Relevant Understanding of the Challenge of Islam
number one “confrontation” of the 21st century
will be between Islam, secular States & Christianity.
my experience, few Christians take time to understand what Islam
teaches and consider how to respond to its claims. To ignore Islam
is like putting our head in the sand. It is important that we
appreciate the nature of the mission of those who follow the
teachings of Mohammed, and the Biblical response, if we are to be
both informed and effective in reaching Muslims with the Gospel.
Only then will we be positioned to meet this charismatic movement
head on with the truth and see people set free to have a genuine
encounter with God.
Talk About Islam?
is the world’s second largest religion. It is growing rapidly
and visibly. It is aggressively anti-Christian. In strict Muslim
countries churches are illegal. Conversion (“apostasy”)
is frequently a capital offence. Muslims in the West are active and
determined. TIME magazine recently estimated that, by the end
of the 21st Century, Islam will be the predominant
religion in France and growing quickly elsewhere throughout Europe.
would Father God respond to Islam? What is the appropriate “Great
Commission” paradigm? There is a lot of excellent material
around today, much of it written by former Muslims. Some popular
texts are alarmist and focus more on the threat of Islam than
presenting Christ to the Muslim world. My purpose here is to
summarize the key issues, discuss areas where Islam and Christianity
appear to run on parallel tracks, identify differences between the
two and suggest ways to reach Muslim friends with the Gospel.
over the past several years (the destruction of the World Trade
Centre in New York in 2001; the Taliban rule in Afghanistan;
religious war in Algeria; sectarian strife in Nigeria; terrorism in
Yemen, Bali, Madrid and London; the invasion of Iraq, ongoing threats
against potential western targets by the loose Al Qa’eda
network, to name a few) have drawn attention to Islam. The resultant
emphasis on a “War Against Terror” has blamed propagation
of Islam in Western societies. Documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11
influenced the thinking of some, for a few minutes, but stem from a
humanistic mind-set. It is important that we have a Christian
response, not a populist reaction.
order to understand Islam, it is essential to go back to the
beginning. Mohammed was born in Mecca in the year 570 as a member of
the Quarish tribe, which claimed descent from Abraham’s son
Ishmael (see Genesis 16). He worked as a trader, frequently meeting
Jews and heretical Christians (including Nestorians, who denied key
aspects of the nature of Jesus Christ) on his travels and observing
internecine struggles in the early church. At the age of 25 he
married a wealthy 40 year-old widow named Khadija. He had numerous
wives and one child, a daughter named Fatima.
the age of 40, Mohammed began to claim revelations, or “recitations”
(lit. Qur’an) about God from “the Archangel Gabriel”.
His message called for rejection of the prevailing crude polytheism,
in the face of judgment to come. He was initially opposed by the
majority of Meccans. Persecuted because of his dogmatism, Mohammed
fled with his followers to the city of Medina in 622. This flight,
or “hijra”, marked the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Nine years later, when his forces were strong enough, he defeated
Mecca, smashed most of its idols and established Islam as the
his death in 632, the Muslim community was divided. Bitter arguments
over succession led to a major split, with the majority (Sunnis)
following the elected Caliphs and a smaller group (Shi’ites)
supporting claims by his descendants. Islam has been divided ever
since. Other denominations include the Allawites (a heretical branch
of Shi’ism, based mainly in Syria), Sufis (a mystical branch),
Druze (followers of an Egyptian sect, in the Lebanese and Israeli
mountains, Druze communities are exclusive, claim “secret”
knowledge and believe in reincarnation), Wahabis (very strict; they
control Saudi Arabia) and the Ahamadiya sect (Syria).
a hundred years of Mohammed’s death, Islam spread beyond the
Middle East and conquered an area larger than the Roman Empire.
Dynasties shifted from Mecca to Damascus, then Baghdad. In 711
Muslim armies stormed the Iberian Peninsula and remained for nearly
eight centuries (the last citadel of the Moors, Granada, fell in
1492). European monarchs and secularized Christianity responded with
a series of disastrous “crusades” from 1095 until 1270.
(Muslims today continue to recall the atrocities of the crusades,
while downplaying centuries of cruelty associated with the spread of
Islam). In Eastern Europe, Seljuk Turks conquered the Byzantine
capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1453, and continued
west, before being stopped at Vienna in 1683 (it is still possible to
view portions of walls that kept the rest of the continent from
Islamization). Ottoman rulers exploited the power of Islam until
that empire collapsed during World War One.
there are nearly a billion Muslims. The heartlands of Islamic
tradition are Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Vast oil revenues and
rapid travel enable expansion of political, economic and cultural
influence and presence.
makes a Muslim?
reject the title “Mohammedanism”, preferring Islam, or
“submission” to God (a Muslim is one who “submits”).
Their tenets are contained in the Koran and Hadith (the sayings and
doings of Mohammed). The deliberations of Islamic scholars (the
“ulema”) and opinion of the world-wide community of
Muslims (the “umma”) also influence Islamic
interpretation and jurisprudence.
can become a Muslim. There are five simple steps.
first step is the “Shahada”, or confession of
faith. “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is the
messenger of Allah.” Islam is monotheistic. (So are
Judaism and Christianity.) There is only one God, the creator and
ruler of all. In some parts of the world, however, folk Islam is
syncretistic, accommodating local deities alongside Allah.
remaining four pillars of faith are: prayer (“salat”),
five times a day, facing Mecca; alms-giving (“zakat”) of
2% of income to the poor; fasting in daylight hours during Ramadan
(the 9th month) and “Hajj” (pilgrimage to
Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed), at least once in a person’s
many Muslims, there is a 6th pillar of faith, Jihad
(Holy War); Muslims who die undertaking “jihad” are
considered martyrs and assured a place in Paradise, a place where
many pleasures forbidden on earth are available. Islamic apologists
in the West claim that “jihad” is properly understood as
an inner struggle, aimed at defeating temptation, human weaknesses
and passion. Living in the Middle East for several years convinced
me that, for many Muslims, “jihad” is a literal conflict
with non-Muslims. The Koran encourages holy war, exhorting the
faithful to, “Kill them where you find them”.
is an external, “works-based” religion that emphasizes
human effort. Muslims are often referred to as the “faithful”,
however adherence to this system requires compliance based on fear
and societal pressures, not faith.
Muslim world view
Muslim world view is predicated on One God, one Prophet (so-called),
one religion, world-wide domination and conversion of non-Muslims to
the “will of God”. Sharia government (social
organisation and legal systems based on Islamic values) is preferred.
Western governments legislating religious equality are hoodwinked if
they cannot see that what is at stake is the freedom they enjoy.
Strict Muslims reject our way of life. Their goal is Islamisation of
the entire human race. For the practicing Muslim, faith and daily
life are intricately intertwined. While church and state were
disestablished in the West centuries ago, the Muslim believes mosque
and state are inseparable. Muslim strategists foreshadow that
globalisation will be accomplished by political measures, rapid
population growth, missionary endeavour (eg students in Western
universities and obligatory conversion to Islam through marriage),
exploitation of freedoms guaranteed in the West; the appeal of
equality in class-based societies; and a clearly defined eschatology.
strive to be a social force in the West, by establishing
organisations; promoting Islamic awareness and culture to advance
their cause (freedoms are extinguished when Muslim control is
achieved). While ideologically opposed to non-Islamic Government,
such organisations use immigration, citizenship, “political
correctness” and the law to counter or extinguish Christian
influence, preventing soul winning and crippling churches through
actions in the courts. An acquaintance was financially ruined by an
Islamic Council who took civil action against him for “vilifying
Islam” when he and a friend spoke about the nature of Islam at
a church conference. The Council had planted sympathizers in the
meeting to gather information that was then used against the church.
This duplicity pervades the Middle East. While Governments in many
Islamic countries prohibit the establishment of churches (even in the
homes of believers) and imprison Christians for gathering to worship
God (even where all participants are identifying Christians), Muslim
organisations nevertheless use religious tolerance guaranteed in the
West to demand the right to build mosques and engage in aggressive
evangelism. They see no contradictions in such double standards.
areas where Islamic organisations seek to gain footholds, with a view
to domination, include education and training; the media; social
organisations; economic institutions and think-tanks; political
parties; health, sports and recreation policies; law and justice;
care for migrants, refugees, the aged, disabled and destitute
citizens and the rehabilitation of prisoners.
of similarity and departure
common with Christians, Muslims are Monotheistic. They believe God
is creator; merciful, just and omniscient. They believe in many
Biblical characters (eg Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Lot, Joseph,
Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Ezekiel, John),
albeit with a different spin. They believe Jesus was born of the
Virgin Mary, performed miracles and will come again. They believe in
submission to God; faith; life-long commitment to religious
obedience, a world-wide “community” of believers, a
coming Day of Judgment, life after death, angels, demons, eternal
reward for the faithful and Hell for unbelievers. But is theology
do not believe that Jesus was God, or the Son of God, but teach that
he was merely a prophet. Muslims point to the promise of Jesus that
he would send a “Comforter” (see John 14-16), claiming it
was fulfilled in the coming of Mohammed and that Jesus was superseded
by Mohammed. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified, died,
was buried or rose again. They reject the thesis that God could have
humbled Himself, become a man, a sacrifice for sin, as taught in the
Bible (Philippians 2:5-11). Koranic versions of many Biblical
accounts are historically inaccurate, eg in the Koran Ishmael, not
Isaac, is offered as sacrifice by Abraham; Haman (a Persian official
who plotted to destroy Jews during the time of Xerxes and Esther)
appears as a servant of Pharoah (there is no accounting for this
historical anachronism); and the baker in Joseph’s dream is
“crucified” (in spite of the fact that crucifixion was
not devised until more than a millennium later).
associate Christians with the excesses of the Crusades; the
reconquest of Spain; the tragedy of Palestine; and massacres of
Muslims in Bosnia during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s.
When US President George W Bush launched military actions in Iraq in
2003 he referred to the action as a “crusade”, a poor
choice of words that stirred up ancient bitterness. Arab Muslims
believe Europeans are “Christians” and link Western mores
(immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism, commercialism of religion
and secularism) to the effects of Christianity. Muslims assert that
Christians are idolatrous (citing Mariology and statues in churches),
claiming that we worship three separate gods called “Trinity”
(God the Father, Mary and Jesus - there appears to have been no
attempt, on the part of Mohammed, to sort out misunderstanding from
facts when it came to rendering Biblical records). They point to the
lukewarm commitment to God on the part of many believers as evidence
Christians are not serious about worship. Islamic scholars insist
(without adducing any reliable evidence or refuting the oldest
archeological records) that Jews and Christians changed the
Scriptures. They claim to be more zealous for God than most
professing Christians, but do not realize this attribute alone does
not impress God (see Romans 10:2-4 and Matthew 5:20).
the other hand, many Christians entertain misconceptions about Islam,
often based on racial and cultural stereotypes. Let’s look at
a couple of examples. One claim is that all Muslims are polygamists.
Simultaneous polygamy does exist in some Muslim societies (serial
polygamy is more common in the West). Apologists for Islam will tell
you that additional wives are only taken where the first wife agrees
and the husband is able to provide financial support. The reality is
much harsher. A Muslim man who does not get his way will simply
divorce the non-compliant woman (for whom divorce will be a life-long
stigma) and marry another. However, not all Muslims are polygamists.
I have Muslim friends for whom stability, love and a strong home
life based on life-long commitment to one spouse are paramount.
there is the myth that Muslims worship the moon. “Look at any
mosque; there is a crescent. The term ‘Allah’ comes from
the name of an ancient Arabian deity. Remember the Daughters of
Allah”. These assertions sound plausible but they are without
foundation and are unhelpful. The names “Al” and “El”
are derivations of the same ancient name that simply means “God”
or “Lord” (vide Ba-al and El-ohim). There are very
strong philological links between the two. Abram’s family
originally worshipped stars. Muslims today are fiercely
monotheistic. They no more think of stars when worshipping Allah
than do the descendants of Abram. What’s more, Christians in
the Arab world, in Indonesia and other parts of the world read
“Allah” in their Bibles and pray using the term “Allah”,
as do Arabic speaking Jews, because the word means “God”.
If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ in a world where
Islam Is active we need to be wary of accepting silly and
counterproductive errors. Relevant Christianity distinguishes
between fact and fiction.
stereotype relates to the “hijab” or “burqa”.
Wearing the veil is a tradition that has its roots in pre-Islamic
cultures. In parts of the world, Christian women wear veils.
Clothing alone does not make the person.
further stereotype is the notion that all Muslims are
“fundamentalists” who support terrorism and suicide
bombers. True, many suicide bombers in the Middle East are Muslims,
but to persist with this stereotype is to mirror the Islamic notion
that all Christians are Crusaders (which was not the case).
consider the stereotype that “Christian-Muslim dialogue”
will change hearts. This is a fallacy. By all means, engage in
dialogue, however (from what I have seen in such conferences) most
Muslims expect the dialogue to go one way. I’m not convinced
it improves understanding.
needs of individuals
has felt needs. Islam teaches that God is eternal, know all things,
is Almighty, does what He wants, hears every sound, sees all things
and speaks, but without a tongue. Muslims attribute 99 names to God.
However, they do not believe they can know God. As is the case with
many religions, worship of God in Islam is erroneously linked to
“place”, particularly the Ka’ba in Mecca. When
traveling in the Middle East it is common for aircraft screens and
arrows on the ceilings of hotels to point to Mecca. Sadly, the apex
of a Muslim’s life is obligatory pilgrimage to a place, not a
relationship with God.
are clear weaknesses in Islamic theology. These include assumptions
of hyper-predestination (“insh’allah”, if God wills
it; implying we are powerless to decide for ourselves); emphasis on
the temporal (cf John 3:6); contradictions between theory and praxis,
eg the treatment of women & non-Muslims; ways around “rules”;
limitation of the Koran to the Arabic language; claims that God is
“compassionate” and “merciful”, but religion
is anchored in legalism without mercy, duty and ritual (cf Romans
3:26). Muslims have no theological concept of God’s grace;
kindness and love, His mercy for them, as individuals; His
transforming power over sin; the promise and practice of His personal
presence and relationship; or the gift of eternal life.
do not know peace with God. They have no promise of forgiveness of
sin; no confidence their prayers will be heard or answered; no
assurance they will go to Paradise; do not know whether their lives
please or offend God; are forced to rely on their own strength to
follow commandments made by man for man, often cannot read the Koran
(because they do not know Arabic); and do not know how to conquer
evil they know exists around them. They are “without God and
without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 cf 1 Peter 3:15).
died for Muslims (John 3:16). So how do we reach them with the
Gospel? I believe we need to start by understanding Islam and its
global agenda. Touching hearts is more than arguing about
differences. It is easy to win the polemic and lose the person. Too
many Christians are caught up in populist anti-Muslim sentiments and
the rhetoric of the “War Against Terror”, forgetting that
these are secular strategies that do not reflect Godly values.
out Muslims and love them as you would any other non-Christian.
There is no difference between a Muslim. Hindu, atheist or your
apathetic next door neighbour who believes in God but not much else.
Love them as God loves them. The initial reaction may be one of
caution. (The Koranic warns against befriending Christians.) Jesus
died on the cross for your Muslim friend. He took the sins of the
most rabidly anti-Christian sheikh and calls him in love to
repentance and faith. Draw a distinction between the system and the
individual. Show patience, not hostility. Have a strong
relationship with God. Model your faith, “submitted” to
God. Have confidence in God’s Word. Invite your Muslim
friends to church, to see Christians praying, singing and worshipping
God. Don’t debate Israel’s right to exist. (Jerusalem
is the third most holy site in the Islamic world, after Mecca and
Medina. For Muslims, the “loss” of Jerusalem to British,
then Israeli, forces after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and
creation of Israel rankles.) Ask God for wisdom to address
misunderstandings. Pray for miracles in their lives. (The majority
of people I know, who grew up as Muslims and became Christians, did
so after they had a dream, vision, healing or other miraculous work
Gospel we preach is real, it must be real to Muslims around the
world, around our neighbourhood, who need an encounter with the
Living Christ, more than a Prophet, the Saviour who came to give them
eternal life. Reach out to your Muslim friends, show them by your
words and actions the reality of your relationship with God. Then
allow the Holy Spirit to release saving faith in their lives.