About 570 A.D., Abdullah, the son of Abd El Muttalib, a Mecca businessman, went on a business trip with his pregnant wife. Abdullah died suddenly, and his wife, Amina, hurried home to give birth to a son whom she named Mohammed, Arabic for “Praised One.” Less than 100 years later this Arab boy’s name, joined with the name of God, was sung out five times a day from over 10,000 mosques across three continents. The religion of Islam was born.
Today one-sixth of the world population is Muslim. That’s almost a billion people.
Who are these people? What do they believe? In our popular Western thinking we lump Muslims with holy wars, fanatical and frenzied religious devotion, acts of terrorism, and the likes of Idi Amin, Yasir Arafat, Colonel Khaddafi, and Osama Bin Laden. But Hollywood stereotypes do not hold up well!
Islam began with an individual called Mohammed and the 62 years of his life. Born in present day Saudi Arabia around 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca, Mohammed, due to his father’s death, was reared by his grandfather, an aristocrat suffering from social and financial reversals.
Mecca then was a city of merchants. Having organized an effective ban on tribal wars, the city prospered. Materialism bred selfishness and snobbery. And even though many struggled in poverty, the rich refused to help.
At 25, Mohammed married a wealthy widow, Khadija, and for the next 15 years traded among Mecca’s businessmen. In his leisure time he walked the hills around Mecca spending increasing time alone.
Christianity had flourished a few hundred miles to the west, but as yet no one bothered to take the gospel to Mecca. Snatches of the Old Testament were there. Some fuzzy notions of Christ, an ancient Jewish prophet who’d gotten himself killed, were there. But the entire Bible was not translated into Arabic until 80 years after Mohammed’s death.
Meanwhile, Meccan society languished in materialism, greed and selfishness.
In the city center was a temple gathering place called the Kabba, Arabic for “the cube.” A rectangular temple surrounded a large black stone that legend said the angel Gabriel had given to Abraham and his son Ishmael. The stone had once been white, but people coming to worship over the centuries and touching it had turned it black from their sins.
Surrounding the Kabba stone were over 300 idols and fetishes the citizens of Mecca alternately worshipped. There was a god of war, of fertility, of death, of business, travel, wellness, and so on. A god or goddess for every need!
Through such streets Mohammed walked. And by age 40 he began to hear voices. Deciding God was calling him to be a prophet, Mohammed believed he should tell the people his messages.
He believed he was a prophet in line with other Old Testament leaders such as Jonah, Isaiah, Amos, and most recently, Jesus. He believed true religion had been corrupted. It was his calling to purify it.
He began to reveal that there was only one true God and Allah, Arabic for “the God” was his name.
This God created the universe and all men should worship and obey him. Money was but a means to be generous. And after death all would be rewarded or punished according to their deeds.
As Mohammed preached, a small number of citizens believed. Others resented his intrusions on their material good life. Persecuted, his business boycotted, his wife having died, Mohammed and his few followers fled north 250 miles to the desert oasis today called Medina. There he got a favorable hearing, almost the entire city converting to his new religion.
His followers began to attack Mecca’s caravans as they passed through. Victory followed victory. And the Meccans, alarmed, mustered an army to crush Mohammed’s Medina. They failed. Then in January of 630 A.D. Mohammed, at the head of a 10,000 man army, advanced on Mecca. The city surrendered to him.
Soon Mohammed was the strongest ruler in Arabia. A charismatic leader, administrator, and alliance maker, he worked no miracles nor foretold the future. As he conquered a tribe, a city, a region, he insisted his new subjects embrace his new religion.
Mohammed continued to receive messages from God the remainder of his life. His followers began to write them down. The book became known as the Koran. If you read it, you’ll find discussions of spiritual matters, signs of God in nature, stories of how God vindicated his prophets, the pleasures of heaven and terrors of hell described, that Christ is just another of God’s prophets, and the predicted coming of the Mahdi, “The Expected One,” who will rule Islam with power and justice.
Mohammed called his religion Islam which is Arabic for “submitting to God.” He died on June 8, 632 A.D. He left behind a unified prosperous Arab world, and the newest great religion of the world – Islam. Within a generation it was to spread like wildfire from Arabia to North Africa and into Turkey. By 700 A.D. Europeans would fear it would sweep into France itself!
The word “religion” is a Latin word. It means “to bind back.”
All of the great religions of the world agree on the fact that people once had a close and meaningful relationship with God but somehow we lost it.
Where religions disagree is on how that relationship is restored.
Most religions say man must do something to make God love him again.
Judaism warns man must strictly obey the Ten Commandments.
Hinduism teaches salvation comes in denial of passions.
Christianity argues that man is helpless to bind himself back to God; that God must act to do it for us. And He has in Jesus Christ on the cross and by His resurrection.
Mohammed taught salvation by works.
He offered his followers five, sometimes six, “Pillars of Islam” by which anyone could hope to find God and bind himself back into relationship.
- Public witness. Each adherent must be willing to testify, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.
- Converts should pray five times a day facing Mecca.
- They should give alms to the poor.
- They should fast during the day in the month of Ramadan.
- If possible, each disciple should make a pilgrimage to Mecca and worship at the Kabba at least once in his lifetime.
- Good Muslims should fight in any holy wars to defend the true faith.
It helps to understand that all major religions can be grouped into two basic categories: active and reactive religions.
Active religions teach that man must do something to earn God’s love. He must work to earn salvation. Hence, Mohammed’s six Pillars of Islam.
The only reactive religion is Christianity. It teaches that humans are so sinful they can never hope to cleanse themselves. But God has acted for us when Christ died for our sins on the cross. All we can do is react. And repentance, belief, faith, a desire to be filled with God’s Spirit – these are the responses God calls for.
Well, you can imagine that Islam and Christianity slammed into each other in the Mediterranean countries with all of the force of opposing ideologies. East met West. Active religion confronted reactive religion. Latin met Arabic. And conflict boiled over.
Christianity, weakened by corruption, and the Western world reeling from the collapse of the Roman Empire, rolled up before Islam’s spreading fervor. When Spain fell to the Moors, it looked as if the Muslim faith would conquer Europe!
But in 730 A.D., Charles Martel, leader of the Franks, defeated the Islamic invaders. He did so by employing Europe’s newest secret weapon – huge horses bred in Persia were fully armored along with their riders. And a new innovation, the stirrup, made for a stable riding platform from which to fight. Martel’s grandson was Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Europe.
Over the centuries there has been all but continuous quarreling between Christian and Muslim. The Crusades were fought over control of the Holy Land in about a half dozen or more European military campaigns between 1095 and 1450 A.D.
Over the years Islam has experienced it ups and downs, as has the Christian West. During the Middle Ages when Europe was slumped in 1,000 years of superstition, illiteracy, corruption and decay, the Arab world came into full flower with math, science, leaders such as Saladin, and incredible literature.
Today Islam represents one-sixth of the world’s population. Significant percentages of Indonesia, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Turkey, Israel, North Africa and, of course Arabian nations, are Muslims. One-third of the former Russian army is Islamic. It was predicted that by the year 2,000, one half of its army would be disciples of Mohammed.
It is fashionable today for Blacks in the United States to convert to Islam. Christianity is falsely understood to be a white man’s religion. Islam is African. So boxer Cassius Clay becomes Mohammed Ali. And you get Kareem Abdul Jabbar and more.
The fact is, Islam is only 1,300 years old. And Christianity is 2,000 years old. Long before white men became Christians, blacks were flocking to the cross. Men like Simon of Cyrene who helped carry Jesus’ cross. Men like Tertullian who in North Africa in 300 A.D. or so, coined the Latin word “trinity” to help explain the mysteries of God’s nature.
Today East meets West again. Saddam met Bush. Clinton met Muslim terrorists. And New York and the Pentagon met the Islamic Jihad extremists. It is but the continuation of a conflict now 1,300 years old.
|Born of the virgin Mary in 4 B.C.||Born of Aminah in A.D. 570|
|No earthly father||Earthly father was Abd Allah|
|Never married||Married to 15 wives|
|Lived a sinless life||Was sinful|
|Never prayed for forgiveness of His sin||Prayed often for forgiveness|
|Waged no war||Waged 66 battles|
|Ordered the death of no one||Ordered the deaths of many|
|Established mercy and love.||Showed no mercy and used the sword|
|Established a spiritual kingdom||Established an earthly empire|
|Died by crucifixion at 33 years old||Died of pneumonia and poisoning at 62|
|Arose from the grave and is alive||Still in the grave – dead|
|Old Testament predicted His first and second coming.||Was not predicted in the Bible|
|Theme: Love||Dedication to war|
|Mentioned in Quran 97 times||Mentioned in the Quran 25 times|
The Middle East pot is boiling over with war again!
It boiled when Nebuchednezzar conquered Israel several centuries before Christ. It boiled when Alexander invaded and conquered Palestine in 333 B.C.
It boiled when Roman General Pompey took it in about 100 B.C. It has successively boiled with Herod, the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire, Lawrence of Arabia and the Six Day War. It boiled with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Now it boils again in the world’s war on terror.
In the Mideast they tell a story to explain their miseries.
A frog was about to swim the Jordan River when a scorpion asked him for a ride over on his back.
“But I’m afraid you’ll sting me and I’ll drown!” the frog said.
“I promise I won’t sting you!” the scorpion pledged.
So the scorpion crawled on the frog’s back and the frog began to swim across the Jordan River. The scorpion stung the frog in midstream.
“Why did you do this? Now we’ll both drown!” screamed the frog .
“But after all,” the scorpion said, “this is the Mideast!”
The Mideast, cradle of ancient civilization, is known for the Fertile Crescent, a thin crescent shaped slash of land arching between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq to the north and Egypt’s Nile River to the south. Move out too far of the Crescent to the right or left and you are in either the desert or the Mediterranean Sea.
Study a map and you’ll quickly see that Israel is the land bridge between three continents. The crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa converge there in a plain called Jezreel, Megiddo, or Armageddon. It is there the Bible prophesies the mother of all battles will be fought in the last days – the battle of Armageddon.
Over the centuries great armies, exoduses, and exiles have brought whole populations to and from the Mideast. It has been and is now an international region. Even today Jerusalem is divided into four distinct quarters – Jewish, Arabic, Christian, and even Armenian.
To walk the streets of Jerusalem is to hear a babble of languages – Arabic, British English, Hebrew, Greek, French. The city is sacred to the Jews as King David’s royal city, site of their temple. The only remaining portion still standing is the Western Wailing Wall. Christians revere it as the site of Christi’s crucifixion and resurrection. And Muslims revere it as the site of their second most sacred mosque, the Dome of the Rock. It is a city of many nationalities, languages, belief systems, and passions all competing for one’s attention like the smells of the food markets.
To the Jews it is their homeland. The only Jewish state in the world. A place where they can defend themselves from another Holocaust. A place where they can live out their creed communally. “If the Arabs don’t like it here, let them leave,” a Zionist says. “There are dozens of Arab states they can go live in; but there is no place else for the Jews.”
To the Palestinians it is their ancestral home, a home they were pushed off of forcibly in 1948 when Israel became a nation. A home they have tried successively, but to no avail, to retake by force, by terrorism, and by diplomacy.
To the world the Mideast is an oil supply, the price and stability of access which drives the world economy.
Both Jews and Arabs claim Abraham as their ancestral father. And because Abraham favored his son Isaac while disowning his son Ishmael, there is enmity.
Over the centuries the Arabs of Ishmael have chosen Islam. The sons of Isaac, Judaism.
Both Moslems and Jews dislike Christians – some intensely. Theologically they believe Christians unsound because of the doctrine of the trinity. They suspect Christians of polytheistic belief. And the “Christian” West is seen as soft, greedy, morally lax. Western women wear shorts, parade in public in bikinis. Moslem women cover up head to toe in public. Our drug dealers get off in the courts. Theirs are publicly executed … beheaded.
In Vietnam our soldiers fought poorly – too much beer, drugs, low morale, whoremongering! It was the army’s ruin! The Persian Gulf War, however, was the straight-laced soldiers’ war. America’s Muslim hosts in Arabia saw to it that there were no drugs, no alcohol, and no women of the night.
What is the way out of all this confusion of thought, this babble of passions, crossed expectations? The Moslems look for a Mahdi, or “expected one,” a powerful, just leader who is predicted to come in history and unite the nation of Islam under one rule. Saddam, never a devout Muslim, used religion and tried to position himself as the new Saladin or Nebuchednezzar, the Expected One. The Jews look to God for the Messiah, a new heavenly King David who will make Israel return to her former glory. And Christians look for the second coming of Christ.
The Bible teaches History began in the Mideast. And it is there it will end. Perhaps on a day soon one will come to this region that so reveals what we all are, and painfully, are not. And this person will be so beautiful, so irresistible, so truthful, so redeeming, that we shall forget everyone else and honor Him and so live in His peace – the Expected One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ!