Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance is expected be tested at the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Purnama (Ahok). Blasphemy is speaking irreverently of God or sacred things. Apparently Ahok told voters that they were being misled by Islamic clerics who said Muslims were not permitted to vote for a Christian. This remark sparked inaccurate reports that Ahok had criticized the Koran, not the clerics. Mass protests followed as conservative Muslims campaigned for Ahok’s jailing. Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Indonesia and punishable by up to five years in prison.
(Postscript: In May 2017, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. The sentence was harsher than what prosecutors had asked for – two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared him prison time. Ahok’s conviction and imprisonment reignited fears that the country’s secular government could be hijacked by Islamic extremists).
It is estimated that about 25% of the world’s population is Muslim. This increases to over 90% in the Middle East and North Africa. The Islamic faith is monotheistic like Judaism and Christianity. But do Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians?
True or false?
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.
The Jesus test
This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?
The gospel test
The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).
The fruit test
Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?
I have previously summarized Islam and Islamic prayer. These tests will now be used to assess the Islamic faith.
Testing the Islamic faith
The Jesus test
Jesus is mentioned in 93 verses of the Quran. But what do Muslims believe about Jesus Christ? See Appendix A: “What Muslims think about Jesus?” In summary, they believe that:
– Jesus was a Muslim prophet.
– He had a miraculous birth.
– He performed many miracles.
– He wasn’t crucified or resurrected.
– He wasn’t God or the son of God.
– He announced the coming of Muhammad.
– He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.
Islam clearly fails the Jesus test. The Islamic Jesus is different to the Biblical Jesus. The main shortcomings are a failure to acknowledge Christ’s divinity and His sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection. This means that Muslims reject the climatic part of the Bible when God solves the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. He does this by sending His only Son Jesus to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.
The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews rejected Jesus as a prophet, while the Christians considered Him to be the Son of God and worship Him as such. The Islamic claim that Jesus was not executed by crucifixion is without any historical support. One of the things that all the early sources agree on is Jesus’ crucifixion.
But is Allah like God the Father? They are similar in being omnipotent, omniscient, creator, and sustainer. But there is a major difference: Allah didn’t send Jesus to die for our sins. So Allah isn’t the God of the Bible.
The gospel test
The Quran mentions Paradise and Hell as future destinies for humanity. But how do Muslims believe one gets to Paradise instead of Hell? See Appendix B: “What Muslims think about Salvation” In summary, they believe that:
– Allah sent prophets to show us the right way of living.
– Salvation is possible through belief/faith in Allah and good works, including keeping the five acts of worship (pillars of Islam).
– The essential belief/faith is that “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”.
– On the day of judgment, if a Muslim’s good works outweigh their bad ones and if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter into Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and a Muslim’s good works.
This is different to what Christians believe about salvation. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Islam teaches that faith in Allah alone is not enough for salvation. It is a religion of salvation by works because it combines a Muslim’s works with Allah’s grace/mercy.
Christ’s substitutionary death is the core of a Christian’s salvation. But Muslims deny that Jesus came to this earth with the purpose of sacrificing himself for the sin of humanity, freeing them from its burden.
A Muslim’s salvation is never guaranteed. There is no assurance of going to Paradise, regardless of how devout they may be. They must do good works and hope that at judgment day Allah will grant favor. By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).
It would seem the Islamic system of salvation is more a reward than grace. Faith in God alone saves a Christian (Rom. 5:17, 19), but faith in Allah alone isn’t sufficient to save a Muslim. The problem with being saved by God’s grace and human works is that human works are never sufficient to please God. God is infinite and holy. How can we finite sinners ever hope to please God by our deeds? By the way, works do have a place in the life of a Christian, but only as evidence of a pre-existing faith (Jas 2:18).
Islam is also different to Judaism where the death of a sacrificial animal dealt with one’s sin. And one of the characteristics of God was a Redeemer who delivered and rescued His people from Egypt. There are no substitutionary sacrifices or redeemers in the Islamic faith.
So, Islam fails the gospel test.
The fruit test
It’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively. I have just visited Morocco and France. Cultural and religious pressure makes it difficult to be Christians in these countries. About 1% of the people in Morocco are Christians and most of these are foreigners. And less than 1% of the French are evangelical Christians.
There seems to be a lack of religious freedom in Morocco. I was unable to find a Christian church anywhere near where I was staying in Casablanca (a city of about 4 million people). Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a substantial fine. And Moroccan Christians have to meet secretly in houses. They are not free to worship at a Christian church. Whereas in Lyon (a city of 500,000) there were several evangelical churches nearby. Also, although some Moroccan stores had Christmas decorations, there were no depictions of the nativity. There is no freedom for Moroccan Christians to practice their faith in Morocco or to organize a Christian celebration. Yet in Australia (where ~2% are Moslem), all Muslims are free to worship at an Islamic mosque.
There also seems to be a lack of individual freedom and joy in Islam. It’s a demanding religion that doesn’t tolerate independent thinking or probing questions,which is supported by the prohibition on translating the Quran into other languages. There are many man-made rules created by Muslim imams (who lead Sunni Moslems in prayer) for circumstances that aren’t mentioned in the Quran, which can result in legalism and coercion. In contrast, the word “joy” appears frequently in the Old and New Testaments.
Islam also makes a habit of demanding and complaining in order to insist that others view the world in the way that they do. The blasphemy trial of the Christian Governor in Indonesia is an example of this. In 2011, all Islamic nations had criminal laws on blasphemy. And thousands of people in these nations have been arrested and punished for blasphemy of Islam. In some Muslim countries Christians live in fear because of what a careless word or a false accusation might lead to. Is blasphemy a criminal offense in any non-Moslem country? Have any blasphemy trials been held recently in these countries? Have you ever heard of Christians trialing those who criticize Jesus or the Bible for blasphemy?
What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Islamic faith encourages?
Results of the tests
So the Islamic faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
Islam regards itself, not as a subsequent faith to Judaism and Christianity, but as the primordial religion. They believe that the Biblical prophets were all Muslims. They also believe that in the generations after Jesus’ departure from this world, his teachings were distorted and he was elevated to the status of God. Six centuries later, with the coming of Prophet Muhammad, the truth about Jesus Christ was finally retold and preserved eternally in the last book of divine revelation, the Quran. Furthermore, many of the laws of Moses, which Jesus followed, were revived in their pure and unadulterated form and implemented in the divinely prescribed way of life known as Islam.
The Biblical narratives are rich with historical details, many confirmed by archaeology. They cover more than a thousand years, and reveal a long process of technological and cultural development. In contrast the Quran’s sacred history is devoid of archaeological support. Its fragmentary and disjointed stories offer no authentic reflection of historical cultures. No place name from ancient Israel is mentioned, not even Jerusalem. Many of the supposed historical events reported in the Quran have no independent verification. And many Quranic stories can be traced to Jewish and Christian folktales and other apocryphal literature.
There is a fundamental difference between Christian attitudes to the Jewish scriptures and Islamic attitudes to the Bible. Christians accept the Hebrew scriptures as authentic. They were the scriptures of Jesus the apostles and the early church. In contrast Islam’s treatment of the Bible is one of complete disregard. Although it purports to ‘verify’ all earlier prophetic revelation, the Quran is oblivious to the real contents of the Bible. The claim that Christians and Jews deliberately corrupted their scriptures is made without evidence, and this only serves to cover up the Quran’s historical inadequacies.
Islam is characterized by many laws and salvation through good works. In this aspect, it is like the Old Testament. It’s like an Arabic version of the Old Testament that also mentions Jesus. But the new covenant (of Christianity) is superior to the old ones (the laws of Moses and the laws of Islam).
So Islam is a retrograde religion. It’s like the false teachers at Galatia who were putting Christians back under the law of Moses. In the book of Galatians Paul opposed these false teachers and stressed that good works are not a condition of salvation, but a fruit of it. The false teachers were zealous because they wanted a following and they enslaved people with rules and regulations (Gal. 4:17-31). Islam is like Ishmael who was born into slavery. But Jesus can set us free from the need to slavishly following such rules and regulations (Gal. 5:1).
Some Muslims are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is the teaching of Muhammad and the Quran, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Muslims are “trusting in deceptive words” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets was that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Islamic prayer. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement. In Islam’s case, the deceptive words were spoken by Muhammad who was a false prophet. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Muhammad, Muslims follow the “other god” of Allah.
Muslims also claim that Christians believe in three Gods: Father God, mother Mary, and son Jesus. And they say the trinity is polytheistic. This isn’t true. Mary wasn’t divine. And the Bible says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God. So, Christianity is monotheistic.
We have tested Islam against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Appendix A: What Muslims think about Jesus
According to Islamic tradition, the main Muslim prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus was a precursor to Muhammad. Jesus announced the coming of Muhammad. They claim this is also mentioned in the New Testament – “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16-17).
Jesus was one of the greatest messengers (prophets) to humanity. He was created miraculously like Adam with no parents. His mother was a virgin named Mary (but this doesn’t mean that he was the son of God). He performed many miracles. He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.
Jesus wasn’t crucified. For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed. Jesus wasn’t resurrected – it was spiritual, not physical. The Quran says that the original biblical message has been distorted or corrupted over time.
Jesus is not divine. He’s not God or the son of God. The miracles of Jesus and the Quranic titles attributed to Jesus demonstrate the power of Allah rather than the divinity of Jesus—the same power behind the message of all prophets.
Islam regards all prophets, including Jesus, to be mortal human beings who were righteous messengers of Allah. They view Muhammad as the perfect man, not Jesus.
Appendix B What Muslims think about Salvation
Salvation is defined to be the saving and deliverance of people from sin and its consequences. It’s difficult to determine what Muslims think about salvation, because individual statements don’t always cover all the general beliefs that are held on this topic. The following is compiled from a range of sources.
The core belief of Islam is: “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”. Allah gave this teaching to Muhammad. In this way, he showed Muslims how to live. This belief is an essential part of the Islamic faith.
The Quran teaches the necessity of both belief/faith in Allah and good works for salvation. The good works include doing honorable deeds plus keeping the five “pillars” of Islam: witness (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), ritual prayers five times daily, giving money to charity, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against their bad deeds. Salvation is achieved by having more “good” deeds on account than “bad” ones, thus hoping to win Allah’s favor. And if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and the Muslim’s good works.
Islam teaches that on the Day of Judgment every person will be resurrected and will be accountable to God for their every word and deed. Consequently, a practicing Muslim is always striving to be righteous while hoping and praying for Allah’s acceptance and grace. Salvation is only through belief and practice.
Islam stresses the notion that God can forgive all sins, if a person truly repents and then refrains from repeating it. God does not need any blood sacrifice for that, let alone descend in the form of man himself and die for everyone’s sins (like Christians believe). Rather, God’s mercy extends to all creatures, believers and disbelievers alike.
Written, December 2016
Also see: Basic Islam
Recognizing false teachers
Prayer is a major part of Islamic life. The call to prayer is broadcast five times daily from mosques. But how do they pray and what do they say? To minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Islamic websites.
Muslims are required to pray formally five times a day, as follows:
- About mid-day: when the sun is highest in the sky.
- About mid-afternoon: when the shadow of an object is the same length as the object itself, plus the shadow length at the mid-day prayer time.
- Nightfall: when the sun’s light is gone from the western sky.
Since these times are based on the position of the sun in the sky, the prayer times change slightly from day to day. At each of these times there is a “Call to prayer” to remind people of the need to pray. The prayer should be offered before the next call to prayer.
Besides this formal prayer, Muslims can offer voluntary prayers before or after the obligatory prayers as well as at other times.
Call to prayer
Historically, the mosque minaret was used as a tall platform from which to call Muslims to prayer and to announce the central tenant of the Islamic faith to non-believers. Today, however, the call to prayer is typically recited into a microphone and transmitted through loudspeakers installed on the minaret. This allows the call to prayer to be heard at great distances without climbing the minaret.
The call of the announcer is considered an art form, reflected in the melodious chanting of the call to prayer. However, some people don’t think it’s melodious! In Turkey, there is an annual competition to find the country’s best announcer.
Here’s a translation into English of the Arabic “Call to prayer”.
Allah (God) is the greatest, Allah is the greatest
Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest
I testify that there is no God but Allah
I testify that there is no God but Allah
I testify that Muhammad is God’s Prophet
I testify that Muhammad is God’s Prophet
Come to prayer, Come to prayer
Come to salvation, Come to salvation
Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest,
There is no God but Allah
Another line is often added to the first prayer of the morning (dawn):
Prayer is better than sleep
Prayer is better than sleep
How to pray
Muslims can pray together at a mosque or elsewhere alone. It’s compulsory for men to attend the Friday afternoon prayer in a congregation. Most prayers will take between 5-10 minutes. This can be influenced a lot by which chapters you choose to recite from the Quran. So formal prayer can take about 25-50 minutes per day. Here’s how Muslims pray formally to Allah.
In this ritual, the words are set in Arabic (no matter what the person’s native tongue) and there is a series of set movements that go with the words of the prayer. Each movement is always preceded by the phrase “God is Most Great”. All Muslims are to pray these prayers in Arabic, even if they don’t understand the language; the Arabic words have been translated into English below.
Muslims must be ritually clean before they pray and pray in a ritually clean location. They make sure of this by ritual washing of the parts of the body that are generally exposed to dirt and grime – mosques have washing facilities for this.
The prayer generally follows this sequence.
- Standing facing Mecca, raise hands up to your ears and say “Allah is Most Great”.
Standing with hands folded over chest, say
“O Allah, how perfect You are and praise be to You. Blessed is Your name, and exalted is Your majesty. There is no god but You”.
“I seek shelter in Allah from the rejected Satan”.
“In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful”.
- Standing with hands folded over chest, recite the first chapter of the Quran (if this is the second cycle of the prayer, recite another short portion of the Quran):
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee (alone) we worship and Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight path. The path of those whom Thou hast favored; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray” (1:1-1:7)
Then recite any other verses of the Quran that you would like. For example,
Say: He is Allah, the One! Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him” (112:1-112:4).
- Raise hands up, saying:
“Allah is Most Great”
Bow with hands on knees, saying.
“Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty
Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty
Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty”
- Rise to standing while reciting “Allah hears those who call upon Him;
Our Lord, praise be to You”
- Raise hands up, saying “Allah is Most Great”. Prostrate on the ground, reciting
“Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
Glory be to my Lord, the Most High”
- Rise to a sitting position, saying “Allah is Most Great”.
“O my Lord, forgive me, have mercy on me, fulfill my needs, raise me, provide for me, guide me, and protect me from sickness”.
Say, “Allah is Most Great”.
- Prostrate again in the same manner, saying:
“Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
Glory be to my Lord, the Most High
Glory be to my Lord, the Most High”.
- Rise to a standing position, saying “Allah is Most Great”.
- This concludes one cycle (or unit) of prayer. Begin again from Step 2 for the second cycle. Each prayer is 2-4 cycles: 2 at dawn, 4 at noon, 4 at mid-afternoon, 3 at sunset, and 4 at nightfall.
- After two cycles and the last cycle, remain sitting after the prostrations and say,
“Salutations to Allah and prayers and good deeds. Peace be upon you, O Prophet (Muhammad), and the mercy of Allah and his blessings. Peace be on us and on the righteous servants of Allah. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger”.
Then repeat the declaration of faith, raising the forefinger of the right hand, to act as a witness.
- If the prayer is to be longer than these two cycles, stand up and begin again to complete the prayer, sitting again after all cycles have been completed.
- When the last cycle has been completed, say.
“O Allah, let Your Peace come upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, as you have brought peace to Abraham and his family. Truly, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious. Allah, bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, as you have blessed Abraham and his family. Truly, You are Praiseworthy and Glorious”.
Finally, Muslims ask for forgiveness and mercy, and ask God to bless them and their children until the Day of Judgement:
“O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the torment of the Hellfire, from the torment of the grave, from the trials and afflictions of life and death, and from the deception of the False-Christ. O my Lord! Grant me and my parents forgiveness, and bestow Your mercy upon them, just as they brought me up when I was small”.
- Turn to the right (toward the angel recording your good deeds) and say, “Peace be upon you and Allah’s blessings”.
- Turn to the left (toward the angel recording your wrongful deeds) and repeat the greeting. This concludes the formal prayer.
We have seen that a Muslim is to be involved in formal prayer for about 25-50 minutes each day. And these prayers are spread across five periods of the day. Each prayer has a set sequence of body movements and Arabic words. The “call to prayer” includes a summary of the Islamic faith – that Allah is the only God and that Mohammad is His prophet.
Muslims pray this formal prayer 35 times per week, 150 times per month and 1,825 times per year. As prayer is only one of the five main practices of Islam, this shows that it takes dedication to be a practicing Muslim.
Written, December 2016
Also see: Basic Islam
When you are woken before sunrise by the “Call to prayer” blaring from the local mosque, you are in an Islamic country. As I’m spending five weeks in Morocco, I’ve decided to investigate some aspects of the Muslim faith. In order to minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Islamic websites.
“Islam” is the name of a religion founded by Muhammad, which worships one God (“Allah” in Arabic). The word “Islam” means “submission to the will of God”. But it is also applied to works of art, organizations, and other cultural things.
The adherents of Islam are called “Muslims”. They follow the teachings of the Koran and believe that God revealed these teachings to the prophet Muhammad. The Quran (or Koran) is Islam’s holiest book, which Muslims believe are the commandments of God. It has 114 chapters whose 6,236 verses are said to have been revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
In the sixth century AD Arabia was polytheistic. Each Arabic tribe worshipped various gods and goddesses. Nearby the Christian Byzantine Empire controlled the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and the Zoroastrian Persian Empire controlled the lands north-east of the Persian Gulf.
Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in 570 AD. At age 40 Muhammad had his first vision in the year 610 AD. His wife’s uncle said he was a prophet. Muhammad proclaimed Allah as the one true God and rejected the polytheistic idol worship of Mecca. There was warfare between Arabic tribes that believed he was a prophet and those who rejected this claim. In 630 AD Mecca submitted to Muhammad and his warriors and accepted him as a prophet. Muhammad died in 632 AD. It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad, as an Arab, is descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael.
After the death of Muhammad, Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula (634 AD) and captured Jerusalem in 637 AD. Following this Islam spread across the Middle East, the Mediterranean lands and into Africa and India (711 AD). Islam continued to spread into Asia (1120 AD). In the 15th century AD after defeating the Byzantine Empire, Islamic armies invaded Europe and established the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had declined. The decision to back Germany in World War I meant that the Empire shared its defeat in that war. At this time, most Muslim countries came under direct or indirect control of European nations. But in the second half of the twentieth century, these Muslim nations gained their independence.
Soon after its founding Islam split into two main branches (Sunni and Shia), each of which now have a number of denominations. This division was caused by different views on Muhammad’s successor as the leader (caliph) of Islam. Today about 80% of Muslims are Sunni and 20% are Shia. Moroccans are generally Sunni and the royal family are descendants of the Alaouite dynasty, who are believed to be descendants of the prophet Muhammad.
What are the basic beliefs that one must have to be considered a true Muslim? Although the central belief is submitting to the will of God, there are six major beliefs.
Six major beliefs (articles of faith)
Some of the basic beliefs taught by the Quran are:
– Belief in one God. God (“Allah” in Arabic) is unique and incomparable. He alone is to be worshipped and obeyed. God is the all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient), creator, sustainer, ordainer and judge of everything in existence. But He is also gracious and merciful. People can pray directly to God without asking anyone to intercede for them. God isn’t a trinity. And He isn’t Jesus and Jesus isn’t God.
– Belief in angels. Angels are God’s unseen messengers. God used the angel Gabriel to reveal the Quran to Muhammad.
– Belief in the Quran. The Quran is God’s final guidance for humanity. It’s a compilation of all of God’s revelations to Muhammad. Muslims believe that the scriptural record of the divine revelations to Jewish and Christian prophets in the Bible has been corrupted over time from its original form.
– Belief in prophets. God gave messages for humanity to prophets. These included Jewish prophets like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The main message was to surrender to God’s will. But God’s final message was given to Muhammad.
– Belief in a day of judgment. In future, all people will be resurrected for God’s judgment and judged according to their beliefs and deeds. Those who followed God’s guidance will be rewarded with paradise; and those who rejected God’s guidance will be punished with hell. The salvation of heaven in the day of judgment is available to those whose good deeds outweigh their evil deeds.
– Belief in divine predestination. As whatever happens in one’s life is preordained, Muslims should respond to the good or bad that befalls them with thankfulness or patience. This concept does not negate the concept of “free will”; since humans do not have prior knowledge of God’s will (or decree), they do have freedom of choice.
In Islam sins are forgivable through repentance when Muslims pray for repentance. Also, they can earn forgiveness by bearing their difficulties patiently, or doing good deeds, or making a pilgrimage to Mecca or the punishment they receive in the grave, or the distress they experience on the day of resurrection. Forgiveness is also available through the prayers of others, including funeral prayers; or the intercession of Muhammad; or good deeds done for the deceased; or the mercy of God. However, Muslims cannot know whether a sin will be forgiven or not. Allah might or might not forgive the sin after repentance. So, Muslims are to fear their sins and hope for God’s mercy.
Muslims are asked to put their beliefs into practice by performing certain acts of worship. These practices (also called pillars of faith) must be undertaken with the best of effort in order to be considered a true Muslim. As in all faiths, since adherence to religious obligations and practices is a matter of individual choice, some people are very strict in performing these duties, while others are not.
Five major practices (acts of worship)
The five acts of worship that Sunni Muslims must perform are listed below.
– The declaration of faith. Muslims declare that there is only one God (Allah) and that Muhammad is his final messenger or prophet. Muslims repeat this statement many times a day during their prayers.
– Praying five times a day facing Mecca. Muslims are supposed to pray at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and at nightfall. Before praying they wash their hands, mouth, nose, face, arms and feet. The Friday noon prayer is special to Muslims and is done in a mosque if possible. Imams lead the prayer at mosques.
– Giving money to charity. Muslims are to give about 2.5% of their excess wealth to the poor.
– Fasting during Ramadan. For one lunar month each year, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are not to allow anything to pass down their throat. Then from sunset to sunrise, they are permitted to eat as little or as much as they want. This is their way of developing discipline and relating to the poor. Travelers, young children and pregnant or nursing mothers do not need to keep the fast.
– A pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is supposed to travel to the birthplace of Islam at least once in their lifetime.
It’s interesting to note that the Moroccan flag is red with a five-pointed green star. The star may represent the five pillars of Islam.
In addition to the above, Shia Muslims must perform the following:
– Pay tax. 20% of profit is given to the Imam and the poor.
– Jihad. Struggle to please God. There are many types of Jihad. Jihad is also important to the Sunni, but is not considered a pillar.
– Commanding what is just. By living by the rules of God from the Quran and hadith (the words and habits of Muhammad). Sunni and Shia Muslims use different collections of hadith.
– Forbidding what is evil. Refraining from the sins mentioned in the Quran and hadith.
As a visitor in Morocco I found that the main impact of Islam is the presence of mosques, the call to prayer, and the clothing worn by its adherents. Mosques are in each local area in order to be accessible for prayer and enable the call to prayer to be heard from external loud speakers. Mosques often have minarets or towers that protrude above the level of other buildings.
Because of a dress code that requires modesty, Muslims generally wear clothes that cover their arms and legs. And women cover their hair and often wear unfitted, long-sleeved, ankle-length gowns. Sometimes women cover the lower part or all their face. And a few women are totally covered when they are in public. A “hijab” is a traditional headscarf covering the head and hair, but not the face. But the term can also refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim woman.
This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Islamic faith. These practices and culture impact everyday life in Morocco. It’s good to have an understanding of the local religion and culture when visiting another country.
Written, December 2016
Also see: Islamic prayer
Were prophets infallible?
There is no such thing as sin. It’s an outmoded religious idea. Sin is an illusion. A perception. A mental creation. It is not real outside of your head. Morals are evolved responses. Humans are hardwired by evolution to behave the way they do. That’s what some people think about sin. Another idea is that some people are sinless.
The Shia branch of Islam says that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible. They claim that “All the prophets and messengers of Allah, with no exception, are sinless and infallible”, while some others say they were protected from major sins but not from minor ones. What does the Bible say on this topic?
In the Bible, a prophet (nabi in Hebrew, Strongs #5030) is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. The word is usually used in the Old testament for a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on His behalf. God’s prophets brought messages from God. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). They guided the nation of Israel spiritually and wrote the Old Testament. In this post, we list some of their sins and shortcomings which are mentioned in the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God which is a part of human nature that’s inherited from Adam and Eve (Dt. 9:7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).
Abraham is the first man to be given the title “prophet” in the Bible (Gen. 20:7). During his life, he deceived both Pharaoh and King Abimelek by saying that his wife was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13). On both of these occasions, which were 20 years apart, he didn’t trust God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac). Instead he thought that they would kill him to take his beautiful wife for their harems.
God spoke indirectly to prophets by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face (Num. 12:4-8; Dt. 34:10). Also, “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Dt. 34:12NIV). That’s why Moses has been called the greatest prophet. He also complied and wrote most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By the way, John the Baptist was the prophet with the greatest privilege because he announced the arrival of the Messiah (Mt 11:9-11).
God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt northwards to Canaan (Ex. 3:1-22). Previously God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would occupy Canaan (Ex. 6:8). But Moses died before Israel reached Canaan. This was God’s judgment because he “broke faith with me (God) in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you (Moses) did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites” (Dt. 32:51NIV). This occurred when there was no water for the Israelites and their livestock and they complained to Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:1-13). God told Moses to take his staff and gather the people together and speak to a rock and water would pour out of it. But Moses didn’t obey God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Because of this sin, God told him “you will not bring this community into the land (Canaan) I give them”.
A prophet from Judah
After King Jeroboam set up an idolatrous system of worship in the kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet from Judah to denounce their idolatry (1 Ki. 13:1-32). Because of God’s judgement of their apostate worship, the prophet was commanded not to eat or drink while he was in Israel. But when an old man said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God (prophet) returned with him and ate and drank in his house” (1 Ki. 13:18-19). This was a lie because although the old man may have been a true prophet in his younger days, he was now living in Bethel where there was a golden calf idol. While they were eating together, the old man from Bethel received a message from God saying that because of his disobedience, the prophet would die and would not be buried with his family. On his way home, the prophet was killed by a lion and buried in Bethel.
Peter said that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). King David wrote many of the psalms. But he exploited his positional power in adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the killing of Uriah her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-27).
When God told Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, he disobeyed by boarding a ship travelling in the opposite direction (Jon. 1:1-3; 4:1)!
Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian invasion of the kingdom of Judah and demise of the Babylonian empire about 70 years later and the return of the Jews to their homeland. He also wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But at times Jeremiah regretted his unpopular ministry. This led to depression and suicidal thoughts (Jer. 20:14-18).
What about Enoch and Elijah?
The Bible says that sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, people die because of sin. Did any prophets not die? Yes, Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Does this mean that they never sinned?
James used Elijah to illustrate the prayer of a righteous person. He emphasized that Elijah had the same human nature as us:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (Jas. 5:17NIV).
“Elijah was a human being like us” (Jas.5:17NET).
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17ESV, HCSB)
So Elijah had a sinful nature like us: He wasn’t infallible and sinless.
For example, after he was threatened by Queen Jezebel, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. He ran from Jezebel travelling at least 160 km (100 miles) to Beersheba! Then he was depressed and suicidal (1 Ki. 19:1-14). So Elijah was like us when he experienced fear, discouragement and dismay.
We know very little about Enoch, except that his father was Jared and Methuselah was one of his sons (Gen. 5:18-24). “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). And Jude records a prophesy by Enoch (Jude 14-15). As Enoch had two human parents; according to Romans 5:12 he inherited the sin of Adam. This is a characteristic of humanity. The only exception is Jesus, who didn’t have a human father (Joseph was His step-father).
After Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people and taught at the festival of tabernacles, they thought He was the prophet who was promised in the Old Testament (Jn. 6:14; 7:40). The Samaritan woman, the blind man, and those who saw Him raise the widow’s son thought that Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19; 9:17; Lk. 7:16). So some people thought He was a prophet (Mk. 6:15; 8:28). When some Pharisees advised Jesus to escape from Jerusalem, He said “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). And the two travelling to Emmaus after Christ’s death called Him a prophet (Lk. 24:19). God had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (Dt. 18:18). This prophet would be a mediator between God and people. In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18).
But Jesus was unique. He didn’t have a biological (human) father like all other people. And He is the only sinless infallible person to have lived on earth. The Bible says “He committed no sin”; He “had no sin”; and “in Him is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He made no mistakes or errors. He was greater than Moss (Heb. 3:1-6). Also see, “Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet”. These reasons are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
All the Old Testament prophets were sinners because they had a sinful nature (being born of human parents) and so they weren’t infallible. Likewise, people like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Pope, and Muhammad are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible. Also, the originators and leaders of all religions (except for Jesus Christ) are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible.
However, a biblical prophet’s revelations were divinely authoritative and infallible. David wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Peter said that a prophetic message is “completely reliable” and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:19-21). A prophet’s words were God’s words. What a prophet said, God said.
What about prophets who lived after 33 AD? Those whose message is not consistent with Jesus being the Son of God and the only mediator between God and humanity are false prophets: because “In the past God spoke to our (Jews) ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus), whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). In fact, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” and they can be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
What about Christians today? The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin (a sinful nature), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (individual sins), He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned (individual sins), we make Him (God) out to be a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). Conversion doesn’t eradicate our sinful nature. But it gives us a new divine nature with power to live victoriously over the sinful nature. One of the ways to do this is to confess our individual sins and through God’s parental forgiveness (based on Christ paying the penalty for us) our fellowship with God and each other is restored. If anyone claims to be sinless, they make God out to be a liar and deny the reason Jesus come to earth to die. This applies to both the Gnostics of John’s era and todays atheists who deny that immoral actions are sinful.
The Bible shows that prophets like Abraham, Moses, a prophet from Judah, David, Jonah, Jeremiah were sinners and so they aren’t infallible. Even a prophet who didn’t die (Elijah) was a sinner. In fact, all the descendants of Adam and Eve were sinners except for Jesus Christ who wasn’t conceived in the usual way. He is the only infallible person.
So the Shia Islamic view that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible isn’t consistent with the Bible. Also, the atheist and Buddhist view that there is no such thing as sin isn’t consistent with the Bible. This means that they are human ideas that don’t come from God.
Written, November 2016