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17. Understanding Islam

INTRODUCTION


Many of us around the world, regardless of where we live and independent of our own background, have Muslim neighbours, coworkers, friends, and contacts. You may feel – as have many a Christian – that Islam is a 900-pound gorilla you can’t argue with. It isn’t. This book is for you, whether you have been a Christian for decades and hold a position of leadership in your local church or you are a new believer with no theological training at all – simply a heart to reach Muslims for Christ. You don’t need lots of training; all you need is to understand a few basic fundamentals which this book will outline.

We will begin with a thumbnail sketch of Islamic history, looking first at pre-Islamic Arabia to get an idea of the environment into which Mohammed brought his message, and then moving onto the life of Mohammed (Booklet 1). Section two deals with key beliefs and practices of Islam, including showing how fundamentally different these are to the teachings of the Bible (Booklet 2). Section three gives insight into what Muslims believe about Christ (Booklet 3). Section four considers difficulties Christians may face when evangelising Muslims and challenges which Muslims must overcome when considering Christianity, and puts forward general advice for the Christian (Booklet 4). Section five focuses on common Muslim objections to the Gospel and how to deal with them (Booklet 5). The final section gives insight into what Muslim converts experience in leaving Islam and gives some practical ways the church can support such converts as they take the huge step of following Christ (Booklet 6).

Please note that there are two main branches of Islam (Sunni Islam and Shi‘a Islam), as well as a few smaller groups. These branches have many similarities, but also some significant differences. I have chosen to focus on Sunni Islam for two main reasons:

– it is by far the larger of the branches, comprising some 90% of Muslims worldwide; and
– it is the one I am most familiar with, having been brought up in a Sunni family and community and indeed having been a serious follower of Sunni Islam for the first part of my life.

It is also important to remember that although Sunni Muslims rely on the same core teachings, interpretations and practices will vary from region to region and from one individual to another. Therefore we cannot assume that each and every person who calls themselves a Muslim will believe the same – they will not. This book outlines Islamic teachings as they are spelled out in its authoritative documents, namely the Qur’an, and the Sunnah (the recorded sayings and actions of Mohammed). Unless otherwise noted in the text, I mainly quote from The Noble Qur’an (translated by al-Hilali and Khan) or the Sahih International Translation as these are the most widely accepted by Islamic authorities. I also quote from various collections of Hadith (the sayings of Mohammed) and in one or two places a broader collection of his sayings and actions. These collections have different names depending on the type of text; those most widely accepted as reliable (or “authentic”) by Muslims are known as Sahih, but I also refer to a different type of collection of Hadith, a Musnad, and also to a Sunan which is a broader collection of Mohammed’s sayings and actions. I mention two biographies of Mohammed (Sirahs) written by Ibn Kathir and Ibn Hisham which are also considered reliable sources for the development of Islamic doctrine. Translations of the Hadith and the Sirahs are my own unless otherwise indicated.

Where a transliteration of Arabic names is required, I have tended to go with the English spelling most widely recognised even though this may not follow a consistent or technically accurate transliteration pattern. Where there is no familiar English version, I have used my own system.

Finally, please be aware that I passionately believe that Christians from a Muslim background should not be set apart by any label. We are Christians, no more or less special, no better or worse than any other Christian saved from hell by the blood of Christ. To consistently refer to us as converts rather than simply believers can be both hurtful and harmful. However, the nature of the discussion in this book requires me to be a little more specific and thus I tend towards the term Muslim convert. Others may prefer other terms, such as Muslim Background Believer. I will simply request that where it is not specifically necessary, you refer to these brothers and sisters in Christ as Christians, or believers, or whichever term you locally use to describe those in your fellowship.

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