The late A.L. Barry was the former president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In 1999 he wrote a series of pamphlets called "What About..." covering a series of theological, social and ethical issues from a Lutheran perspective. This article is adapted from of Dr. Barry's pamphet on Islam.
What is Islam and Who are Muslims? The word "Islam" comes from an Arabic word, salama, which has a double meaning: "to surrender" and "to be at peace". A "Muslim" is a person who surrenders his or her entire life to the will of Allah.
A sincere, devout Muslim is a person of deep religious conviction and faith, not unlike a devout Christian. Negative stereotypes of Muslims in the Western world are partially due to the fact that our culture has become so secular that people have a hard time understanding anyone who holds to religious beliefs strongly.
As of 1995, there approximately one billion Muslims in the world. There are about five million Muslims in the United States.
How Islam Began Muhammad, an Arabian trader, became familiar with Christianity and Judaism as a result of his work as a camel driver. Muhammad was deeply troubled by the status of religion and morality among his people. In the year 610 AD, he claimed that the angel Gabriel revealed to him the name of the one and only true God, "Allah". At that point, Muhammad's career as the founder of Islam began. Islam spread rapidly through Muhammad's military conquests.
What Muslims BelieveAbove everything else, a Muslim believes that "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." This motto, called the Shahadah or the Islamic Creed, is used in every aspect of Muslim life. The sacred book of Islam is the Koran (often spelled Qur'an), which is believed to be the record of Allah's revelations to Muhammad. Muslims believe in Allah's angels, in Allah's books and in all Allah's messengers and prophets (Jesus is considered one of Allah's prophets).
Most Muslims also believe that Allah predestines people to go either to heaven or hell. Muslims believe in a paradise after death for those who are worthy, that is, those who have adequately fulfilled Allah's requirements and are chosen by Allah. They believe that Muslims may spend more time in hell, but will eventually end up in paradise. Muslims believe that all who do not worship Allah, following the Five Pillars of Islam (see below), will be cast into hell when they die.
Smaller groups of Muslims include:
Similarities between Christianity and IslamLike Christians, Muslims have a profound sense of the presence of the Deity in their lives. They believe that Allah is totally in control and believe it is their duty to submit completely to his will. Like Christians, Muslims try to live according to clear moral codes of right and wrong, and want the same for their children and for their societies. Muslims are interested in supporting traditional morality in regard to issues like marriage, sexuality, abortion, homosexuality and the breakdown of the family unit. In these ways, Christians and Muslims have a lot in common.
Do Christians and Muslims Believe in the Same God?Christians know and believe in the Holy Trinity, that is, one God who has revealed Himself as three equal, yet distinct, persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Islam rejects the Trinity and insists on belief in Allah. Muslims believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is blasphemous idolatry. Therefore, it is important to understand that when Muslims use the word "God", in English, they are referring to Allah, the subject of the Koran, and are most certainly not referring to the Holy Trinity, when they use the word "God."
One must be a bit cautious in making this point, simply because among Arabic speaking Christians, "Allah" is the word used for "God" in Arabic translations of the Bible. The point to be made is that Christians and Muslims may use similar words, but don't mean the same thing when they speak of God.
What Muslims Believe about JesusMuslims have great respect for Jesus, believing Him to be the prophet who announced the coming of Allah's greatest prophet, Muhammad. Muslims even believe that Jesus was sinless, born of a virgin and did many miracles, but only because he was one of Allah's prophets.
Christians believe, teach and confess that Jesus was not just a prophet, but actually the Son of God, true God and true Man, sent by the Father to be the world's Redeemer. Muslims do not believe that Jesus died and rose again to win our salvation. Muslims generally respect Christians as "People of the Book" and do not view them with the same displeasure that they view persons who are atheists or agnostics
What Muslims Believe about SalvationAbove all differences between Christians and Muslims, this is the most important. Christians believe that salvation is a gift from God--a gift earned for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ, who willingly came into this world of sin and death, living perfectly in our place, fulfilling all of God's demands, giving up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and then finally rising from the dead as the complete victor over sin, death and Satan. Forgiveness of sins is a gift from God that cannot be earned. Christians know God to be their loving heavenly Father, a concept that is nearly unknown to Muslims, who do not speak of a personal relationship with Allah, even though they are very much aware of his constant presence and control over their lives.
Muslims believe that they can be saved if they follow the Five Pillars of Islam well enough, and thus earn the favor and blessing of Allah. But they can never be certain and confident of their eternal salvation. Christians who have converted from Islam describe how liberating it was for them to come to know and believe in the true God of love and kindness, who gives them forgiveness, life and salvation as gift because of what His Son, Jesus Christ, did for them.
Reaching Out to MuslimsDiscussions about religion with Muslims should not be one-sided. Christians must be willing to listen respectfully and learn about the faith of Islam. Christians should pray that God will touch the heart of their Muslim friends and neighbors and make them open to the Gospel. In many cases, the best opportunity for outreach comes when Muslims move into our communities and neighborhoods. With many Muslim families now calling the San Gabriel Valley home, this opportunity has never been greater or closer for us.
Rather than trying to engage Muslims in heated debate (which generally is unsuccessful), Christians can reach out through meaningful friendships and relationships with Muslims, demonstrating what Christian love, compassion and forgiveness is all about. As is usually the case, a Christian's lifestyle can go a long way toward helping Muslims to at least consider the possibility of the Christian faith. On the other hand, if Muslims witness behaviors that are unloving and reflect a prejudice against them this can turn them away from Christianity.
When opportunities for discussion about religion arise, Christians need to stick to the important issues. God is a God of love and mercy, who gives us forgiveness freely, as a gift, because of Jesus, who is the Son of God, not merely a human prophet. Encourage Muslims to read the New Testament for themselves. Most Muslims know Jesus only from what little is said about Him in the Koran.
Glad News! God Loves You, My Muslim Friend by Samy Tanagho (Tyrone, GA: Authentic Publishing, 2004).
How to Respond - Muslims by Ernest Hahn (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1995).
Muslim Friends, Their Faith and Feelings: An Introduction to Islam by Roland Miller (Concordia, 1996).