Dr. James Strauss
Philosophy and Theology
Lincoln Christian Seminary
ISLAM AND MUSLIMS
Scriptures: Luke 24, the road to Emmaus; Acts 17.11, “They received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.”
I. Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road
(cf. Phil Parshall, New Paths in Muslim Evangelism (Baker, 1980); Bill Musk, The Unseen Face of Islam (MARC, Evangelical Missionary Alliance, 1992); R. S. Greenway, Planting Churches in Muslim Cities (Baker, 1993); J. Dudley Woodberry, ed. Muslims and Christians on The Emmaus Road (MARC, 1989); Warren Chastains, “A Bibliography of Articles on Islamic Themes” available from DCS, Box 794, Wheaton, IL 60137; and The Muslim World Journal, Box 364, Pasadena, CA 91001. Data is also available from Islamic Studies School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA; also see my “Theology of Promise and Christ The Center of the Old and New Testaments.”
II. Scripture Perspective
1. We must think biblically and theologically.
2. Try to understand the Muslim mind and the Quran.
3. Reflect on the process of communications. (Study the Quran and other Muslim sources
in this context; false dichotomy between spiritual warfare and subjects like cross-cultural
communication (cultural/religious relativism). Know which variety of Muslim we are
addressing in a given setting.
4. Cultural relevance and themes.
5. Christ in worship.
Three personal convictions:
a. Winning Muslims to Christ is a reality. It is not impossible as the Devil has wanted the
Church to believe over the centuries. We can win Muslims to The Lord.
b. Evangelizing Muslims has been one of the challenges confronting The Church since
Muhammad said he heard a voice ordering, “Recite in the name of thy Lord. . .” (The
Judeo/Christian/Islam religions are grounded in Abraham’s lineage)
c. One can force a great movement of the Holy Spirit among Muslims such as has never
happened before in all the history of that segment of the world population. The Church
must prepare for this Trend as we race toward 2003.
III. Practical Means of Dialogue on The Emmaus Road:
A. Principle of Contextualization (culture is relative, not absolute; Western/Eastern paradigms of believing and communicating) (cf. Chrales H. Kraft, Christianity In Culture (Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1979); Frank Khair-Ullah, “Evangelism Among Muslims” That The Whole Earth Hear His Voice (ed. J. D. Douglas, Minneapolis World Wide Pub., 1975); and David H. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross Culturally, (Zondervan, 1978).
B. Religious acts of Muslims appear to be identical, whether being expressed in Marrakech or Mombosa, Damascus or Delhi. The common statement of belief and common practice makes the outward image of the faith consistent throughout the Islamic world. Yet beneath the surface a divergence of view is discernable. That divergence does not primarily take place on national or cultural grounds, as one might expect, yet it touches the foundational aspects of Islam.
The major difference arises in the function and meanings ascribed to orthodox confession and deeds. It is a difference of understanding about the universally agreed statement of faith and summary of practices. Neo-fundamentalist Islamic movements tend to undermine their own ideological stance since they appeal to the authority of the hadith, as well as the Quran, in proposing changes to the modernist Islam in many of today’s Muslim countries. In emphasizing the authority of the hadith, those reactionary movements also reinforce the cosmology that the hadith expose and affirm, and in which so many of the Muslim masses live and move. Hadith quasi comprise sayings of the prophets, which are in fact direct words from God through him recorded by those who heard them spoken. They do not form part of the Quran. There are several collections of such hadith. A two-volume work published in Cairo in 1969 by the commission for Quran and hadith is entitled A_l Ahadith al Quodsiyya. Such hadith are viewed as important and authoritative in giving direction to mores and customs.
IV. Islamic Statements of Faith:
(cf. Arthur Jeffery, ed. A Reader on Islam: Passages from Standard Arabic Writings Illustrative of the Beliefs and Practices of Muslims (Moulton and Co: Groverhage, 1962) Shems Friedhander, ed. The Ninety-Nine Names of Allah (Islamic Pub. Bureau: Logos, 1978).
Muslim Creed (imos includes a statement of belief in the only God, his angels, his books, his apostles, the Last Day and predestination. “. . . virtuous conduct is that of those who have believed in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the prophets. . .” (sura 2, 172). For many Muslims, belief in the only God devolves largely into a magical use of the names of God. The ninety-nine Beautiful names mostly derive from the Quran. That these are specifically ninety-nine is known to all believers, whether or not they are acquainted with the Quran (names written in Arabic in the left palm form the figure // or 81 in Arabic numerals. The corresponding creases of the right palm form the figures /” or 13 in Arabic numerals. Combined the two equal ninety-nine. (Lagos, Nigeria, English handbook, Ninety-Nine Names erf Allah. The introduction to the book seeks to warn against abuse of the power contained in the names. Intention may be positive or negative, but the names remain powerful. Associated with the names of God is the practice of composing magic squares. Different names or attributes of God may be represented by various letters or numbers. The number one, for example, stands for the unity of God (numbers in proper order are significant for combating offensive magic).
The Prayer Beads (subha) are designed to assist Muslims in their recitation of the 99 Beautiful names. In Islamic practice,however, the prayer beads are more commonly used in that form of divination known as istikharn. Oaths carry strength because of the appeal they make to God as witness. In such an attitude towards the Islamic doctrine of God, the approach appears to be manipulative rather than submissive. An appropriate use of a suitable divine name will automatically achieve the desired end; the motivation is pragmatic and self-centered.
The Doctrine of Angels: (al-mala’id) Authenticates a species of ‘being’ to whom ordinary Muslims may appeal for assistance. Angels live in the other world, closer to God than human beings, and are seen as agents of power, so their names are commonly used in protective talismans. Men are protected by angels, ten by day and ten by night. Redivar, the guardian of paradise, and Malik, the guard at the gates of hell, are often involved. Nineteen angels have charge of the fires of hell while north, south, east and west each have guardian angels.
The Doctrine of God’s Books: (al-kutub) This is turned largely into a practice of bibliolatry and bibliomancy in popular Islam. The Quran, above all, is a repository of baraka. Various chapters and verses are reputed to be powerful for such problems as headaches, fever, swellings, aches, blindness, insanity, toothaches and the protection of property.
The Quran, like the prayer beads, is used as istikhara. A practitioner will close his eyes, utter God’s name and draw his fingers from the back of the Quran up among its pages. Throughout the Islamic world, the Quran is used as a charm in itself. Daily recital of the Quran, either by special readers or a radio broadcast, is considered to be a protective activity.
One saying common in Egypt asserts that Satan does not enter the house in which the Holy Book is recited every day. The act of recital keeps evil at bay. In non-Arabic areas the book is seen as powerful and efficacious in a magical sense.
God’s Apostles: (al-rusal) This deals largely with the supernatural world, power over demons and jinn. For many Muslims prophets are more appealing than most angels because of their reputed willingness to intercede with God on man’s behalf. Prophets have also been weak mortals themselves and therefore understand human frailty. Other prophets’ names are used as talisman, the most important being Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, Jonah, David, and Jesus (see my Jesus in. the Quran). Associated with such veneration of Muhammad and others of God’s Apostles is the respect paid to relics throughout the Muslim world.
Doctrine of The Last Day: (yawm abdi) This relates to death and spirit life. It is often reinterpreted to offer hope of salvation on that final day. The Muslim doctrine of predestination and their own merits means all members of the community will be saved. The careful living which the doctrine of the Last Day is intended to inspire is thus annulled in an interpretation of that doctrine’s implication.
The Doctrine of Predestination: (al-taqdir) This is similarly and radically undermined in much of the Islamic belief and practice. This teaching seeks to explain the humanly unalterable and inexplicable, yet many attempts are made to reshape a person’s own destiny (religious calendar and rites of passage via certain ‘beings’; attempts are made to alter what is determined). In Muslim countries, rites provide a period when God will listen to the requests of Muslims concerning their “fate” either directly or via the angel Gabriel.
V. Muslim Practices
The specific practices (din) of Islam comprise the confession of faith, the prayer ritual, legal almsgiving, the annual feast and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Pillars of Islam differ
between ‘folk’ religion and the ‘theologians.’) Words of Confessions are commonly believed to be supernaturally able to drive away evil (areas of hostile, trans-empirical beings).
In many Muslim communities, the worship at Friday prayers include elements of popular devotion. The dhikr ritual, for example, consisting of prayers, ecstatic chanting, drumming, Quran rituals and incense burning, has traditionally been an integral part of congregational prayer among Nubian Muslims. Almsgiving (zakat) finds its own rationale in the folk-Islamic world. Fear of being hurt by the evil eye of a beggar is a motivation for giving alms among many Muslims.
Several Occasions for Fasting (saun) in Islam:
The most exacting fast is that of Ramadan, which occurs the last ten nights of the month and it commemorates God’s first revelation to the prophet Muhammad on what is usually thought of as the 27th night of Ramadan. On that occasion the gates of heaven are open and the possibility exists of altering human destinies for prayers are then carried to the throne of God. Many acts of popular devotion occur during Ramadan, including—
The Pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca is enforced on Muslims who can afford it, to make such a journey once in their lives. (Folk-Islamic outlook on life. The sight of the ka’ba is accomplished
by an opening of heaven, so that prayers are heard and accepted.
Apart from the two mosques at Mecca and Medina, the mosque of Al-agsa in Jerusalem is perceived as the third most important pilgrimage destination in the Muslim world. It was from Jerusalem that Muhammad reputedly made his ascent to the heavens. His footprint on the rock (sakhrer) on the temple site is the focus of veneration for Muslims at this significant center of the faith (shrine visitation, saint worship on a massive scale)
Two World Views: The official/popular conceptions of fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam: Folk Islam reinterprets belief and behavior (conceptual reinterpretation) All contexts view themselves as Muslims (radically reinterpreted understanding of iman faith (in six articles of Islam’s faith and creeds) and din religious practice in Islam.
The fundamental fact that needs recognition is that both worldviews do exist, even within the foundational formulas of Islamic faith. It is plain that beliefs and practices of ordinary Muslims contradict many formal aspects of Islamic faith. Such beliefs and practices are, however, common and permeate the every day life of human beings from Morocco to Malaysia.
The Muslim worldview sees the universe as living, complicated and composed of various kinds of ‘beings’ and ‘powers’. Alternative worldviews reveal little practical dissonance between these two domains. Official and popular expressions of Islam tend to live easily with one another.
Official Islam: Host to Popular Islam
1. Quranic - source of world religion accepts variations on the major theme.
2. Quran presents itself as the embodiment of the revelation delivered to Muhammad in a clear and pure Arabic (sura16.105), sent down to be “a guidance and mercy” (sura 16.66) to a people who believe. It deals with working out the details of human belief and practice. It developed into official religion from largely pagan Arabs who are animistic (folk belief and practices).
4. Some pre-Islamic occult practices are specially condemned in The Qur’an (sura 5.102). The intention of the Qur’an is to provide a focal point and guide for the development in an idol worshipping society of high religion must not be minimized. The alternative approach has developed among ordinary Muslims from the hijra (exodus) until today, and has found its ultimate justification within the very Book of Wisdom.
5. Pre-Islamic practices incorporated into official Islam:
a. Animistic practices
b. Cross cultural acceptance of ideas and practices. Converts retain previously held concepts beneath a veneer of conformity to orthodox Islam. They continued cultural practices after Islamization. They carried into their worldview as Muslims previous ideas about the soul, death, the spirit world, blessing and cursing.
c. The Islamization of Turkey, the mystics of Persia, Malay archipelago, Indo-Pakistan and Africa south of the Sahara. Muslim missionaries are often medicine men who tended to identify pagan spirits with Muslim jinn. The medicine men used spirit possession and necromancy in a syncretistic mix of traditional and Islamic approaches to healing. Ancestor veneration and possession phenomena in both religions provided the bridge to conversion (adaptation - extreme forms of contextualization of major belief and practices of the converted people).
d. Muhammad Veneration: The official and popular Islamic belief and practice is provided in the person of Muhammad. During his life, Muhammad laid repeated stress on his mere humanness. He was simply an unlearned Arab (sura &.158) whose words were the result of divine inspiration (sura 18.110). He was only a messenger, nothing more (sura 3.138). Indeed, the Qur’an condemns the veneration of saints in former religions where priests and ascetics were often deified (sura 9.31). The reality of the 7th century, however, was such that foes expected of Muhammad supernatural acts, miracles and transcendental knowledge (sura 2.112; 6.109; 10.2) if his claims to prophethood was to be believed. Equally, friends were only too anxious to ascribe such signs of prophethood (the biographers deliberately accelerated the process of idealizing Muhammad. Within a few generations of his death, Muhammad had acquired many special names by which he could be involved, several of them the same as names applied to God himself.
Hadith Literature and Popular Islam. Vital literature became an important key to the puzzling lack of dissonance between the worldviews of official and popular Islam (Folk Islam incantations, casting out of the evil eye). The hadith gives rationale to folk-Islamic saviourship. They contain many references to the intercession of prophets on behalf of the sinful in their communication.
Christian Spiritual Considerations.
(1) Scripture: Without The Bible we have no Christianity. The mission imperative is based wholly on what we find in Scripture. (God’s creation, man’s image and sin, God’s love for the lost, coming of the Promised One to recover the fallen universe, and His coming again in consummation, the Holy Spirit contra animism). (Malcolm Martin, “The Missionary and The Holy Spirit” Missiology 502, Apr 1977):225).
(2) Prayer - not a passive exercise (cf. J. Edwin Orr, “The Call to Spiritual Renewal” in The Gospel and Islam; a 1978 compendum edited by D. M. McCurry (Monrovia, CA:MARC, 1979), p. 425).
(3) Patience - I Cor 6; Col 1.11; II Tim 4.2; I Thess 5.24; C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1979): 75-76.
(4) Faith - Hebrews 11.13,16,39
(5) Love - cultural validity, I Cor 13; Ethnic/linguistic contexts; David Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross Culturally (Zondervan, 1978); Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture (Maryknoll: Orbis,1979).
Christ of Islam and Christianity:
In order to understand the Muslim attitude toward Christ it must first be understood that Muslims do not reject what the Bible teaches about Christ merely in order to exalt Muhammad above Him. Muslim rejection of Christ is dictated by the Qur’an and is rooted deep in the belief that Allah created people with the ability to perform words of righteousness in praise of Allah. Muslims d£ not admit their need for a Saviour. Instead, they strive for righteousness that they hope will be acceptable to Allah, (cf. Jn 1.1,14,17; I Jn 4.10; 5.10-11). Biblical truths about Christ cannot be harmonized with Muslim Christology. Biblical Christology towers high above humanity’s attempts to reach some level of righteousness that would be acceptable to God (Matt 22.42) “What do you think about Christ? Whose son is he?” On the answer to this question hangs the eternal destiny of every human being. The answer to this question irreconcilably divides Christians and Muslims.
The Qur’an declares: “Allah has revealed to you The Book [The Qur’an] with the truth, confirming the scriptures which preceded it; for He has already revealed The Torah and The Gospel for the guidance of men, and the distinction between right and wrong (Sura 3-3-4, Dawood tr. sura 3-84) enjoins the Muslim: “Say, ‘we believe in Allah and what is revealed to us; in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and in that which Allah gave Moses and Jesus and the prophets. We discriminate against none of them.” (Dawood tr.) (cf. Isaac is the transmitter of The Promised One, the Messiah “All the Promises of God are ‘yes’ in Jesus;” see my Theology of Promise for the unfolding and the promises and The Promised One, making Christ the center of the Scriptures).
In spite of these claims that the Qur’an confirm the revelation of God in the Bible, it rejects what the Bible teaches concerning Jesus’ deity, crucifixion and resurrection and the doctrine of the atonement.
I. The Deity of Jesus Christ: It must be remembered that the Arab culture into which Muhammad was born was filled with the worship of many gods and goddesses, lesser deities and demons. Muhammad found nothing more repugnant than the superstition and polytheism around him. His early preaching was filled with stern judgment for all who worshipped more than one god. The sin of associating anything with God as a co-deity, he made plain, was the most deadly of all sins. He included Christians in his denunciation of idolators, for in his misunderstanding of the Christian religion he supposed that Christians worship three gods—God, Jesus, and Mary (Qur’an, sura 4.171; 5.116). If he could conceive of any sin worse than more than one God, it was believing that God physically fathered a son. The denial of the deity of Christ began with Muhammad’s mistaken assumption about what Christians believe and in his preaching it grew into an all-out attack on the Christian faith.
In the Quar’anic account of the birth of Jesus it is made clear that Jesus was not to be worshipped. His first words, said to have been spoken from his cradle immediately after his birth are recorded in this manner: “Whereupon the child said;, ‘Verily, I am the servant of Allah; he hath given me the book of the gospel and hath appointed me a prophet, and he hath made me blessed wheresoever I shall be; and hath commanded me to observe prayer and to give alms, so long as I shall live. . . . This was Jesus, the son of Mary, the Word of Truth, concerning when they doubt. It is not meet for Allah, that he should have any son; Allah forbids.” (Sura, 19.30-31, 34-35, Sale tr).
The Qur’an declares that Jesus was born of Mary, a virgin, by a direct creative act of Allah. In this respect, He is compared to Adam. The Qur’an has much praise for Jesus. It stresses His sinlessness. It speaks of Him as “a word from Allah, the Messiah,” and a noble in this world and the next (Sura 3.45-Dawood tr.). In many ways, Muslims have a higher respect for Jesus than some who call themselves Christians but look at Jesus as only a gifted teacher. The Qur’an nowhere, however, acknowledges Jesus’ deity or His pre-existence from eternity.
Jesus’ chief significance to Islam lies in the Qur’an’s assertion that Jesus prophesied. “An Apostle. . . will come after me whose name is Ahmed (a name used in Qur’an for Muhammad (Sura 6.16). Muslim commentators are also unanimous in referring Jesus’ promise of the counselor (Jn 14.16, 26; 15.26; 16.7) to Muhammad. The Muslim belief that Jesus is not God cannot be reconciled with Jesus’ own declarations: “Before Abraham was born, I am” (Jn 8.58); “I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10.30); and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (Jn 14.9). Similarly rejected by Islam is God’s testimony concerning His Son: “This is my Son.” (Matt 17.5), as well as Thomas’ confession: “My Lord and My God.” (Jn 20.28). And the mighty assertions of Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, have no place in The Qur’an, such as “In Christ all the fullness of The Deity lives in bodily form.” (Col. 2.9)
II. The Crucifixion of Jesus: Approximately one-third of the Christian Gospels are given to eyewitness accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the events associated with them. The crucifixion is not central to the New Testament; it is the focus of Old Testament prophecy. Paul declared “We preach Christ crucified” (I Cor 1.23); “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor 2.2); “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor 15.3); and “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6.14). Jesus revealed by explicit prophecy that He would be crucified and rise again (Matt 16.21). And He gave as His purpose for coming into the world His sacrifice for the sins of the world (Mk 10.45).
The Qur’an dismisses as error the words of Jesus, the evangelists, and the Apostles. “The Jews have said, ‘Verily we have slain Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary; the Apostle of Allah; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by one in his likeness. . . . They did not really kill him; but Allah took him up into himself.” (Sura 4.157-58, Sale tr.) Most approved Muslim commentaries set forth the common Muslim belief that Allah changed Jesus’ features so that those who wanted to crucify would not recognize him. Then Allah raised him to heaven before he could be seized. Judas instead was crucified, so cleverly disguised as Jesus that even Mary and the disciples were deceived. A few commentaries suggest that it was Simon of Cyrene who was crucified; all agree that it was not Jesus.
Since The Qur’an denies the crucifixion, no resurrection is recorded. Nor does the Qur’an foretell Jesus’ return. However, Muslim traditions teach that Jesus will someday descend from paradise, live on earth for about 40 years, become a Muslim, marry and beget children, try once more to call all people to Islam, and then die. He is seen as both being judged by Allah and participating in the judgment.
III. The Atonement for Sin: Passages of the Scripture and the Qur’an set side by side show the sharp contrast between the Gospel message of grace and the Islamic emphasis on good works: The Scriptures: Ephesians 2.8,9; Romans 8.21-23,28 The Qur’an:“On the day of judgment they whose balances shall be Romans 8.21-23,28 heavy with good works, shall be happy; those with light balance shall lose their souls and shall remain in hell. . .” (Sura 23.102-3) (Sura 7.8-9) and (Sura 21.47) (Weighing men’s actions “just balances from day of judgment”) Without faith in the substitutionary death of Christ for the sins of the world, Muslims must rely on the will of Allah and faithful performance of the duties of the five pillars to offset their sins and make them acceptable to Allah. (Each Sura begins naming Allah “The Merciful;” the Muslims’ hope is in their works; they have no assurance.
The Qur’an constantly reminds followers that all their actions are shaped by Allah’s sovereign decree. “Allah will lead into error whom he pleases, and whom Allah pleases he will put in the right way.” (Sura 6.39) “None can guide those whom Allah has led astray. They shall be punished in this life, but more painful is the punishment in the life to come.” (Sura 13.33-34) In Islam it would be considered an insult to Allah’s righteousness and omnipotence to say that Allah “loved the world” or “saved people by grace.” That would imply that Allah was affected by the human condition. In contrast, the Scriptures say that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (Jn 3.16,17)
IV. Christian Response:
1. Be informed
2. Be gentle and respectful
3. Give the reason for the hope that you have (Matt 8.11; I Peter 3-15; 10 Romans 5.1-11; 8.3-9; Hebrews 10.1-22; I Jn 4.10).
Because Christianity and Islam share many Biblical events and persons, it may seem logical to build Christian witness on those things that are held in common. What appears similar may not be and may lead to either compromise or endless debate, neither of which is any more attractive to the Muslim that it is to the Christian. There is no tomb at which Christians worship. Our spiritual pilgrimage begins with an empty tomb! So also does our witness. See James P. A. Dreke, Christian Approach to Muslims (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1979). Christian witnessing among Muslims, Indian Edition Hyderabad, India. Henry Martyr Institute, 7th edition, 1987.Fellowship of Faith for Muslims P.O. Box 221 Station J Toronto, Ontario Canada M4J 4Y1 Samuel Zwemer Institute Box 365Altandena, CA 910012