What Muslims Believe
By Randy Hurst
May 4, 2014
With more than 1.6 billion followers — about one-fifth of the world’s population — Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. The religion began in Saudi Arabia, but non-Arab Muslims now outnumber Arab Muslims nearly 3 to 1. The four nations with the largest number of Muslims — Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India — are all outside the Middle East. Those four countries alone account for more than 680 million Muslims.
Islam’s central figure, Muhammad, was born in A.D. 570 in Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia. He was 40 years old when he claimed to receive his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Over time a series of subsequent revelations were compiled and named the Quran, which means “recitation” in Arabic. Islam teaches that the value of the Quran is found in the recitation, not in the understanding of the contents. Three-quarters of the Muslim world are non-Arabic speakers, but they pray and memorize the Quran in a language they do not understand.
Leaders of Muhammad’s Arab tribe pressured him not to spread his message. They viewed it as a threat to their livelihood, since they benefited economically as other tribes visited Mecca to worship 360 different deities.
Muhammad ignored their warnings, and persecution increased against his followers. About 100 Muslim families fled the city, and Muhammad soon followed. Eight years later he and his army returned and took control of Mecca, destroying all the idols. Within a year all the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula were unified under Islam.
Today Islam has two main branches — Sunni and Shiite, with 80 percent of Muslims following Sunni Islam. The two sects differ primarily concerning their source of authority. Sunnis emphasize the written traditions of the Quran and the Sunna, a record of the sayings and conduct of Muhammad and his companions. Sunnis also receive guidance from elders or religious scholars. Shiites, on the other hand, believe that God speaks through holy men known as imams. The split between the two sects took place over the issue of rightful succession to the position of supreme leader of Islam. In Iran, an ayatollah serves this role among Shiites. Sunnis have had no universally accepted leader since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Islam teaches strict adherence to these five pillars:
1. Recite the Shahadah, a confession of allegiance to Allah and to Muhammad, his messenger.
2. Offer prayer at least five times a day.
3. Fast regularly, especially during the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations during daylight hours.
4. Give alms of at least 2.5 percent of a person’s net worth, primarily to the poor.
5. Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime, provided one can afford it financially and is healthy enough to do so.
According to the Quran, all people will one day stand before God in judgment. At that time, each person’s deeds will be weighed. Those whose good deeds outweigh the bad will enter paradise; those whose bad deeds outweigh the good will be banished to hell. Whether a Muslim goes to heaven or hell is known only by God and will not be announced until the judgment. As a result, Muslims have no assurance of acceptance by God.
Islam teaches that man is weak and prone to sin. Doing good works can compensate, but Muslims have no understanding of a need for a sacrifice for sins.
Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet, but Islam teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross. To believe that God would allow one of His prophets, especially one of high honor, to be crucified would be disrespectful.
Many in Christian missions use numbers and percentages in an attempt to classify particular people groups and nations as “unreached.” But more than a billion Muslims can accurately be described as “untouched.”
They wait to hear the message of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection one time, even as so many others hear it again and again.
Randy Hurst is communications director of AGWM.
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