FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 18, number 50, December 12, 2019
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” -1 John 4:10
If you have ever engaged a Muslim in a gospel conversation then he is likely to tell you that we believe the same things, that they believe in Jesus, that they value Jesus as a prophet. Well, are they right? Are Christianity and Islam merely different pathways leading up the mountain to God? What does Christ’s incarnation and atonement tell us in light of Islam and the Muslim’s desire to find peace with God? How does Christmas impact this discussion?
What follows is a very basic introduction to Islam where I will lay out a few important terms, the basic tenets of the Muslim religion, and how Christianity alone can satisfy the longing of Muslims worldwide. The word Islam in Arabic means submission, and there are at least two billion followers of Islam in the world. Islam is growing at the rate of 1.8% per year. Mohammed, who lived from 570 to 632 A.D., was a shepherd, born in Arabia. At the age of forty in 610 A.D. Mohammed says that he began to experience a number of visions. He asked his uncle about them, who told him that he should write them down, that God was speaking to him, that he was the last prophet from God. His writings compose the Qu’ran. These so called visions lasted for twenty-two years until his death in 632 A.D.
Mohammed had thirteen wives, the youngest of whom was Aisha. She was six years old when they married and nine when the marriage was consummated. Aisha is credited with composing at least 2100 Hadiths (proverbs or sayings with some measure of authority). While living in a culture which was polytheistic (believing in many gods), Mohammed was a theist who hoped to turn pagans into worshippers of God. Muslims believe that the only hope of heaven is to live by the five pillars of Islam—testimony (Allah in the only true God and Mohammed is his prophet), pray five times per day, give alms to the poor, fast (no food or water) from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadam, and make at least one holy pilgrimage to Mecca in one’s lifetime. We hear a lot today about caliphates. A caliphate is a territorial, political, military, religious state ruled by a caliph who is appointed by Allah to rule the world. Sunni Muslims, about 75 to 90% of the worldwide Muslim population, believe the caliphs can come from any number of Muslim communities. The Shia Muslims, about 10 to 20% (Iran is mainly Shia) of the Muslim population worldwide, believe the caliphs must be direct descendants of Mohammed’s son-in-law Abu Bakr (Aisha’s father). Muslims also believe in Sharia law, that every nation must be governed by the laws of the Qu’ran. The goal of all Muslims is worldwide subjugation of all people to Sharia. They believe this is Allah’s will for all people, everywhere. We hear a great deal about jihad and it means different things to different Muslims. Literally jihad means struggle, and some take it merely to mean fighting against sin in one’s personal life. But overwhelmingly others, citing numerous Qu’ranic texts, take it literally to mean holy war against infidels who are unwilling to convert to Islam.
Islam rejects the Christian doctrine of the trinity, saying that Christians are not monotheists, that they believe in three gods. Consequently Muslims reject the deity of Christ, on the one hand exalting Him as a great prophet, but on the other hand diminishing Him in numerous ways. For example, Muslims deny Christ’s sinlessness, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. If you ask a Muslim if he is sure that he will make heaven, he will admit that he has no assurance of salvation or heaven. He hopes Allah will be merciful to him, though he can never be sure of it. Sura 2:112 says, “whoever submits his whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, he will get his reward with his Lord.” Notice the means to reach heaven is works, but when would one know he has adequately submitted to Allah? When could one be certain that he was a doer of good? He cannot know. He cannot be certain.
Regardless of what so many within and without modern day Islam are saying, trying to paint Islam as a peaceful religion, history says something quite different. Islam, from its very beginning when Mohammed ordered the murder of scores of his adversaries, has a long and sordid history of violence and murder. Recently, as you know, ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi detonated a bomb killing himself and three of his children when pursued by U.S. Army Rangers. He was the leader of ISIS which wrought terror in Iraq, Syria, France, and the U.S. Abu Bakr, the son-in-law of Mohammed, began 1500 years of continual imperialist, colonialist, bloody conquest and subjugation of nations. The caliphs, in succeeding years, moved quickly to overrun Jerusalem, destroying churches and building mosques on the same sites. Muslims overran Christians in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, and the other North African nations. Traders stopped off in Indonesia and foisted Islam on the people. Just a few years ago, in the small nation of Timor, Muslims ruthlessly murdered thousands of people, demanding the others convert to Islam. And for the last thirty years the Islamic government in Sudan has been waging a war of ethnic cleansing in the south against the Christians of South Sudan. To date, at least two million Christians in South Sudan have been murdered there. The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) under Mustafa Kemal (also called Attaturk) from 1914 to 1923 expelled or murdered 1.5 million Greeks from their country and instigated genocide against the Armenians in Turkey in 1915, murdering over two million of them. Muslims have made at least four major invasions of Europe, the last of which (unless we call what is going on now with the influx of Syrian refugees and other Muslims into Europe an invasion) was in 1683 when the Ottoman Turks were turned back at Vienna on September 11, 1683. Muslims are imperialistic. They want to take over new land. They are colonialist. They impose their culture and religion on all whom they conquer. They conquer by violence and bloodshed. These are undisputed facts of history.
So, what should the Christian message be to the Muslims of our day? First, do not fear them. They are people made in the image of God. Most Muslims whom you meet in your communities want the same thing you do. They want to live in peace, have a nice job, rear their children, and practice their religion. Befriend them. Reach out to them. Engage them in gospel conversation. Muslims are not impressed by timidity. They love to debate religion. They will allow you to bring up Christianity. Of course, they are trying to convert you, just as you are trying to convert them. But go for it. Always be respectful. There is nothing to be gained by denigrating Mohammed or the Qu’ran. Speak to them about the truth of Christianity. They are likely to tell you that America is a Christian nation and when they see all the lasciviousness and debauchery they wonder why anyone would want to be a Christian. You must set the record straight. We once were a Christian nation but we have long since left our heritage. They need to see that all of this debauchery in our nation is not Christianity.
But how does the gospel of Christ address the longings of a Muslim’s heart? They are looking for peace with God. They have no peace. They have no assurance of heaven. They rightly understand, perhaps instinctively, that none of us are right with God, that something needs to happen to bring us to peace with the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Paul the apostle made clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that there is none righteous. Muslims need the gospel message of Christ’s propitiating death, that He satisfied the righteous wrath and indignation of God on sinners by offering Himself up as a sacrifice in our place. The blood of Jesus alone satisfies God’s justice and wrath. Propitiation in Christ’s blood is the only way to peace with God, self, and others.
And the propitiating death of Christ was only possible because of His incarnation. In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law that He might redeem us from the works of the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4,5). This is the glory of Christmas and this is precisely what every Muslim needs.