HISTORY: In the year 610, the first of many revelations came to Muhammad from God by way of the angel Gabriel. The message Muhammad received told him that there was but one God, not many gods, as most Arabs believed. This God was creator of the world, and He would one day judge mankind. This was no novel message: Judaism and Christianity were already spreading the idea of one God.

Muhammad saw his task, therefore, not as something new, but as a continuation and conclusion. He was the last in a succession of prophets stretching from Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, to Jesus who proclaimed the oneness of God, or Allah.

The revelations that Muhammad received were collected into a new book, the Koran, directing his followers in what to believe and how to live.

BELIEFS: Islam teaches that there is one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. Mankind is regarded as the crown of creation, entrusted by God with management of the whole created order. Yet humanity is also seen as weak and prone to disbelief in God and to disobedience to His will.

Humanity's weakness is pride: It does not realize its limitations and views itself as self-sufficient. To compensate for this frailty, God has sent prophets to communicate His will. These prophets, all mortal men, were elected messengers to whom God spoke through an angel or by inspiration.

The life of each Muslim is always within the community of the faithful: All are declared to be "brothers to each other," with the mission to "enjoin good and forbid evil." Within the community, Muslims are expected to establish social and economic justice. They are also expected to carry their message out to the rest of the world.

In the early Islamic community, this meant the use of force in the form of jihad, or holy war. The intent was not to force conversion on anyone; this was forbidden by the Koran. The object of jihad was to gain political control over societies and run them in accordance with the principles of Islam.

During the decades following the death of Muhammad certain essential principles were singled out from his teachings to serve as anchoring points for the Islamic community. These have come to be called the five pillars of Islam. The five pillars are the basic creed, prayer, pilgrimage (or hajj), fasting, and the zakat (or charitable contribution).

Basic creed: The first pillar is profession of faith. "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah" is the core assertion upon which membership in the community depends.

DIVISIONS: The major divisions in the history of Islam arose over questions of leadership of the Muslim community, called the caliphate, not over issues of doctrine. Only later did there emerge sects based on divergent emphases in doctrine and practice. Yet all have continued to recognize each other as Muslims on the basis of allegiance to Allah.

The seeds of division were sown early. Muhammad's death left the community without a commonly accepted leader, or caliph (from khalifah, meaning both "successor" and "deputy"). The leadership crisis was compounded by the fact that it came at a turbulent time, when Muslim armies were already beginning the century of conquests that would create a vast new empire.

The first three caliphs, Abu Bakr (Muhammad's father-in-law), 'Umar, and 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, had all been close companions of the Prophet. 'Uthman was a member of the important and wealthy Umayyad clan at Mecca and a son-in-law of Muhammad. His murder in 656 led to his replacement by another son-in-law of the Prophet, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and to a civil war among Muslim factions. His murder in 661 again opened the question of whose right it was to be caliph. It also was the occasion of the first and only major division in Islam between the Sunnites and the Shi'ites, the latter the followers of 'Ali.

Sunnah: The term means "well-trodden path." This branch of Islam, to which the Sunnites, the great majority of Muslims belong, was defined in the decades of the earliest schisms.

The conflicts over leadership, belief, and practice enabled the Sunnites to develop what they believed to be correct religious positions, based on the Koran and the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet and in reaction to what they regarded as sectarian points of view. Sunnah regards itself as orthodox Islam, representing the consensus of the Islamic community against wayward positions.

While condemning schisms and sects, the Sunnites also developed the contrasting trend of toleration in order to embrace the widest range of views that could be accepted as orthodox, in accordance with Muhammad's statement on the virtue of diversity. This toleration made it possible for diverse sects and schools of thought to coexist within the larger community of Islam.

No group would be excluded unless it specifically renounced Allah and Muhammad. This toleration was the answer of Sunnah to those who were trying to narrow the concept of Islam according to the use of selective passages in the Koran or the hadith.

Shi'ite: After the murder of 'Ali, his followers, called the Shi'ites, demanded that the rule of the community be restored to the family of 'Ali. By his marriage to Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, he was a kinsman of the Prophet; and the Shi'ites claimed the divine right of the family of Muhammad to rule.

In the course of its history, Shi'ite developed some distinctive doctrines and a number of sects. Probably out of its reverence for 'Ali, it came to regard the community leader, the imam, as an infallible being who alone knew the hidden and true meaning of the Koranic revelations.

Orthodox Shi'ites recognize 12 imams in their history, the last of whom (named Muhammad) disappeared in the 9th century. Orthodox Shi'ites believe that the 12th imam will return near the end of time to inaugurate a reign of truth and justice (See Baha'i). Until he returns, all law and doctrine are interpreted by scholars called mujtahids.

Since the divine knowledge was mediated through the infallible teachings of an imam, the Shi'ites believed (in contrast to the Sunnites) that all knowledge derived from fallible, human sources was useless. It was not what the community thought, but what the imam proclaimed that counted. This narrowed the scope for toleration of divergent views.

What do we as Christians say to a Muslim? We know that one out of every five persons on the earth is a Muslim. They are diametrically opposed to Christianity's most central belief--that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead. Historically and theologically, many Muslims have been committed to the annihilation of unbelievers which includes us.

To the Muslim, our belief in the Trinity is blasphemy. Muslims believe the Christian Gospels only to a point. They believe that the Gospels have been corrupted and changed through the centuries. We can answer these allegations by referring to our study on the reliability of the New Testament.

Muslims believe that Jesus was only a man (not God), was born of a virgin, was sinless, was a prophet, and others. We can show Muslims that if Jesus isn't God, then He lied in what He said in the Gospels. And lying is a sin, but, the Muslims say that Jesus was sinless. So they're in a real dilemma here. We must emphasize to Muslims that the Jesus of the New Testament claimed to be God, not just a prophet. That is why He was crucified.

To Muslims, the Islamic God is very remote, very transcendent. He is not immanent; he's not personally involved with his creatures. Yet, the Muslims believe that King David wrote the Psalms. Reading from Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quite waters. He restores my soul.....". These are the words of a very caring and loving God not an impersonal God. Jesus wants all to have a personal relationship with Him.






A singular unity. No Partner is to be associated with God.

A compound or complex unity---one in essence, three in person.


Good by nature.

Sinful by nature.


Sin is thought of in terms of rejecting right guidance. It can be forgiven through repentance. No atonement is necessary.

Sin is serious in that it is spoken of as causing spiritual death (Ro 6:23; Eph 2:1). It is serious because it reflects an attitude of moral rebellion against the holy God which causes us to become alienated from Him. An atonement is necessary before our relationship with God can be restored.


The standard for salvation is having one's good deeds outweigh one's bad deeds. Therefore, it is based on human effort.

The standard for salvation is the absolute holiness of God (Matt 5:48). Therefore it can only be offered as a gift by God, based on His grace and Jesus' atoning work, and it can be received through faith. Salvation cannot be earned.


One of the major prophets. To associate Jesus with God is blasphemy. Muslims affirm the virgin birth of Jesus and the miracles that He performed.

The one and only Son of God. John wrote, "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. (1John 2:22)


According to the Islamic tradition, Jesus did not die on the cross. Instead, He ascended to heaven, and Judas died in His place on the cross. Muslims believe that it is disrespectful to believe that God would allow one of His prophets and especially one of the most honored of the prophets to be crucified.

Jesus died a physical death and gave His life as the substitutionary atonement for our sins. He then rose from the dead in a physical but immortal body and appeared to hundreds of witnesses. The end was not of dishonor but that of highest exaltation


Corrupted. Abrogated by the Koran

Authentic. Divinely inspired. The final authority in all matters of faith and truth.

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