No religion in the world has garnered more interest in the past decade than has Islam. With the widespread incidents of terrorism and wars between factions in the Middle East and other places, Muslims are constantly on the front pages of newspapers everywhere. Based on what they have heard or read, most people have formed some mental notions about the religion of Islam.
Take the following quiz to see what you know about the truth or falsehood of conceptions many Americans have about Muslims and Islam. Correct answers with an explanation will follow the quiz.
1. Fact ____Fiction ____ – Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.
2. Fact ____Fiction ____ – Islam means “Peace.”
3. Fact ____Fiction ____ – All Muslims are Arabs.
4. Fact ____Fiction ____ – All Arabs are Muslims.
5. Fact ____Fiction ____ – True Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion.
6. Fact ____Fiction ____ – All Muslims are terrorists.
7. Fact ____Fiction ____ – All Muslims are united.
8. Fact ____Fiction ____ – The God of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is the same God.
1. FICTION. Islam is often thought to be the fastest growing religion in the world and in one sense it is expanding. Most Muslim countries do have rapidly growing populations as do other third-world nations. Actually, however, according to several well documented studies by missionary research groups, the fastest growing religion in the world is Evangelical Christianity (as defined as belief in conversion theology).
This is especially true in China (a recent report put the Christian population now at 67 million and growing exponentially). The conversion rate of Christianity worldwide is more than double that of Islam. The fastest growing denomination is the Assemblies of God which, for many years, has had one of the most effective international denominational missions programs. (For more info go here: http://fastestgrowingreligion.com/index.html )
2. FICTION. Muslim apologists will often declare that the word Islam means “peace.” However, the word transliterated in English as Islam is a noun derived from the infinitive of an Arabic verb meaning “to accept,” “to submit” or “to commit.” It literally means “submission” or “surrender” (in this case, to the will of Allah). Muslims may mean, from their perspective, that if you “submit” to Allah you will find “peace,” but the word itself does not mean peace.
3. FICTION. Many Americans and others in the West think that Arabs and Muslims are the same thing. An Arab is someone who traces his or her lineage to Ishmael, the oldest son of Abraham. In modern times it refers generally to an ethnic group from Arabic speaking nations. The truth is, though Muhammad and the early Muslims were from Arabia, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world today are not Arab.
The four countries in the world with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia (210 million), India (176 million), Pakistan (174 million), and Nigeria (80 million). None of those countries are Arab. All the Arab nations combined have a Muslim population of less than 300 million out of a total of more 1.5 billion worldwide. (Note: Neither Iran nor Afghanistan are Arab countries.)
4. FICTION. Likewise, as the above question, many in the west assume that all Arabs are Muslims. That, too, is not true. Many Arabs are not Muslims and, in fact, many are professing Christians of one sort or another. For instance, in the Arab country of Lebanon, only about 50% of the people are Muslim. Roughly 40% of the population is Christian (mostly Catholic and Greek Orthodox). There are also significant Christian populations in the Arab nations of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Saudi Arabia, however, does not allow any expressions of Christianity by anyone.
5. FICTION. If only this were true the world would be a much safer place. Though some modern secular Muslims favor tolerance and peace, the history of Islam is one of military conquest, mass killing, and forced conversions. Since the earliest days of their existence, led initially by Muhammad himself, Muslims have expanded their religious domination by the use of the sword. For example, historians say the Islamic invasions of the Indian sub-continent in the 11th through 16th centuries resulted in the mass slaughters of 50-100 million Hindus who refused to convert.
For several centuries the expansion lay dormant because of the imperial power of Western nations. However, in recent decades, as Islamic countries have gained independence and religious fervor has revived, many Muslims see the time as right for continuing the conquests. One part of the global strategy is the use of terrorism.
6. FICTION. So does that mean that all Muslims are terrorists or radical Jihadists? Of course not. To be fair, the vast majority of Muslims are against terrorism, mainly because the greatest amount of it is directed toward them! So how many Muslims are terrorists? That’s very hard to say since there is no available way to survey the number. Numerous Islamic terrorist organizations of various types exist around the world. That’s not to mention the unknown number of “lone wolves” lying quietly in wait to strike.
Nonetheless, if as few as 1% of Muslims are Jihadists, that means as many as 15 million worldwide are on the loose. Probably the number of radical Muslims is much higher. Some observers have estimated as many as 100 million Muslims are Jihadists or supporters of them.
In any case, it must be understood, that even the majority of Muslims who oppose terror tactics are still committed to the worldwide spread of Islam and the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) Law in all countries. The difference is not one of objective but of strategy and tactics. Most Islamic strategists favor a gradual infiltration (but not assimilation) of Muslims into Western democratic societies. Eventually, they postulate, a critical mass of Muslims will tip the scales of political power in order to gain a foothold in those countries.
Indications are that they are well along toward that goal in some European and Western nations. Consider these Muslim population percentages: Russia – 10%; Germany – 5 %; France – 5%; Netherlands – 5%; United Kingdom – 2½%; Canada – 2%; United States – 2%. Some of those countries already allow Islamic courts to make judgments in Muslim domestic and civil disputes (as do a few Canadian provinces and American states).
7. FICTION. Recent developments in the Middle East have gone a long way to demonstrate the deep divisions that exist among Muslim groups around the world. The greatest divide historically is between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. In fact much of the conflict currently in Iraq is fueled by animosity between the predominantly Shiite government and the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaders. Other smaller sectarian and ethnic differences also split Muslims in various locations around the world.
That being said, we must not overlook the fact that both Sunnis and Shiites are united in their hatred for all things Western. They both particularly hate Jews and the nation of Israel and will fight together for its total destruction. (For more information on the Sunni-Shiite conflict, see my recent article: The Great Muslim Divide- Sunnis versus Shiites: What’s the Difference? at http://www.marketfaith.org/the-great-muslim-divide-sunnis-versus-shiites-whats-the-difference)
8. FICTION. Occasionally you will hear politicians, news reporters, teachers, and even some liberal minded Christian ministers or seminary professors state that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same god. It is true that they are known as the three Great Monotheistic Religions and certainly share a Theistic Worldview.
Judaism, of course, is derived from (but not the same as) the ancient Hebrew Old Testament religion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Moses, etc. The God of the Old Testament identified Himself as Yahweh (I AM THAT I AM).
Christianity is the New Testament fulfillment of the Hebrew faith. Jesus identified Himself as I AM. That is, He was the incarnation of God (Yahweh) who lived on earth, died for the sins of the world, and rose again from the dead.
Islam is also a monotheistic faith. In fact, one of the most effective arguments for a finite universe and the existence of a creator god was formulated by a 9th century Islamic philosopher named Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn ‘Ishaq as-Sabbah al-Kindi. It is called the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and is often used today by Christian apologists. (To see an interesting video on this principle go here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam.)
That being said, it is, at best, naive, or, at worst, deceptive to say that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. Obviously, much of what Christians understand about God was taught in the Old Testament and is considered consistent with what is taught in the New Testament. So, in a sense, we could say Christians and Jews worship the same deity. However, the New Testament expands our understanding of the nature of God as a Trinity of One God in Three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). So we have to qualify our acknowledgment of Jewish theology as incomplete and insufficient for salvation which comes through Christ alone.
The same could also be said of Islam. However, its understanding of God is not only incomplete and inadequate, it is erroneous. The God of the Hebrews and Christians is involved personally and directly in the events of human history. He has also given a revelation of Himself directly to the prophets and apostles as recorded in Scripture. His greatest revelation, Christians assert, is in Jesus Christ Himself.
The god of Islam, usually referred to by the Arabic word Allah (a generic term that is equivalent to the generic English “God”), is seen as a remote, impersonal, and personally unknowable being. Muslims would say that humans cannot know Allah personally, only learn about his divine characteristics and obey his law. Muslims do not believe Allah spoke directly to Muhammad or any of the other prophets but rather communicated through the agency of angels. In their view, the Qur’an is a written record of the messages the angel Gabriel dictated to Muhammad. However, Muhammad never heard the voice or saw the face of Allah. And, of course. Muslims regard the Trinity and the concept of the deity of Jesus as blasphemy.
© Tal Davis 2014