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IS THE FATHER OF JESUS THE GOD OF MUHAMMAD?UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM
By TIMOTHY GEORGE
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2002 Timothy George
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT IS ISLAM?
To hold back from the fullest meeting with Muslims would be to refrain from the fullest discipleship to Christ.... Not to care about Islam would be not to care about Christ.
How would you characterize someone who believes in the literal, verbal inspiration of Scripture, who holds that Jesus is God's virgin-born Messiah, that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, bodily ascended into heaven, and will one day return to do battle with the antichrist and in the end truly reign on earth? This person knows that Satan is alive and well on planet Earth, that angels and demons are real forces to be reckoned with, and that after death everyone on earth will go to one of two places-the burning fires of hell or the beautiful palaces of heaven. This individual does not believe in evolution, but believes that God created the world in six literal days. This person happens to be a teetotaler, is strongly pro-life, and is committed to traditional family values. Women are highly regarded in the religious community to which this person belongs, but they do not function as preachers and leaders there. This person is also deeply patriotic, regards pacifism as aweakness, deplores the separation of church and state, and believes that government (ideally) should enforce God's will in every area of society.
Do you recognize this person as a strict, conservative, Bible-believing Christian? Well, maybe. But he or she might just as well be a devout, conscientious Muslim! More than any two religious traditions on earth, Christianity and Islam share both striking similarities and radical differences. Historically, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has been strained at best. All too frequently it has been marked by bloodshed and violence. But there is a verse in the Quran that presents a helpful perspective. This verse tells Muslims, "You will surely find that the nearest in affection to those who believe are the ones who say, 'We are Christians"' (5:82). On this good note, we begin our brief overview of the world's second largest and fastest growing religious tradition.
Who Are Muslims?
Muslims are sometimes called Muhammadans, after the prophet Muhammad. He organized the first Muslim community, or ummah, in seventh-century Arabia, and through him the Quran was given to the world. But Muslims themselves take the word Muhammadan as an insult. For all their devotion to Muhammad, they regard him neither as divine nor as the founder of their religion. Muhammad did not claim to be sinless or perfect, and, unlike Jesus, he did not receive worship from other human beings.
Another word still found in most dictionaries is Moslem, the anglicized form of the Arabic Muslim. Moslem is also heard as a term of condescension that harks back to colonial times, a word coined by stodgy Westerners with stiff upper lips who found it difficult to make the mu sound!
More than one billion Muslims in the world are followers of Islam. The word islam literally means "submission" or "surrender." It comes from the Arabic root word s-l-m, which connotes peace in Semitic languages-as in the Hebrew greeting shalom or in the name of the holy city, Jeru-salem. We hear echoes of this same root word in the common everyday greetings of Muslims- salamalek ("peace be with you)" and bissalma ("go in peace"). Muslims believe that the very word islam, as well as the way of life to which it points, was revealed by God himself in the Quran. Some eighty days before he died in A.D. 632, Muhammad received a final word of revelation. After warning Muslims not to eat pork or any animals that hadn't been slaughtered in a ritually pure manner (a kosherlike procedure called halal), God said to them, "This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favor to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith" (5:3).
Islam, in its original meaning, then, refers to a life of total surrender and obedience to God-exactly the kind of complete commitment called for in the love-hymn Christians sing about Jesus:
All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give.... All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee....
Although Muhammad rediscovered this "straight path to God" (another description of Islam), Muslims believe that this kind of submissiveness has always been the true natural religion of human beings everywhere. This is an important point in understanding the contrasting views of salvation in Islam and Christianity-a theme to be discussed in chapter 6.
If Islam means surrender to the will of God, then a Muslim is one who has made this commitment. Who are Muslims? Where do they live? What languages do they speak? What religious duties are required of them?
Many people mistakenly think that most, if not all, Muslims are Arabs. Perhaps this is because so much attention is focused in the news media on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East and the fact that Muhammad himself was from Arabia. Many are surprised to learn of the truly global reach of Islam. For example, some 200 million Muslims live in Indonesia alone-about the same number as live in all the Arab countries combined. There are more Muslims in China alone than there are Southern Baptists in the whole world. When we speak of Islam at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we refer to a world-encompassing faith that has a growing presence in every continent.
The "Abode of Islam" (as Muslims refer to the Islamic world) stretches from Morocco in the western part of North Africa to Indonesia and the Philippines in the Far East. It extends from Nigeria and Tanzania in sub-Saharan Africa to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Within this vast sea of humanity, missiologists have identified five major blocs of people bound together by common cultural and language networks:
* Arabic-This includes Saudi Arabia, with its Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. It also includes the Arabic peoples of Egypt and other North African countries. * Indo-Persian-A complex assortment of peoples that includes the Kurds, many Afghans, the Tajiks of central Asia, and Urdu speakers in India and Pakistan, among others.
* Turkish-The Turks belong to the same language family as the Koreans. They include many people groups that live beyond the borders of modern-day Turkey. Among these are the Turkmen, Azeris, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, Kazakhs, and Uighurs.
* Malay-This bloc of peoples includes Muslims in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other islands of the South Pacific.
* African-This group includes all the black peoples who live in African countries south of the Sahara Desert.
Within these five great families of Muslim peoples dwell many of the world's refugees. From Kosovo to Kabul, from Gaza to Bangladesh, millions of Muslims have been displaced by war, poverty, and plague. Although Muslim countries control two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, the bounty from this natural resource has not alleviated dire human needs in so much of the Islamic world. One indication of social ferment in this vast world is urbanization. In recent years huge Muslim metropolises have arisen as millions of peasants seeking to survive have crowded into Istanbul, Cairo, Algiers, Karachi, Khartoum, Teheran, Jakarta, and Islamabad. These great cities have also proven to be fertile soil for Muslim militants with their anti-Western and anti-Christian rhetoric. What is called Islamic fundamentalism is only one stream of a much larger phenomenon, namely, the recovery and reassertion of Islamic identity based on a return to the founding principles of the Muslim faith. This means applying Sharia, the law of God based on the Quran, to every aspect of life-to its social and political, as well as religious, dimensions.
One of the most striking religious trends during the latter third of the twentieth century was the movement of Muslims in large numbers to the West. Islam is now the second largest religion in Europe. It will soon surpass Judaism to claim that distinction in North America as well. There are more Muslims than Methodists in England-the home of John Wesley-and more Muslims than Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined in the United States. United Nations world populations studies project that by 2025 some 30 percent of earth's inhabitants will be Muslims-nearly one out of every three persons in the world.
Today there are approximately seven million Muslims and more than 13,000 mosques in North America. Muslims were among the first slaves brought to this continent from Africa. In 1717, a group of "Arabic-speaking slaves who ate no pork and believed in Allah and Muhammad" arrived in the American colonies. From these early beginnings, Islam has become a major force within the African-American community in North America. Elijah Muhammad served as the key figure in this development. Born Elijah Poole, he was the son of a Baptist preacher in Georgia who moved to Detroit in 1923. There he met W. D. Fard, the founder of a black separatist movement known as the "Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America." In 1935 Elijah Muhammad became the leader of this group, which has continued to grow despite its internal divisions and certain unorthodox teachings (such as Elijah's deification of Fard as Allah!).
Malcolm X remains the most prominent national leader to emerge from this movement. A brilliant thinker and fiery orator, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca shortly before his assassination in 1965. The Autobiography of Malcolm X has become an American literature classic and an introduction to Islam for many new converts. In recent years, Wallace Dean Muhammad, Elijah's son, has sought to more closely align this movement with international orthodox Islam. This approach was rejected by Louis Farrakhan, who has emerged as the most charismatic and controversial leader in the revived Nation of Islam. On October 6, 1995, he led the famous "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C. In addition to many Muslims, this event also attracted Christian participants who sympathized with Farrakhan's moral rigor and his call to discipline if not with his distinctive doctrinal beliefs.
For all the success of these Black Muslim movements, however, the majority of Muslims in America are immigrants and their descendants. Beginning in 1875, they have come to these shores from all quarters of the Islamic world. They represent numerous ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, as well as diverse political traditions. Physicians, businessmen, automobile workers, university students, restaurateurs, technicians, and entrepreneurs, they are found in nearly every walk of life. Their cultural impact on American communities is noticeable. For instance, a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, observed that "during the last twenty years ... the number of Muslim families in the region has quadrupled, and the number of mosques in the city alone has quintupled to 30. Ten years ago, there were perhaps only one or two halal meat markets, Which obey Islamic dietary rules; now there are at least 10. There was perhaps only one halal restaurant; now there are at least half a dozen."
What this reporter observed ten years ago has become a major trend in all large cities, and even in some small towns, across the United States and Canada. The Muslim presence is felt in other ways as well. In June 1991, Siraj Wahaj, a black convert to Islam, became the first Muslim to deliver the daily prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives. Eight months later (February 1992) Wallace Dean Muhammad led the opening prayers in the United States Senate. Muslim chaplains now offer regular religious services for followers of Islam who serve in the United States armed forces. On September 15, 2001, when Dr. Billy Graham addressed a grieving nation from the National Cathedral in Washington, assisting him in this service of prayer and remembrance were Muslim imams, as well as Jewish rabbis, Christian ministers, and priests.
Muslim communities in North America are growing through conversion as well as immigration. The Muslim Student Association, which was organized in 1963, publishes a monthly journal titled Islamic Horizons. This journal aims to correct misconceptions about Islam and to convey the message of the Prophet Muhammad to non-Muslim students and faculty members. In a similar vein, the American Muslim Council, begun in 1990, works to give Muslims a voice on issues of ethics and public policy. Among other things, this group wants to counter the notion that American principles of morality and justice are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition alone. They favor the more inclusive idea of such values deriving from the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition.
For the foreseeable future, Muslims will certainly continue to become more a part of mainstream daily life in North America and Europe. This means that opportunities for both interfaith dialogue and Christian witness will increase. Rather than react with suspicion, fear, or apathy, Christians need to be well-informed about the Islamic religion and also to understand the distinctive teachings of their own Christian faith. Without this, how can we reach out with Christlike love and godly wisdom to our Muslim neighbors and friends? As a British evangelical leader said recently, "God was so concerned that Muslims hear the gospel that he has brought the mission fields to the churches."
Regardless of where Muslims come from or what language they speak, they hold certain beliefs in common, and certain distinctive practices set them apart from other religious groups. True enough, not all Muslims are consistent in their beliefs or devout in the practices of their faith. There are many nominal Muslims-just as there are many nominal Christians. In addition, throughout the Muslim world there is the phenomenon of folk Islam, a term that describes the worldview of many ordinary Muslims who accept magical beliefs and practices at variance with the formal facets of official Islam. In his fascinating book The Unseen Face of Islam, Bill Musk describes the world of popular Islam, with its veneration of saints, divinization rituals, and power encounters. Still, however widely their practices may vary, there are certain basic tenets and religious duties all Muslims acknowledge as given by God. At the heart of the Muslim faith are the "Five Pillars" of Islam.
This simple one-sentence confession of faith is the basis for everything Muslims teach and believe: "I bear witness and testify that there is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." The word for "messenger" in Arabic is rasul. It is sometimes translated "envoy," "prophet," or "apostle." Rasul refers to a special kind of prophet who has been divinely sent to promulgate the holy Law of God-the Sharia. Others before Muhammad had fulfilled this office-Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus. Muhammad was not the first of God's special messengers, but he is the last-the "seal of the prophets." In the final sermon he preached before he died, Muhammad declared that no prophet or apostle would come after him and that no new faith would be born after Islam. So basic is the Shahada to Muslim identity that it is literally sewn (in Arabic) on the national flag of Saudi Arabia. This simple far-reaching creed is also the gateway into Islam, which has no sacraments or priesthood and no right of initiation, such as baptism. To solemnly recite this confession of faith, with sincerity, in the presence of at least two witnesses in its Arabic original (la ilaha illa Allah), is to become a Muslim.
Excerpted from IS THE FATHER OF JESUS THE GOD OF MUHAMMAD? by TIMOTHY GEORGE Copyright © 2002 by Timothy George
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.