Islam is the faith of more than a billion people; it is a driving force behind Middle East conflict and a mystery to many. How did it first develop, and how will it affect end-time prophetic events? The Bible provides some startling answers!
Islam, the faith of more than a billion people and a driving force behind Middle East conflict, is a mystery to many. How did this growing religion first develop, and how will it affect end-time prophetic events? What will be the fate of its adherents? With prophecy speeding up as we approach the end of the age, we need to understand the truth about Islam!
Muslim protesters gather on Israel's West Bank chanting Allahu akbar (Arabic for "God is great") as they call for the destruction of the Jewish nation. On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem-revered by both Muslims and Jews-worshipers are killed in Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. In the name of Islam, Muslim militants such as Osama bin-Laden mastermind terrorist attacks against non-Muslims.
Salaam is the Arabic word for "peace." From salaam is derived Islam-the name of a religion which claims descent from Abraham and has more than a billion adherents around the globe. Yet amid growing Middle East tensions, news reports increasingly associate Islam with violence, rather than peace.
Even so, Islam is gaining popularity in the United States and other British-descended nations. More than 1.5 million Muslims live in Great Britain. The U.S. is home to more Muslims than Methodists, according to the United States Information Agency, which reports that by the year 2010 there will be more Muslims than Jews in the U.S., making Islam the nation's second-largest faith. Islam's growth in the U.S. has been recent; an April 2001 study coordinated by Hartford Seminary revealed that 87 percent of the country's 1,209 mosques (houses of worship) were founded since 1970, and 20 percent in just the last five years. Of the 7 million American Muslims, only one-eighth are of Arab ancestry; 29 percent are new converts, most of whom come from the African-American community.
Islam is a worldwide phenomenon claiming more than a billion of the earth's six billion human beings as adherents. What will be their destiny? Will pious Muslims go to a heavenly paradise after death, as their religion teaches? Will they burn forever in a fiery Hell, as many non-Muslims believe? Or does God have something else planned for them? How will this religion, which has grown from the deserts of Arabia to the heartland of America, affect prophesied end-time events?
Muhammad was born in 570ad in the Arabian city of Mecca. His mother died when he was six years old; he was reared by his uncle, a successful trader with whom, at age 12, he first traveled to Syria. Before Muhammad had reached age 20, he had visited Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo and other cities throughout the region; by age 25 he had married Khadija, a wealthy widow 15 years his senior.
Although Jewish traders dominated Mecca's commerce, its religious landscape was dominated by a polytheist temple-the Kaaba-containing a black stone that, according to local traditions, Abraham had received from the angel Gabriel. Some members of Muhammad's Quraishi tribe believed that Adam and Eve had built the Kaaba; others credited it to Abraham and Ishmael. From his contacts with Jewish traders, Muhammad could understand that the polytheistic worship in the Kaaba would have been unacceptable to Adam and Eve, or to Abraham and Ishmael.
In 610ad, after six months spent meditating in a cave at Mount Hira, Muhammad announced that he had received, through the angel Gabriel, a revelation from God. Soon he was proclaiming a new religion called Islam (Arabic for "submission"). Facing opposition, Muhammad fled with his followers to Yathrib (later renamed Medina) in 622ad, where he took control of the city and prepared for his conquest of Mecca in 630ad. Throughout this time, Muhammad claimed an ongoing series of special revelations via the angel Gabriel; after his death in 632ad, these revelations were compiled into the book now called the Quran. Muslims consider this book the inerrant word of God.
Islam is divided into several branches; the two most prominent are the Sunni and Shia, which diverged in a leadership dispute soon after Muhammad's death, but are united in upholding the "Five Pillars" of Islam-prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca and the basic statement of Muslim faith, that "there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet."
Muslims abstain from alcohol. They have their own laws of clean and unclean meats, and refuse to eat pork, carnivorous animals or flesh sacrificed to idols (though various biblically prohibited foods, such as camel, are considered "clean" in Islamic law). Muslims keep what they consider a "sabbath" day, though theirs is Friday rather than the biblical seventh-day Sabbath.
Most Muslims belong to the Sunni branch, which takes the Quran, supplemented by the Hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) and Shariah (Islamic law), as the guiding force behind Islam. The Shia branch, however, looks also to the office of Imam as spiritual head of the faith. Over the years, the Sunni and Shia have developed slightly different standards of Islamic practice and jurisprudence. Their differences, however, are smaller than those between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and these two Muslim divisions do not consider themselves separate sects.
Nevertheless, Muslim intrareligious quarrels can be fierce. Middle East expert Daniel Pipes offered this analysis: "Islamic schisms start as political quarrels and only later acquire theological overtones. In particular, the greatest divide between Muslims, that separating Sunnis and Shi'is, has powerful political implications.… more than one-half of Iraq's population adheres to the same Twelver Shi'i version of Islam that prevails in Iran. This engenders deep fears of a Shi'i rebellion in Iraq" ("A Border Adrift," Pipes, The Iran-Iraq War, 1983). Muslims in Iran and Iraq fought one another from September 1980 to August 1988 in a war which resulted in nearly a million deaths, more than a million wounded and multiple millions made refugees.
Despite such intrareligious conflict, Scripture tells of a coming Arab-Muslim confederacy. In Psalm 83, King David of ancient Israel reveals that Israel's adversaries will achieve at least a degree of unity in the not-too-distant future. In verses 6-7, David lists by their ancient names the peoples who will join together in an anti-Israel confederacy-Arab and Muslim nations of the Middle East, supported by sympathetic elements in Europe-seeking to wipe Israel from the face of the earth!
Already, some in the Middle East are calling for a "united front" against Israel. Last April, representatives from more than 30 Muslim nations backed a Palestinian call for a continued uprising against not only Israel, but also against Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel. "Muslims are getting united against Israel," Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior official of the radical Muslim group Hamas, told the Associated Press on April 25. "Our people will not give up the Israeli aggression," Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin confirmed in a May 11 Reuters interview.
This prophesied future development, though, is far removed from the daily lives of most Muslims today, especially those in Western countries. The few Muslims who have engaged in terrorist acts in the U.S., such as the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, are a distinct minority; many more American Muslims display the American flag proudly on Independence Day, and join in the civic life of a democratic nation.
Mecca and Medina, in Muhammad's day, were cosmopolitan Arabian cities visited by traders from many lands. Traveling with his family of successful traders, Muhammad interacted with Jews and professing Christians-a fact significant for Islam's development.
Muhammad taught that Islam was the religion of Abraham, and that the Jews practiced a corrupted form of the true religion. Originally, Muhammad taught Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem; only after the Jews rejected Muhammad's message did he change the direction of worship to Mecca.
Many stories in the Quran are similar to those in the Bible, but differ in important details. Most Jews and Christians recall that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (cf. Genesis 22), but stopped him at the last minute after Abraham had demonstrated his obedience. A version of this story also occurs in the Quran (Sura 37:90-122), but Muslims believe that Ishmael, not Isaac, was offered for sacrifice.
To understand this variation and others like it, we must remember that the Arabs of Muhammad's day understood that they and the Jews were fellow Semitic peoples, descended from Abraham. The Jews came through Sarah's son Isaac, the Arabs through Hagar's son Ishmael. Scripture explains the relationship between these two brothers: "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year" (Genesis 17:20-21). God made His covenant through Isaac's descendants, though Ishmael too was blessed. The Bible tells us of Ishmael's nature and his role in a continuing conflict: "He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren" (Genesis 16:12). The descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are brothers, but these peoples have been party to a bitter rivalry from the first.
The Quran calls Jews and Christians "People of the Book"-people to whom God gave Scripture. With this designation comes a measure of respect; Muslims are told (Sura 29:46) to "be courteous when you argue with the People of the Book." Yet the Quran asserts (Sura 5:13) that the Jews tampered with the Book that God gave them-the Old Testament.
By contrast, the Apostle Paul wrote: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). When Paul wrote those words, "Scripture" meant the Old Testament-the books from which Jesus Christ taught. We know that Scripture cannot be broken (cf. John 10:35), so to reject the Old Testament, as Muslims do, is also to reject Jesus Christ.
By the 7th century, many professing Christians had drifted far away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Muhammad encountered many who professed belief in a "Trinity," and many who venerated Jesus' mother Mary as the "mother of God." The Quran attacks these beliefs in a peculiar way, proclaiming a strict monotheism by denouncing the idea that Mary is a member of the Trinity (Sura 5:114-116). Yet not even the Christian denominations that venerate Mary as the "mother of God" have called her a part of the Trinity!
If the Quran were a divinely inspired book, would it attack a belief that did not exist? One might instead suspect that these verses reflect Muhammad's human revulsion at the excessive Marian devotions that had infiltrated Christianity, which he would have seen when meeting traders passing through the very cosmopolitan city of his upbringing.
Muslims revere Jesus as a great prophet, but do not consider Him God. Muhammad taught that Jesus was not crucified, but was taken to heaven-and a substitute appeared to die in His place (Sura 4:157). This is strikingly similar to some Gnostic teachings Muhammad would have encountered in his travels.
The Quran affirms Christ's virgin birth, but in doing so appears to confuse the identities of Miriam, the sister of Moses, and Mary the mother of Jesus. In Sura 19:28, Christ's mother is called the "sister of Aaron"-a phrase which everywhere else in the Quran refers to Miriam. In response, Muslims suggest that "sister of Aaron" is a generic term meaning "virtuous woman" even though such a usage occurs nowhere else in the Quran.
To reconcile the many inconsistencies, Muslims teach that a Gospel account called the Injil once existed, corroborating Muslim accounts of Jesus' life, but that this Injil has been lost or suppressed. Biblical archaeology, however, makes this claim hard to defend. Manuscripts of the earliest Gospels-containing material that contradicts Muslim teachings-have been found, dated to within decades of Christ's life, but no similar findings of this hypothetical Injil have been documented.
Afterlife and Jihad
In Christ's day, Jews held varying expectations of the afterlife. Some, like the Sadducees, understood that we simply cease to exist at death. However, even in Christ's day, many Jews had become influenced by Hellenistic and Eastern concepts of the immortal soul, and believed that all souls continue in an incorporeal form after death, whether in a pleasant Heaven, a shadowy Sheol or a fiery Hell.
By the 7th century, nearly everyone around Muhammad taught some form of the doctrine of the immortal soul. It was this doctrine, rather than the accurate Biblical teaching, that found its way into Islam. According to the Quran, the souls of the righteous will, after death, "delight for ever in what their souls desire" (Sura 21:99). Each will be in "a blissful state in a lofty garden, with clusters of fruit within his reach" (Sura 69:20). The souls of the wicked, however, will be cast into a fiery eternal Hell in which their torments will never end: "The evil doers shall endure for ever the torment of Hell, which will not be assuaged for them; they shall be speechless with despair" (Sura 43:73). Another account: "Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge" (Sura 4:56).
Muslim theology includes the concept of jihad, or struggle, and teaches that those who succeed in jihad, and give their lives to it, will be promoted to the highest rewards offered in Heaven. In most circumstances, jihad is understood as the struggle to live a righteous life-"overcoming" would be a close synonym. But in the context of war, jihad takes on a more foreboding implication. Muslims have come to believe that if they die on the battlefield while spreading Islam, they will assure themselves of a glorious salvation. Many Muslims denounce this militaristic understanding of jihad, but it remains a powerful force in the Muslim world, a tool often used by rulers to incite nationalistic passions in their peoples.
Muslims acknowledge that they will not bring about a righteous world by themselves. Particularly in the Shia branch of Islam, a "righteous one" or Mahdi is expected at the end of the age. Some expect Jesus to be that Mahdi; most expect Jesus to return from heaven after the Mahdi, to judge the nations and destroy false religious teachings.
Yes, Muslims are awaiting Jesus' return! But the Jesus for whom they wait is not the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. A false Christ coming shortly before the return of the real Jesus Christ could use Muslim prophecies to sway hundreds of millions of Muslims into following him (cf. Matthew 24:4-5).
In an age when many professing Christians have abandoned the values and practices taught by Christ, devout Muslims may seem in many respects more godly in their conduct than many of today's so-called Christians. Prayer and fasting and almsgiving are integral parts of Muslims' lives. Devout Muslims seek fervently to overcome their sinful natures.
But no matter what their "good works," Muslims face a dilemma. True Christians, accepting Jesus Christ's sacrifice and letting Him live His life in them (Galatians 2:20), can produce good works by yielding to their living Savior. Without Christ, Muslims contend in vain against the flesh. But after Christ returns, today's Muslims will have their true chance to accept the living Jesus Christ as Savior.
Jesus Christ will indeed return-not as Muslims expect, but as the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16). After He returns, former Muslims will see that the ideals and values they sought to uphold are fulfilled perfectly not by the man-made laws of Islam, but by the God-given law administered by Jesus Christ, when all human beings learn true submission to God's perfect love in that thousand-year period of peace and justice-the "Millennium"-that we call Tomorrow's World.