The presentation of the gospel message to Moslems constitutes one of the greatest problems confronting the Christian missionary today. Islam is, of course, a religion itself. It is an expressive term, being taken from the Arabic salani, meaning to be or become safe. To "Islam," or accept Muslemism, means, in the mind of the Mussulman,* to accept the only real religion that exists, and thus to be "orthodox," or one of God's faithful.
The basis of Islam is the Koran.* Its authority is considered absolute, not only in religion, but equally in matters of policy, ethics, and science—a fact which the Christian missionary should never forget. It is also well to remember that in these highly progressive and changing days, the experience of nations, as well as of individuals, has put the Koran to the test, and it has been found "wanting."
Although no Mussulman would ever think of disputing the authority of the Koran, or of casting doubt upon its genuineness, it is not Islam's sole rule of faith. Its voice is indeed supreme in all that it concerns, but the exegesis of the Koran—the system of legal jurisprudence and theological science—depends largely upon the traditions. This is an important fact for the missionary to notice.
We hear much these days about the supposed unity of Islam. This is sometimes propounded by those occasional Europeans who profess to be converted to Islam as the sign of the "divine origin" of Islam, in contrast to the "disunity" among other religions, particularly Christianity. The fact is, however, that the complete foundations of Islam are considered to be four in number—the Koran, Sunna, Ijmaa, and Qiyas. And as all the sects do not agree with the orthodox Sunni sect, the boasted unity of Islam is in reality far from what it is stated to be.
Obviously the missionary to the Orient who would seek to influence Moslem life and thought, must acquaint himself with the teachings and traditions of the prevalent religion, and certainly he must be familiar with the Koran itself. The Mussulman is intensely devoted to the Koran. In early days, position and distinction were conferred upon those who were able to repeat it by heart. And even in these days considerable honor attaches to this feat. Indeed, the Mussulman who troubles to notice the fact usually professes to be shocked by the casual way in which Christians sometimes treat their Holy Bible.
It is not easy for the Christian to understand the psychology of the Mussulman in the matter of religion, and that his religion really includes 'everything in his life. The Pharisee type of Jew would understand him much better. The only way to gain an insight into these matters is to study the life of Mohammed, the "revelation" of the Koran, and the growth of Islam and its sects; for thereby is revealed, at least to some extent, the mentality of the Moslem world.
After considering the tradition of Mohammed's "vision," wherein he was allegedly given the commission to preach, and the first beginnings of his "inspiration," the missionary must bear in mind that the Koran professes to be a direct revelation proceeding immediately from God. In other words, to the mind of the Mussulman the Koran represents full and complete verbal inspiration—word for word, with every single sentence direct from the lips of God. "Speak, thus saith the Lord," either precedes or must be understood to precede every sentence. One might note here briefly that the Christian does not and cannot make such extreme claim for the inspiration of the Bible. He would find himself in tremendous difficulties if he did.
The Mussulman acknowledges that God has made revelations in the past, and has chosen the month of Ramazan for that.parpose.Thu on the first night of that month the books of Abraham came down from heaven; on the sixth, the books of Moses (Tauret); on the thirteenth, the gospel (Injil); and on the twenty-seventh, the Koran.
The Koran, however, was professedly given in a rather ingenious way. It was not brought straight to earth; that might have made it difficult, perhaps impossible, for Mohammed to answer some questions and meet certain objections. It was, therefore, brought down to the lowest heaven only. It was then revealed, phrase by phrase, verse by verse, to Mohammed as it was needed. By this admirable arrangement, Mohammed was able to meet all emergencies as they arose, and to extricate himself with credit from difficulties which would most certainly have overwhelmed him had not this scheme been conceived.
The missionary must become conversant with the Koran, and that is not so easy. Taken alone, as a revelation of the will of God, or even as a piece of religious literature, the Koran strikes the average reader as most unsatisfactory, and "perhaps of all books the least intelligible." Contrast it with the Bible, for instance. Although the names and even the eras of some of the Bible writers are obscure, yet in substance the Bible is so arranged as seldom to leave any portion of it doubtful. But with the Koran, even though the writer is known to us, and the time in which he lived, yet the most lenient judge must consider the Koran a confused compilation whose meaning is usually difficult to comprehend. No chronological sequence is followed; the books are composed of fragments many times unrelated, and it is all put together in a jumble that strikes the fair-minded student as being far from a work of "inspiration." The missionary cannot fail to notice this contrast and to profit thereby.
* In speaking of this people, I prefer the words, Mussulman, Muslem, and Islam rather than Mohammedan, Moslem, and Mohammedanism, because, so far as my experience in India is concerned, these terms are more acceptable to the people themselves, and they more properly convey the generally accepted meaning of the subject under consideration. And in the use of the word "Koran," the spelling "Quran" more closely approximates the Arabic original.