Islam is the second largest religion and the fastest growing religion (by fertility, not by conversions) on earth. For 1400 years it has been in an existential struggle against all others for earthly power.
By Mark D. Harris
The Middle East in AD 600.
The Middle East in the late 6th century AD bristled with thorns. The Byzantines and Persians crossed swords time and time again. Christendom rent itself over theological disputes, with arguments sometimes ending in blood. The Jews, having lost their homeland to the Romans over 400 years before, got on as best they could as minorities in societies very different from them. Justinian’s Plague, an outbreak of yersinia pestis, killed at least 15 million people from 541-549, depopulating farms and cities alike. A volcanic eruption in 535 covered the earth’s atmosphere with ash, darkening the sun and causing a year-old cold spell that caused a mass famine in the northern hemisphere.
In Arabia, Bedouin tribes and their livestock moved from pastureland to pastureland as they had done since the days of Abraham and Ishmael. In accordance with tradition, they raided, looted, burned, and murdered each other. Townsmen, who lived in settlements built near the rare oases in the desert, made a living from making and trading goods and services. Traditional Arab pagans worshipped many gods of whom Allah was only one. Mecca was a site of pilgrimage, and the Kaaba in Mecca housed the holy black stone. Christianity, Judaism, and paganism shaped the thinking of men.
The Life of Mohammad
Into this world came Mohammad (AD 570-632), a scion of the political powerful Qureshi family, was born in Mecca. He became an orphan at age 6 and was raised by his uncle, who was a merchant. Under his uncle, Mohammad learned trade, how to lead caravans, the local and regional geography, and the ways of life of people in his area. He came into the employ of Khadijah (AD 555-619), a wealthy and powerful widow and merchant, and in 595, he married her.
Mohammad had a practice of retiring to caves for prayer, and in 610, he reported receiving a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. He began preaching his revelations, especially that God is One and that people must submit to Him. He slowly gathered followers, of whom Khadija was first. As the number of Muslims grew, persecution arose from Mohammad’s relatives in Mecca. In what is known as the Hijrah (622), he fled with his followers to Medina (Yathrib). Many believed. Mohammad proved able to quell disputes between the Medinan Arabs, Jews, and Christians, becoming the leader of Medina.
Mohammad began raiding caravans from Mecca, 270 miles south, that were headed for the Levant. Soon he and his followers became wealthy, which they took as a sign of Allah’s blessing. The Qureshi of Mecca sent a force against him but were defeated at the Battle of Badr (624). Mohammad claimed to be Allah’s final prophet, and his monetary and military success seemed to confirm his claim. Since Medina was on the main northern trade route out of Mecca, Mohammad could strangle the economy of his enemies, and he did. The sides traded military victories, but the Qureshi grew weaker. In 630, Mohammad marched his army into Mecca. He died two years later. Mohammad left behind what Muslims believe were revelations from Allah which they later assembled into the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Later, stories of Mohammad’s sayings were compiled into other highly sources of Islamic truth called the Hadiths (Sahih al Bukhari, Sahih al Islam).
Characteristics of Islam
The foundational actions required of Muslim are contained in the Five Pillars of Islam.
- Shahada – Muslims must say, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.”
- Salah – Muslims must pray five times per day. Fajr is the dawn prayer, Zuhr is the noon prayer, Asr is the afternoon prayer, Maghrib is the sunset prayer, and Isha is the night prayer.
- Zakat – Muslims must pay taxes, which are traditionally considers alms to help the poor. Zakat is a wealth tax, targeting 2.5% of an individual’s total wealth annually.
- Sawm – Muslims must fast during the daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. Muslims consume a meal before Fajr and may eat again after the Maghrib prayer.
- Hajj – At least once in a Muslim’s lifetime, he or she must make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Islam, Allah is the only God and He is utterly supreme over the universe. Allah personally created the universe. Angels exist to serve Allah and help man. No human intermediaries such as saints or priests are needed to contact God. Muslim doctrine teaches that Christianity and Judaism have been corrupted over the centuries and so Allah sent Mohammad to bring mankind back to a true understanding of Him. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus are thought of as prophets, but inferior ones.
Humans are not made in the image of God. People are considered sinless until they, by doing evil deeds, rebel against Allah. Salvation is based on works. Those whose good deeds outweigh their evil ones will ascend to paradise while those whose deeds are, on balance, evil will descend to hell. Allah can forgive but is under no obligation to and may not be inclined to. Theophanies are visible manifestations of God, and Islam has seen three primary ones. First, Allah is distant. Second, Allah is cold, and third, Allah hates infidels.
The four branches of Islam are Sunni (85%), Shia (10%), Sufi (mystical), Nation of Islam, and others (5%).
Islam and the State
The community of Muslims is called the Umma. Ideally, the Umma elects its own supreme leader, known as the Caliph (or in Turkish use, the Sultan). The Caliph is the military and religious leader, thus the umma have unified secular and religious governance. All sources of temporal power belong to him, and in Muslim thought, religious power also rests on him. In a Muslim-controlled society, there is no “separation of church and state.” The earliest Caliphs (Leaders) after Mohammad have been labeled the Rashidun or “rightly guided” caliphs. They are Abu Bakr (AD 573-634), Umar (AD 582-644) Uthman (AD 573-656), Ali (AD 600 – 661). Sunni and Shia Muslims differ on their approach to the Caliphate.
People who are not Muslim in societies controlled by Muslims are called Dhimmi (protected persons). Dhimmi are required to pay jizya (tax). Muslim apologists contend that jizya was and is only required from adult, free males and exempts women, children, elders, handicapped, the ill, the insane, monks, hermits, and slaves. Dhimmi do not pay zakat, so the argument goes that jizya is a fee for the protection that the local ruler provides to non-Muslims. It is also material proof of the non-Muslim’s subservience to the Muslim state.
In practice, jizya has sometimes impoverished dhimmi while funding Muslim governments in their wars against Christian states, such as Armenia and Greece. According to Islamic law, dhimmis:
- Are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt.
- Must keep to the side of the street.
- Must not build higher than or as high as Muslim buildings.
- Are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, to ring church bells, display crosses, recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of funerals or feastdays.
- Are not greeted with “as-Salamu alaykum.”
Such practices informed the peculiar clothing requirements of other societies, most notably the Jews in World War II. Depending upon the Muslim ruler in power and the spirit of the times, dhimmi could be treated relatively well or poorly.
Jihad includes the greater jihad (striving against sin) and lesser jihad (holy war). When combined with quitab (as it often is in the Quran, it means war. When people say that Islam is a religion of peace, the truth is that the Quran promises peace to Muslims (dar al Islam – house of Islam), not to infidels (dar al harb, house of War). The historical Islamic understanding is that Islam brings peace to the world only when all the world is Muslim.
Immediately after Mohammad’s death, his successors united the Arabian Peninsula under Islam in the Riddah Wars (632-633). Four years later (636), the Muslims inflicted major defeats on the Byzantines (Yarmuk) and Persians (Qadisiya). This gave Muslims control over most of the Middle East. They conquered Egypt (641) and the Persian Empire (654). The rest of north Africa fell, and Muslim armies including Arabs, Persians, Berbers, and others captured Spain (711). Only the Frankish victory at Tours (732) protected Western Europe from Muslim domination.
The Anatolian peninsula resisted Islamic expansion for centuries, but Constantinople was besieged several times. The Byzantines lost most of the inland provinces after Manzikert (1070). In the east, Muslim armies with Arabs, Persians, and Mongols conquered most of central Asia and modern-day India (12th century). Arab traders spread Islam to Southeast Asia and Indonesia. The Christian Crusades pushed the Muslim Turk armies back for two centuries (1096-1290) but the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and the European Balkans to the gates of Vienna (1529, 1683). Mughals trampled India. Only in the 18th century did European Christians begin to turn back the Islamic tide.
Islamic armies are no longer able to trample non-Muslim states. To their credit, Muslim scholars are trying to interpret old texts in non-traditional, and less militant, ways. But the texts still say what they say. Softening violent teachings is hard and temporary, as the next generation may reverse what the prior generation did. In light of the recent attacks by Hamas on Israel, the historical militancy of Islam is alive and well.
Jesus Christi died for people trapped by Islam, and Christians are commanded to love them. Despite the anger and the fear, followers of Christ are duty bound to share the goodness of the Lord with them. We must protect ourselves, being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We must defend the weak and punish the wicked, as Abraham did when his nephew Lot was taken away. We must do our full duty to protect our families. But believers are guaranteed eternity with God. We must do whatever we can to help those who do not know Him. And do so soon.
Aḥmad Ibn Luʼluʼ Ibn Al-Naqīb, and Noah Ha. Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law. Beltsville, Md.: Amana Publications, 1999.
House, H Wayne. Charts of World Religions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006.
 H Wayne House, Charts of World Religions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006).
 Aḥmad Ibn Luʼluʼ Ibn Al-Naqīb and Noah Ha, Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Beltsville, Md.: Amana Publications, 1999).
 Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil made Jews wear a yellow star in the 9th century.