Basic Beliefs in Islam

This section is NOT a systematic theology of Islam. It is a very brief overview of the basic theology for those curious about only the most basic claims of Islam.

Oneness of God

Islam tenaciously affirms a monotheistic theology, called tawhid. Surah 2:255 says Allah is he besides Whom there is no god. Moreover, God is supreme. He reigns over all creation. God is eternal, without beginning and end. Finally, God is omnipotent. His power, as in Christianity and Judaism, is unlimited. This should not be construed to mean that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism worship the same God, only calling him by a different name. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Islam also affirms divine sovereignty, affirming that God controls life and death for all creatures. God has ninety-nine names according to Islam. God is not a trinity. God is not in a relationship of father, brother, or son with any other. Nothing resembles God. He is wholly perfect in every way.

Allah, say the prayers of Muslims and the verses of the Koran, is both the Lord of the Day of Judgment and the maker of the universe, the rule of the world and the lord of all life. [Rausch & Voss, World Religions: Our Quest for Meaning, 181]

Muslims, like Catholics, use prayer beads. The Muslim’s bead necklace has 99 beads on it. This represents three sets of 33, each one representing a name of Allah.

Angels

Muslims believe that God created angels from light. Allah reveals his will through angels. In fact, it was Gabriel (the greatest of the angels) who brought the Qur’an to Mohammad. Azrael is the Angel of Death while Asrafel is the angel who will blow the final trumpet of judgment. Satan is actually a variation of Shayton of Zorastrianism. He is called Iblis, and became the devil when he failed to obey God’s command to respect Adam and was evicted from the Garden of Eden. His new task is to tempt people and to impede the will of Allah. According to the Hadith, angels also record the deeds of every person. Other angels guard hell and direct its affairs. Disobeying an angel is tantamount to disobeying God.

Revealed Books

Islam believes that there have been a number of books revealed to man throughout history. In fact, over 100 books have been revealed to men like Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Abraham, but are now lost. Only four revealed books remain today: 1) the Jewish Torah (Tawrat) revealed to Moses; 2) Psalms (Zabur) revealed to David; 3) the Gospel (Injil) revealed to Jesus; and 4) the Qur’an, revealed to Mohammad. Islam believes that the Qur’an, being the last revelation of God, supplants all prior revelations. A messenger (Rasul) is a prophet (Nabi) of a specific type, given a new set of divine laws and a new revealed book. On the other hand, a prophet who is not a messenger is one who transmits and implements previously revealed dispensations. The medieval scholar Ibn Khaldun writes, “Allah has chosen individuals from among humankind whom He has honoured by Himself speaking to them to mould them according to His understanding, and to make them the mediators between Himself and His servants. Mohammad is the last messenger from God and therefore, he is the last and greatest of all the prophets.

Resurrection and Judgment

Islam teaches that there is an impending Day of Resurrection and Judgment. Only Allah knows this day of Judgment. However, Muslims are taught that it will occur on a Friday, the tenth day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and is 11-12 days shorter than a solar calendar, this month moves over time when compared to our calendar.

The Hadith points to signs that will indicate that the day of Judgment is drawing near. A degrading of morality, but also an increase of women to men in the world and even an increase in incompetent leaders. On the day of judgment, people will be judged according to their sincere repentance and good deeds, measured by the degree to which they followed God’s law. Everyone’s deeds will be recorded in their own book and the good deeds will be placed on a scale along with their bad deeds to which one outweighs the other. Those whose good deeds outweigh the bad will enter a paradise of eternal bliss, like a garden with rivers, carpets, cushions, fruit, and pure maidens. On the other hand, those whose bad deed prevail, will enter hell, a place of great torment, with fire and boiling water. The skin is scalded, renewed, and scalded again and again.

Divine Decree

On this subject, Islam is closely aligned with Christianity and Judaism. The Qur’an stresses that everything is the product of the divine decree: “And the sun runs on to a term appointed for it; that is the ordinance of the Mighty, the Knowing. And the moon, We have ordained for it stages till it becomes again as an old dry palm branch.” (sura 36:38-39)

Islam affirms that God controls the past, present, and future of each individual Muslim. The Qur’an instructs the Muslim not to say good is from Allah but misfortune has a different source. Say all is from Allah! (sura 4:78) As with Christianity, this teaching on the divine decree and Allah’s sovereignty has given rise to debates around human ability to determine events.

It is sad to think that Muslims are closer to the truth of divine sovereignty than most Christians.

The Five Pillars of Islam

We now come to the Five Pillars of Islam. These pillars are: the Declaration of Faith, Prayer, Fasting, Alms Giving, and the Pilgrimage.

(1) Shahadah – The Declaration of Faith

“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah; I bear witness that Mohammad is the last Apostle of God.” There are actually the first words breathed into a child’s ear at birth, and the last words that a dying Muslim would utter.

(2) Salat – Prayer

The Qur’an acknowledges that human beings are worshippers and it places the individual worshipper into a community of worshippers. It is the liturgical duty of all Muslims to observe prayer at fixed times. There are five prayer times. Each of these prayer times is preceded by obligatory ritual washing: dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. This discipline serves to remind Muslims that their primary identity is a worshipper. All Muslims turn toward Mecca during prayer. Only men are required to pray at the mosque on Friday noons, but women are encouraged to do so if duties permit.

(3) Siyam – Fasting

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year requires fasting during the day. You can only eat from dusk until dawn. A Muslim holds up a black thread and a while tread in order to determine when fasting should begin and end. When you can see the difference between the two threads, you should begin your fast and when you can no longer tell the difference between the black and white, you may break the fast.

(4) Zakat – Almsgiving

Muslims are to perform the salat and give the zakah. There is a duty to share one’s wealth in Islam with the poor, the needy, the debtor, the prisoner, and the wayfarer. It is also the quality, not the quantity of the giving that matters. The idea is the search for God’s pleasure in duties such as the zakahShari’a law fixes the annual rate for giving at 2.5% of one’s cash balance. One significant difference between Christian giving and Muslim giving is that in Islam, giving can be a means to atone for one’s sins. Not so in Christianity. Only Christ can atone for sin in Christianity.

(5) Hajj – Pilgrimage

Once in their lifetime, the Muslim, if at all possible, is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. The ka’ba is the large black building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque. According to Muslims, Abraham built the Ka’ba with his son Ismael, as a sign of submission to God.  Muslims congregate in the Great Mosque, and the first right of pilgrimage is performed: the cirumambulation around the ka’ba. After this, they run seven times between two small hills, recalling the plight of Hagar and her son, Ismael. Finally, the Muslim journeys to Mt. Arafat where they observe standing rom midday to sunset in meditation before God. Then they begin their journey back to Mecca. On the return to Mecca, the stop overnight at Mazdalifa, and gather pebbles where, the next day they are thrown ritually against three stone pillars, in the neighboring village of Mina. This ritual recalls the temptation of Abraham by Satan which Abraham successfully resisted. In Islam, it was Ismael who was prepared for sacrifice. Throughout the world, Muslims join with the pilgrims in Mina for the Feast of Slaughter, which brings the Hajj to an end.

Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It commemorates Mohammad’s vision in which he received the Qur’an from Gabriel over the period of 30 days. Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan by fasting during the day, from dawn until dusk.

The Bible

What does Islam teach about the Christian Bible? Islam views the Bible as partially inspired and partially corrupted. The parts that are divinely inspired are the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel. However, James White says, “Today it is almost a given of Islamic orthodoxy to hold that the Bible as a whole, both Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, have suffered wholesale corruption to where, in the main, they are utterly unreliable.” [What Every Christian Should Know About The Qur’an]

Jesus Christ

Islam believes that Jesus was a sinless prophet. However, even though Mohammad was not sinless, he was still a greater prophet than Jesus Christ. Concerning his claim to be the Son of God, Islam repudiates the idea that Allah could ever have a son. It is beneath him. Islam also denies that Jesus was crucified, claiming that Judas was crucified in his place. Jesus was taken to heaven while Judas was crucified in his place even though to those who were witnesses to these events, it appeared to them that Jesus was the one being executed. While Islam believes that Jesus was born of a virgin, they believe that it was an Angel who was the agent of Christ’s conception, not the Holy Spirit.