“Background and Basic Tenets of Islam
with Christian Insights”
Rev. Christopher C. Arch, BS, MA, M.Div.
Born around the year 570 AD, at Mecca, Mohammed was the posthumous son of an almost unknown father, and his mother died when he was only six. (1) Apparently, a variety of family members helped to raise Mohammed during the early years of his life, including his grandfather, and later an uncle, Abu Talib. A great deal of speculation has been raised as to his early years, however, all that we can apparently be certain of is that he was raised as an orphan and at the age of twenty-five married the wealthy widow fifteen years his senior, Khadija. (2) The union with Khadija seemed pleasant and successful, lasting twenty-five years until her death at about sixty-five years of age. Apparently several children were born to the couple but only one daughter, Fatima, survived childhood.
Mohammed demonstrated a strong tendency towards religious endeavors as an adult, retiring to caves for seclusion and times of meditation and prayer. It was during this time period that he began to demonstrate a propensity towards dreams and visions. It was also during this time that Mohammed began to become unfulfilled with the prevailing polytheism of his native peoples of Mecca, and began uncompromisingly convinced of monotheism. “How much of this conviction he owed to Christianity or Judaism it seems impossible to determine. Monophysite Christianity was widely spread through the various Arab Kingdoms; the Byzantine Church was represented by hermits dotted about the Hirjaz with whom he may well have come into contact; Nestorians were established at al Hira and in Persia; and the Jews were strongly represented in Medina, Yemen and elsewhere.” (3) Monophysitism was a heretical brand of Christianity that was denounced at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. (4) This group, led by Cyril of Alexandria, taught that Jesus Christ had but one nature, and not two, as the orthodox opinion attested. (5) There is little doubt that during this, if not another period of Mohammed’s life, he was influenced greatly by the teachings of various Christian sects as well as Talmudic sources.
The Character of Mohammed
At about the age of forty, the first revelations of the Koran were said to have come to Mohammed. It is recorded in the Qur’an (Koran) that three times a voice bade him to read or recite in the name of the Lord. (6) It was two years later that suddenly, when passing through a period of spiritual depression which made him to contemplate suicide, he is said to have seen a vision of the angel Gabriel which sent him home to his wife, Khadija for comfort. (7) It seems however, that even Mohammed himself was first doubtful of the sources of these revelations, fearing he had been possessed by one of the “Jinn” or sprites commonly believed in Arab world before and even now, during, the Islamic period.
As to an evaluation of the sincerity of Mohammed’s teaching and earlier prophetic career there are various opinions. “Most scholars explain his earlier revelations in terms of wishful thinking: depicting the misery and frustration of his earlier life and the deep conviction he held that the Arabs, like the Jews and Christians, needed a law and a law-giver. (8) Other views of the man Mohammed include: an epileptic (as stated Byzantine authors), a subject of hysteria as stated in The Life of Mohammed, by Aloys Sprenger (Allahabad, 1851), or in more general terms a “pathalogical case”, as stated by Prof. D.B. MacDonald, p. 72, Aspects of Islam. (9) Others have suggested an even further evaluation, stating that Mohammed underwent what demonstrated intermittent spirit-possession, as claimed by modern spiritist mediums.
Many have suggested that Mohammed, in the later Madinese Suras adopted a conveniently applied double-standard based upon his supposed prophetic office. “This conclusion is only confirmed when we find that in his later life personal (and other) problems were repeatedly solved by a divine revelation of the most convenient kind: unlike others, Mohammed was granted the right to more than four wives (sources reveal eleven to fourteen and several concubines) (Sura 33:49); he dispensed with the normal obligation to divide his time equally between them (Sura 33:51); he escaped criticism when, in defiance to Arab custom, he married the divorced wife of his adopted son (Sura 33:36-38); his wives were bidden to veil themselves (Sura 33:53); these same individuals were threatened with double punishment for unchastity (Sura 33:30); and were forbidden to remarry after his death (Sura 33:53).” (10)
One of the lesser known and more disturbing facts about Mohammed was his marriage to his wife Ayesha (A’isha) when she was six years old. In Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, book 73, number 33, Ayesha narrates an event wherein she recounts her jealousy towards Mohammed’s deceased wife Khadija, who had died three years before “the Prophet married me”. This would correspond to the year (about) 622 AD, when Mohammed was fifty-one years old. Three years later, when Mohammed was fifty-four, and Ayesha was nine years old, the marriage was consummated. (11)
Mohammed’s View of Christianity
An initial reading of Mohammed’s grasp of Christianity seems to indicate a very superficial understanding of the faith. Various traditions state that when Mohammed was twelve years of age he went to Syria with his uncle and there met a Christian monk by the name of Bahira. (12) Beyond this contact, and the assumed contact he had while a young man with the heretical Monophysite Christians, as well as his on-going contact with Jews in Medina, we cannot be certain as to Mohammed’s direct interaction with either Christians or Jews. Unfortunately, this superficial understanding of Christianity seemed to have resulted in a completely erroneous knowledge of the faith.
In its defense, Islam paints a very strong picture of the person of Jesus Christ. “Isa”, is the name for Jesus in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, “Isa” was the Messiah, was born of a Virgin, was called God’s “Word”, and a “Spirit from God”. (13) Mohammed also seems to have been influenced by some of the pseudepigraphical works, such as the apocryphal books, etc. Although these texts might contain some historically correct accounts, they were not received as canonical by the defining Councils due to their spurious quality. Jesus was also called a great miracle worker, and one of the greatest of the Prophets.
However, the Qur’an falls well short of an accurate appreciation of the Savior. According to Mohammed, Jesus expressly disclaimed His deity and emphatically denies having died on the cross to save man from his sins. (14) Neither claim can be supported by any historical document of antiquity, other than by the vested interests of the Qur’an.
It also seems to leave little doubt that Mohammed held an inaccurate view of the Christian Trinity. It seems as though he believed Christians to believe in a Holy Trinity that consisted of the Father, the Virgin Mother, and their Child. (15) The Ah’arite statement: “God is One God, Single, One, Eternal… He has taken to Himself no wife or child,” as well as several verses in the Qur’an (including Suras 5:116; 4:169; 5:77-79; 19:35; 19:91; 62:3) seem to support this misunderstanding. As a result of this misconception, it is natural to understand why Mohammed denounced the Sonship of Christ. Apparently Mohammed thought Christians believed Jesus to be the natural product of a physical union between God and a woman. Which if it were believed to be the case, would be repugnant. Other Islamic aberrations of the Christian Gospel include a belief that Jesus will come again to marry and have children and acknowledge Islam, and that Jesus never did die on the cross. This bizarre viewpoint, as stated in Sura 4:156-158, recreates the crucifixion account by stating that God the Father lifted Christ off the cross, then threw His likeness on another who was crucified in His place. Regardless, it must be clearly stated that the Christian and the Muslim do not believe the same things about the Person of Jesus Christ. This is a watershed division and cannot be overlooked by either faith.
Basic Beliefs of Islam
Islam does not have an official article of faith although much has been written on the topic. “For our purpose, however, the summary attributed by tradition to Mohammed himself can conveniently be adopted, that a Muslim must believe in God, His angels, His books, His Messengers, in the Last Day,…and in the Decree of both good and evil.” (16) The God of Islam is self-sufficient, maintaining creation moment by moment in a continual miracle, He is the source of both good and evil in the world, His will is supreme, He forgives and punishes whoever He wishes, His nature and qualities are summarized in His “ninety-nine most beautiful Names” which are repeated by the faithful as they finger their rosaries. (17)
As stated, a belief in angels is to be firmly held by the devout Muslim. If anyone denies this core doctrine, he or she is to be treated and regarded as an infidel. The four archangels Islam believes in include: Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Izra’il. Each of these hold a different function as the messenger of inspiration, the protector of the Jews, the summoner of the resurrection, and the messenger of death, respectively. (18) Angels are believed to have been created out of light. Islam also teaches that two angels attend every man, one on his right to record his good deeds and one on his left to record his evil deeds. Another pair of angels, Munkar and Nakir visit every newly buried corpse, examining the faith the corpse had in this lifetime. If the corpse held to the Islamic faith, it is allowed to sleep in peace, and if it did not, it is severely beaten. (19)
A unique creation of Islam is a belief in a multitude of creatures call “jinn”. These creatures, supposedly created from smokeless flames are neither humans nor angels. They are divided into two categories, good and evil, perform a variety of functions. Good jinn perform the religious duties of Muslims. (20) Jinn can apparently take on the forms of cats, serpents, and even humans. It is also recognized that a human can become possessed by jinn.
Islam, like Christianity, believes in the existence of the devil. The devil in Islam is thought to be either a fallen angel, or a jinn who was disobedient to the command of God. The devil is now the tempter in the world as well as the progenitor of evil jinn.
Islam has a great reverence for the various prophets. Orthodox Islam is divided on the exact number of prophets there have been, some holding to 124,000 whereas others believer there to have been 248,000. (21) Of the twenty-eight prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, most are Biblical. The six greatest prophets in Islam are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isa (Jesus), and Mohammed. Islam believes that there are four major Scriptures: the Law sent down to Moses, the Psalms of David, the Gospels to Jesus, and the Qur’an to Mohammed. The Qur’an states these all contained the same central message in their original forms. (22) Conveniently, Muslims state that both the Jews and the Christians have corrupted their Scriptures, a charge which is untenable academically.
Belief in a final judgment is another controlling feature of the Islamic faith. “The last day (the resurrection and the judgment) figures prominently in Muslim thought.”(23) In similarity to Christianity, the day and the hour of this event is a secret to all. However, Muslims believe there are twenty-five different signs that will announce its approach. Those who are fortunate enough to be admitted into Paradise, and there is no guarantee as to who will (with the possible exception of dying in Jihad), will find their sensual pleasures appeased. Although the use of alcohol is expressly forbidden the Muslim in this life, in the next his system teaches that he will recline on soft couches drinking cups of wine handed to him by the “Huris”, or maidens of Paradise. The number of these virgins are limitless and a man may take as many as he desires for physical pleasure in eternity. (24) There is no stated evidence in the Qur’an as to whether or not women (if they attain to Paradise) are given their own male counterpart(s) of the Huris.
The last of the basic beliefs of Islam is that of a belief in the “Decrees of God.” According to the Muslim, Allah ordains the fate of all. Muslims are then seen as fatalistic, replying “If Allah wills it.”, in almost every situation. (25)
The Five Pillars of Islam
Succinctly put, the ritual observance of Islam include the following five items: a. the recital of the Creed (Shahada), b. Prayer (As-Salah), c. Fasting (Siyam), d. Almsgiving (Zakah), e. the Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj). The recitation of the Creed is simple. Stating the following, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is the Prophet of God” is sufficient in the minds of many adherents to make one a Muslim. Ritual prayer is an important element in the daily life of the devout observer of Islam. The devout is required to pray five times a day, at stated hours. These times of prayer may be alone or in a company of believers, or in a mosque. Prayers are to be in Arabic and must follow a set form of words and a strictly prescribed ritual of stances, genuflexions and prostrations which differ slightly between the four orthodox schools of the religion. (26) Particularly important are the Friday, noontime prayers at the mosque. Attendance at this service is expected of every adult male in a large enough community. Islamic prayer must be offered in state of ritual purity, so their various books of law contain detailed rules concerning the different rules for purification. It has been noted by at least one scholar that Islamic prayer, at least in its prescribed form, seems to be more a continual act of acknowledging God’s sovereignty than the Christian form of enjoying communion with the Sovereign of the Universe. (27)
The Islamic emphasis on fasting takes place during the month of Ramadan (this is the ninth month of the Muslim year). All Muslims except the sick, travelers, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are required to fast from first light until sundown. This fast involves a complete abstention from all forms of food, drink, smoking, and sexual intercourse. On the whole this month is rigidly observed. The fast is seen as a demonstration of self-control and a way of identifying with those who are destitute. However, some have disputed the effect of the fast, noting with a complaint: “It can be observed in passing that the average family spends nearly twice as much in Ramadan on the food they consume by night as in any other month on the food they consume by day.” (28)
A very positive aspect of Islam is Mohammed’s emphasis on care for the poor and destitute in their lands. Since Mohammed himself was an orphan, it is not unlikely that his own hardships may have been a motivating factor in the establishment of this practice. Regardless, the worthy Muslim is required to give 2.5% (1/40th) of his money and merchandise. (29) This most assuredly is a blessing to the poor and needy of Muslim nations, many of which do not have the systems of social welfare as prevalent in Western nations.
The fifth pillar of Islam is the Pilgrimage to Mecca. The Pilgrimage is required of every able-bodied Muslim and who can afford it. No non-Muslim is allowed to visit Mecca or witness the hajj. The season begins in the tenth month, the month following Ramadan, and lasts through the middle of the twelfth month. Muslims associate the origin of the Hajj and the founding of the Ka’aba with Abraham, who was believed to have built the Ka’aba. Rituals begin 5 miles from center of Mecca. No non-Muslims are allowed any further. Muslims prepare, bathe and do a brief salat. Each man puts on two seamless white cloths, one round waist, the other over shoulder. He states his intention (niat): “O Allah, I purpose to make the hajj; make this service easy to me, and accept it from me.”
In the Ka’aba, he goes around it seven times, the first three quickly (running), the other walking. He performs a brief salat at a point where Muslims believe Abraham and Ishamel rebuilt the Ka’aba. Outside the mosque, pilgrims run between two hills, Safa and Marwa, 400 yards apart, in memory of Hagar running to find water for Ishmael. (30)
One final religious duty, besides the first five pillars, is the duty of Jihad, or Holy War. Jihad is incumbent upon all adult Muslims who are male and free to answer any legally valid summons to war against the infidels (non-Muslims). “From the earliest of times Islam has divided the world into Dar al Islam, where Islam reigns supreme, and Dar al Harb (the Abode of War), where Islam must be spread by the sword.” (31) One of the great criticisms and longest lasting causes of animosity between the Christian and Muslim communities was the disastrous Crusades called for by the Christian Church during the Middle Ages. Christians recognize, and many have officially asked forgiveness from Islamic nations for this awful period of their history. The Crusades were unbiblical and sinfully in contradiction to everything Jesus Christ stood for in this world. However, the same cannot be said of Islam. Within the first two centuries of its existence, North Africa, arguably the strongest center of Christian faith at that time, was decimated by the Muslim hordes. This domination continued into Spain, and its effects were only ultimately reversed at Granada in 1492. (32) Atrocities in the name of Islam have continued throughout history, i.e. Armenia, and in our present day, East-Timor, and the Sudan. It is important to realize that there is no ethical conflict between the Qur’an and the advancement of the Islamic faith by means of violence and intimidation. In fact, such violence is encouraged in verses such as: Sura 9:14 “Fight them and God will punish them, torment them by your hands and cover them with shame.”; Sura 48:29 “Mohammed is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another.”; Sura 9:73 “Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and hypocrites and deal rigorously with them.” Hadith vol. 9:50 “No Muslim should be killed for killing a Kafir”. The same case can not be made with regard to Biblical Christianity.
Interestingly, Islam’s call to kill is not restricted to the opposing “infidel”, but it also encompasses those who have chosen to renounce Islam. In the Hadith, vo. 9:57, Mohammed is quoted as having said: “Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”
A Brief Christian Evaluation of Islam
This brief evaluation of the Islamic faith should cause the Christian to realize the Muslim and the Christian do not worship the same God, nor are their theological beliefs compatible. Islam’s “gospel” is a very different gospel then that of the Christian faith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, however, it denies His deity. Islam denies that God has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ, yet the Bible makes this very clear (Jn. 1:1-4, 14; Col. 2:9). A Biblical interpretation of Mohammed’s activities and pronouncements would include the founder of Islam in the class of false prophets. I Jn. 4:1-3 tells the Christian to test and not believe every spirit so as to determine whether or not that spirit is from God. Very clearly in this passage of Scripture the Christian is told that anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ having come in the flesh from God is of the spirit of antichrist.
Muslims, although stating several positive things about Christ, deny His most fundamental accomplishment. Islam, not being able to conceive of a God willing to die for His creation has invented a story that has Him mysteriously removing Jesus from the cross and putting on another to take his place. Therefore they also deny that He rose from the dead. However, Jesus very clearly stated that His purpose in death was to create a “New Covenant”, the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, out of His own blood. (Mt. 26:28)
Herein we see a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam is like most all other religions in the world. It is an attempt on man’s behalf to work his way towards some type of approval by God. However, in their system, no Muslim has assurance of the attainment of salvation (with the possible exception of death in Jihad) due to the completely unknowable god they serve. The Christian can appreciate the Muslim’s view of their god as being totally “other worldly” and transcendent, yet after these points we must take a divergent view. The Christian realizes that God is holy and just, and left to our own devices we are completely unable to save ourselves. Yet, instead of merely relying on a fatalistic phrase “If Allah wills.”, the Christian relies on God’s grace, His unmerited favor, showered on us in the Person of Jesus Christ. (Eph. 2:1-10; I Jn. 5:1-5, 12-13) It is because of Christ’s sinless perfection, His obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, and His bodily resurrection from the dead, that new life and the forgiveness of sin can be given to those who were spiritually dead.
To deny this message is anathema to the Christian. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul made this clear in his Galatian letter when chastising them, he said: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”(Gal. 1:8). Does Mohammed preach the same “Gospel” as the Apostle Paul? No! So, according to the Christian understanding the prophet of Islam is regarded as “accursed” by the God of the universe. How could this have happened? Was Mohammed deceived? The Christian must come to the conclusion that he was. Mohammed supposedly received his message through the angel Gabriel. Yet, II Cor. 11:14 says “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Since Satan was defeated once and for all at Calvary, why should it surprise the Christian that he would desire to deceive as many as possible from the true message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This, it must be concluded, is what he attempted in Mohammed.
“Is Allah, this stone idol, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”, is a question one man has asked? (33) Just because Mohammed says he is does not make it so. Mohammed says that Allah chose Hagar and her son Ishmael for his covenant. The God of the Bible chose Abraham’s other son, Isaac, as heir to His covenant. (Gen. 17:18-22) Allah, according to the Qur’an, is not knowable. He is utterly impossible to approach. It is no wonder that the doctrine most absent in Islam, as opposed to Christianity, is the doctrine of God as love. The orthodox Muslim cannot say from experience or from the pages of the Qur’an that Allah is a love. Yet, the God of the Bible befriends people like Abraham (Is. 41:8) and talks with them (Gen. 18:22ff). (34) However, the Christian knows that God loved him so very much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us to reconcile us unto Himself! (Jn. 3:16; I Jn. 4:7-10).
Allah is a god that cannot be known by his adherents personally. There are laws and practices to obey and to submit to. When the Muslim prays he always prays for mercy because he does not know the source of mercy, the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1, 6:23, 8:1) The God of the Bible delights to show His boundless mercy and His message is not an enslaving code of rituals and regulations based on fear. Rather, His Gospel is the “good news” of grace and redemption and forgiveness. (Titus 3:4-7). Whereas Allah requires total obedience to Islam and weighs the deeds of man, the God of the Bible can only be reached, yet with assurance (I Jn. 5:13) by trusting in Jesus Christ alone.
“In the light of Allah’s actual origin and his radical difference from the God of the Bible, we must conclude that Allah is not God. Nor is the “Allah” a generic Mideast name for God, as many Christians think. Allah is the name of a false god who cannot save anyone from anything.” (35) Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life, and the only way to the Father. (Jn. 14:6)
1. Anderson, p. 6
2. Sura 93:6ff
3. Anderson, p. 54
4. Curtis, p. 49
5. Dowley, p. 176
6. Sura 96:1-5
7. Sura 74:1
8. Anderson, p. 57
9. MacDonald, p. 72
10. Anderson, p. 59
11. Silas, Answering Islam Web Page
12. Anderson, p. 53
13. Sura 4:169 etc.,
14. Sura 4:156
15. Anderson, p. 62
16. Ibid., p. 78
17. Ibid., p. 79
19. Ibid., p. 80
20. Sura 72:1,2,15,16
21. Anderson, p. 81
22. Sura 26:95; 35:28; 46:2, etc.
23. Anderson, p. 81
24. Sura 44:54; 55:56,58,70-74; 56:34-36; 2:23; 3:13; 4:60
25. Carlson, p. 110
26. Anderson, p. 83
28. Anderson, p. 84
29. Carlson, p. 111
30. Answering Islam web page
31. Anderson, p. 85
32. Palmer, p. 69
33. Carlson p. 113
35. Carlson, p. 115
1. Anderson, J.N.D., The World’s Religions, (London: Inter-Varsity, 1950).
2. Answering Islam web page – Index Listing “H” for Hajj. (AnsweringIslam.org)
3. Carlson, Ron & Decker, Ed, Fast Facts on False Teachings, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994).
4. Curtis, A. Kenneth, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.)
5. Dowley, Tim, Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.)
6. The Koran, (London: Penguin Group, 1990).
7. MacDonald, D.B., The Aspects of Islam, (New York: MacMillian Press, 1911).
8. Palmer, R.R., A History of the Modern World to 1815, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984).
9. Silas, (no other name given) Muhammad, Aisha, Islam, and Child Brides, (AnsweringIslam.org.)