Christians Common Questions About Islam - WHAT MUSLIMS BELIEVE
WHAT MUSLIMS BELIEVE
11-What do Muslims believe?
The Muslim faith can be summarized in a sentence from the Qur'an (4, Nisa 135/136): "O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and the scripture which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent down previously. Whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he has wandered far astray" (To the five beliefs mentioned in the last sentence, Muslim teachers add a sixth, predestination).
A shorter summary is the "Shahada" -- Q.39.
12- What are the principal titles of God?
According to Muslim faith, Allah (God) is beyond all description and knowledge. However, the Qur'an gives him many titles, traditionally numbering 99. He is first the Creator, the Judge, the Rewarder of good and evil. He is unique, He has no partner or equal, He is all-powerful and merciful. He is the one who does whatever He pleases and gives no account of His actions to anyone. He exercises justice towards those He approves, and shows Himself ready to pardon those who do what is needed to obtain pardon…
13- Do Muslims believe that God is Father, that God is Love?
(i) In Muslim faith God is regarded as the Master, and believers are his servants or slaves. These terms emphasize the greatness of God, and the humility and obedience which man must display in God's presence. The Muslim feels it a position of great honor to be a "slave of God". Muslims reject the idea that God is Father, out of fear that this would diminish the greatness of God; they suspect that those who call themselves "sons of God" are proudly exalting themselves as God's favorites (5, Ma'ida 21/18). CF. Q. 80, 91.
(ii) The Qur'an calls God "the loving" (Al Wadud), but the meaning is rather different from the Christian idea of God's love. It implies "approval"; thus the Qur'an says that God loves (approves of) the good, but does not love (approve of) the evil-doers (3, Ali "Imran 29/32, 70/76 etc). The Qur'an speaks much of God's goodness in creation and in sending prophets, but nowhere says that God loves the world, nor that God loves sinners, nor that "God is love" (cf. John 3; 16; Romans 5: 8 1John 4:8).
14- What are the meanings of Bismillah, Al-hamdu li-llah, Insha-llah, Allahu Akbar, Allah karim, As-salaam 'aleikum, Salla-llahu 'aleihi wa-sallam?
Bismillah means "in the name of God". It is a kind of invocation much used to call down blessing on oneself or to drive away an influence thought to be harmful.
Al-hamdu li-llah means "praise (returns) to God". By this phrase the believer declares that God is the source of everything worthy of praise, and it is to God that everything must return.
Insha-llah means "if God so wills". By this the believer wishes to express his dependence, his submission to God. Sometimes it is a form of modesty to reply in this way to congratulation or flattery. Allahu Akbar means "God is most great". The phrase is constantly repeated in the ritual prayer, and at other times e.g. to express admiration or surprise. It implies that God is the supreme being, He knows what He wishes, He is the Master, and everything He does is to be accepted by man as good.
Allah karim means "God is generous"; it is He who supplies what is lacking and gives abundantly to whom He pleases. The phrase is frequently on the lips of beggars, who use it to appeal to the generosity of passers-by, reminding them that God will recompense them.
As-salaam 'aleikum is the common greeting "peace be upon you (plural)" -- to which the answer is wa 'aleiku-ssalaam, "and upon you, peace". Some Muslims believe that the greeting should only be used by one Muslim to another.
Salla-llahu 'aleihi wa-sallom means "may the blessing of God and peace be upon him", and is said by Muslims after any mention of Muhammad.
15- What is the Qur'an?
After his first vision in 610 A.D., up until his death in 632, Muhammad prophesied from time to time in a kind of trance. These pronouncements, in the Arabic language, dealt with many subjects such as: God's prophets and scriptures, God's mercy and punishment, death, the Last Day, good and evil spirits, laws of marriage, divorce, warfare, and so on. When Muhammad prophesied, his followers learnt the words by heart, or wrote them down on stones, bones, palm leaves, etcetera (for paper was scarce in those days). Finally all these pronouncements were collected and edited in a single book -- there is some difference of opinion among Muslims as to whether this editing was completed before or after the death of the Prophet. It is this collection of pronouncements which we know as the Qur'an -- the word "Qur'an" literally means proclamation or recitation.
But Muslims go much further than this. They believe that these are the words of God Himself, spoken through the lips of His Prophet, but not in any way coming from the mind and experience of Muhammad. They believe that the "mother of the Qur'an" (ummu-l-kitab) is in heaven, written by God Himself on a "guarded tablet" (lawhu-l-mahfuz); and that the angel Gabriel brought the tablet down to Muhammad -- so that the Qur'an which we have today is a copy of the "guarded tablet" in heaven. (cr. Q. 81).
But other Muslims, especially in modern times, would say that there is no Qur'an or tablet literally existing in heaven, but that these words are metaphors to show that God knew beforehand what He was going to reveal to Muhammad.
16- What is the meaning of Sura and Aya?
Sura means a "chapter" of the Qur'an. There are 114 suras, and Muslims generally refer to them by the name given to each one, rather than by number.
Aya means literally a "sign", and so a part of the Qur'an, generally one verse. Estimates differ, but there are commonly said to be 6,247 verses, 77,934 words and 323,621 letters in the Qur'an. To give an idea of its length, the Qur'an is a little shorter than the New Testament.
For recitation the Qur'an is divided into 60 sections, known as "hizb", which do not correspond at all with the chapter divisions.
17- What is in the amulets which some Muslims wear?
Because of their belief that each word of the Qur'an comes directly from God, many Muslims feel that the word itself is stamped with divine power. So words from the Qur'an (especially the names of God) are written on paper and sewn in a small leather pouch, and sold. Those who buy feel that the power of God is somehow contained in the pouch, and will protect them from sickness, barrenness, the fire of hell, etcetera. Other amulets contain, not words of Qur'an, but magical signs from astrology and geomancy.
18- Do these amulets actually protect those who wear them?
Islam teaches that God protects whom He will and saves whom He will -- there is no other protection than He. Therefore some Muslim authorities have attacked the use of amulets. For example the theologian Ibn Khaldun said that it is not the power of God which dwells in amulets, but a magic power which comes from the spirit of man; therefore to trust in them is to put your trust in something else beside God. Similarly in modern times, the Ahmadiyya (Q.78), and the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia forbid the use of amulets. But other Muslims reply that it is God Himself who has provided amulets to be a protection for man.
A Christian will say that definitely God alone is sufficient for all things, therefore we must not put our trust in anything that human hands have made. Human hands can make a "reminder" (e.g. verses of scripture on the walls of our house to remind us to look to God always. But this is a means of strengthening our trust in God. We do not think there is any power in the mere written word, whether on the wall or in an amulet.
19- What are the wooden boards which children recite from in Quranic schools?
Since there are not enough copies of the Qur'an (and children might misuse them), Qur'an teachers write sections of the Qur'an on the boards, and use these to teach children to read and recite from memory.
20- Why do they wash the boards and drink the water?
As with amulets (Q. 17), they believe that each word of the Qur'an written on the board is a direct "word of God", and full of God's power. So they wash the board with water to dissolve the ink that has written the words; it is felt that the mixture has a divine healing power. But, as with amulets, many Muslims oppose the practice, regarding it as idolatrous.
21- Do Muslims believe in other scriptures previous to the Qur'an?
According to the Traditions (sayings attributed to Muhammad), God has sent down 313 scriptures to men, among them being the Tawrat (law of Moses), the Zabur (Psalms of David), and the Injil (Gospel of Jesus). The Qur'an confirms the truth of these previous scriptures (2, Baqara 83/89; 3, Ali "Imran 2/3), it calls Jews and Christians to observe their own Tawrat and Injil (5, Ma'ida 72/68). Belief in all these scriptures is an article of Muslim faith (Q. 11: cf. 10, Yunus 94).
Accordingly, many Muslims are inclined to accept the Bible as containing previous scriptures and being the word of God. But other Muslims suspect that the original Tawrat, Zabur and Injil have all been lost or corrupted , and that the Law, Psalms and Gospels of the Bible are not the same as the scriptures mentioned in the Qur'an. Or they may say that the previous scriptures (even if they do exist in the Bible) have been summed up and so superseded by the Qur'an.
A Christian Comment: It is true that the original manuscripts of the Law and Gospels no longer exist (just as the original manuscripts of the Qur'an no longer exist). But we possess very early copies which were already in the hands of Jews and Christians in Muhammad's time, and these agree in all essentials with the Bible we use today. In several ways the Qur'an bears witness to those scriptures which were then actually in the hands of Muslims and Christians.
The Qur'an does seem, therefore, to give Muslims a special reason to study the Bible with great reverence.
For the Christian, there are two main reasons for believing in the Bible :- (I) the immense labour of scholars studying the ancient copies has proved it to be a faithful copy of the original manuscripts; (ii) the Bible gives a consistent message (see Q. 80 & 90) which has convinced our hearts and brought us to forgiveness and peace with God.
22- Do Muslims believe in other prophets before Muhammad?
Tradition says that God had sent many prophets (nabi) and messengers (rasul) to the word before Muhammad; they are said to number at least 8,000. Among those mentioned in the Qur'an are Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Moses, Aaron, Zechariah and his son John the Baptist, Jesus, Ishmael, Elijah, Elisha, Lot and Jonah. But, apart from the last named, there is no mention of the great prophets whose books are in the Bible -- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, etcetera.
23- What do Muslims think of Jesus?
In accordance with the teaching of the Qur'an, Muslims are bound to show the greatest respect for "Jesus, son of Mary" (in Arabic, Isa ibn Maryam). According to the Qur'an, Jesus was indeed born in an extraordinary manner, by the miraculous intervention of God. He was a prophet and messenger of God, upright and near to God, called "the word of God" (though in a different sense from John 1:1). He healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead. The Jews of his time would not obey his message and determined to kill him …..all of this is similar to the teaching of the Bible. But contrary to the teaching of the Bible, Muslims say that God did not allow the Jews to crucify Jesus, God saved him from them and raised him up to Himself so that he never knew death. So, for orthodox Muslim belief, there is no Cross of Jesus and no Resurrection. Again, Muslims deny the Biblical teaching that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is the Saviour who atoned for the sins of mankind, or that he should be worshipped. (See Q. 81-82, 87-90).
For the different beliefs about Jesus held by Ahmadis, see Q. 78.
24- How is the "second coming" of Jesus envisaged by Muslims?
Muslim Traditions give divergent accounts of the return of Jesus. According to some Traditions, the Mahdi (often identified with Jesus Christ) will appear just before the Last Day. He will perform the Muslim ritual prayer and go to Mecca as a pilgrim (Q. 59-66); he will restore Islam to perfection and wipe out Judaism and Christianity, destroying all crosses and killing all pigs. The Muslims will enjoy a wonderful prosperity where the earth will yield its fruits without the need for man to do any work. Jesus will live a long life as a married man with a family, and will then be buried in the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina.
However, not all Muslims would accept the validity of these Traditions, none of these details appear in the Qur'an.
25- Has the Virgin Mary any place in Muslim devotion?
The Qur'an gives its own version (very similar to certain apocryphal gospels) of the visit of the angel to the Virgin Mary and the miraculous conception of her son, Jesus. Mary is depicted as a perfect Muslim (cf. Q 1-2). She is highly respected but in no sense worshipped.
We should notice that certain Christian groups in the time of Muhammad went to such lengths in their veneration of Mary as to give the impression that the Christian Trinity consisted of Jesus and Mary worshipped as two gods beside God; cf. 5, Ma'ida 116 and Q. 84.
26- Do Muslims worship Muhammad?
Not at all; Muslims would regard this suggestion as blasphemous, and Muhammad himself insisted that no one must worship him, only God must be worshipped.
However, later Muslim piety has gone very far in its reverence for Muhammad, regarding him as an infallible teacher, a perfect example, a sinless man whose intercession can bring us to Paradise. The degree of reverence is sometimes hard to reconcile with the teaching of the Qur'an; where Muhammad is instructed to say, "I am only a man like yourselves" and is instructed to ask God's forgiveness for his sin (18, Kahf 110/111; 40, Mu'min 57/55; cf. 46, Ahqaf 8/9).
27- Can there be other prophets after Muhammad?
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets, "the seal of the prophets". He continued and perfected the work begun by Moses and Jesus; he brought God's final revelation, which can never be added to.
However, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement (Q. 78) claimed to be another prophet after Muhammad. Some Ahmadis today do not accept that claim, while others accept Ahmad as a prophet, but not a law-giving prophet.
28- What are the angels and spirits spoken of in the Qur'an?
Angels are represented in the Qur'an as special messengers of God. As intermediaries, they transmit God's commands to mankind. The Qur'an and Traditions speak of Jibril (Gabriel) who brought the word of God to Muhammad; Mika'il (Michael who watches over the world; Israfil who will sound the trumpet at the last judgment; 'Azra'il the archangel of death, and Iblis (Satan) cursed by God because he refused to prostrate before Adam. The spirits (in Arabic, "jinn") may be evil (demond) or good spirits. Believers seek refuge with God against evil spirits, especially by repeating the two final suras, "Falaq" and "Nas".
29- How is the Last Judgment described?
By combining teaching of the Qur'an with Traditions, we get the following picture: At the first trumpet-sound, all living things will die. At the second trumpet, the angel Israfil will call men back to life; then will come the Last Judgment, and every soul will be weighed. "On that day shall men come forward in throngs to behold their works, and he who has done an atom's weight of good shall see it, and he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it". (99, Zilzal 6-8). In order to reach Paradise, the elected ones will, without any difficulty, cross over a bridge as narrow as a thread and as sharp as a razor. Sinful Muslims may manage to cross, but it will be a painful ordeal for them; the time they spend in crossing will be according to the number of their sins; the terror of this ordeal will have a purifying effect on them. The unbelievers, as soon as they mount the bridge, will fall into hell, gehenna (aljahannam).
30- What is the weighing of souls?
Men's deeds will be weighed in a kind of balance, and woe to him whose good deeds weigh lighter than his evil deeds; he is lost!
31- In the Muslim view, who are the damned?
The supreme sin, according to Islam, is "Shirk", that is, "associating" someone else with God, believing in more than one God. Next, he who does not know the distinction between "pure" and "impure", and so disobeys the prohibitions of the Qur'an, he also is lost. The Qur'an gives to unbelievers the name "Kafirun" or "Kuffar". (cf. Q. 33, 37).
32- What is sin, according to the Muslim view?
Sin, to the Muslim, is either a saying which blasphemes against God, or an act which breaks the Muslim rules of prohibition. In short, sin is any word or act which breaks the law, for which God may punish us or demand penance. This differs from the Christian idea of a condition or state of sinfulness, in which man is immersed (like a fish in the sea) and from which he can never extract himself. Again, Christians regard sin as something that grieves God and breaks the communion between man and God (Isaiah 59: 2; 1 John 1:6, Psalm 78: 40; Ephesians 4:30). But Muslims do not normally think of sin in this way, for they feel that the infinitely great Creator is in no way affected or hurt by the actions of His creatures. Christians and Muslims often misunderstand one another's religious language, when they are not aware of these different usages of the word "sin".
33- Are there major and minor sins?
Traditions distinguishes between different sins. The most serious are "Shirk" (Q. 31--the only sin which the Qur'an declares God will not pardon; 5, Nisa 51/48); then, apostasy (i.e. abandonment of Muslim faith), refusal to be converted to Islam, declaring the Prophet to be a liar, killing a Muslim, committing adultery, ill-treating father or mother, and running away in battle.
34- How do Muslims think of God's forgiveness?
As the Muslim idea of sin is different from the Christian's, so the ideas of forgiveness are different. To Christians, God's forgiveness means that He removes the barrier between man and Himself (especially, through the atonement He provided in Jesus Christ), and reconciles us, brings us back here and now into fellowship and peace with Him. But to Muslims, God's forgiveness is that in the Last Judgment He will pardon or "overlook" sins for which He might have exacted a penalty. As a great King who can do whatever He pleases and no one can question, God punishes whom He will and pardons whom He will (3, Ali 'Imran 124/129: 5, Ma'ida 118). Even though souls are weighed in the Last Day, our deeds cannot affect God's decision. Therefore no Muslim can declare that he has already earned or received forgiveness--it is at the Last Day that we shall know. Nevertheless, Muslims do commonly assume that the righteous Muslim will go to Paradise, God overlooking his minor sins; and that the unrighteous Muslim who repents will also reach Paradise, his sins being either pardoned, or cleansed by punishment. But (they say) we cannot know the fate of the unrighteous Muslim who does not repent; while unbelievers will certainly perish in the fire, unless they are converted to Islam.
35- Why is it said that a man remains in the grave according to the number of his sins?
According to Tradition, as soon as a man is buried in the grave, two angels appear and the dead man stands up in the tomb to undergo an examination. This applies both to believer and unbeliever. When the Muslim believer is questioned, he declares that Allah is the One God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God, then he can lie down peacefully to await the Last Day. Those who cannot make this reply are severely beaten, for as long as God pleases.
36- Are there people predestined to heaven or hell?
Since the final decision is with God, who from all eternity knows each of his creatures, Islam believes that He has predestined some to Paradise and some to hell. Man cannot know in advance which side he will be on; but at the Last Day he will be given his "book of destiny", either into the right hand or into the left hand. Those receiving it in the right hand are those destined to salvation, those of the left hand are the ones who were destined to perdition. This doctrine of predestination does not however exclude all human responsibility. Theologians explain that man must by his own will "acquire" the actions which God has predestined for him (cf. Q. 29, 34, 89).
37- What is "pure" and "impure" in Islam?
The question of ritual purity plays a most important part in the religious education given to Muslims, and the details are extremely subtle. In general, defiling objects are as follows:-
1. Wine and other alcoholic drinks (strictly forbidden in the Qur'an);
2. Dogs (which may be kept only for hunting, or to guard house or flocks);
3. Pigs (Q. 76);
4. "Mayta" (i.e. an animal that has died other than by ritual throat-cutting,--Q. 74);
6. Excreta (i.e. all that comes out of the body of men or animals, except saliva, sweat, tears and mucous);
7. In certain regions, a corpse, or the living body of a non-Muslim.
Also, certain acts cause a man to be in a stage of ritual impurity:-e.g. urination and excretion, sexual relations, and menstruation. (See also Q. 41).
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