Islamic Theology – Introduction
When it comes to Islamic Theology, the essential Muslim profession of faith is, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah. [There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.]”
There are several sources for the study of Islam. Of foremost importance is the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an, (from the verb qara’a “to read” or “to recite”), is the holy book of Islam. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the literal word of God (Arabic Allah) and the culmination of God’s revelation to mankind as revealed to Muhammad, the final prophet of humanity, over a period of twenty-three years through the angel Jibril. In this text we use primarily the translation of A. Yusuf Ali.1 While it is an older translation (sounding much like the King James Version of the Bible), it is well respected and widely known.
Ranking second to the Qur’an are the Hadith. The Hadith record the teachings, rulings, and actions of Muhammad as recounted by his early associates. Muslims believe that the Hadith are inspired by God, and thus are to be obeyed. Unlike the Qur’an, the Hadith enjoy a diversity of sources and divergence of readings. It is not uncommon to find a variety of forms of particular sayings or recollections of Muhammad’s actions. Different Muslim factions have different collections or highlight different actions or sayings recorded in the Hadith.
In addition to the Qur’an and the Hadith, we also turn to the works of noted scholars of Islam, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, as well as works popularly promoted by Islamic organizations. Throughout our presentation of Islam, we strive to be fair to the central features of the worldview, as well as to the diversity found among Muslims.
Islamic Theology – Central Beliefs
There are several central beliefs in Islamic Theology. First, Muslims believe in Unitarian theism. They reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and deny the deity of Jesus Christ. The one unforgivable sin is shirk, associating partners with God (i.e., polytheism). God is viewed as sovereign over humans and history, which has led to a discussion of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility that parallels the same discussion among Christians.
Muslims also affirm the existence of angels and jinn, the latter being mischievous spirits made from fire. The angels exist in a hierarchy, with Gabriel at the top. Some believe that two angels attend each person, one recording good deeds and the other recording bad deeds.
The Qur’an teaches that God has sent prophets to every nation under heaven, though the final prophet is Muhammad. Also, while God gave special books to Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad, only the one given to Muhammad, the Qur’an, has been preserved without error, and is thus the ultimate authoritative scripture.
Capping off the central beliefs of Islam is the Day of Judgment, a day when every human being will face a weighing of deeds, both good and evil. Only if the weight of one’s good deeds surpasses that of one’s bad deeds can each person hope to enter into Paradise rather than descending into Hell.
Islamic Theology – Practice
Building upon the central beliefs of Islam (meaning “submission”), a devout Muslim (“one who submits”) is expected to practice the following five (or six) “pillars” of their religion:
- The first pillar of Islam is the confession of faith: There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. If a person pronounces this confession with sincerity of mind and heart, then he or she is a Muslim.
- The second pillar is prayer. Muslims are expected to engage in prayer five times a day, facing Mecca. On Friday, Muslim men (and, in some cases, women) are expected to meet at a mosque to engage in noon prayer.
- The third pillar is fasting during Ramadan. This involves refraining from food, smoking, and sexual relations during daylight hours, though these may be enjoyed after sundown.
- The fourth pillar is almsgiving. Muslims are expected to give 2.5 percent of their annual capital to the poor, either directly or through Muslim charitable organizations.
- The fifth pillar is pilgrimage. All Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, if their finances and health permit.
- Some would add a sixth pillar, that of jihad, which has two facets. First, it is the battle against temptation and sin for the sake of self-control. Second, it is the battle against any and all who oppose Islam.2
Islamic Theology – Islam and Other Religions
Because Muhammad was the final prophet and the Qur’an God’s final revelation, Muslims reject all claims to new divine revelation or inspired prophets. Thus they are highly critical of groups branching off of pure Islamic Theology, such as the Baha’i,3 the Ahmadiyyah,4 and the Nation of Islam (i.e., “Black Muslims”),5 which assert prophetic continuation past Muhammad.
Even though there was a time when Muslims embraced adherents of other monotheistic faiths (such as Jews and Christians), this came to an end with the finished work of Muhammad and the full revelation of the Qur’an. Now only Muslims are accepted by God: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to God), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good)” (3:85).6
Islamic Theology – Conclusion
Rather than denying that the Old Testament is the Word of God, Christians affirm—in direct contrast to Muslim criticisms of the Bible—that it is God’s inspired Word and is useful for teaching, correction, rebuke, and instruction in godliness (1 Timothy 3:16–17). Islam is not to Christianity as Christianity is to the Old Testament. We can begin to illustrate the truthfulness of God’s Word to Muslims by showing the New Testament’s appeals to, dependence upon, and development from the Old Testament, as well as demonstrating our own high regard for the whole Bible—both Old and New Testaments.
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Washington, DC: The American International Printing Company, 1946). In some quotations from Ali’s translation, we have taken the liberty of smoothing out the text, removing unnecessary punctuation and poetic capitalization of letters.
2 The notion of opposition varies among Muslims. Some attempt to limit it to actual aggression, primarily of a military variety, and thus view jihad as exclusively defensive in posture. The history of Islam relegates this perspective to a minority view—in its early years, Islam spread through conquest. Many contemporary Muslims understand “defense” as the response needed against anything or anyone who would seek to inhibit Islam from becoming a global civilization. Additionally, since Muslims believe that the world originally was Islamic, and that every person is born a Muslim, they can easily move toward holding any and all non-Muslims as inherently in opposition to Islam.
3 See www.bahai.org and www.us.bahai.org. For Christian interactions with the Baha’i faith, see, Francis J. Beckwith, Baha’i (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985) and William M. Miller, The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings (South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publications, 1984).
4 See John Gilchrist, “A Study of the Ahmadiyyah Movement,” found at http://www.answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/Vol1/9c.html.
5 See C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) and Steven Tsoulkas, The Nation of Islam: Understanding the ‘Black Muslims’ (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001).
6 See Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Qur’anic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
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