In the wake of world developments surrounding the fastest growing religion today, Islam, it might benefit us to understand some major issues concerning Islam. The first thing we should come to grips with is its beginnings, its founder and the relationship with the world then and today.
What was Muhammad’s worldview compared to Judaism and Christianity at the time? Where did Muhammad get his information about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the Bible (the Koran’s account greatly differs from the Bible)? What are the grounds for the Muslim belief that Jesus is only a prophet and not the Messiah who gave himself as a living sacrifice for all mankind (Isaiah 53:4-7; Romans 5:8-11)? Many have developed stereotypical responses to Islam. Islam has been expanding as a world religion since it was created in the 7th century. Some believe that all Arabs, Iranians, Iraqi’s, Syrians, Moroccans and most Middle Eastern countries, or those in the 10/40 window, are Islamic. This is not completely true.
Although Islam dominates those countries, millions in those countries are Christians. Some live in the countries listed. Truthfully, Muslims persecute Christians; Christians do not persecute Muslims. Some want to count the Crusades as Christian persecution against Islam. However persecution is a greater or more dominant force denying freedom or oppressing a lesser or weaker force. Persecution is Nazi Germany against the Jews. The Crusades ended with Islam’s success and tremendous expansion through the edge of the sword. The Crusades began in the 11th century and lasted almost 200 years. The Roman Catholic papacy (not Christianity) attempted to coordinate aggressive action against the aggressive Islamic military expansion in the Middle East. Ultimately Islam not only prevailed over the Catholic Church, it dominated until it met the Francs in 732 during the battle of Tours.
We need to go further back than the 7th century to discover Islam’s beginnings. Muhammad was born in Mecca around A.D. 570. He was born into a poor family. At age 25 he married a wealthy widow. He worked as her caravan agent trading with Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel. He increased his strength and with it security. This permitted him more leisure time. He began spending as much as 30 days a year wrapped in a blanket in a cave chanting “Allah.” During one of these periods of meditation, an angel visited him. The Christian Bible warns against such things in Galatians 1:6-9, written almost 700 years before. Some records indicate Muhammad was depressed, frightened fearing he had fallen under the influence of an evil spirit. Apparently, he even contemplated suicide. Adam and Eve felt this fear when they sinned (Genesis 3:8).
Muhammad became a leader among merchants and traders. His work gained him notoriety and status among tribal leaders in Mecca. Government consisted of family dominant tribal alliances with mystic and spiritual as well as agricultural orientations. Many tribes were polytheistic believing gods existed in animals and plant life.
About 20 years before Muhammad conducted the successful military coup in Mecca, he preached a religion of morality there. Tribes in Mecca accused Muhammad of “peddling information from the Jews and Christians.”[i] The leading tribes in Mecca forced Muhammad to flee. He went about 200 miles north to Medina. This is considered the year of the Hegira on the Islamic calendar.
In the 7th century, security was maintained through military strength and with it Muhammad could achieve his personal objectives. Mecca is where Muhammad wanted to begin his religion. However, he was forced to begin in Medina. There he gathered strength. He returned to Mecca, achieved military victory and made Mecca the central place of pilgrimage. Evidence of the centrality of Muhammad in Islam is that he is esteemed as many as five times each day by millions of Muslims in the Shahada, their daily prayers.
In order to appease the Jews in the beginning years of Islam, Muhammad actually offered to direct prayer to Jerusalem on Friday to begin the Sabbath day. Israel did not accept this olive branch of peace. They received no other peaceful outreach even to this day. Muhammad then turned all prayer to Mecca, and changed the Day of Atonement observance to what we now know as Ramadan, a 30-day observance. Muhammad made Abraham the patriarch of Islam. They considered him the father of all Arabs and Ishmael, Abraham’s illegitimate son, the top of the Muslim tree of life. To Islam, their connection back to Adam is through Ishmael. Ishmael was Hagar’s son. Hagar was an Egyptian not an Israelite and was Sarah’s handmaiden. She was not married to Abraham.
Muhammad initiated umma, a system based in community oneness. He invited all to become part of the umma. Israel and many others rejected this invitation. Umma is based on religious affiliation not tribal blood kinship. Muhammad proposed eliminating family patriarchies as well as all religions except Islam. His constitution recognized god and Muhammad as those in control of the umma. Unbelievers and idolaters were enemies of the community and were eliminated or assimilated. Muhammad made peace with some, war with others and collected taxes from all whether cooperatively or by force.
What was Islam’s relationship with Judaism and Christianity and the difference in worldview? Islam began as one man sought power and prominence economically by using religion as a means to an end. Greater world power, dominance, influence and control are the centerpieces of Islam. Judaism and Christianity began as directed personally by God purely to glorify God. World dominance has never been at their root. Though some might contend it is difficult to argue for Judaism, Christianity is a religion of love and peace. Muhammad sought prominence through a theocracy he derived by taking pieces of Christianity, Judaism and the Persian Empire (Zoroastrians) in the east and molding them into an eclectic religion. Judaism and Christianity personally benefit no one man. Muhammad first attempted to assuage Judaism by mimicking customs. When diplomatic attempts failed to achieve dominance, he employed the edge of the sword. Jesus in Christianity never supports world dominance by dictatorship or violence. Muhammad made no further attempts at diplomacy. Islam chose to take up the sword and began the oppressive campaign that has defined Islam for more than eight centuries and provides for much of the stereotypical response of today.
[i] George W. Braswell, Islam, Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, (Broadman&Holman, 1996), page 14.