Those who follow and obey Allah and Muhammad will go to Islamic heaven, called Paradise, a place of pleasure. Those who oppose them will be tormented in hell.

The last day (the resurrection and the judgment) figures prominently in Muslim thought. The day and hour is a secret to all, but there are to be twenty-five signs of its approach. All men will then be raised; the books kept by the recording angels will be opened; and God as judge will weigh each man’s deeds in the balances. Some will be admitted to Paradise, where they will recline on soft couches quaffing cups of wine handed them by the Huris, or maidens of Paradise, of whom each man may marry as many as he pleases; others will be consigned to the torments of Hell. Almost all, it would seem, will have to enter the fire temporarily, but no true Muslim will remain there forever (Anderson, op. cit., p. 81).

Finally there is a sixth article of faith which is considered by many to belong to the five doctrines. Whether this is one of the articles or not, it is a central teaching of Islam -the belief in God’s decrees or Kismet, the doctrine of fate. This is a very rigid view of predestination that states all good or evil proceeds from divine will.
This strong fatalism has played a central role in Muslim culture. “To this the lethargy and lack of progress which, until recently at least, has for centuries characterized Muslim countries, can be partially attributed” (Anderson, op. cit., p. 82). From this concept comes the most common Islamic phrase, roughly translated, “It is Allah’s will.”

Five Pillars of Faith

Besides the five major beliefs or doctrines in Islam, there are also “five pillars of faith”. These are observances in Islam which are foundational practices or duties every Muslim must observe. The five are: The Creed, Prayers, Almsgiving, Fasting and the Pilgrimage to Mecca.

1. The Creed. (Kalima). “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah,” is the bedrock of Muslim belief. One must state this aloud publicly in order to become a Muslim. It is repeated constantly by the faithful.

2. Prayer (Salat). Prayer as ritual is central to a devout Muslim. Boa comments:

The practice of prayer (salat) five times a day (upon rising, at noon, in mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before retiring). The worshipper must recite the prescribed prayers (the first surah and other selections from the Koran) in Arabic while facing the Kaaba in Mecca. The Hadith (book of tradition) has turned these prayers into a mechanical procedure of standing, kneeling, hands and face on the ground, and so forth. The call to prayer is sounded by the muezzin (a Muslim crier) from a tower called a minaret which is part of the mosque (the place of public worship) (Boa, op. cit., p. 53).

3. Almsgiving (Zakat). Muhammad, himself an orphan, had a strong desire to help the needy. The alms originally were voluntary, but all Muslims are legally required to give one-fortieth of their income for the destitute. There are other rules and regulations for produce, cattle, etc. Freewill offerings also can be exercised.
Since those to whom alms are given are helping the giver to salvation, they feel no sense of debt to the giver. On the contrary, it is the giver’s responsibility and duty to give and he should consider himself lucky he has someone to give to.

4. Fasting (Ramadan). Faithful Muslims fast from sunup to sundown each day during this holy month. The fast develops self-control, devotion to God and identity with the destitute. No food or drink may be consumed during the daylight hours; no smoking or sexual pleasures may be enjoyed, either. Many Muslims eat two meals a day during Ramadan, one before sunrise and one shortly after sunset.

5. The Pilgrimage (Hajj). The pilgrimage is expected of all Muslims at least once in their lifetimes. It can be extremely arduous on the old or infirm, so in their cases they may send someone in their places. The trip is an essential part in Muslims’ gaining salvation. It involves a set of ceremonies and rituals, many of which center around the Ka!aba shrine, to which the pilgrimage is directed. Of the Kaaba, Muhammad M. Pickthall comments in The Meaning of the Glorious Koran:

The Meccans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael, and tradition stated that their temple, the Ka’aba, had been built by Abraham for the worship of the One God. It was still called the House of Allah, but the chief objects of worship there were a number of idols which were called daughters of Allah and intercessors (Pickthall, op. cit., p. ix).

The idols were destroyed by Muhammad on his return to Mecca in power following the Hijira (exile).

When the pilgrim is about six miles from the holy city, he enters upon the state of ihram: he casts off, after prayers, his ordinary clothes and puts on two seamless garments; he walks almost barefooted and neither shaves, cuts his hair nor cuts his nails. The principle activity consists of a visit to the Sacred mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram); the kissing of the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad); seven circurnambulations of the Ka’aba three times running and four times slowly; the visit to the sacred stone called Maqam Ibrahim; the ascent of and running between Mt. Safa and Mt. Marwa seven times; the visit to Mt. Arafat; the hearing of a sermon there and spending the night at Muzdalifa; the throwing of stones at the three pillars at Mina and offering sacrifice on the last day of Ihram, which is the ‘id of sacrifice (‘Id al-Adha) (Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., p. 664).

This Muslim pilgrimage serves to heighten and solidify Islamic faith.
There is a sixth religious duty associated with the five pillars. This is Jihad, the Holy War. This duty requires that when the situation warrants, men are required to go to war to spread Islam or defend it against infidels. One who dies in a Jihad is guaranteed eternal life in Paradise (heaven).

Cultural Expression

Islam, like Judaism, is both a religion and a cultural identity which cannot be separated from the people. In many countries the Islamic faith, though not strictly practiced, is woven into the web of society at every facet.

The Cambridge History of Islam comments on this phenomenon:

Islam is a religion. It is also, inseparably from this, a community, a civilization and a culture. It is true that many of the countries through which the Qur’anic faith spread already possessed ancient and important cultures. Islam absorbed these cultures, and assimilated itself to them in various ways, to a far greater extent than it attempted to supplant them. But in doing this, it provided them with attributes in common, with a common attitude toward God, to men and to the world, and thus ensured, through the diversities of language, of history and of race, the complex unity of the d_r al-Isl_m, the “house” or “world” of Islam.

The history of the Muslim peoples and countries is thus a unique example of a culture with a religious foundation, uniting the spiritual and the temporal, sometimes existing side by side with “secular” cultures, but most often absorbing them by becoming very closely interlinked with them (P M. Holt, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 569).

Language and the Arts

To doctrine which serves as both a religious and social foundation, the Arabic language can be added as another unifying factor which helps weld Islamic peoples together.
There is an abundance of Arabic poetry and prose in which the Islamic faith is placed in high regard. Muslim art and architecture also have a highly developed style. Many of the mosques and minarets are tremendous works of art decorated with intricate arabesque ornamentation.

The family is very important in the social economy of Islam. Marriage is required for every Muslim, even the ascetics. Muhammed commanded men to marry and propagate the race. Men may not have more than four wives, yet many cohabit with as many concubines as they choose.

Although the act of marriage is important, the sanctity of the union is not as highly regarded. A Muslim may divorce his wife at any time and for any reason. On the whole, women in Islamic culture do not enjoy the status or the privileges of the men and are very dependent on their husbands. While this sounds cruel and sexist to Westerners, it was a humane innovation in Muhammad’s time. Islamic law requires what was then unheard of: each wife must be treated equally.

Other practices include the veiling of women, circumcision, abstention from alcohol, gambling and certain foods. Many of the above, such as alcohol and gambling, are seen as vices of the West.

Islam and Christianity

Many of the Muslim beliefs come from the Bible. The historical foundation for the Qur’an comes from the Old Testament. Yet even though there has been influence and there are similarities, the differences in the beliefs of the two faiths are striking.


Islam teaches the unity of God’s essence and personality, explicitly excluding the Trinity as taught in the Bible.

This emphasis on the unity of God comes across in other ways. Islam has God divorced from His creation, so unified to Himself that He cannot be associated with creation. His transcendence is so great that He acts impersonally.

Because of their doctrine of predestination and the fact that both evil and good came from Allah, it makes their God very capricious. Whatever Allah chooses becomes right; this makes any true standard of righteousness or ethics hard to discern if not impossible to establish.

This is unlike the God of the Bible who is righteous. The very word righteous means, “a standard.”

The Muslim finds it difficult to divorce the concept of father from the physical realm. To them it is blasphemous to call Allah or God your father. To do so is the same as saying that your mother and Allah had sexual intercourse to produce you!

In addition, while calling God “Father” is to evoke thoughts of love, compassion, tenderness and protectiveness to Christians, it is not so to the Muslim mind. To him, a father is strict, shows no emotion, never expresses love, and is bound to his family by duty and for what his family can provide for him, not by devotion.

Allah is also very deficient in such attributes as love, holiness and grace. Grace, of course, is rooted in the character of God (Ephesians 2).

The Bible

As mentioned before, the Muslim holy books include the sayings of Moses, the prophets, David, Jesus and Muhammad. However, all of the previous sayings have been lost or corrupted. Only the Qur’an, the words of Muhammad, have been preserved free of error. They also supercede the previous revelations. Remember, the holy books mentioned in Islam are not exactly like our biblical Scriptures.

One would presuppose that since the teachings of Christianity and Islam are clearly different, it would follow that the practical and social consequences of the doctrine would also be vastly different. This is precisely the case. As Guillaume mentions, this is nowhere better illustrated than in the status of women:

The Qur’an has more to say on the position of women than on any other social question. The guiding note is sounded in the words, “Women are your tillage,” and the word for marriage is that used for the sexual act. The primary object of marriage is the propagation of children, and partly for this a man is allowed four wives at a time and an unlimited number of concubines. However, it is laid down that wives are to be treated with kindness and strict impartiality; if a man cannot treat all alike he should keep to one.

The husband pays the woman a dowry at the time of marriage, and the money or property so allocated remains her own. The husband may divorce his wife at any time, but he cannot take her back until she has remarried and been divorced by a second husband. A woman cannot sue for divorce on any grounds, and her husband may beat her. In this matter of the status of women lies the greatest difference between the Muslim and the Christian world.

Since Muslim propagandists in this country persistently deny that women are inferior to men in Islam it is worthwhile to set out the facts. Surah 4:31 says: “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other and because they spend their wealth [to maintain them]. So good women are obedient, guarding the unseen [parts] because God has guarded [them]. As for those from whom you fear disobedience admonish them and banish them to beds apart and beat them; then if they obey you seek not occasion against them (Guillaume, op. cit., pp. 71, 72).


In Islam the person and work of Jesus Christ are not seen in the same way as in Christianity. For the Christian the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God is the vital cornerstone of faith, yet the Muslim does not hold to either of these truths-that Christ is the Son of God or that he rose from dead. In fact, Muslims do not even believe Jesus was crucified; rather, many believe Judas was crucified in His place. Some, however, believe it was Christ on the cross but that He did not die. Islam does believe Jesus was a sinless prophet although not as great as Muhammad. While Surah 3:45-47 in the Qur’an speaks of the virgin birth of Christ, it is not the same biblical virgin birth. Jesus is certainly not the only begotten Son of God, and an angel -rather than the Holy Spirit-was the agency of God’s power in the conception. However, the idea that Allah had a son is repugnant to them. Surah 4:171 states, “Jesus… was only a messenger of

Allah … Far is it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son.”
John states concerning Christ, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth… And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:14, 34).

Christ’s claim for His own deity and Sonship are unequivocal. In John 10:30 He claims equality with the Father when He states, “I and the Father are one. ” For not only is the Sonship of Christ important per se, but the deity of Christ is also an important point of difference between Chris-tianity and Islam since Islam denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

Of the crucifixion, the Qur’an states in Surah 4:157, “They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them. . !’Most Muslims believe Judas was put in the place of Christ, and Christ went to heaven. The Bible teaches that Christ went to the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sins, died, and was raised from the dead, appeared to the disciples and then ascended to heaven.

Paul recounts the events this way: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred” (2 Corinthians 15:3-6, NASB).

Of the importance of the resurrection, Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (2 Corinthians 15:17, NASB).

Max Kershaw, in “How to Share the Good News with Your Muslim Friend,” states:

In this regard, the Muslim view of Jesus is significant. The Qur’an presents Jesus as one of the great prophets. He is called the Messiah. He is declared to have been born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life (Surah 19:19). He accomplished many wonderful miracles, such as the giving of sight to the blind, healing of lepers and the raising of the dead (3:49). He is going to return to the earth again to establish Islam throughout the earth. He is called “the Word of God” (3:45) and “the Spirit from God” (4:171). Thus, Muslims have a high view of Jesus.

But they are adamant in declaring that Jesus is not the Son of God and Savior. In fact, they believe that equating anyone with God is blasphemy, the unforgiveable sin. More than this, they do not believe that he was crucified. Instead, God took him to heaven without dying, and someone else died in his place. One particular passage in the Qur’an (4:156-158) seems to say this, but it is not clear. In fact, other Qur’anic passages speak of the death of Jesus (19:33) (Max R. Kershaw, How to Share the Good News with Your Muslim Friend, Colorado Springs: International Students, Inc., 1978).

Boa comments:

Unlike the God of the Bible, Allah has done nothing for man that cost him anything. Islam makes no real provision for sin. One’s salvation is never certain since it is based on a works system and on complete surrender (“Islam”) to the will of Allah. This religion rejects the biblical teaching of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, though it concedes that He was a sinless prophet. Mohammed did not rise from the dead, and there is no basis for a resurrection in Islam (Boa, op. cit., p. 55).

Neill states with respect to Islam and the person of Christ:

It is perfectly true that the central concern of Jesus was with the kingdom of God. But everything depends on the meaning that is put into the word “God.” Here is perhaps the very heart of our differences. Islam conceives the possible relationship of man to God in one way, and the Gospel in another.

While God was the exclusive source of the revelation to Muhammad, God himself is not the content of the revelation. Revelation in Islamic theology does not mean God disclosing himself. It is revelation from God, not revelation of God. God is remote. He is inscrutable and utterly inaccessible to human knowledge… Even though we are his creatures whose every breath is dependent upon him, it is not in inter-personal relationship with him that we receive guidance from him.

At this central point the teaching of Jesus diverges from what the Muslim believes to be the essential prophetic witness. His God is a God who cares for his creatures, who is prepared to enter into fellowship with them, and is concerned that they should love him in response to his love. Under the law man was in the position of a slave; now under the Gospel he is called to freedom, to the freedom of grown-up sons in their Father’s house. The Qur’an never uses the word “Father” of God. Jesus taught his disciples to address him as “Our Father!’ The whole of the Gospel is summed up in these two words.

If the possibility is admitted that God might be such as Jesus declared him to be, the incarnation presents itself no longer as a blasphemous and irrational impossibility, but as something that appears even appropriate, in the light of this new perception of what the fatherhood of God might be.

The death of Christ at the hands of the Jews is rejected by Muslims on a priori grounds, which are absolutely convincing if the major premise is admitted. It is impossible that God should so desert a prophet in the fulfillment of his mission. It would be contrary to His justice to permit the suffering of an innocent on behalf of others. It would be contrary to His omnipotence not to be able to rescue a prophet in danger. Therefore Jesus cannot have been left helpless in the hands of his enemies (Neill, op. cit., pp. 66, 67).

Sin and Salvation

The previous differences between Islam and Christianity find fruit in the teachings of salvation. Neill comments:

At the heart of the Muslim-Christian disagreement, we shall find a deep difference in the understanding of the nature of sin. It is not true to say that the Muslim has no sense of sin or of the need for forgiveness. He has both. But sin reveals its deadly nature only when it is seen in its effects on personal relationships; and such an understanding of it is almost necessarily excluded, as we have seen, by the Muslim’s concept of the possible relationship between the believer and his God. The believer may sin against the law and the majesty of God, and if he does so he deserves to be punished. The idea that man by his sin might break the heart of God is not yet within the spectrum of the Muslim understanding of reality (Neill, op. cit., pp. 68, 69).

The Muslim operates under a legalistic system and must earn his salvation. He holds to the Articles of Faith and follows the Pillars of Faith.

For the Muslim, sin is lack of obedience to Allah. Thus, man is sinful by act only, not by nature.

The Bible teaches that man is sinful by nature. Paul writes to the Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB).

These are historical roots which tie Islam to Christianity, yet this is where the similarity ends. Islam rejects the key doctrines of the Christian faith -the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and the sin of man and his salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ.

They also reject the Bible as the only authoritative book on which to base all matters of doctrine, faith and practice. When Islam rejects the truth of the written Word of God, they are left not only different from Christianity, but opposite from Christianity on all counts. Islam was founded by a dead prophet; Christianity was founded by the risen Savior.


Islam is one of the driving forces among world religions today, its growth closely tied to nationalism. But growth does not mean truth.

The God of Islam is a very capricious one, too far removed from people to be personally involved or concerned. Not only is he impersonal, but he also emphasized judgment to the exclusion of love, and he motivates people by fear rather than by grace.

Muhammad, the founder, has based his teaching on inaccurate and untrue interpretations of the Bible. There is no historical evidence to support Muhammad’s contentions that either the Jewish or Christian scriptures have been corrupted. In addition, his teaching in the Qur’an is based on revelations which he initially believed were demonic in origin.

Islam is an aggressive and impressive world religion. It appeals to those who welcome a religious world view which permeates every facet of life. However, it is ultimately unfulfilling. The Islamic God of strict judgment, Allah, cannot offer the mercy, love, and ultimate sacrifice on mankind’s behalf that the Christian God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, offers to each man even today.

Islamic Terms

Abu Bakr- (Reign: 632-634 A.D.) The first Moslem caliph, according to Sunni Muslims. The Shi’ite Muslims reject this and instead consider the fourth caliph, ‘Ali, as the first true successor to Mohammad.
Allah -The Supreme Being. The name of God, derived from the Arabic Al-Ilah.
Caliph -The title given to office of the spiritual and political leadership which took over after Mohammad’s death.
Fatima -The daughter of Mohammad and his first wife; and the wife of ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph.
Hadith -The sacred sayings of Mohammad, handed down by oral tradition, for generations after Mohammad’s death until finally transcribed.
Hafi-A pilgrimage to Mecca. One of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Hegira -Moharnmad’s flight from Mecca to present day Medina in 622 A.D.
Imam -A Moslem who is considered by Sunnis to be an authority in Islamic law and theology or the man who leads the prayers. Also refers to each of the founders of the four principal sects of Islam. The Shi’ites accept 12 great Imams.
Islam -Literally, “submission to the will of Allah.”
Ka’Aba -A small stone building located in the court of the great mosque at Mecca containing the black stone (a meteorite) supposedly given to Abraham by Gabriel.
Koran (Qur’an) -Said to be the final and complete inspired word of God transmitted to the prophet Mohammad by the angel Gabriel.
Mahdi-“The guided one.” A leader who will cause righteousness to fill the earth. The Sunnites are still awaiting his initial appearance while the Shi’ites hold that the last Imam, who disappeared in 874 A.D. will someday reappear as the Mahdi.
Mecca -The birthplace of Mohammad. This city, located in Saudi Arabia, is considered the most holy city by the Moslems.
Medina -A holy city of Islam named for Mohammad. It was previously named Yathrib. It is the city to which Mohammad fled in 622 A.D.
Mohammad-The prophet and founder of Islam. Born around 570 A.D., died 632 A.D.
Moslem (Muslim)-A follower of Mohammad. Literally, “one who submits.”
Mosque-An Islamic place of worship.
Muezzlin -A Moslem crier who announces the hour of prayer. Mulla-A teacher of Islamic laws and doctrines.
Omar-According to the Sunnites, the second Moslem caliph and principal advisor to the first caliph, Abu Bakr.
Purday-A veil or covering used by Moslem women to ensure them privacy against public observation, and to indicate their submission.
Ramadan-The ninth month of the Moslem year, when Mohammad received the Qur’an from heaven, and now devoted to fasting.
Salat -The Moslem daily prayer ritual. One of the five pillars of Islamic faith.
Shi’ites-A Moslem sect which rejects the first three caliphs, insisting that Mohammad’s son-in-law ‘Ali was Mohammad’s rightful initial successor.
Sufis- Iranian (Persian) philosophical mystics who have largely adapted and reinterpreted Islam for themselves.
Sunnites-The largest Moslem sect which acknowledges the first four caliphs as Mohammad’s rightful successors.
Surahs-What the chapters of the Qur’an are called.