The non-Muslim world knows little of the people called Muslims and their religion, Islam. Many people think all Muslims speak Arabic, live in the Middle East, and launch attacks against the state of Israel. In fact, most Muslims live outside the Middle East, speak little if any Arabic, and live normal, peaceful lives.
Muslims who take their religion seriously believe it is the proper and correct religion for all the world. They believe the non-Muslim world is weak and corrupt. It needs Islam. Therefore, Islam should be carried to the ends of the earth. Consider the following:
Muslims have emerged from the desert sands as a growing and powerful religious force. They number over one billion. Islam means “submission to God,” and Muslim means “one who submits to God.” Muslims believe that Allah is the only true God and that the Quran, the perfect holy book, teaches the correct way of belief and practice. They believe Islam is a universal and uniform religion for all peoples and cultures with little variety and diversity in its major beliefs and practices.
The Muslims are here! For over 1,400 years Islam has expanded far beyond its Middle Eastern origins. Today Muslims are numerous on every continent: Africa boasts 308,660,000; Asia, 778,362,000; Europe, 32,032,000; Latin America, 1,356,000; North America, 5,530,000; and Oceania, 385,000; for a total of 1,126,325,000. Islam is a world religion characterized by missions, mobility, and militancy.
Classical Islam divides the world into two areas: (1) the world of peace, where Islam is practiced and the Quran is observed; (2) the world of warfare and ignorance, dominated by non-Muslims. The mission of Islam is to bring this second world under Islam.
Islam is a religion with missions at its heart. Every Muslim should strive to please Allah and to offer Allah's religion to others. Islam has been able to cross geographical and cultural divides to gain followers and to make certain adaptations to other cultures for its success.
Islam is a missionary religion. It is energized by its theocratic world vision and mission. All of life should be subsumed under the laws of Allah: personal life, family life, culture, society, religion, government. The roots of the vision are in the Quran. Therefore, Muslims are under a mandate to establish this vision wherever Islam is present. Muslims are on mission.
Islam is a mobile religion. It can be carried across populations and cultures. Many memorize the Quran, which is no longer than the New Testament, with 114 chapters, or suras, in the Arabic language. Islam's origins in a tribal society made its attributes, notably its patriarchal family and polygamy, applicable to African tribes. Muslim traders carried Islam to Indonesia, and it adapted to the cultural layers of Hinduism and animism in Indonesian society. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country. The simplicity of belief and the practice of the pillars of Islam have made it appealing and approachable across cultures.
Islam is a militant religion. “Jihad” is an important concept. It has two aspects: (1) the Islamic requirements that the individual must practice to be a worthy Muslim; (2) the warfare of the community against infidels and those who attack or resist Islam. All Muslims are under mandate to practice jihad because they believe that Islam is the correct and perfect religion and that all other religions are inferior. Not only are they to follow the teachings of the Quran, but they are also to emulate the model of their prophet Muhammad, who led his fighting forces into battle to defend Islam and to make Islam dominant. Waging community or national warfare must follow certain rules interpreted and provided by religious leadership.
Thus, Islam as a missionary, mobile, and militant religion has become the fastest-growing religion worldwide. It has become a religious and political force in Europe, has risen to challenge Judaism as the second-largest religion in the United States, has sent missionaries and monies to bring about Islamic revival in the republics of Central Asia, and has continued to expand across Africa.
Here are some reasons that Islam has grown and gained so much attention in recent years.
Muslims must Islamicize non-Muslims by persuasion and conversion. Sometimes force has been a method. If non-Muslims do not accept Islam, they must submit to Islamic authority and rule. Islam is over against the non-Muslim world. Early Jewish tribes refused to submit to the prophet Muhammad and hundreds were slaughtered. Jews have been tolerated with limited freedoms in dominant Muslim territories.
From its very beginning Islam viewed Christianity as a religion of idolatry and contamination. One of the greatest sins—shirk in Arabic—is to believe that God could share his nature with humanity. Therefore, Islam denied the Christian beliefs of the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the crucifixion and death of Jesus for the sins of the world, and the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. Through the centuries, Muslims have waged warfare against Christians, both physical and verbal, and Christians have fought Muslims, notably in the Crusades. Where there has been Muslim dominance, Christians have been treated as minorities, dhimmis, and given limited freedoms.
Suspicion, distrust, and hostility characterize the history of Christian-Muslim relations. Stereotypes have prevailed. Islam has attacked Christianity for its polytheism and corruption of the Scriptures. Christianity has considered Islam a heretical and impenetrable religion.
The Islamic world has fought the West's impositions of its values, cultural forms, and politics upon Muslim peoples. Accusations of colonialism and imperialism have been heralded especially against Europe and the United States. The Iranian Islamic revolution castigated the United States as the “Great Satan” and cast out Christian missionaries. Saudi Arabia has primarily relied upon the United States for the modernization and technology of its society but prohibits any church or Christian missionary presence on its soil.
Christians, with few exceptions, have maintained their distance from Muslims. They have done little to understand Muslims, to prepare to send missionaries to Muslim people, and to develop a Christian apologetic for Muslims. Christians have continued to be unfamiliar with Muslims and their religion. Mass media has associated the words ayatollah, jihad, and terrorist with Islam. Muslims are stereotyped as warlike, savage, and uncivilized.
Some scholars have written of the coming clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the Western or Christian world. Christian churches and mission agencies are awakening to the presence and strength of Islam, to its missions worldwide, and to its agenda to become the dominant religious and cultural expression. Christian mission agencies are restructuring their strategies to include the unreached Muslim peoples groups. Christians are discovering that they have Muslim neighbors, that mosques are being built next to churches, that their medical doctors are Muslims, and that their children attend school with Muslims. In the United States a Muslim leader has opened a session of Congress with prayer in the name of Allah. There are Muslim chaplains in the armed services.
The Muslims are coming ... No! The Muslims are already here. They are worldwide. They are growing in numbers and influence. They offer religious help to millions. They have a religious, social, and political agenda. They present one of the greatest challenges to Christianity and to Christians.
For over 1,400 years, Islam has considered Christianity to be a false and corrupting religion. Christianity has viewed Islam as a heretical religion. For the most part, each has let the other alone. The present time has brought each other closer. Islam has greatly penetrated the non-Muslim world. Christianity has begun to awaken to the presence of Muslims.
What are Christians and churches to do? Consider the following:
Muslim people groups have been identified with common language, ethnicity, and similar Islamic roots. These groups may or may not be within national or state boundaries. However, these common traits among Muslims help them to assimilate into a Christian fellowship and church and provide them more security and community. The context of church planting becomes important. Muslim culture becomes critical in terms of what and how a Muslim convert may accommodate and disassociate as one becomes a follower of Jesus in Christian community.
What does the future hold for relations between Christianity and Islam? That is uncertain, but one thing is clear: both religions have a message and a mandate. Christianity has a mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel, a gospel of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Islam has a mandate to practice jihad and to bring the non-Muslim world under the rule of Allah and the injunctions of the Quran.
Scholars may speculate about the clash of civilizations and about accommodations between religions. The mission of the Christian and the church is to present the gospel of love, salvation, and reconciliation to Muslims whose lives may be changed and whose communities may be renewed in Jesus Christ. This book will help you to understand the Islamic world and Muslim peoples and explain how to witness, evangelize, and begin Christian fellowship among them.