The Kingdom of the Cults
Dr. Walter Martin
Islam is a major world religion distinctly different from Christianity. But it is the world’s second largest religion with numbers coming closer to Christianity every day. Mosques are springing up in many “Christian” areas, and anyone in any major metropolitan area probably lives near several Muslims.
Unfortunately, most Christians understand very little about Islamic
teaching 1 and are afraid to witness to them. “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet (or messenger) of Allah” is the great Shahada, or “confession,” which faithful Muslims around the world declare daily. This declaration of faith effectively distinguishes Muslims from every other world religion, including Christianity and Judaism. Over a billion people worldwide claim Allah as their God and Muhammad as their prophet. 2 Islam is one of the four largest religions in the world, along with Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.
In this short survey of Islam, we will define the most important terms of this religion, mention its most prominent sects, and summarize its basic teaching contrasted with biblical Christianity. We will also give practical advice for sharing the gospel with a Muslim. Millions of people embrace the Islamic faith. Entire countries are ruled and dominated by Islamic teachings, practices, and laws. Much of the Western world is dependent on Islamic nations for a major portion of its petroleum needs. Western towns, universities, and businesses are seeing a larger influx of Muslims than has ever been seen before. Islam is a religious, social, and political force that every Christian should be aware of.
Western Christians, especially, need to equip themselves to give an active defense of the biblical faith against the claims of Islam and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in love with the followers of Muhammad.
Aware of this challenge, let us begin our survey of Islam.
Islam, like many religions, has its own vocabulary to describe its beliefs. A quick look at some of the most important religious terms in Islam will provide a basis for further discussion of Islamic history and belief.
Islam is the name of the religion that came out of the revelations and teachings of Muhammad. Islam is the Arabic term for “submission.” Jane I. Smith argues that “in the broadest terms, I believe that … while Islam originally meant at once the personal relationship between man and God and the community of
those acknowledging this relationship, it often has come to be used as one or the other, with a greatly increased emphasis on the objectified systemization of
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religious beliefs and practices.”
However, according to another scholar, Islam originally meant
“defiance of death (for the sake of God and his prophet)” or “readiness for defiance of death.” The expression is thus semantically related to gihad [jihad], “warlike effort (for God and his prophet),” which implies also, secondarily, the sacrifice of property (viz. livestock) as a preparation for warlike action (see, e.g., Sura 9, v. 89). The religion of
Muhammad, according to the usual definition, derived from the Quran, is based
on two principles: gihad and iman (“faith”),or, by another definition, on Islam and iman (see, e.g., Sura 49, v. 14).
Muslim is the name given to one who adheres to the religion of Islam. Muslim is a cognate of Islam, and means “one who submits.” The Muslim submits to the will of Allah as revealed by Muhammad.
Allah is the Islamic name for God and cannot be translated easily into English. One Muslim writer defined it thus: “The word means the unique God Who possesses all the attributes of perfection and beauty in their infinitude. Muslims feel strongly that the English word ‘God’ does not convey the real meaning of the word ‘Allah.’ ”
Muhammad was an Arab born in the city of Mecca in AD. 570 (died AD. 632). He claimed that he was the prophet to restore true religion and the praise of Allah throughout the world, just as Jesus Christ was a prophet in His time for His people. Muhammad means “the one who is praised.”
Quran (also spelled Koran or Qur’an) is Arabic for “the recitation,” and refers to the collection of revelations supposedly given by Allah through his archangel to Muhammad and preserved as the Islamic scripture. Muslims believe in the Law of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Injil, or gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they believe that those Scriptures were superseded by the scripture given through Muhammad, and that the Bible used by Christians and Jews is a distorted version of those other scriptures. Wherever the Bible contradicts Islam, the Muslim says the Bible is incorrect. Sura refers to the divisions within the Quran, and roughly corresponds to our “chapter.” The Quran contains 114 revelations, each composing one sura or chapter. The shortest revelations appear first, the longest ones
last. There is no chronological arrangement in the Quran. Also important in Islamic literature is the Hadith, Arabic for the “collected traditions.” These are the supposed words of Muhammad and are the customs that provide source material for the intricate political and social structure of Islam.
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Caliph is Arabic for “deputy” and refers to the main leaders of Islam, especially the immediate successors of Muhammad. Ayatollah refers to a spiritual master or leader in Shi’ite Islam.
“Schools” of Islam
Out of the almost one billion Muslims worldwide, by far the greatest number are members of the Sunnite school. They accept the first four caliphs in direct succession from Muhammad and no others. The Sunnis practice a moderate form of Islamic literary interpretation. Ninety percent of the Muslims in the Middle East are Sunnis (e.g., 90 percent of the Egyptian Muslims, 90 percent of the Jordanian Muslims, 90 percent of the Saudi Arabian Muslims, and 98 percent of the Libyan Muslims).
The second largest school of Islam is the Shi’ite school. Although much smaller than the Sunnite school, the Shi’ite school is much more literal in its interpretation and application of the Quran and is much more militant than the Sunnite. Ninety-five percent of Iran’s Muslims are Shi’ites, and today Iran is a Shi’ite Islamic republic. Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen also have large numbers of Shi’ites. The name Shi’ite is a corruption of Shi ‘at Ali (“partisans of Ali”) and refers to the fact that they rejected all subsequent caliphs who were not descendants of Ali. For the Twelver Shi’ites, there followed a line of
twelve Imams, or spiritual heads (in Sunni Islam “imam” refers only to a leader of a congregation), who claimed Ali as an ancestor. Most of them were killed, and the twelfth and final Imam, Muhammad, disappeared as a child in AD. 878; it is believed that eventually he will miraculously return to his people (as the Mahdi) in a manner not altogether unlike the Judeo-Christian Messiah. He is the hidden Imam who will bring about a golden age before the end of the world, and only he has the right to declare gihad.
Shi’ites are especially strong in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Ishmailites, or Sevener Shi’ites, hold that Ismail was the final Imam. The billionaire Aga Khan is the current leader of the Ishmailites; and the Zaidites or Zaydis of Yemen hold that all war is gihad.
Another Muslim school of note is the Ahmdiyan school, which was founded in the 1800s by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908) of Punjab, India. He claimed to be the Messiah and the very image of Muhammad. He taught that Christ fainted and was revived by medication (an ointment called Marham Esau [“Jesus salve”]) and traveled to India, where he died in Kashmir. This small group has produced the bulk of Islamic apologetics against Christianity and Judaism over the last forty years. The Ahmdiyans are highly visible on American campuses and practice strong proselytizing techniques on American students.
The Sufi “school” is the mystical school of Islam.11 Sufis are rejected by many conservative Muslims. Some Sufi writings seem to reject the strict unitarian monotheism of traditional Islam for a form of “immanent pantheism.”
According to Scripture, the ancestors of modern Arabs can be traced back to Shem and are properly known as Semites. Shem’s descendant Eber gave rise to two lines: Peleg’s line, from which Abraham is
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descended, and Joktan’s line, which contains the names of many Arab groups. However, many Arab tribes trace their ancestry to Ishmael, the firstborn son of
Abraham.12 The word Arab refers to nomads or bedouins and may be connected with the word for desert or wilderness. 13 The original meaning expanded to refer to Arabic speakers and those living in Arabia.
“Arabness” seems to be inherited through the male since intermarriage with non-Arab women was common and is still permitted by the Quran. The Spanish Umayyad Caliph Abd-er Rahman III (ruled 929–961), who was proud of his ancestry from the former ruling clan of Mecca before Muhammad, was actually only 0.93 percent Arab.
The first recorded extra biblical mention of Arabs was during the reign of Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (859–824 BC.). Early Arabian kingdoms include Magan, Dilmun, Sa‘ba, Ma 0in, Qatablaôn, and Hadramaut. Their deities included ‘Athtar the male Venus star, Ilmuqah (also known as Hawbas, ‘Amm, Anbay, Wadd, Sin, or Mawl) the moon god, and a sun goddess, Dhaôt Ba 0adaôn or Dhaôt Himyan. Among nomadic groups, the basic ruling unit consisted of an elected leader, or sheikh, who had no authoritative powers and was only considered “first among equals,” and was usually selected from a powerful “sheikhly” family that was governed by custom or tradition (sunnah).
Their religion was polytheistic and was related to the paganism of the ancient Semites. The beings it adored were in origi the inhabitants and patrons of single places, living in trees, fountains, and especially in sacred stones. There were some gods in the true sense, transcending in their authority the boundaries of purely tribal
cults. The three most important were Manaôt, Uzza, and Allaôt. These three were themselves
subordinate to a higher deity, usually called Allah. The religion of the tribes had no real priesthood; the migratory nomads carried their gods with them in a red tent forming a kind of ark of the covenant, which accompanied them to battle. Their religion was not personal but communal. The tribal faith centered around the tribal god, symbolized usually by a stone, sometimes by some other object. It was guarded by the “sheikhly house,” which thus gained some religious prestige. God and cult were the badges of tribal identity and the sole ideological expressions of the sense of unity and cohesion of the tribe. Conformity
to the tribal cult expressed political loyalty. Apostasy was the equivalent of treason.
The Koran mentions these pagan deities in Sura 53:19–20: “Have ye seen Lat, and Uzzaô, and another, the third (goddess), Manaôt?” This is followed by an assertion (vss. 21–23) that these goddesses, the daughters of Allah the moon god according to pre-Islamic Arab theology, are mere human creations that divide God into parts. These deities were popular at Mecca at the time of Muhammad’s birth. Lat, or al-Lat (“the goddess”), was the sun god; (Uzza, or al- (“the mighty one”), the planet Venus; and Manaôt, the god of good fortune.
Other gods mentioned in the Quran include Wadd (another Moon god, mentioned above), Suw‘a, Yaghuth, and Nasr (Sura 71:23). Of these gods, al-‘Uzza appears to be the
supreme deity in Mecca.
It is believed by some scholars that Allah, or al-Ilah (“the god”), can be traced to Ilaôh, the South Arabian moon god. Henotheism, or the worship of only one god while not denying the existence of other gods, may have existed in pre-Islamic society. The Quran speaks of hanifs, pre-Islamic Arab monotheists who were neither Christian nor Jewish. Extant evidence shows that Allah meant “the (one)
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God” for the many Christians, Jews, monophysites, and Nestorians who lived throughout the Arabian peninsula.20
Muhammad was born in Mecca, near the Middle Western coastal region of Arabia, between 570 and 580, to Abdullah (or Abd Allah), who died two months after he was born, and Aminah, who died when he was six. Mecca was a large commercial city known for the Ka‘aba (“cube”), a building famous for its 360 idols containing images of the moon god Hubal, al-Laôt, al- ‘Uzza and Manaôt, and the Black Stone.
Muhammad’s family was of the relatively poor Hashemite clan of the Quraysh tribe, and it is the patriarch of that tribe, Fihr (known as qirsh, or “shark”) of the Kinaônah tribe, who Muslims claim to be a descendant of Ishmael and an inheritor of God’s promise to Hagar in Genesis 21:18. After the death of his mother, he was sent to live with his grandfather, Abd-al-Muttalib, who provided a Bedouin foster mother for him, Halimah, and was raised in the desert. After the death of his grandfather when Muhammad was eight, he returned to Mecca to live with his uncle, Abu Talib. All of his early familial background is from traditional sources and may not be accurate.
At twenty-five, Muhammad married a wealthy forty-year-old widow, Khadijah, after she proposed to him. Muhammad remained with Khadijah for twenty-five years and had two sons, who died in infancy,
and four daughters. After Khadijah died in 619 or 620, Muhammad married a widow of a disciple and a seven-year-old (who moved in with him when she was ten),
Ayisha. His seventh wife was his ex-daughter-in-law; by the time of his death he had twelve wives and two concubines (including Maryam, an Egyptian Coptic slave).22 Interestingly,
Sura 4:3 limits the number of wives to four, and in Sura 4:31 marriage to one’s daughter-in-law was prohibited. But in Sura 33:36–40, Muhammad was conveniently given a new revelation from God that ordered Zaid, Muhammad’s adopted son, to divorce his wife so Muhammad could marry her by God’s command. This is called abrogation, to be discussed later.
According to extra-Quranic sources, Muhammad’s first mystical experience was allegedly being attacked by two men who cut his belly open in search of something. His foster mother thought he was demon possessed after finding him standing and not having appeared to be the victim of any violence. He later claimed his nonexistent attackers to be angels who cleansed his heart. In AD. 610, he claimed to have received his first of a series of revelations of the Quran from God through the angel Gabriel. His first disciple was his wife, then his cousin Ali, then his slave, and then his friend Abu Bakr. His following grew without many problems: first with slaves and the poor and oppressed, and then some wealthy clans, because, according to some, he used the so-called Satanic verses (a now-deleted version of Sura 53:19 that advocated the worship of the three daughters of Allah; later the angel Gabriel chided Muhammad for claiming divine inspiration for this verse and told him he
did this on his own while under Satan’s power) in preaching to the unconverted.
Muslim apologists claim the Satanic verses incident never happened and he had always derided the existence of pagan gods. At any rate, others began to challenge him, although his movement continued to grow. His wife and his uncle, who was his protector, both died in 619 or 620. The following year he was offered protection from powerful families in Yathrib. The next significant event was the hijra.
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The hijra (“migration”) is the name of the event that marks the beginning of Islam. After his uncle Abu Talib died, the leaders of the various Meccan tribes and clans vowed to assassinate him. The angel Gabriel warned him of this, and he and his friend Abu Bakr fled to Yathrib, 280 miles north of Mecca. Yathrib was a town dominated by Jewish groups but was at that time without a stable government, primarily consisting of feuding Arab factions and mediating Jewish tribes. Muhammad, after arriving on September 20, 622, temporarily remained as other Muslim followers emigrated and built up troop strength. Soon he established the umma, a theocracy (or dictatorship) under his authority, and held
complete control of Yathrib, renamed Medina.
Badr was conquered in 626, and in 627 a Meccan army 10,000 strong arrived to attack Medina, but Muhammad and his 3000 men had prepared by digging a trench around the city. The Meccans later gave up and turned back. The Medinans retaliated by attacking a Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, for allegedly conspiring with the Meccans, and killed all the 800 male Jews of this tribe while selling all of the women and children into slavery. Two other Medinan Jewish tribes, the Banu Qaynuqa and the Banu Nadr, were driven from their homes and had all of their property confiscated. In 628, they conquered another group
of Jews at Khaybar, and paid the jizya 23 to be left alone. Finally, in 630, they conquered Mecca. On June 8, 632, Muhammad died. His successors soon wrested Palestine and Syria away from the Byzantines (629–641), conquered Iraq and Persia (633–643), Egypt (639), Tripoli (644), Toledo in Spain and western India (712), Crete (825), and Sicily (899). In West Africa, Muslims under Almoravid rulers pillaged the capital of Ghana (1076). Nubia, in East Africa, survived, as did a few small Christian nations until the 1500s.
Arab domination of conquered lands did not last forever, and soon many Muslim states declared their independence. In the early 1000s, the Seljuk Turks, who had only recently embraced Islam, began taking over territory previously held by Arab Muslims. By 1055 Tughrul Beg, leader of the Seljuk Turks, took control of Baghdad. Eventually under the Ottoman Turks, who supplanted the Seljuks, Muslims went far into Europe, conquering Serbia (1459), Greece (1461), Bosnia (1463), Herzegovina (1483), Montenegro (1499), parts of Hungary (1526–1547) and Poland (1676). Although there were wars with European countries in the interim, many countries did not regain independence until the 1800s. Montenegro did not win independence until 1799, Serbia in 1817, Greece in 1821, and Bulgaria in 1878. Many Middle Eastern areas held by the Turks were lost under Napoleon
Bonaparte, and later held by the British and French.
Moreover, many modern Middle Eastern countries did not come into existence as we know them until the early twentieth century. Iraq became independent in 1921, Egypt in 1937, Lebanon in 1945, Syria in 1946, Jordan in 1946, and Kuwait in 1961. Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations. Apparently when Muhammad started his new movement, he encouraged nonbelievers to freely consider Islam: Sura 2:256 says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” Later, however, he seemed to have
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developed a much harsher attitude: Sura 9:5 says, “Fight and slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and seize them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them.” What may be considered crimes against the state and crimes against God are dealt with in Sura 5:33, “The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.” Jews and Christians are
“People of the Book” (Sura 5:5; 5:19), but that does not mean that Muhammad had the highest regard for them; in Sura 5:41 Jews are called people “who will listen to any lie” and Christians are enemies (Sura 5:14), and Muslims were not to have Christians and Jews as friends (Sura 5:51).
The Pact of Omar, originally written around 637 by Christians under Caliph Omar I, essentially imported most of the religious rights of Christians (and Jews) and gave them to Muslims: They agreed not to repair damaged churches or erect new ones, agreed to provide shelter to any Muslim traveler, agreed not to display crosses on churches, agreed not to preach too loudly when a Muslim happened to be present, agreed not to bear arms, and agreed not to adopt any aspect of Muslim culture, among other conditions, in order to receive Muslim protection. Any failure to follow these provisions meant loss of protection and
possible persecution. Despite such restrictions (which were taken over from an earlier version that gave Christians this authority), many Christians and Jews became intellectual leaders in Islamic nations, and many held high political positions. Both monophysites and Nestorians apparently preferred life under Muslim Arab rule, rather than under Byzantine or Roman Catholic rule, due to the much higher frequency of persecution under Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
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sexual gratification. Muslims have no concept of God as a loving and compassionate Father.
To the Muslim, God is not only a harsh, wrathful God, even though he is those things too. The Muslim considers his God loving and merciful, as Sura 11:90 says, “Ask forgiveness of your Lord, then repent to Him; surely my Lord is All-compassionate, All-loving” and 85:14 says, “He is the All-forgiving, the All loving.”
The Quran is clear that Allah is compassionate and merciful, but aside from the two above
passages where God is called the “All-loving,” there is not a single passage in the Quran that indicates that God loves any portion of mankind, nor is there a single verse that indicates that people can know God on a personal, relational level (although Muslims believe God to be a person). Unlike the Christian, the Muslim cannot have a personal relationship with God.
To Muslims God has no likeness (Sura 42:11), is transcendent (Sura 4:171), is unknowable (apart from revelation), and is wholly other and totally different. He is neither physical nor spirit. The Bible, contradicting the Quran, tells us that we have been created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27) and that we have knowledge of God in our hearts (Romans 1:19–20).
Classical Muslim theology developed a form of compromise solution, in effect
inclining to the negative answer. There developed the idea of Al- Mukhalafah, “the
difference.” Terms taken from human meanings—and there are of course no
others—were said to be used of God with a difference. They did not convey the human
connotation but were used in those senses of God. When the further question was
pressed: What, then, do they convey as applied to God? no precise answer could be
formulated. Islam here falls back upon a final agnosticism. Terms must be used if
there is to be religion at all. But only God knows what they signify
Nevertheless, the Muslim believes that God is neither physical nor spirit. God is a totally unique being that has no similarity in any sense to any other being. To the Muslim, to believe otherwise would mean that God somehow shares his attributes and by implication leads to the grave sin of shirk (Sura 4:116; 5:72; 9:31), assigning partners to God.
variant, then the moral/ethical system derived from him would necessarily be inconsistent and we would essentially be on our own. We would be autonomous (a law unto ourselves) because we lacked that divine absolute standard that exists only in
was himself sinless (Sura 3:46) and is one of those who are near to God (Sura 3:45). Positively, the Quran says that Jesus Christ performed miracles (Sura 3:49; 5:110) and was the Messiah (Sura 3:45; 4:157, 171). Jesus Christ did not die on the cross. Various
Muslim traditions say that He either miraculously substituted Judas Iscariot for himself on the cross, or that God miraculously delivered Him from the hands of the Romans and Jews before He could be crucified. Most Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was taken bodily into heaven without having died (Sura 4:157). However, Sura 199:33 says He died and would be resurrected. It is interesting to compare Jesus and Muhammad according to the Quran. Jesus did miracles (Sura 3:49; 5:110), but Muhammad did not (Sura 13:8: “thou art a warner [of coming divine judgment] only”; also 6:37; 6:109; 17:59 and 17:90–93); Jesus was sinless (Sura 3:46), but Muhammad sinned and needed forgiveness (Sura 40:55: “ask forgiveness of thy sin”; 42:5: “ask forgiveness for those on the Earth”;
47:19: “ask forgiveness for thy sin”; 48:2: “that Allah may forgive thee of thy sin”). Jesus was called “the Messiah” and was even born of a virgin (3:45–57)! Yet Muhammad is supposed to be the greatest of the prophets.
SIN AND SALVATION
The Quran teaches that all have sinned: “If God were to take mankind to task for their wrongdoing, he would not leave here one living creature” (Sura 16:61a; see also 42:5), and were created weak (Sura 4:28). We are even told that Muhammad sinned (Sura 40:55; 47:19; 48:2). Every Muslim who hopes to escape the judgment of Allah must fulfill the works of the Five Pillars of the Faith (Sura 10:109):
1. Recitation of the Shahada (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah”);
2. Five daily prescribed prayers (Salat or Namaz) in Arabic. These prayers include genuflection and
prostration in the direction of the holy city, Mecca;
3. Almsgiving (Zakat), which is unlike tithing since Muslims are only required to give one-fortieth of
their income as charitable contributions;
4. Fasting (Saum or Ruzeh) during the entire month of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset in atonement for their own sins over the previous year (however, after sunset many Muslims enjoy a feast and some get up before sunrise to eat some more before the sun rises and the fast begins again);
5. A pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, the holy city, at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime.
Holy War (gihad) used to be a condition of faith, and early Muslims believed it was their sacred duty to murder anyone who would not embrace the one true faith. Contemporary Islam is much more moderate, although some groups talk of restoring gihad as one of the essentials of Islamic faith. Literally, gihad means “struggle” or “utmost effort” and in most cases signifies prayerful effort, although Muhammad and many of his successors have called for gihad, which resulted in the deaths of many “infidels.”