The word Islam simply means submission to God, and a Muslim is simply
a person who follows the laws of Islam. Yet, in many ways, Islam is
a religion of paradox.
- Everything is based on Muhammad’s life and teachings, yet
he is not the center of worship and devotion.
- Islam espouses the highest monotheistic and ethical ideals, sees
many of its adherents living in a near-animistic state.
- And finally, while it is making inroads into societies around the
world -- from developing countries to highly industrialized nations
-- Islam still is very much tied to its place of origin, the Arabic
To understand this type of complexity, you must begin with a basic
understanding of its history.
Who was Muhammed?
Muhammed was born in 570 AD in Mecca (a city in present-day Saudi Arabia).
He grew up in a period of extremes. The gap between rich and poor was
a source of irritation in his culture. Pagan worship abounded. Muslim
historians note that, even as a boy, Muhammed detested the pagan life-style
and the idol worship that surrounded him.
As an adult, Muhammed entered the business world. But at the age of
40, he became very concerned about the state of his fellow countrymen.
He spent much of his time meditating about religious matters. During
an extended retreat in a cave on the slopes of Mount Hira, three miles
from Mecca, Muhammed began to receive instructions that he believed
were from the archangel Gabriel. These writings form the basis of the
Muhammed declared the Koran to be the final and superior revelation
from the One Supreme God. He banned idol worship and taught that a Muslim’s
life must be wholly committed to Allah. He also foretold a day of judgement,
when all people will be judged in terms of whether or not they have
Converts were slow in coming at first. Many people were even derisive,
but eventually Muhammed’s group of followers grew to the point
that they irritated the city fathers. After all, nothing ruins the business
of idol worship like someone who incessantly claims there’s only
one God. Persecution escalated until Muhammed and his followers fled
Mecca and went to a city called Yathrib.
Muhammed’s revelatory experiences continued throughout his life,
not regularly, but apparently on an “as needed basis.” By
the time he died in 632 AD, Muhammed was the religious and political
head of much of the Arabian peninsula.
Branches of Islam
Islam’s two primary branches -- the Sunnites (majority) and Shi’ites
(minority) -- have their roots in a disagreement that occurred right
after Muhammed died. Since he left no surviving son, his death left
a question as to who would ascend to his position as religious and political
leader. The controversy permanently divided his followers into two groups
which still differ a bit in their religious practice.
In addition, many who exist in the Islamic masses are very preoccupied
with the spirit world. Winfried Corduan’s book, Neighboring Faiths:
A Christian Introduction to World Religions, explains, “... the
common nomad or villager may be occupied mainly with warding off evil
spirits. Facets of Islam such as the five pillars (see the back of this
page for an explanation) become subordinated to this animism and may
come to be thought of as tools for dealing with the spirits rather than
aspects of submission to Allah in their own right.”
The Five Pillars of Islam (basic beliefs and practices) are explained
below. They represent the Muslim’s central obligations, but the
practice of Islam is not limited to those five things. For the Muslim,
life consists of a continual attempt to achieve personal righteousness.
He or she ascribes to universal expectations such as honesty, respect
for property and marital fidelity. Muslims also follow a specific diet
which forbids eating pork or drinking intoxicating liquids. They must
Five Pillars of Islam
1. Confession -- The Koran dictates that all true Muslims must hold
to five basic beliefs:
- God -- There is no god but Allah. Muhammed is his messenger.
- Angels -- Angels are the servants of Allah. He uses them to reveal
his will. Every person is attended by two angels, one of whom records
sins, and the other good deeds.
- Prophets -- Muhammed is the final and greatest prophet. Others include
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
- Holy Books -- The holiest book is the Koran, which is considered
to be Allah’s final revelation to man and supersedes all previous
- The Day of Judgement -- Each Muslim’s good and bad deeds are
weighed to determine a person’s eternity.
2. Prayer -- Muslims pray five times every day, and on Friday afternoons
they gather at Mosques to pray corporately.
3. Alms Giving -- Muslims give at least 2.5 percent of their income.
4. Fasting -- Each day during the month of Ramadhan, fasting begins
at daybreak and ends at dusk. Night is a time of
prayer, eating, drinking and socializing.
5. Pilgrimage -- Once in his or her lifetime, every Muslim who is physically
and financially able must travel to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
The Muslim World
Although Islam originated in the Middle East, it has followers all over
the world. As of 1994, research indicated that as many as 64 nations
of the world had populations that were at least 10 percent Muslim --
and the nations with the largest Muslim populations, in terms of raw
numbers, are not in the Middle East. As of 1994, the top five nations
were as follows:
- Indonesia -- 145.1 million Muslims.
- India -- 106.4 million Muslims.
- Bangladesh -- 103.7 million Muslims.
- Pakistan -- 101.1 million Muslims.
- Turkey -- 58.6 million Muslims.
The world’s Muslim population is young -- experts estimate that
globally, 500 million children under the age of 15 are Muslim. That’s
50 percent of the world’s total Muslim population. And generally
speaking, despite the comparative wealth of the Middle Eastern nations
that finance Muslim missionary efforts, a large number of the world’s
refugees come from Islamic nations. In fact, in 1993, the United Nations
High Commission for Refugees estimated that 75 percent of the 19 million
refugees in the world come from Islamic nations.
The Christian Response to Islam
Specific behavioral applications for issues like the role of women and
the matter of jihad (holy war) are still controversial within the Muslim
world. When meeting a Muslim for the first time, many Christians must
battle the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists. The majority of Muslims
repudiate these deeds and condemn them as criminal acts. Muslims generally
take their religious practices very seriously.
Evangelizing the Muslim world is a notoriously difficult undertaking,
especially since Islam is also a missionary religion. Islam is based
on the concept of gaining merit with God by performing good works. Muslims
have no concept of original sin, so they see no need for a Savior. Yet
worldwide, Muslims are hearing the Gospel and responding to it.
The number of Christian missionaries targeting Muslim nations is about
one for every one million Muslims. But this is slowly changing. While
Muslim nations don’t welcome Christian missionaries, most are
in desperate need of help for development, relief work, etc. There is
a great need for Christians who are called by God, properly trained,
willing to learn a new language, and ready to use their business and
commercial skills in a Muslim land, while sharing their faith as part
of a witnessing team.
Specific prayer requests --
Ask God to:
- Raise up intercessors to pray on behalf of Muslim peoples, and mobilize
churches to adopt Muslim peoples for evangelization.
- Give His global Church creative ideas for increasing the number
of missionaries specifically targeting Muslim people groups.
- Enable Christians to overcome intimidation and fear, and be effective
witnesses to their family, their friends, and their neighbors.
- Protect Christians living and working among Muslim people groups,
for most of them labor in regions that are terribly hostile to the
- Provide opportunities for discipleship and training for Christians
who live in Islamic regions. encourage those who are isolated from
- Enable Muslim people to understand the Gospel and come to see Jesus
not only as a prophet, but as the Son of God.
- Anoint satellite, TV, Internet, and radio broadcasts, and to
give producers wisdom in choosing content, and to provide follow-up
for those who make decisions based on these broadcasts.
- Take the Gospel also to those who follow Baha’i and other
religions which are offshoots of or have been combined with Islam.
Used with permission of AIMS (Accelerating International Missions Strategies).
This material was researched and prepared for AIMS by Ruth Ford.
Click here to learn more about AIMS.
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