About one third of the world population, 2.1 billion people, claims to be Christian. The major rival belief systems are: Buddhism, at #6 with 376 million and 6% of the world’s population; at #5, taking in about 400 million people is Chinese traditional religion—a blend of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism; Hinduism is #4 with 900 million adherents (14%); 1.1 billion (16%) are classified as non-religious (atheists, agnostics and secularists); Islam is the #2 most popular world religion with 1.5 billion adherents or 21% of the world population.
For most of our lives, many of us knew little and cared even less about Islam. Since 9/11, however, Islam has had a major impact on our lives, dominating daily national and international headlines.
People commonly consider the bulk of Islam’s population to originate in the Middle East, but the Arab population makes up only twenty-two percent of the Muslim world population. Sixty percent of Muslims are Asian. Twelve percent of Muslims come from Africa.
Five million Muslims make up 1.5% of the US population. The greatest concentrations are in Michigan, Illinois, New York and California. There are more Muslims than Methodists in Chicago. There are over 1400 mosques in the United States; the largest is in Dearborn, Michigan, with a capacity of three thousand. About 20,000 Americans accept Islam every year. Whereas the Christian holy day is Sunday and the Jews meet on the Sabbath or Saturday,Friday is the Muslim holy day. The imam is the Muslim pray leader in the mosque. The word Islam means “submission,” and the word Muslim means “slave.”
About 85% of Muslims are Sunni, and 15% are Shi’a. A very small minority of Muslims compose the other Islamic sects. The Sunni and Shi’a are divided over who succeeded Muhammad. The Sunni believe Muhammad’s close friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, took the reins after Muhammad’s death while the Shi’a believe Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, took over. The Shi’a population is concentrated primarily in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. The Sunni follow Abu Bakr and the Caliphs while the Shi’a follow Ali and the Imams who were thought to be sinless, semi-divine Imams who could perform miracles.
THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM
1) Confession of Faith: “There is no God, but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
2) Prayer: Preceded by elaborate cleansing rituals, Muslims pray a ritual prayer facing Mecca at five prescribed times a day.
3) Charitable giving: Muslim’s must give two percent of their gross income for the poor.
4) Fasting: Ritual fasting during month of Ramadan from dawn till dusk.
5) Pilgrimage (Hajj): Every healthy Muslim is expected to travel to the Kaaba in Mecca once in their life (Surah 22:27). Pilgrims must then walk seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction and mimic Muhammad in kissing the Black Stone seven times, once for each time they walk around it. Muslims insist, incidentally, that the black stone is not an object of worship.
6) Some Muslim scholars considered Jihad to be a sixth pillar of Islam. Jihad means struggle and nothing captivates the American mind about this religion more. Some Muslims take Jihad to be merely the purifying of Islam to a perfect state, but many others interpret this struggle to be a military conquest to convert the world to Islam.
Christians believe Islam is a false religion and that Mohammad is a false prophet. We do not want Islam to spread, but we do not believe in defeating Islam by burning mosques or the Qur’an. We overcome Islam by contrasting Jesus and Muhammad; the Bible and the Qur’an. More about the religion of Islam and its founder, Muhammad, after our song…
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in 570 AD in Mecca. His father died before his birth, and his mother died when he was six years old. Then, Muhammad went to live with his grandfather—the caretaker of the Ka’aba. Muhammad lost his grandfather during childhood also. He then went to live with his uncle, Abu Talib, the new caretaker of the Ka’aba.
The Ka’aba made Mecca sacred. The Ka’aba was a black cubical building that, according to Muslims, was built by Abraham and Ishmael after a great flood. In Muhammad’s day, the Arabs worshiped many other gods, the images of which were stored in the Ka’aba during his youth. Many Arabs came to trade at Mecca. While in Mecca, they went to the Ka’aba, walked around it seven times, kissing or touching the Black Stone built into the wall. While maintaining respect for the Ka’aba itself, Mohammad developed disdain for the worship of the many statues at the Ka’aba and for the businessmen who sold them.
After he conquered Mecca in 630 AD, Muhammad destroyed the idols housed within the Ka’aba and rededicated it as the most holy site of Islam and the direction Muslims must face when they pray. The black stone in the Ka’aba could not be destroyed and was made an Islamic holy artifact. Custom has it that the stone fell from heaven and was originally white, but turned black because of the sins of Muslims absorbed when touching it. The black stone has probably been touched more times by more people than any other object on the planet. In the twenty-first century alone, two million people every year, kissed or caressed it. This has been going on for thirteen centuries.
Mecca, the site of the Ka’aba, is considered so holy that no non-Muslims are even allowed in the city! The restriction actually extends out to a twelve mile radius away from the Ka’aba.
At age twelve, Muhammad traveled with his uncle’s caravan to Syria. Bahira, a monk from a Christian sect invited Muhammad and his uncle for dinner. Bahira, interviewed Muhammad with great interest, and, the story goes, Muhammad’s responses corresponded to “Bible” prophecies. When Bahira found a mark between Muhammad’s shoulders, he declared to Abu Talib, “Behold, this child is going to be the final prophet for our world. This is the stamp of prophethood. Don’t let the Jews hear about this or see this birthmark on his shoulder. If they find it, they will try to kill him.” There is, however, no historical evidence that this Nestorian sect was ever looking for another prophet.
When Khadija, a forty year old, four-time divorced caravan owner, and the wealthiest, most powerful woman in Mecca, discovered the character of the twenty-five year old Muhammad, she hired him as manager of one of her caravans to Syria. After his caravan returned with huge profits, she proposed marriage to him. Although both families initially disapproved, Khadija’s cousin, a notable religious leader in Mecca as pastor of a large Ebionite church, supported their marriage, persuaded the families of its merits and then performed the wedding ceremony. So, not only was Muhammad’s first wife likely a Christian-professing church member, but Muhammad had a Christian wedding of sorts. His wife’s pastor-cousin served as his mentor and taught him his version of “Christianity.” This background explains Muhammad’s monotheism. Meanwhile, Muhammad continued to go to the Ka’aba and walk in circles around the black stone.
For fifteen years, Muhammad frequented a local cave to pray— sometimes up to days at a time.
Then, in 610 AD, during what Muslims now call the month of Ramadan, Islamic historians report that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him to read. Muhammad tried to excuse himself saying he could not read. But, Gabriel supposedly repeated this command three times and issued forth the first verses of the Qur’an (sometimes spelled Quran or Koran) to be revealed— Surah 96:1-3.
After the vision, according to Islamic belief, Muhammad retreated to the safety and comfort of his wife’s support, telling her the frightful experience made his heart tremble and his neck muscles twitch. He added, “Oh Khadija, what is wrong with me? What has happened to me?” His wife, Khadija, enlisted her cousin’s aid in consoling him. The cousin exclaimed, “I swear this is the great sign that came to Moses, and Muhammad is the prophet of this Arabic nation. Stand and be strong.” The next day, the Ebionite pastor “laid hands on him” and pledged his support to the death—only to die, himself, a few days later.
Meanwhile, after spending weeks in his cave seeking revelations, Muhammad, according to Islam, heard a voice and saw a vision of Gabriel sitting on a throne in the open atmosphere. (By the way, the angel Gabriel is the wrong one to be on a throne. That’s for God only!) After this vision of Gabriel, Muhammad claimed to receive regular revelations. He dictated the words of Gabriel, supposedly, to various companions as the “word of God” which would form the Qur’an. This reminds the Bible student of the Holy Spirit’s warning from Galatians 1:6-8, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
As we will notice later, Islam is not an independent religious system like Hinduism or Buddhism, but is, to a great extent, a perversion of the gospel of Christ.
Muhammad’s following grew very slowly at first. Only a few dozen friends and family were converted in the early years and the group kept a low profile. After three years, according to Muhammad, Gabriel told him to be more assertive. This led to what Islam calls, “The Year of Hunger.” The people of Mecca rejected Muhammad, harassing him and his followers and eventually carrying out a city-wide business boycott that left Muhammad and his band of Muslims to eat leaves and animal dung in a desert valley outside Mecca. They would have starved to death were it not for sympathizers who slipped in stealthily to bring them food. Eventually, the people of Mecca relented.
Muhammad kept preaching against Mecca’s idolatry, commanding them to accept Allah as the One True God and Muhammad as Allah’s prophet. When the people asked for a sign, he pointed to the Qur’an. Only a few people were convinced, so Muhammad formed an alliance with warring tribes from Medina to protect him from his enemies.
After dismal results from ten years of preaching, Muhammad, in 623 AD at age 53, claims to have received a revelation to flee to Medina (Muslims call this the hegira) where Muhammad received another revelation for holy war (jihad) – to fight against anyone who rejected Islam! This marks the first year of the Islamic calendar (AH 1 – after hegira). Then, the tide began to change for Islam. Successful attacks against caravans from Mecca crippled the Meccan economy, and Muhammad began to gain the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Medina, except for its Jews, began to follow Muhammad. The Jews said they were looking for a prophet who was a descendent of David, and Muhammad’s only sign, the Qur’an, did not impress. After debating with the Jews for three years, he ordered the assassination of prominent Jews who rejected and ridiculed his movement, eventually running all the Jews out of Medina.
About this time, after 25 years of marriage, Khadija, his first wife, died. He later married twelve other women. After solidifying his power for eight years in Medina, Muhammad accumulated an army of ten thousand soldiers. Although Muhammad declares originally in the Qur’an that he is only a “plain warner,” he later became a great advocate of violence. Muhammad backed it up: By 629 AD, he had taken Mecca, and by the time of his death in 632 AD, he had conquered the Arabian Peninsula.
So, let’s pause, reflect and compare some of what we know about Jesus and Muhammad—the leaders of the world’s two largest religions. The Qur’an speaks of Muhammad as a model for all men. Surah 68:4 says of Muhammad, “You are blessed with a great moral character.” Earlier, Surah 33:21 asserts concerning the Islamic founder, “The messenger of GOD has set up a good example for those among you who seek GOD and the Last Day…”
At the same time, the New Testament presents Jesus as a model for godly living as well. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” Would we have a better world, if everyone followed the example of Jesus, or Muhammad? Which man looks like the greatest messenger sent from God?
Whereas there was nothing unusual about Muhammad’s birth, Jesus’ birth was a great miracle in fulfillment of a prophecy seven centuries earlier in Isaiah7:14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” We read in Matthew 1:22-25, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”
While Muhammad was recognized as a prophet by a mark between his shoulders at age twelve, Jesus was noted—at the same age—for his mature discussions with Jewish rabbis. We read in Luke 2:46-47, “Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Keep in mind, contrary to Qur’anic contentions, that no known biblical manuscript preserves any prophecy about Muhammad—much less a prophecy about a mark between the shoulders.
Both Jesus and Muhammad started out peacefully promoting their convictions. Jesus never strayed from that path even when His own life was threatened, but when Muhammad’s peaceful program failed, he claims to have received a new revelation saying he should go on the war path. Jesus confidently received his mission from the Father, while Muhammad was terrified by the supposed appearance of the angel Gabriel. Jesus began his earthly ministry by being tempted by the devil (Luke 4). After that he went to the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up, and read a prophecy about himself, as recorded in Luke 4:16-19, and stood, said boldly, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
While the only sign Muhammad offered was the Qur’an, Jesus performed many miracles, impressed the masses with his teaching, and refuted the erroneous teaching of the Jewish elite. Jesus never married, living a celibate life. Jesus taught that God’s original plan for marriage revealed in Genesis was that “Two become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6).
In contrast, Muhammad had thirteen wives. He first married a wealthy woman who was four times divorced. Later, Muhammad married the nine year old daughter of a loyal follower. Hauntingly like Joseph Smith of Mormon fame, Muhammad taught that men could have plural wives, but not more than four at a time (Surah 4:3). After revealing no man could marry his own daughter-in-law, he received, supposedly, a special revelation that allowed him to take the wife of his adopted son (Qur’an 33:37). Later, Muhammad had another convenient revelation that he could have MORE than four wives; he had twelve wives when he died (Surah 33:50-51).
We noticed earlier that the most holy site of Islam is the Ka’aba and the black stone in it. Meanwhile, the most holy place on earth for the Christian is the worship assembly and the observance of the Lord’s Supper, in particular. The Lord’s Supper is only for Christians, but, unlike the ban that keeps non-Muslims twelve miles from the Ka’aba, non-Christians are always welcome at the house of the Lord.
You can’t take both Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus teaches in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”