Reflections on a Variety of Topics


An Introductory Outline

Introduction: The word Islam is based on the Arabic term for submission: a true Muslim, then, is one who has surrendered himself to the will of the one true God. In the three major religions that reflect a measure of commitment to the Old Testament, the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in submission to God’s command is most significant. In Islam Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything to the will of God is a supreme form of Islam, and Abraham is the great portrait of a true Muslim.

1. Mohammed lived from A.D. 570-632 (Unless indicated otherwise, all dates are A.D., Anno Domini.)

1.1. He was born in Mecca, Arabia, orphaned at the age of six, and was deeply troubled by the wicked deeds done in Mecca, such as burying unwanted daughters alive.

1.2. He married a wealthy widow named Khadijah, who was fifteen years older than he.

1.3. When he was 40 years old he began to go off by himself to meditate in the hills near Mecca.

1.3.1. “According to Moslem tradition, he visited a cave near the base of Mount Hira, a few miles north of Mecca, for days at a time. Suddenly one night (“The Night Of Power and Excellence,” Moslems call it) there rose in vision before him the archangel Gabriel, the Messenger of God” (p. 723, Noss).

1.3.2. After months of uncertainty he began to preach the judgment of God against sin in Mecca at the site of the Ka’bah.

Koran LXXXI “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

“When the sun shall be darkened, when the stars shall be thrown down, when the mountains shall be set moving, when pregnant camels shall be neglected, when the savage beasts shall be mustered, when the seas shall be set boiling, when the souls shall be coupled, when the buried infant shall be asked for what sin she was slain, when the scrolls shall be unrolled, when heaven shall be stripped off, when Hell shall be set blazing, when Paradise shall be brought nigh, then shall a soul know what it has produced.”

1.3.3. After ten years of little success and much opposition, he traveled to (Yathrib) Medina in 622 This is called the Hijra, or migration. He was given almost absolute authority over the town. Yathrib was renamed Medina (Madina an nabi, the City of the Prophet) in his honor. Here he built the first mosque, or house of worship. In January 630 he led a force of 10,000 men against Mecca and conquered it. He then did homage at the Ka’bah and destroyed all of the idols and paintings which defiled it.

1.3.4. “Before his sudden death in 632, he knew he was well on the way to accomplishing his divine mission of unifying the Arab tribes under a theocracy governed by the will of the one and only God, Allah” (p. 729, Noss).

2. Mohammed was succeeded by the Caliphs. Within a century of Muhammad’s death, Islam had expanded well into Europe.

2.1. The first Caliph was Abu Bakr ( 633-634); he assembled the Koran.

2.2. The second Caliph was Umar (634-644). Under his leadership much of the Middle East was conquered by his general, Khalid ibn al-Walid. Damascus fell in 635 “The Moslem victories in Syria were decisive elsewhere. Jerusalem fell in 638, and Caesarea . . . in 640. The whole of Palestine then surrendered to the Arabs. Cut off from needed aid, Egypt was the next conquest (639-641), and the Arabs pushed on rapidly through North Africa, to be in Spain within a century. Back in the Near East, the attack shifted to the Sassanids (Persians). First Iraq, with its fabulously rich cities (in 637), and then Persia (from 640-649), were subdued . . .. To the northwest, a twelve-year campaign (640-652) reduced the greater part of Asia Minor to subjection” (p. 743, Noss).

2.3. Islamic expansion from Northern Africa into Europe was stopped in France at the Battle of Tours in 732 , exactly a century after Muhammad’s death.

3. Islam has five basic religious duties. These are the “Five Pillars,” (al-Arkan): the recitation of the Creed, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

3.1. The Creed must be repeated: La ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah. “There is no god but Allah; and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah”

3.2. “The good Moslem reserves time each day for five acts of devotion and prayer. The first comes at dawn, the second at mid-day, the others at mid-afternoon, sunset, and at the fall of darkness” (p. 735, Noss). Friday is the special day of public prayer for all adult males, under the leadership of the imam, in the mosque.

3.3. Almsgiving (Zakah) is the voluntary giving to those who are in need.

3.4. Fasting during the sacred month of Ramadan involves the total abstinence of food and drink during daylight.

3.5. “Once in a lifetime every Moslem, man or woman, is expected, unless it is impossible, to make a pilgrimage (a hajj) to Mecca. The pilgrim should be there during the sacred month Dhu-al-Hijja” (p. 737, Noss).

4. Islam demands moral living. There is a commitment to the basic moral code common to Christians and Jews, but all forms of alcohol, pork and gambling are forbidden.

5. Islamic doctrines are commonly discussed and taught widely—often by means of a catechism, with questions and answers—under six headings: God, angels, Scriptures, messengers, the Last Day, and predestination.

5.1. The Muslims’ concept of God (Allah) is, in a sense, interrelated with all of the following points and will be referred to below. La ilaha illa Allah. “(There is) no god but Allah.” This is the most important article in Moslem theology. No statement about God seemed to Muhammad more fundamental than the declaration that God is one and undivided, and no sin seemed to him so unpardonable as associating another being with God on terms of equality” (p. 730, Noss). Muhammad was exposed to heretical forms of Christianity and understood it to teach Tritheism as over against Trinitarianism (Koran V:77).

5.2. Some of the angels (all of whom are servants of God and subject to him) play a particularly important role in the daily life of many Muslims: the guardian angels; the recording angels (those who write down a person’s deeds, for which he or she will have to account on Judgment Day); the angel of death; and the angels who question a person in the tomb. One of those mentioned by name in the Koran is Jibril (Gabriel), who functioned in a special way as a transmitter of God’s revelation to the Prophet.

5.3. The Koran (Qur’an) is the last of the Scriptures and therefore the most authoritative. “The Qur’an, revealed to Muhammad, is the undistorted and final word of Allah to mankind. The Moslem doctrine asserts that the Qur’an is identical with a word of God written on a heavenly scroll, an uncreated archetype, which has existed from eternity in the seventh heaven. It is not a copy, a quotation, or a communication of the heavenly original; it is identical exactly with the heavenly original—the word of God in the language of heaven. Previous authoritative revelations, such as the Jewish and Christian scriptures, are good, but not complete and final like the Qur’an” (p. 733, Noss). Translations of the Koran are never called the Koran; instead, they are referred to as the teachings or interpretations of the Koran.

5.4. There have been many messengers from God, but Mohammed is the last and therefore the most authoritative.

5.4.1. Muhammad rasul Allah, “Muhammad is the messenger (or prophet) of Allah”

5.4.2. “It seems self-evident to Moslems that God must reveal himself through prophets, else men could not know him. God would not leave himself without witness, and so there has been a long line of such prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. But Muhammad is the last and greatest of them all, the “seal” of those who appeared before him; none is his equal, either in knowledge or in authority; none has received or handed down so perfect a revelation. But though his authority is supreme, he was not a divine being appearing in the flesh: he was human like the rest of men; nor did he pretend to supernatural powers: he performed no miracles; instituted no mystical, deifying sacrament; ordained no holy priesthood; set apart none to a sacred office by ordination or a mystical laying on of hands. He was simply man at his best, and God was still the wholly Other, with whom he was united in will but not in substance” (p. 732, Noss).

5.5. “As to the Last Judgment, Muhammad used the stock phrases of Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian apocalypticism” (p. 734, Noss). The promise and threat of the Last Day, which occupy an important place in the Koran, continue to play a major role in Muslim thought and piety. On the Last Day, of which only God knows the hour, every soul will stand alone and will have to account for its deeds.

5.6. The last of the six articles is predestination.

5.6.1. The divine initiative is all-decisive in bringing humans to faith: “Praise belongs to God, who guided us unto this; had God not guided us, we had surely never been guided” (Koran VII:43). Because of this most concluded that God is not only responsible for guiding some but also for not guiding others, allowing them to go astray or even leading them astray.

5.6.2. “Orthodox Moslems have no difficulty with this point that Allah rewards with his mercy those whom he has predestinated to love him, and condemns to everlasting punishment those whom he has predestinated to disobey him. It is outsiders, and those pious souls who presuppose that God is moved by an absolute justice and not simply by his own good pleasure, who raise questions” (p. 731, Noss).

5.6.3. “Absolute predestination is affirmed. This Islamic belief differs from the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination in that it regards ends as fore-ordained apart from means, thus disregarding the reality of second causes” (p. 65, Vos).

6. Islam is more than a religion; it is an all encompassing way of life. This makes it difficult for the Westerner to understand the Islamic mind. The Western world view, its Weltanscauung, differs radically from that of Islam. Clues to a civilization’s world view are its self-evident truths, the things which it assumes anyone who is not insane must believe: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . .” When other people do not hold these particular beliefs to be self-evident, we assume that they are either insincere or insane. What is the case, however, is that they may have a different way of comprehending reality than we do. In the West we have been steeped in the relative secularism of the Enlightenment, and Westerners tend to think dichotomously: there is a sacred and a secular realm. Steeped as we are in the tradition of free expression and the democratic ideal, we cannot imagine that the Muslim reacts to a satire such as The Satanic Verses the way we would react if someone raped and murdered our wife or mother. The Islamic sharia is incomprehensible to the Western mind.

7. What are some of the Islamic doctrines about war?

7.1. The most basic war that the believer ever wages is his personal struggle to submit to the will of God. This Jihad is the most difficult of all, because the true Muslim must accept God’s will no matter the cost to himself or those he loves.

7.2. Muhammad accommodated himself to the Arab Bedouins’ tradition of raiding the non-Arabs: “Know that, whatever booty you take, the fifth of it is God’s, and the Messenger’s, and the near kinsman’s, and the orphans’, and for the needy, and the traveler . . . .” (Koran VIII:40)

7.3. This aggressive position evolved into the concept of the Holy War, the Jihad: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads. So it shall be; and if God had willed, He would have avenged Himself upon them; but that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of God, He will not send their works astray. He will guide them, and dispose their minds aright, and He will admit them to Paradise, that He has made known to them” (Koran XLVII:4-8)

7.4. Thus the most certain way to go to heaven was to die in a Jihad. This doctrine gave great impetus to their conquests.

7.4.1 “So let them fight in the way of God who sell the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage” (Koran IV:75)

7.4.2 “God has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of God; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon God in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfills his covenant truer than God?” (Koran IX:110)

7.4.3 “Surely the godfearing shall be in a station secure among gardens and fountains, robed in silk and brocade, set face to face. Even so; and We shall espouse them to wide-eyed houris (Houri: a black-eyed woman 1. any of the beautiful nymphs of the Moslem Paradise, among the rewards of faithful Moslems 2. a seductively beautiful woman), therein calling for every fruit, secure” (Koran XLIV:52)

7.5. To retreat before the enemy in a Jihad, unless it was for tactical reasons, was an absolute guarantee of instantly going to a burning hell: “O believers, when you encounter the unbelievers marching to battle, turn not your backs to them. Whoso turns his back that day to them, unless withdrawing to fight again or removing to join another host, he is laden with the burden of God’s anger, and his refuge is Gehenna—an evil homecoming!” (Koran VIII:15)

8. What is the Islamic stance toward the non-Muslim?

8.1. The Muslim position on non-Muslims can be traced back to the time of the fall of Damascus in 635 At this point in time it was a Christian city. General Khalid’s peace overture demonstrates the Muslim position toward Christians and Jews: since they are both people of the Book and are not outright idolaters, they would be allowed to practice their religions and not be forced to convert to Islam as long as they submitted to Islamic law, Shariah. They are people of the peace pact, the dhimmi, and they must pay a special tax (jizyah) for the privilege of living as non-Muslims in a Muslim state.

8.1.1. “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. This is what Khalid would grant to the inhabitants of Damascus if he enters therein: he promises to give them security for their lives, property, and churches. Their city wall shall not be demolished, neither shall any Moslem be quartered in their houses. Thereunto we give to them the pact of Allah and the protection of His Prophet, the caliphs and the believers. So long as they pay the poll tax, nothing but good shall befall them” (p. 742, Noss).

8.2. Christians and Jews were allowed to raise their children in their respective faiths, but they could not evangelize the surrounding community. Polytheistic idolaters, however, had to cease their practices and become Muslims.

8.3. The Islamic stance toward Christians and Jews has usually been one of toleration—that is, if they lived in what amounted to a ghetto, keeping to themselves and not trying to meddle in affairs outside their own circumscribed communities. But their position concerning Jewish and Christian civil governments has been one of intolerance. These non-Islamic governments were viewed as evil, and they had to be conquered. Thus while Jews in ghettos were tolerated, a Jewish state, particularly in the third holiest city of Islam, Jerusalem, is intolerable to all Muslims. That is why “Zionism” is decried. While strategic necessity may demand that Israel, as a nation, be allowed to exist for the present moment, the Islamic position demands its eventual annihilation.

9. What are the Sects within Islam?

9.1. Representing roughly ninety percent of the population, the Sunnis represent the community consensus in Islam. The name comes from the word for custom, sunna.

9.1.1. In answer to the question of the succession of Muhammad, the Sunnis would say that no one could succeed him, “for the Qur’an finalized and perfected the revelation of divine guidance and declared Muhammad to be ‘the Seal of the Prophets’” (p. 330, Kerr).

9.1.2. “The Sunnis gradually developed a comprehensive system of community law, the Sharia. This provided cohesion within the community while allowing for variance between four orthodox law schools . . . .. Notionally ijma is the consensus of the whole community, though in practice it is that of the legal scholars. The Caliphs were guardians of the Sharia, but the caliphate was abolished in 1924” (p. 330, Kerr).

9.2. The Shi’ites are a minority within Islam. They are less than ten percent of the Muslim population and are mostly found in Iran and Iraq and in parts of Syria and Lebanon.

9.2.1. “For the Shi’a Muslims the principle figure of religious authority is the imam.” While the Shi’a believe that ‘the cycle of prophethood’ ceased with Muhammad, they believe that he instituted ‘the cycle of initiation’ for the continuing guidance of the community, by appointing as his successor an imam. “The imam was invested with the qualities of inspired and infallible interpretation of the Qur’an.” “The majority of Shi’a, known as Imamis (most of whom live in Iran), believe that the cycle will be completed with the messianic return of the twelfth imam, often referred to as ‘the imam of the period.’ He is said to have been withdrawn into ‘occulation’ since the third century of Islam. His guidance is still accessible through ‘agents’ or ‘doctors of the law’ (mujtahidun) of whom the most senior in Iran are the ayatollahs. It is they who have the right to interpret the Sharia and to make religious rulings” (p. 331, Kerr).

9.3. The Sufis are a small, mystical sect within Islam.

10. There are several holy sites in Islam.

10.1. Mecca is the holiest city in Islam.

10.1.1. The Ka’bah (cube) is a sacred shrine with a black meteorite built into one of its corners, “the black stone which fell from heaven in the days of Adam.” This shrine was a center of pagan worship, housing many idols, the chief one being that of a god named Hubal. It is mentioned by the Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus, literature around 60 B. C. From long before the time of Mohammed, Arabs made pilgrimages, Hajj, to the Ka’bah.

10.1.2. Near the Ka’bah is the holy well Zamzam, which is said to have had its origin in the dying child Ishmael’s kicking his feet in the desert sands while his mother Hagar looked for water.

10.2. Medina is also holy because here Muhammad took refuge.

10.3. Jerusalem is viewed as holy.

10.3.1. Here is the Dome of the Rock. “Somewhere in the sacred enclosure, it was said, Mohammed had met Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and had prayed with them; nearby he had seen the rock where Abraham had thought to sacrifice Isaac, and Moses had received the Ark of the Covenant, and Solomon and Herod had built their temples; from that rock Mohammed had ascended into heaven; if one but had faith he could see in the rock the footprints of the Prophet” (pp. 228-229, Durant).

10.3.2. The Dome of the Rock is located on the mound where God told the Israelites to build the Temple. While it stands, the Jewish people do not have access to their holiest place.

11. The psychology of Islam differs from that of Christianity. “Salvation is Obtained by Human Works. It is characteristic of religious Muslims that they are proud or self-righteous to such a degree that it is extremely difficult to get the Christian Gospel of sin and redemption across to them” (p. 65, Vos).

‘Why is Islam so successful? How can its rapid spread be explained? And why is it so hard to win Moslems for Christ? A Moslem student once asked the present writer why Islam is so much more successful than Christianity. After a moment’s thought the reply was given that Islam is an easier religion than Christianity to live up to; it makes less difficult moral demands upon people. There is nothing in Islam to lead a man to say, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” or “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” A religion with reasonable attainable objectives fosters self-confidence, complacency and spiritual pride—it leads inevitably to self-righteousness, but it does not give the sinner the anguish of a guilty conscience nor the frustration of trying without success to attain in practical living the requirements of an absolute moral standard. In brief, Islam makes a man feel good, while Christianity necessarily first (and often thereafter) makes a man feel bad. The religion of the broken heart is Christianity, not Islam’ (pp. 66, 67, Vos).

Selective Bibliography

Chedid, Bassam M. (2004). Islam: What Every Christian Should Know. Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.

Durant, Will. (1950). The Story of Civilization, The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Kerr, David. (1982). “The Unity and Variety in Islam,” Eerdmans’ Handbook to the World’s Religions. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

________.  The Koran with Parallel Arabic Text, translated with notes by N. J. Dawood (1998). New York:

Noss, John B. (1963). Man’s Religions. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Vos, J. G. (1965). A Christian Introduction to Religions of the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Ye’or, Bat. (2002). Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide. Translated by Miriam Kochan and David Littman. Lancaster, UK: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Bob Vincent