by Craig Branch –

The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, has been remembered as “a date that will live in infamy” by Americans for the past 60 years. But September 11, 2001 is another date to add to it. Even though in the recent past, many Americans and Christians have been brutalized and murdered (and it continues today) all over the world by certain Muslim factions, the attacks in Washington, Pennsylvania, and New York awakened all of us and demanded a very serious response. Actually, it prompted many responses, some often puzzling or conflicting. This time it happened on our here-to-fore impregnable land and on national television.

Who did this? Why did this happen? What are we going to do about it? What is Islam? Is Islam a religion of peace? What is Jihad? These are crucial questions that need clear and a thoughtful answers. But there are some additional questions: Who are we as a nation? What values should guide us? What role must the Church play both at home and abroad?

As I pen these words near the end of 2002, the United States and the U.N. stand poised to possibly rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and, at the same time, possibly throw gasoline on the smoldering coals of radical Islam. Now more than ever, every Christian needs to be reminded of his call to be both peacemaker and ambassador for Christ as well as working to see justice brought to bear in the world (Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Tim. 2:1-4). But, to do so requires that we be well-informed and theologically-equipped. With this in mind, we offer this issue of Areopagus Journal which focuses on Islam—more specifically, the great contrast between Christianity and Islam, between the Bible and the Qur’an, between the Cross and the Crescent. We hope that its contents will provide you with foundational material to help you fulfill your biblical callings.

Before we delve into the rest of the journal, however, it would be appropriate to address the question of Islam in our contemporary world context. There are conflicting voices concerning what Islam is all about. Some say it is a religion of peace. Others blow up buildings and kill people in the name of Allah. In the remainder of this Veritas, I try to sort out the complexities to reveal the internal struggle going on within Islam over its self-identity.

Jihad: Islam’s Crisis of Identity

One of the most prevalent mantras that one hears in the media today is that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims today downplay the concept of jihad (sometimes translated “holy war”), stressing what they call the “Greater Jihad” which refers to the individual Muslim’s personal struggle with sin. They also emphasize that the “Lesser Jihad”—what we usually think of when we hear the term “holy war”—is purely defensive in nature. However, here is a short list of examples of recent “lesser jihad” carried out on non-Muslims as described in U.S. State Department reports on human rights violations and various news stories:

+Muslims attacked and murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
+Iranian Muslims attacked U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held 52 hostages for over a year.
+Two U.S. Embassies attacked in East and West Beirut, 1982-83, where 304 died.
+First World Trade Center bombing, 1993, 6 killed, 100 wounded.
+Pan Am flight bombed, 253 killed, December, 1988.
+Two U.S. Embassies bombed in Kenya and Tanzania, 224 killed, August 1998.
+ U.S.S. Cole bombed in Yemen, October 2000, 17 killed, 39 wounded.
+ Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Algeria by Islamists.
+ From Nigeria to Sudan to Pakistan to Indonesia to the Philippines, there has been a continuous legacy of violence and murder carried out by Islamists in the name of Islam and jihad.
+ Recently publicized were the riots and massacring of Christians in northern Nigeria after a newspaper writer insulted Muhammad during the Miss World contest. There have been over 5,000 deaths since 1999 and the spread of Islamism there.
+ Last month (November, 2002) a Christian nurse in Lebanon working with Palestinian refugee women was shot three times in the head.
+ For decades, the Arab government in northern Sudan has conducted of a genocidal campaign against Christians in the south including murder, mass starvation, bombings of hospitals, slavery and forced Islamization.
+ In Indonesia, the militant Islamic organization Lashkar Jihad has killed over 10,000 Christians.
+ Since the late 1990’s, Islamists in Egypt have killed more than 1,300 Christians according to Operation World.
+ In October, 2001, 16 Christians were murdered in a church in Pakistan, a grenade killed 5 Americans including the wife and daughter of a diplomat in March 2002, and six people (including two children) were killed in a Christian school for foreign missionaries.

In fact, when one looks at the current history of countries in which Islam dominates, one is hard pressed to find one Muslim nation that is an example of peaceful freedom. Muslims will point out, of course, that there is not a true Muslim state with a true shari’a (traditional Islamic Law) in existence today, and there has not been one since the “rightly guided” caliphate (succession of deputies of Muhammad) ceased in the early 20th century. But that begs the question because the crucial issue remains as to who ultimately speaks for Islam: those who believe that an Islamic umma (community) rules in Muslim countries, or those Islamists who are trying to reestablish a true caliphate and shari’a everywhere?

Why is there confusion over the nature of Islam? We hear various Muslim leaders state that Islam means peace and is a religion of peace, not terror. They repeatedly refer to an early Meccan verse in the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion…” (Sura 2:256). Referring to terrorism, Salih bin Muhammad Lahidan, chairman of the Judicial Council in Saudi Arabia, stated, “Those who commit such crimes are the worst of people. Anyone who thinks that any Islamic scholar will condone such acts are totally wrong.”1 Imam Yohya Hendi at Georgetown University declared, “Sept. 11 violates the very foundation of Islamic law.”2 And Dr. Farid Esack of Auburn Theological Seminary said, “In Islamic law there is absolutely no justification for this kind of dastardly deed.”3

The liberal media repeat the idea. For example, an article in the September 24 edition of The Los Angeles Times stated, “Most Muslims and non-Muslim experts on Islam are quick to say that extremists are distorting the faith and violating its fundamental principles of peace.” And to top it off, President George Bush and his cabinet have repeatedly and consistently made official and public pronouncements regarding Islam such as, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That is not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace and terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”4 Both the media and the Bush administration are also critical of several high profile Christian leaders who forthrightly condemn Islam as being fundamentally evil.

But not everyone agrees and thus the confusion. Eliot Cohen of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Pentagon advisor wrote that the war is not against “terrorism” but is against “militant Islam.”5 Another Pentagon advisory Board member, Kenneth Adelman, states, “Calling Islam a peaceful religion is an increasingly hard argument to make. The more you examine the religion, the more militaristic it seems. After all, its founder Muhammad was a warrior, not a peace advocate like Jesus.”6

Since the cessation of the Caliphate in 1924, Muslims are personally responsible for finding out the truth through personal study and the learned views of the Muslim clerical authorities— who don’t always agree with each other. Let’s hear how jihad is defined by various Muslim leaders. Iqad Hilal writes,

“The Islamic ideology. . .is universal ideology meant to liberate all mankind. Consequently, one cannot expect this ideology to be confined to a specific people or land. In order to deliver this ideology to the rest of humanity, the State that adopts this ideology shoulders the responsibility of carrying it to new lands. As would be expected, this goal will lead to a conflict with other states and their ideologies. This conflict has to be resolved either through diplomacy or through force…Islam adapted Jihad as its method of carrying its authority, justice, and ideals to other lands. . . .Jihad . . .at best, its legal meaning can be understood as using the military force where diplomacy fails, to remove the obstacles the Islamic state faces in carrying its ideology to mankind. . . . [In] summary, Jihad is the method adopted by Islam to protect its lands and save humanity from the slavery of man-made regimes.7

Another Muslim leader, Ahmad Sakr, of the Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, writes about Jihad being, among other things, an effort “and fighting to defend one’s life, land, and religion. . . . Jihad is not a defensive war only, but a war against any unjust regime.”8 Lebanese scholar Mahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies at Temple University, regarding the so-called “lesser” jihad, writes, “Only in worship, unity of purpose, and social consciousness can Muslims protect those who are weak, exposed and oppressed. In fact, the main aim of jihad in society is to eradicate wrong doing and oppression.”9 Ayoub goes on to explain, “What then is the Qur’an enjoining on the people of faith to investigate? They must investigate the need for fighting, and whether it is justified or not.” And what is the justification “that should motivate them to fight?” He answers, “It is ‘to make the world of Allah uppermost.’ When this consideration . . .calls for the jihad of arms, then fighting becomes an obligation on every Muslim able to carry arms.”10

Ayoub also explains what it means to “make the word of Allah uppermost.” He says, “It is to insure His will as revealed in the Qur’an, exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad . . .and his Companions and enshrined in the Shari’ah. . .be done.”11 In other words, that all the world comes under the theocratic rule of Islam.

So what is the will of Allah as revealed in the Qur’an and exemplified in the life of Muhammad concerning the jihad of warfare? Remember, ordering one’s life and the true Muslim community by the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad’s life is fundamental Islam. Thus, the Qur’an teaches:

+Speaking of “those who suppress faith [of Islam]” “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits. . .and slay them wherever you catch them” (Sura 9:120-121).
+ “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in God” (Sura 9:123).
+“Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle [Muhammad], nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they pay the Jizya [compensation] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (Sura 9:29; see also 5:33).
+ “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight them and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them,beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them to every stratagem (of war)” (Sura 9:5). [Yusuf Ali, in his commentary on this verse states that jihad must be pursued with “vigor” which may take the “form of slaughter” or “ambush and other stratagems.” Could that not include suicide bombings?]
+ “It is He who got out the unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering of the forces. Little did you think that they would get out; and they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But the wrath of Allah came to them from quarters from which they had little expected it, and cast terror into their hearts” (Sura 59:2).
+ “Remember your Lord inspired the angels with the message, ‘I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror [there is that word again] into the hearts of unbelievers: you smite [cut off] them above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them’” (Sura 8:12; see also 8:60).
+“Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you to have victory over them, and heal the wounds of the Believers” (Sura 9:14).
Some other jihad passages are Suras 47:4; 9:123; 4:10; 4:102; 5:17; 9:52; 61:4, 2:244). In addition to the Qur’an, the Bukhari Hadith, the second authority of Islam, lists 199 gruesome jihad passages spelled out by Muhammad.12

To add to the confusion, Muslim leaders and scholars seem to talk out of both sides of their mouths. One of the highest spiritual authorities for Sunni Muslims is the Grand Sheik of the al-Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi. He also affirmed that the attacks on September 11 did not represent true Islam, yet he called the Palestine suicide bombers martyrs of Islam. His views are echoed almost unanimously by Muslim clerics all over the world. Prominent Sunni ulama (religious authorities) like Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi and Sheik Hamoud bin Shuaibi, also approve the attacks in Israel and Palestine by fellow Muslims and declared, “Whoever supports the infidel against Muslims is considered an infidel. It is a duty to wage jihad on anyone who supports an attack on Afghanistan.”13 Shuaibi of Saudi Arabia also characterized Bush’s action in Afghanistan as “nothing but a Crusade as before in history.”

Westerners are understandably puzzled how Muslim leaders can condemn suicide bombers as unIslamic, yet support as jihadic duty those same tactics in Israel and Palestine. This apparent contradiction is due to a mosaic of differing interpretations of the Qur’an, especially concerning jihad, geopolitical views, and the understanding of the links between the U.S. and Israel, as well as the connection of Christianity with the West in general.

Part of the answer to clearing up the confusion is to understand the evolution of Islam from its beginning to today. An analogy to the Christian landscape might be helpful. Just as there are various perspectives or traditions within Christianity, so are there within Islam. For example, we have many different denominations, yet with agreement on the essentials. And we have an even wider spectrum. There are cultural or nominal “Christian,” liberals, neoorthodox, mainliners, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Calvinists, Reformeds, Arminians, Charismatics, pacifists, dispensationalists, and theonomists. Islam, too, presents us with a mosaic of distinctives rather than being monolithic.

Noted scholar John Esposito at Georgetown University is editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World and The Oxford History of Islam, and is also the director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He states that the Islamic responses to colonialism from the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century, have formed the foundations for the differing perspectives we see in Islam today.14 Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, agrees that these divisions within Islam are a result of trying to explain and cope with the loss of power and prominence held before the Crusades and colonialization periods.15

All of this suggests that Islam is schizophrenic. And in addition to its external struggles, it is experiencing an internal war—a war for who will ultimately speak for Islam. Islam is a religion in crisis.

The majority of Muslims today are not militants. They adhere to the major articles of Islam and practice the Five Pillars of their faith. But even if there are only 20% of Muslims who are Islamists, that amounts to over 200 million who are focused and committed to their goals. The moderates and reformers, and even heads of state of Muslim countries, have been, in the past, guilty of inaction and acquiescence. The consequence of that passivity is that the average Muslim is susceptible to being turned to Islamism.

In understanding Islam in general and jihad in particular, it is important to understand the subgroups.16 For the sake of space, I will summarize two of the subdivisions and focus on the third. First, the modernist or secularist Muslim movement has assimilated much Western thought and life and believes that Islam must be allowed to redefine itself to be more compatible with Western democracy and a separation of both church and state, as well as science and religion. Jihad then takes on the meaning of personal discipline and morality. But, significantly, this movement also calls for an individual Muslim’s free interpretation of both doctrine and jurisprudence.

The second approach to Islam, reformism, is very popular today. The reformist says that the advances of Western technology and science are actually Islamic. Reformers tend to reinterpret some of the 7th century doctrines as principles which can be adapted to Western culture.

However, the group of Muslims that most concerns everyone is the fundamentalist element. Muslims can be found all along the continuum and many Muslims may hold certain tenets of different movements. This is especially true of those within fundamentalism. The fundamentalist Muslims believe the following:
+Islam is a total, all-encompassing way of life that guides each person’s moral and social path as well as every aspect of a community’s life. It is a personal-legal-social-political belief-system.
+ The Qur’an and the teachings/practices of Muhammad are the perfect models to guide all people on the right path.
+ Shari’a provides the ideal blueprint for a Muslim society for all times.
+ Departure from Islam and reliance on the West, as well as oppression by the West (or any other foreign ideology), is the cause for decline of Muslim influence and culture in general.
+ A return to the straight path of Islam and Shari’a will restore the success, power, wealth and progress of the Golden Age of the Caliphate in this life and merit eternal reward in the next (Paradise).
+Science and technology must be harnessed and used within an Islamic context, not by dependence or capitulation to foreign cultures.
+ It is the personal and corporate duty of the Muslim umma to fight (struggle, jihad) against and overcome evil, darkness or ignorance, and oppression in order to expand the land ruled by Islam (dar al Islam) by overcoming territory ruled by non-Muslims (dar al Harb, which means, literally, “land of warfare”).

Fundamentalists deem that even what are viewed by most people as Muslim countries are not true Muslim states. Rather, they are corrupt systems due to their apparent compromise with the West and modernism, and because they have not implemented a true shari’a.

Fundamentalism or Islamism, as a movement, is the reaction of some Muslims to Western colonialization and consequent decline of Islamic rule. The roots of this reaction can be traced to the writings of earlier Muslims such as Ibn Taymiyya, Hasan al-Banna, Mawana Mawdudi, and Sayyid Qutb.17 These men have influenced and inspired such militant groups as Hamas in Palestine, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Jamatt-i-Islami, Islamic Jihad in Egypt, Lashker Jihad in Indonesia, and Shi’ite Wahabism in Saudi Arabia. These groups rely on the Qur’anic and Hadith passages noted earlier to justify militant jihad. They adamantly reject the “terrorism” label as they characterize their killings as a “just war” fought in defense of foreign occupations such as in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and U.S. Army bases on traditional Muslim soil. Alternatively, they justify their actions as a defense against oppression, either from corrupt secular governments or from the immoral components of Western modernization.

So, why is there so much hostility toward Christians as well as Israel, the U.S., and the West? This hatred is due to a combination of the Jewish rejection of Muhammad as a Prophet like Moses, the self-defense of Christians in the East and West during Muslim expansions, the Crusades and its heretical claim of wielding the sword of Christ, the reinstatement of the nation of Israel in 1948 after a thousand year rule by Muslims (a reinstatement which could not have happened without Great Britain and the United States), Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians (which Muslims characterize as genocide and theft), the dispensational theology of many Christians which favors Israel no matter what they do, and the belief that Christians who worship the Triune God are infidels because they are committing the cardinal sin of shirk (associating partners with God).

The renowned Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis observed that Muslims accuse the West, particularly the U.S., of materialism, moral perversion, racism, imperialism, tyranny, and exploitation, all of which they know is contrary to Islam. Lewis believes that what is the highest evil and totally unacceptable to Muslims is the dominance of infidels over Muslims. This domination is blasphemous and unnatural and therefore true Islam must be protected and defended from such insult and abuse.18

So what authority drives Islamic fundamentalism? It is the Qur’an and the Hadith. In the midst of uncertainty and fragmentation, there is a search for the security of certainty. The belief in the absolute certainty of the literal Qur’an provides that drive. That is why men like Osama bin Laden and those who crashed the planes on September 11, 2001 (as well as every other armed Muslim aggressor), quote the Qur’an repeatedly as their justification.

To summarize, I return to my earlier description: Islam is schizophrenic. Traditional, orthodox, fundamentalist Islam cannot escape from its intrinsically militant roots. The more moderate Muslims, which include most of the heads of Islamic countries, are caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” They are trying to play both ends. On one end are the militant fundamentalists who the “moderates” have to mollify and appease (which includes paying them large sums of money and looking the other way from acts of terrorism). On the other end, they realize that they must modify or liberalize traditional Islam in order to move into the 21st century if they want to acquire the technological and commercial benefits (i.e., progress) of modernity from the West. The U.S. government is trying to reinforce the latter.

It is often said that the militants are a small percentage. This is true of those who are overtly acting out their militant jihad. But, even if that “small percentage” is, say, 10% (which is probably an underestimate), then we are talking about 120 million militants! In any case, there should also be concern about those “closet” fundamentalists who are being more pragmatic than the current militants and biding their time as they work more toward gaining power.

Muslims we encounter personally may be anywhere along the spectrum of the five categories mentioned above. Christians should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as we interact. We can and should have sympathy for Muslim concerns about the possible flaws and inequities in past foreign policy and the perversions of the Crusades. Ask good questions regarding their personal understanding of jihad. Hopefully, they may be more moderate and therefore more open to the gospel.

The Cross and the Crescent

In the remainder of this issue of Areopagus Journal, we will explore other aspects of Islam. The articles are designed to give you an understanding of the general history and beliefs of Islam, as well as a comparison between Islam and Christianity on some major doctrinal issues. The reader is encouraged to take this information and apologetic material to begin a deeper study of Islam and to engage Muslims through friendship and dialogue.

I begin the series of articles with a general history of Islam and an overview of important Islamic doctrines. Steve Cowan follows with an article on Islam’s claims that the Qur’an is God’s perfect and preserved revelation, while the Bible has been corrupted and therefore essentially abrogated by the Qur’an. Steve shows that these claims are unfounded. Later, Steve also compares and contrasts the Christian and Muslim views of salvation in the article, “What Must I Do to Be Saved? Christian and Muslim Answers Contrasted.”

Clete Hux addresses the issue of Muhammad’s prophet-hood in “Jesus Vs. Muhammad.” He shows the weaknesses in the Muslim claim that Muhammad was a prophet, and compares that with the historical and biblical credentials of Jesus as a true prophet.

These main articles are followed by several book reviews. One, by our friend Dr. Timothy George, relates to the issue of Islam. Dr. George has recently written Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?. In this book, he presents an overview of Islam and carefully demonstrates the fallacy of the common contention that the Muslim god is the same as the God of the Bible. I think you will find this book, and the review of it in this journal, a helpful addition to your apologetics arsenal.

1 Washington Post (Oct. 13, 2001).
2 Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (Sept. 28, 2001).
3 Ibid.
4 See
5 Washington Post (Nov. 30, 2002).
6 Ibid.
7 Iqad Hilal, Islam: A Complete Way of Life, 3rd ed. (Walnut, CA: Islamic Cultural Workshop, 1997), 73.
8 Ahmad Sakr, Understanding Islam and Muslims (Lombard, IL: Foundation for Islamic Knowledge, 1990), 17-18.
9 Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam Faith and Practice (Markham, Ontario: Open Press, 1989), 191.
10 Ibid., 196.
11 Ibid., 196-197.
12 See Phil Parshall, Understanding Muslim Teachings and Traditions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 97-105.
13 Washington Post (Oct. 13, 2001).
14 John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2002), 65.
15 Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002), 5-10.
16 For more detailed treatment of these subgroups, see our recommended book list on p. 35 of this issue of Areopagus Journal, especially Islam at the Crossroads and Islam Unveiled. In addition, see John L. Esposito, Unholy War; Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America (both cited above); and recently released Carnegie Foundation essay at
17 See John Esposito, Unholy War, 41-64; and Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America, 70-85.
18 Bernard Lewis, Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East (Chicago: Open Court, 1993), 405-420.

Abu Bakr: One of the first converts to Islam and the first Muslim caliph. Ali: Son-in-law of Muhammad; the fourth caliph, though the first to be recognized by the Shi’ite Muslims.
Allah: The Muslim name for God.
Ayatollah: Among Shi’ite Muslims, the highest ranking religious leaders, and divinely inspired spokesmen for the Twelfth Imam. Caliph (Deputy): The title given to Sunni Islamic leaders following the death of Muhammad.
Fatwa: An official religious decree.
Five Pillars of Islam: The five religious duties expected of every Muslim (Hajj, Salat, Sawm, Shahada, and Zakat).
Hadith (Story): The collection of sayings and deeds of Muhammad which is used by Muslims (after the Qur’an) as an authoritative source of moral instruction.
Hajj: One of the five pillars of Islam. It is the pilgrimage to Mecca required once in a lifetime of every Muslim.
Hijra: The flight of Muhammad and his first followers in A.D. 622 from Mecca to Medina as a result of persecution. Muslims mark this date as the the beginning of the Islamic religion and the starting date of the Muslim calendar.
Imam: For Sunni Muslims, the spiritual leader in a local mosque; for Shi’ites, the title of the legitimate Caliphs decended from Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali.
Jihad: Holy struggle. Muslims distinguish between the Greater Jihad, one’s personal struggle with sin, and the Lesser Jihad, a holy war fought in defense of Islam.
Mosque: A Muslim place of worship.
Muhammad: The founder of Islam.
Ramadan: Ninth month in the lunar calendar in which Muslims are expected to fast each day from sunrise to sunset.
Salat: One of the five pillars of Islam referring to the five prescribed daily prayers.
Sawm: One of the five pillars of Islam. It is the fasting required during the month of Ramadan.
Shahada: One of the five pillars of Islam. It is the creed of Islam: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.” Shari’a: The Islamic system of jurisprudence (i.e., Muslim civil law).
Shi’ite: A branch of Islam, specifically those who believe that Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, was the rightful successor to Muhhamad. Shirk: In Islam, the unpardonable sin of associating other gods with Allah.
Sunni: A branch of Islam, specifically those who believe that Abu Bakr and other elected Caliphs were the rightful successors of Muhammad. Ulama: An Islamic scholar.
Umma: The Islamic community.
Zakat: One of the five pillars of Islam referring to the practice of almsgiving to the poor.