Can you explain the Islamic faith?
All Muslims everywhere acknowledge the same creed. Whether they be Sunni
or Shiite, and whether they live in Morocco, Turkey, Bengladesh, or in
the West, all hold to just six basic Articles of Faith. These define what
Muslims must believe concerning God, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers,
the Last Day, and His Decrees (or Predestination). [Some authorities list
the first five only, but most give six].
It all seems quite simple and straightforward. Muslim apologists, of course,
would have us believe that such simplicity and unanimity is a plus compared
to the doctrinal disputes and disunity that have plagued Christianity
over the years. But that is only part of the picture. Another part is
that Muslim theology has basically stagnated since the great theologians
of the Middle Ages. Since then, there has been precious little original
theological reflection comparable to what Christians call "theology."
This is not to say that there have not been original thinkers in Islam
since that time, even original theologians. It is simply that the creative
intellectual energy of Muslims has gone into other pursuits than theology!
What exactly is going on?
When one thinks about it, there are other things that are puzzling about
Islamic doctrine as well. Why, for example, are there just six Articles
of Faith and no more, especially when important aspects of Qur'anic teaching
are missing? Why is there nothing on the Islamic view of Man, for example,
or the Islamic view of Community? These are at least as important to Islamic
faith as the six.
The answer to these questions is really quite simple, but it is also utterly
foreign to all that we know as Christians. To understand the faith that
Muslims profess, one must keep in mind that in Islam, faith takes on a
meaning that is different from what it means to us as Christians. This
derives from the fact that Islam is law-oriented, whereas Christianity
is covenant-oriented. The Muslim creed contains six articles and no more,
not because those particular articles cover everything that Muslims believe,
but because Muslims are obligated to believe them by command of God in
the Qur'an (see e.g. Surah 4:136). Theological reflection in Islam has
stagnated because Law and legal theory are more important to Muslims than
doctrine; the Articles of Faith are really only a preamble to the Law.
All this affects the very meaning of the word faith; it is defined in
terms of submission to God's Law rather than in terms of trust in God's
faithfulness to His covenant. As a result, on the surface the beliefs
of Muslims and Christians appear to be similar but underneath they are
really very different.
Arab World Ministries
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