If you are anything like me, Islam is something that you have always somewhat known about, but never put much effort into learning about. It seems that it has gained much more attention following the 9/11 attacks in which Radical Muslims high jacked airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and attempted another high jacking that was taken over by some brave passengers that ended up taking the plane down in an open field. Regardless, all the the passengers on the planes were killed, along with thousands of others that just so happened to be carrying on a regular day when the attacks took place.
With that being said, everyone knew what a Muslim was after these attacks, or at least everyone thought that they knew. It seemed the the most common understanding of a Muslim, at least from my perspective, was that they are people from the Middle East whose purpose in life and whose religion in focused only on murdering other people, specifically Americans. While there are some branches of Muslim’s that do see this is their primary goal within their religious practices, it is not the most popular form of Islam.
I had never really looked into, or studied, Islam until this past semester in which I took a class at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary entitled, The Doctrine of God in Christianity and Islam. Within this class, I was given a very detailed history of the rise of Islam through Reza Aslan’s book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. This book gave a tremendous, and very detailed, account of the Islamic faith from the beginning until now. If you are really looking for a historical outlook at how this religion came about, I would definitely recommend this book. However, be prepared to spend lots of time reading it as it seems to leave out very few details.
But, one of the most helpful books that I read is Dr. Timothy George’s book Is The Father Of Jesus The God Of Muhammad: Understanding The Differences Between Christianity And Islam. It was very helpful because it dealt with various theological differences and similarities. Like I said, I was not 100% aware of the doctrine of Islam until I read this book and what I came to find out was quite startling to some degree, but also very helpful in another. I found this to be of tremendous importance as our world is seeing a rapid growth in the Islamic faith, yet so many Christians are foreign to their beliefs. I was convinced that if we are to be truly effective within the field of evangelism and apologetics, this is something that we all need to become accustomed to.
I do want to mention a few points of interests about the book and some of its strengths. Hopefully by the time you finish reading this post, you will have an idea of whether you want to read the book or not. I will say this about the book, if you are not much of a reader, this book will be your friend. It is a powerful punch within a limited amount of pages. At only 139 pages, George gives the reader enough information to grasp the shell of Islam as it pertains to Christianity and he doesn’t bog the reader down with information that may not be useful to them. It is as they say “a big thing in a small package.”
A good foundation to Islam begins with what most people that have had any exposure to the religion have heard about and this is Islam’s “Five Pillars.” As George opens his book, he sees the need to define what Islam is. This was helpful to me as I had somewhat of an understanding but had never had it laid out any type of detail. As a part of this, he lays out the Five Pillars of Islam which they base their entire faith around. These Five Pillars contain some things that Christians would say with the utmost of confidence, yet they would be saying it within an entirely different context. To begin with, Muslims believe in one true god. This is going to be something that every Bible believing Christian would say as well. This is a foundation to both Christianity and Islam as George points out. From what I gather, Muslims do seem to do a much better job at expressing their belief in their one true god much more than most Christians express their belief in the One True God.
The briefly give a run-down on the Five Pillars, the first is Shahada. Shadaha is a one-sentence confession that is the primary foundation for all of Islam, “I bear witness and testify that there is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Now one important factor within this statement is the idea of Muhammad being a prophet. To put this in similar terms with Christianity, Islam also believes that there were other prophets. Some of those prophets being Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (ha!). I was not aware of this until I began to study the religion. I knew about Abraham but when they started following the line that I read about within my Old Testament, that began to somewhat stun me.
The next pillar is the Salat. Christians can learn a lot from the Salat because it takes extreme devotion. Five times a day, before dawn, at noon, at mid-afternoon, after sunset, and again around midnight, The Muslim is required to bow down before god in the direction of Mecca (Mecca is the holy place for Muslims). This practice is takes place within the Islamic places of worship known as Mosque’s. Mosque is actually an Arabic word that means “place of prostration” or “house of prayer.” How long do we as Christians spend in prayer? That’s convicting.
Next, the Zakat. The Zakat is translated “poor tax” or “charity.” It is a giving of alms that is required by all Muslims. Tradition tells us that 2.5% of the Muslims annual income is to be given to Zakat. The Quran (9:60) mentions this as well and gives specific instruction of how this is to be used. Stewardship is something of great importance to Muslims and we as Christians operate in a similar fashion.
Sawm is the next pillar and is an annual fast that takes place during Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar). The purpose of this fast is to demonstrate and cultivate discipline and self-control in hopes to put forth the idea and meaning of true submission to God and his will. Their desire is to worship god during this time and exercise their devotion to him through their fast. How many Christians do you know that fast? I know a lot of Christians in the Bible belt that definitely don’t look like they fast (too much fried chicken). We can definitely learn from this devotion.
Lastly, Hajj. Hajj is the final pillar and one of which that will mostly only happen once within the life of a Muslim, if at all. It is the final pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim is expected to make the journey to Mecca (their holy place) at some point in their lives. They are to do this without taking out a loan or any other sort of borrowed funds, but they are to save and use their own money. During the time of Ramadan, there will be millions of Muslims that travel to Mecca and take place in various worship festivities. If one was to see a video of this place during this time, I can promise you that it will blow your mind. I have seen a documentary about this and it truly blew my mind.
I know that I have made this entry way longer than anyone cares to read, but I wanted to give a brief overview of Islam. I did not mention much about how it is similar to Christianity, but I hope that you will grab a copy of this book and read it. There are some beliefs that are so close that it is scary, but there are others that are extremely far off. It will help you tremendously as you will encounter more and more Muslims as this religion is growing rapidly. Grab the book, read it, and let me know what you think. I will be more than willing to have discussion about this book or anything else as it pertains to pretty much anything.