Islam Part 1
November 8th, 2015
Some people would say that most religions are just different paths to God, and particularly, that the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, basically teach and believe the same things. This morning I want us to take a look at Islam a bit closer to see if there is as much overlap with Christianity as may appear at first blush.
Jesus is mentioned in the Quran quite often, and he is honoured in Islam as the second-to-last Prophet, superseded only by the last Prophet, Muhammad.
As recorded in the Quran, Muhammad taught that Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary,
that he was a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit,
that he performed miracles, including cleansing lepers, giving sight to the blind, and raising people from the dead,
that he was taken up into heaven and
that he would return again.
He refers to Jesus as “the word of truth,” the Spirit of God, the anointed (Messiah), the prophet of God, the messenger of God, the Servant of God, and so on.
However, for Muhammad, Jesus was a Muslim who prophesied of Muhammad’s coming. Jesus was NOT crucified prior to being taken up to heaven (Simon of Cyrene was instead) [Quran 4:155]. Jesus would return as a Muslim at the end of time, when the final prophet, the Mahdi, is fighting the Anti-Christ. When Jesus slays the Anti-Christ, then all Christians and Jews will convert to Islam and believe in Allah. Everyone who does not accept Islam will be slain. After ruling for about 40 years, Jesus will die.
Most importantly, Mohammad taught that Jesus was not the son of God. God does not have children. Surah 5:17 is just one that makes that point.
Those who say, “Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary,” certainly are unbelievers. You respond (to them), “Who can do anything against Allah should he wish to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother, or anyone else on the earth?” To Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them. Quran 5:17
Let me give you a bit of background information on Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Muhammad was born approximately in the year AD 570 in Mecca, where he would live for the next 52 years of his life (c. 570 – 622), followed by the last 10 years of his life in Medina (622 – 632), where he would die at 62 or 63 years old.
Muhammad’s father died 6 months before his birth. His mother died when he was 6 years old. He lived with his grandfather for the next 2 years until the grandfather died as well. At the tender age of 8 he was then taken into his paternal uncle’s (Abu Talib) household where he grew up and became a merchant.
When Muhammad was growing up, the Arabian people worshipped many gods, including one called Allah. In Mecca, there was the site which the Arabian people would visit yearly and circle 7 times, the Kaaba shrine, which housed 360 statues of tribal deities as well as the black meteor known as the Kaaba stone. During the holy pilgrim months, all hostilities between the various Arab tribes ceased.
In the region surrounding Mecca, there were not only polytheists, but also Christians and Jews. While Muhammed was likely illiterate, he was familiar with many of the stories of the Old and New Testaments, so he must have had considerable contact with both groups.
When Mohammed was 25 years old (AD 595), he married a 40 year old wealthy widow of his clan and successfully ran her family’s business. Apparently it was a happy marriage that lasted for 24 years, until her death (AD 619). He had 2 sons who died as infants and 4 daughters that survived infancy, but all of them predeceased him except one, Fatima.
After the death of his first wife, Muhammad married 12 more wives, some of them the widows of Muslims who had fallen in battle, others, to make allies with their families, and one, Aisha, the daughter of his close friend Abu Bakr, he was betrothed when she was only 6 years old.
According to eye-witness descriptions, Muhammad was slightly taller than medium height, broad shouldered and broad-chested, but not fat. He had a wide face and forehead, black eyes, long eyebrows and long eye-lashes. He had thick, curly hair, was light skinned, had a hooked nose, a thick beard, and a long neck.
Apparently, he was quite the orator.
Mohammed did a lot of praying on his own, particular in a cave on Mount Hira, less than 5 km N/E of the Kaaba shrine, just outside of Mecca.
One night, when he was 40 years old (AD 610), Mohammed heard a voice which told him recite certain words. Although troubled, he went home and told his wife and her Christian cousin and they encouraged him that he wasn’t crazy and that this was from God.
It was another three years before Muhammad would hear more messages from God, and he then became certain he could distinguish those messages from his own thoughts.
His early messages really had to do about the need to reform ones’ life in light of the resurrection, the judgment of God, and the tortures of hell and the pleasures of paradise.
He called to faith in one God, to continually asking God for forgiveness of sins, to frequent prayer, to assisting the needy, to being honest, to rejecting the love of money, and to being chaste.
Around AD 613, Muhammad began to preach publicly, and gained an increasing following among the disenfranchised younger sons of wealthy merchants, those of lesser rank, and foreigners. This following grew over the next 9 years.
When he spoke out against polytheism, he began to be seen as a threat to the wealth of the Mecca, since much of it was due to the presence of the Kaaba shrine. In fact, Muhammad’s own tribe was in charge of looking after the shrine.
In AD 619, the year of his wife’s death, his uncle and protector also died, so Muhammad’s life was in danger because no one in his tribe would now exact revenge should he be killed.
In AD 622, after learning of a plot to assassinate him, Muhammad and his followers slipped out of Mecca and moved to a city called Yathrib, 320 km north of Mecca. He already had quite a following from that town and almost all of his followers would come from the Arab tribes in Yathrib. They were familiar with belief in one God because of a large number of Jews in the city.
Muhammad and his followers began to raid Meccan caravans, supported by Muhammad’s revelations.
18 months after his arrival, when Muhammad realized that the Jews at Yathrib did not accept him as THE final prophet from God, he told his followers to face Mecca, rather than Jerusalem, during their prayers.
Over the next 8 years, Muhammad consolidated power in Yathrib, which eventually was renamed Medina, meaning, the “city of the prophet.” He ended up expelling the Jews who opposed him – one Jewish tribe he fought, and when they finally surrendered, had the men beheaded and the women and children sold into slavery.
Medina has become the second holiest city for Muslims because this is really where Islam developed.
Just as an aside, Jerusalem is considered Islam’s third holiest city among Sunni Muslims. According to Muslim tradition (briefly alluded to in Surah 17), around AD 621, Muhammad was taken at night to Jerusalem by the angel Gabriel riding on a white beast, to the mosque on the temple mount. This is not, as you may assume, the gilded Dome of the Rock, but the other, more unassuming precursor to the current Mosque on the southern part of the temple mount.
From there, Muhammad is said to have road the beast up through the 7 heavens, where he met Jesus and others along the way, until he reached paradise where he spoke with God. Upon returning to the temple Mount, he rode back to Mecca.
Since it was to the temple mount which Muhammad went, this is where Muslims have built mosques to worship Allah, but it is this desire that creates a lot of tension when access to those mosques is limited, as it was just a short time ago.
After numerous armed conflicts with the Meccans, Muhammad eventually conquered Mecca with an army of 10,000 (very little resistance). He rid the Kaaba shrine of its idols and pictures (although he kept the black Kaaba stone), and made Mecca the center of the Muslim faith. It is the year AD 630.
Over the next two years, Muhammad and his forces conquered the western half of the Arabian Peninsula. It was during this time that the defeated foes were given the choice to adopt Islam, leave Arabia, or be killed.
Although he had previously installed the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the Meccan shrine for Muslims, it was only two years after the conquest of Mecca, in AD 632, that he was able to do this himself.
That same year, AD 632, he fell ill, suffered a fever, severe headaches, and weakness, and died, aged 62 or 63 years old. Some think that he was poisoned, but I find this unlikely.
After his death, Abu Bakr and his generals, extended the Muslim faith throughout the Arabian Peninsula by continuing the practice of forced conversion through armed conquest.
Only five years after Muhammad’s death, Jerusalem was conquered by Muslim forces (AD 637).
Islam expanded by force in all directions, and was only stopped by force.
As you can see, the vast majority of Muslim states are Sunni’s, with the exception of Iran, Azerbaijan, and parts of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and Yemen.
Sunni’s and Shia differ in that the Shia view the only right successor of Muhammad to have been his cousin Ali, while Sunni’s view the rightful successor to be Muhammad’s general, close friend, and father-in-law Abu Bakr. Shia also do not accept as many of the Sunnah’s as genuine as do the Sunni’s. There is ongoing enmity between these two largest sects of Islam.
One of the reasons why Bashar Al-Assad is so disliked in his own country is because he and his whole ruling elite are Shia, while the vast number of Syrians are Sunnis. Sadam Hussein, on the other hand, was Sunni and brutally oppressed the Shiites in Iraq when he ruled.
While Muslims in the Western world are by and large tolerant of other faiths, that simply is not the case in most other areas of the world. For example, here is a map of Muslim countries where conversion to another religion is heavily punished.
Sharia Law pronounces the death penalty upon those who abandon their Muslim faith, and have long prison terms for those who distribute Christian literature.
Therefore, 23 Islamic countries have laws that state that leaving Islam is to be punishable by death or lengthy prison terms. In many Muslim countries it is illegal to preach, persuade or otherwise attempt to convert a Muslim to another religion.
Some Muslim teachers use this concept in Sharia Law and expand the death penalty to anyone who in some way is seen to blaspheme or insult Allah, Muhammad, the Quran, or anything else about the Muslim faith.
Sharia Law and its interpretation explains why the Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa (a legal ruling based on Sharia law), calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie. It explains why a bounty of $ 1 million was put on the head of one of the Danish cartoonists and why an axe-wielding Muslim from Somalia tried to kill him in his own home. It explains why Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death for producing a short film critical of the treatment of women under Islamic rule.
This explains why former Muslims are killed by their own family members or neighbours, even in countries where Sharia law is not enforced.
Open Doors recently released its widely cited 2015 World Watch List, a report that highlights and ranks the 50 worst nations around the globe where Christians are persecuted today.
Year after year, one salient fact that emerges from this report, is that the overwhelming majority of Christian persecution around the world is being committed by Muslims, and mostly in countries that are predominantly Muslim.
If you look at the 50 countries on this map, there are only 5 in which the persecution is not committed by Muslims: North Korea, China, Mexico, Columbia, and Vietnam.
Those persecuting Christians in 45 of the 50 nations on the list are Muslims, even if that nation itself isn’t predominantly Muslim, for example, in Kenya, Laos or the Central African Republic.
Christians are killed for their faith in Tanzania, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, Somalia, Morocco, Indonesia, Lybia (mass beheadings of Christians in Libya), Sudan, and especially in Syria and Iraq – many of the pictures way too disturbing to be put on the overhead. ISIS has made it one of its policies to kill anyone who is not Muslim.
Of the 11 countries where Christians suffer “extreme persecution”, which means that they are regularly killed (red), all but 1 are predominantly Muslim (North Korea is the only communist country where distributing a Bible is a capital offense and where Christians are regularly executed for their faith).
This is something that we rarely if ever hear from our media, because it is an uneasy truth that, if reported on, may be construed as being islamophobic, a term that technically speaks of an irrational fear of the Islamic religion.
What these facts should lead to, is the question why Muslims in the non-Western world are as intolerant toward other beliefs, and why the radicalized version of Islam is the number one threat to peace in our world today?
In order to answer these questions, we really have to return to the Quran and Muhammad’s teaching.
As I noted before, Muhammad heard God speak to him. He would memorize the message and then recite it to his followers.
In turn, his followers would memorize his words, or scratch them on parchment or palm leaves or pieces of leather. It also seems likely, at least during his time in Medina, that Muhammad had a large number of scribes who wrote down what he said (because he a large correspondence during that time).
In any case, these sayings and actions are called the Hadith.
It wasn’t until 100 years after Muhammad’s death, that his followers would take many of these oral remembrances and various written fragments and compile them in what is now called the Quran, the primary book of the Muslim religion.
Many of Muhammad’s other revelations and actions and their application for Muslims were compiled over 200 years after Muhammad’s death in what is known as the Sunnah. Both the Quran and the established Sunnah are accepted as authoritative by all Muslims and they are used to determine Sharia law.
The Quran, the Sunnah and other hadith are a problem in that they can be used to justify violence and war in the cause of Islam.
For example, over 100 Quranic verses exhort believers to wage jihad against unbelievers. Jihad is a term that literally means “struggle,” and was almost universally understood over 14 centuries to mean “armed struggle” in the defense of for the advancement of Islam. These are all found in Muhammad’s teaching after he was in power in Medina, that is, in the last 10 years of his life. Here is a sampling of them.
Kill them [those who fight you] wherever you find them. Expel them from where they have expelled you. For (their) disbelief is a greater evil than killing (them). … Should they turn from disbelief, then Allah is indeed forgiving and merciful. So fight them until disbelief is no more and only Allah is worshipped. Once they submit, there will be no more punishment except against evildoers. Quran 2:191-193
Note that armed conflict is to be a reality until the whole world worships Allah.
Warfare is prescribed for you, even though you may think it repulsive. A thing you dislike can be good for you, and a thing you love can be bad for you, and only Allah knows (which is which) and you do not. Quran 2:26
Let those who fight for the cause of Allah, sell the life of this world for the hereafter. Whoever fights for the cause of Allah, whether slain or victorious, We will give him a great reward. Quran 4:74
They (the hypocritical Meccans) are eager that you should disbelieve like they have disbelieved, so that you all become the same. So do not make friends with any of them until they convert to the way of Allah. And if they turn their backs, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. And do not take any of them as friends and helpers …. Quran 4:89
While Allah promises a great reward to all (believers), those who wage jihad will receive a greater reward than those who sit back. Quran 4:95
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned [as potential slaves]; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. Quran 5:33
I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore behead them and chop off their every fingertip. Quran 8:12
The goal of terrorism is to do just that … to make people so afraid that they will lose heart and acquiesce to those committing the atrocities.
Say to those who do not believe, if they relinquish [their unbelief], what is already past will be forgiven them. But if they revert [to unbelief], then the precedent of the ancients has already passed. So fight them until disbelief is no more and only Allah is worshipped. But if they relinquish [their unbelief], Allah indeed sees best what they do. Quran 8:39
Again, armed struggle is a perpetual affair until the whole world has converted to Islam.
Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and maintain the prayer and give the alms levy [= convert to Islam] then allow them to go their way. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful. Quran 9:5
Once Muhammad was in control, he proclaimed that non-Muslims had to convert to Islam or die.
Fight those from among those who were given the Book [= Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah, nor [believe] in the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden, nor practice the true religion, until they willingly pay the [yearly] tax [for not believing], knowing they are subjugated [to the rule of Islam]. Quran 9:29
The "People of the Book," was Muhammad’s way of referring to Jews and Christians. These were to be treated in a nearly identical fashion to how the polytheists were treated, with the one caveat, that they had the option of paying a yearly tax if they did not want to convert to Islam yet were completely willing to live under Muslim rule and law.
These tax rates on non-Muslims, when they have been applied at all, have varied from a fixed annual amount (i.e. the inhabitants of Yemen imposed in 632 by Muhammad), up to a crushing 50% of annual produce or income. In Muhammad’s mind, this tax was material proof of the non-Muslims’ submission to the Muslim rule and law as well as a financial incentive to adopt the Muslim faith.
When you meet the unbelievers in battle, decapitate them. When you have thoroughly decimated them, bind the (remaining) captives firmly. Thereafter either oblige them [to pay the tax for non-Muslims] or hold them [for] ransom until the war is over. Quran 47:4
While still living in Mecca, Muhammed was relatively tolerant of other faiths and spoke of religion as something that should be a matter of free choice – these Surah’s are also found in the Quran. At that time he was not adverse to having Christians and Jews as allies.
However, when he was in power in Medina, Muhammed became much more aggressive. His focus was on crushing any opposition to Islam by violent means – and forcing those defeated by him to convert to Islam, be killed, or exiled. Muhammad’s Jihad refers to beheadings and killings and the removal of digits.
It has been argued that the OT, much like the Quran, speaks of committing violence in the name of God. The big difference is that the OT reports Israel fighting a holy war during the conquest of Canaan. In other words, it describes a historic situation.
The OT is descriptive, speaking of events that happened long ago. On the other hand, the Quran is prescriptive. It appears to be calling the faithful to acts of violence until the world has been converted to Islam and/or has submitted to Sharia Law.
Imagine that Jesus lead a successful military campaign against the Roman occupying forces, and the following words to his disciples had been recorded in the NT:
You should fight with whatever means possible against the unbelievers, even if you personally find violence distasteful. You are to fight them and kill them wherever they are and only stop when they convert. You are to crucify or cut off the heads of those who you defeat in order to intimidate those who oppose you. You are to continue this war until the whole world is under the rule of Christendom.
Imagine if this actually stood in the New Testament. Do you think that the history of Christianity would be somewhat different from what it was?
It has also been argued that the Christianity of the Middle Ages, particularly as evidenced in the crusades, the conquest of the Americas, and the inquisition, displayed the same kind of mentality as found in radical Muslim organizations such as “Boko Haram,” “Al-Qaeda,” “Islamic State,” “Hezbollah,” “Hamas,” “Army of Islam,” “Abu Sayyaf,” and others, do today.
There is absolutely no way that violence on the part of Christians should be excused, but it has to be understood that the crusades were a limited and defensive response to the expansionistic Jihad of Islam into traditionally Christian territory.
The greatest tragedy of the crusades was that the symbol of the cross, which is to symbolize God’s love for people, was used in the context of killing Muslims.
More importantly, both before and after the Middle Ages, Christians have recognized that the teaching of Jesus, and the whole of the NT, speaks out against the use of violence and cruelty in any context. This is actually what Jesus said:
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
Be at peace with one another. Mark 9:5
Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:31
Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39
Jesus taught an ethic of non-retaliation, an ethic of non-violence.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
In the parallel passage in Luke 6, Jesus adds, “do good to those who hate you, pronounce a blessing on those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Treat others in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13
While Jesus acknowledged the possibility that following him may result in opposition from friends and family members, his followers were to be defined by loving action toward each other and all people.
We need to understand that the teaching of Muhammad during the last 10 years of his life, and the teaching of Jesus are diametrically opposed.
Muhammad focused on Allah, who calls the faithful to conflict. Jesus focused on a heavenly Father, who wants his followers to show compassion for all people and who calls the faithful to peace.
It is because of Jesus’ teaching, that individuals who leave the Christian faith, who want to insult Christians, poke fun at Jesus, deface the Bible, or in some other way denigrate Christianity, do not have to fear reprisals.
We have to understand that for radical Muslims, peace with non-Muslims is simply not an acceptable state of affairs since the end goal will always be the imposition of Sharia Law, which necessitates destroying Western society and western education. (The very term Boko Haram is a combination of two Hausa term that refer to the sinful or bad nature of outside education, that is, education that isn’t Muslim.)
One the other hand, we also need to understand that we cannot demonize Muslims or Islam as a whole. The vast majority of Muslims, particularly in the West, do not condone or support radical Islam (about 8-10% do). Most Muslims are kind and good people.
Some of them will point out that Sharia Law forbids violence against civilians.
Some will limit the notion of Jihad to a defensive war by a legitimate state against non-civilians attackers.
Others will argue that only those Suras that originated in Muhammad’s Meccan period are the ones that are to remain universally valid.
Similarly, they might argue that commands to fight have to be limited to the historical conflict between Muslims and the non-Muslims in Muhammad’s day and are thus not applicable in modern times.
Or, they may argue that violence of any kind is a perversion and betrayal of real Islam, like the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam and some Sufies and Shias.
While being realistic about the real intentions of radical Muslims, we need to recognize the diversity in Islam and the current internal struggle that is waged between extremists and moderate Muslims.
As a result we should demonstrate a fundamental respect for Islam (without having to agree with all of its teachings).
For example, we can stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and speak out for religious freedom, and at the same time do whatever we can in our power to find common ground with and support the moderate voices in Islam.
In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
Respect is a fundamental principle when interacting with others. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by denigrating Muhammad or the Quran.
As Christians we have to recognize that Muslims as individuals are not people to be feared and opposed, but they are our neighbours who we are called upon to love and build relationships with.
Love your neighbour as yourself. Matthew 19:19
In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defined the neighbour as anyone in need who we happen to come in contact with, even if it is someone who is highly prejudiced against us.
We can bless Muslims by wishing peace upon them: Salem Aleikum.
As Christians who seek to follow Jesus’ teaching, we have a unique opportunity to be a blessing to our Muslim friends, neighbours, co-workers, and fellow students … committing ourselves to the process which the apostle Paul referred to in his letter to the believers in Rome:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
And, by the way, that is a principle that we should try to live out in every relationship that we have.
IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN DO THIS WEEK
THAT WILL HELP ME TO RESPOND
WITH OPTIMISM AND LOVE
TO THOSE AROUND ME?