Your next door neighbor – the one who has lived there for fifteen years – tells you one day that he is selling his house and moving to a condominium. You are shocked. You didn’t see that coming. Then a week later the “For Sale” sign goes up. You see people coming and going next door. There is an open house. Two weeks after that, above the “For Sale” sign, there is another which says, “Sale Pending.” Exactly five weeks after your neighbor’s announcement, a van pulls up and furniture begins to move into the now empty house. You are curious about your new neighbors. Will they be as tolerable as your former neighbor? Eventually, a car pulls up and a man, woman and three kids pile out and run into the house. You carry a plate full of cookies next door and introduce yourself. In the course of your conversation you tell them that you are a Christian, and you invite them to church. It is then you learn that your new neighbors are Muslims.
There are about 3.5 million Muslims in the United States. That is not a large percentage – slightly more than 1% – but the scene I just painted is becoming more and more common. In England there are 2.6 millions Muslims in a population of 66 million – more than 5%. As their numbers grow, they are going have to find places to live; your neighborhood is one such place. Even if they don’t live next door, you may find them at places you do business – banks, stores, gas stations. To your surprise, you find Muslims are not necessarily from the Middle East or are “Black Muslims.” There are more and more people with European heritage who are declaring themselves to be worshipers of Allah and followers of Islam.
I hope you don’t over-react toward your new neighbors. There is little likelihood they will be building bombs in the spare bedroom just ten feet from your house. You don’t have to put your split-level up for sale or find a new place to buy your gasoline. The truth is – they are little different from your Catholic neighbors or the LGBT couple down the street. In the way some people run screaming from Muslims, there once was a day when people ran away from a family of Jews. In fact, during the Middle Ages, people fled from Anabaptists the way that some do from Muslims today. Throughout history, Baptists have had as much to fear from Roman Catholics as we currently do from the followers of Muhammad. History shows that there have been as many terrorists among professed “Christians” as there have from other religions.
My intention this evening is not to put down Islam, Catholicism, Judaism or any other religion. What I hope to do is highlight some of the precious doctrines which we hold dear, while comparing them with doctrines that the various sects of Islam hold. Despite the trappings and uniforms, Muslims are little different from Catholics or Mormons. This evening I’d like to give you some insight into ways to relate with those new neighbors of yours. There is no magic formula for winning Muslims to Christ, but when we understand the basic differences between our faiths, there is at least a place to begin a dialogue.
But first, what do you know about the history of Islam?
Islam is the second largest religion in the world after “Christendom” with about 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. And while it is old, it s not ancient. Catholicism is 400 years older than Islam; Christianity is 7 centuries older, and Judaism is much, much older.
The prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 570 A.D – after Christ, not before Him. Muslims believe Muhammad was the final prophet sent by God. They claim to respect Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus as prophets of God, but they believe that Muhammad was the final and therefore the most important prophet. It needs to be understood that when referring to Old Testament saints and Jesus of Nazareth, Muslims do not have the same perspective on any of them as we do, and especially when it comes to Jesus. They also believe that God’s prophets number in the thousands.
According to Islamic tradition, the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad in 610 A.D. while he was meditating. Most Muslim’s equate the Holy Spirit with that angel. They deny the Trinity. After that first revelation, Muhammad, throughout his life, continued to receive messages from Allah. In this there are similarities between Muhammad and Joseph Smith and Catholicism. Beginning about 613, Muhammad began preaching in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but he was not well-received. He taught that there was no other God but Allah, and that Muslims should devote their lives to him. In 622, he moved from Mecca to Medina with his supporters. This journey marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Seven years later, he and his many followers returned to Mecca and conquered the region – not with truth or preaching, but with a military coup. He continued to preach until his death in 632 A.D. – a death which was not culminated in a resurrection.
After Muhammad’s death, Islam began to spread rapidly. A series of leaders, known as caliphs, became successors to Muhammad. During the reign of the first four caliphs, Arab Muslims conquered large regions in the Middle East, including Syria, Palestine, Iran and Iraq. Again, it was primarily through military force. Islam also spread into many areas of Europe, Africa, and Eastern Asia. The caliphate system lasted for centuries and eventually evolved into the Ottoman Empire, which controlled large regions in the Middle East for two hundred years, until World War I ended its power.
When Muhammad died, there was debate over who should replace him as leader. This led to a split within Islam, and two major sects emerged: the Sunnis and the Shiites. So the first major division of Islam didn’t involve doctrine but rather – human leadership. Sunnis make up nearly 90 percent of Muslims worldwide, but Shiites have a considerable presence in Iran, Iraq and Syria. Other, smaller Muslim denominations within the Sunni and Shiite groups exist. Some of these include: Wahhabi: This Sunni sect makes up the well-recognized wealthy men in Saudi Arabia. Their followers observe an extremely strict interpretation of Muhammad’s laws. The Alawites are a Shiite form of Islam is prevalent in Syria. Followers hold to the beliefs of the average Muslim, but they also observe some Christian and Zoroastrian holidays. The Nation of Islam is a mostly African-American Sunni sect, founded in the 1930s in Detroit, Michigan. Then there are the Kharijites: These people are known for their radical fundamentalism. From what I understand these would be the people most likely to be suicide bombers. ISIS is an extreme form of the Sunni sect; it is an anachronism for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”
Having shared all this, a history lesson is not my purpose this evening.
Let me summarize the highlights of the Muslim’s faith.
This is according to the website of “History.com.” But I have corroborated it with the book “More than a Prophet” written by two brothers named Caner. “More than a Prophet” is not about Muhammad, but rather about Christ Jesus. The Caners are Muslims born in Turkey, but are now Christians and Baptist evangelists.
The word “Islam” means “submission to the will of God.” Muslims are monotheistic, worshiping one, all-knowing God, who in Arabic is known as “Allah.” They, like the Jews, accuse Christians of worshiping more than one God. But of course, this is not true. The doctrine of the “Trinity” is one of the hurdles we must overcome with these people. Islam requires a life of complete submission to Allah. They claim that it is not a religion but a complete way of life, touching every aspect of day-to-day living. The Christian life should be more like that, and the Muslims are perhaps more successful. But complete submission to Allah is as impossible as to live wholly for Christ. We are all sinners and the flesh constantly fights against surrender to God. Muslims believe that nothing can happen without Allah’s permission — they are fatalists. But they also claim that humans have free will. Their position on God’s sovereignty is not the same as that of the Bible-believing Christian. The Quran is the major holy text of Islam, but the Hadith is another important book. Muslims also revere some material found in the Bible, but their interpretation is thoroughly skewed. They believe that the Bible has been corrupted and is untrustworthy without Muslim help. Followers worship Allah by praying and reciting the Quran, which they are supposed to do 5 times a day. They are also supposed to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during their lives. They are to give alms to the poor and constantly declare their faith in Allah. These are called “the five pillars of Islam.” They believe there will be a day of judgment, and there is life after death. And then there is the “jihad,” which means “struggle.” While the term is usually used negatively, Muslims believe it refers to both internal and external efforts to defend their faith. And as such, for most Muslims, it is a personal struggle to live the way Muhammad taught. Although rare, admittedly, this “jihad” can become military among the radical elements within Islam.
Despite some similarities between Islam and Christianity…
There are at least five fundamental areas of difference between us.
Christians and Muslims worship DIFFERENT GODS, and I don’t refer merely to their names. Jehovah, of course, is absolutely holy, and no sinner can stand, abide or even exist in His presence. But He has made a way of access to Him; He has torn open the veil between ourselves and the holy of Holies. The Lord Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” implying the obvious, there is a way to God the Father.
In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Then later in that same chapter he says, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
Unlike Jehovah, for the Muslim Allah is transcendent and unreachable. For example, no Muslim would call the God of Muhammad “Father,” because this to their mind would compromise divine transcendence. “Transcendence” is the idea that he transcends or is beyond our ability to know and experience him. I have read that Muslims have 99 names for God, and none of them express any personal relationship with His people. A Muslim doesn’t have a “personal relationship with Allah.” Allah has no friends which flies in the face that the Bible calls Abraham “the friend of God.” And Exodus 33:11 says, “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” But Allah didn’t speak to Muhammad or anyone else in a friendly, personal sort of way.
When it comes to SALVATION Islam is just another common religion of natural men – Catholic, Hindi, Protestant. Theirs is a salvation based on works. They deny the need for any kind of sacrifice, thinking especially of the sacrifice of Christ. Salvation to a Muslim is not a conversion or a regeneration but rather a return or a remembering. So they pray, not because they are saved, but in an effort to become saved. The best Muslim’s take very seriously praying at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk and bed time. Ramadan and fasting is a necessary part of pleasing their God and preparing for eternity. Almsgiving is also important, not because of the needs of others, but for their own need of salvation. And because salvation is something to be earned, no Muslim can be sure of eternity. That is why some of their cults magnify death while fighting for their God. For some, it is the only exception to the doubt about salvation. Muhammad, the greatest of all prophets, was not convinced that he was saved. In fact, insecurity is a virtue, because to be certain of one’s eternal destiny shows conceit. Their salvation is not of grace, but of debt. And thus Muslim’s live in fear and trepidation, not faith and tranquility.
But for the Bible believers salvation is ”by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Romans 3:19 – “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Muslims have a different view of salvation because their view of HUMANITY is not Biblical. Christians believe that every human being is a sinner before God – unholy, unrighteous. We believe that because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin has corrupted every soul and every cell. When a baby is born into this world, he is depraved in the sight of the Lord and spiritually dead. Christians know and believe that all those sinners need a Saviour – the Lord Jesus Christ. But Islam teaches that every baby is born a Muslim, and it is through their personal behavior that they turn to sin and to other religions. In this they are much like Catholics and nearly everyone else in the world.
Obviously, Christians have a very different view of the BIBLE. True saints of God believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. We believe that it can be read, and much of it can be understood, by the average child, because in it God speaks with the intention of revealing Himself to us. His message, for the most part, is not mystical or esoteric. He says what He means and means what He says. He wants us to know His will. Although teachers are helpful, especially in the more difficult passages, we believe that Christians, as priests of God, can hear the message of the Lord through the reading of His word.
But Muslims believe that the Bible is corrupt, only worthy of acceptance when it is confirmed by the Quran. In this again, they are much like Catholics, Mormons and so many others. If the local priest doesn’t concur with the scriptures, or if one of the other sacred books, of whatever religion, disagrees with the Bible then that scripture isn’t true. Muslims believe that the Quran has been guarded from corruption, but the Bible was not. They refuse to accept the fact that their scriptures have changed during the centuries.
And of course, Christians have a very different opinion of JESUS than do the Muslims. To us, Jesus was the “Christian” name of the Son of God, given to Him by those who raised him. It was given to Him by the command of God. The Son of God became incarnate, becoming the Christ, the Messiah and the Saviour. We believe that He is the Second Person of the God-head, of whom the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” We know and believe that Jesus Christ is God. The Lord Jesus in a debate with some Jewish unbelievers said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” 2 John 9 – “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:23 – “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” Christians worship Jehovah by reverencing and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ.
But Muslims believe that Jesus was a mere man who deserves respect, but not worship. They deny the Son’s participation in Creation. They do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ the way we do. They say that Jesus was created from dust, and then Allah said to him, “Be” and he was. They have no doubt that Jesus performed miracles as a prophet of God, but they deny His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension to Heaven as our High Priest. Without Christ’s vicarious sacrifice on the cross, Bible Christianity and Islam will never be reconciled.
As I said earlier, when we strip away the robes of Islam, what we find underneath is essentially what is found in any other world religion, including Catholicism and other Christian denominations and cults. At the Second Vatican council which ended in December 1965, the delegates approved a statement about Islam. It read – “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly evoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.” By this statement the Catholic church sets those hundreds of millions of Muslims into the category of “separated brethren.”
But is a recognition of Jesus as a prophet the same as trusting the sacrifice of Christ for salvation? Is prayer, fasting and alms-deeds the way to eternal life? For the Catholic, maybe so, but not for the Bible-believer.
Again I say, ultimately there is little difference between Catholicism and Islam. They both have hated and continue to hate the truth of God. They both have a history of persecuting true believers. And they both need the Redeemer – the Lord Jesus Christ.