Toward Understanding Islam

I believe that if we understood more about Islamism our preaching of the message among these people would be much easier.

P. SITOMPUL, Departmental Secretary, Indonesia Union Mission

OUR ministers in the In­donesia Union have to deal with approximately 100 million Moslems, for they comprise 95 per cent of the population of the archipelago. The other 5 percent are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, et cetera. We praise God that from year to year we have been able to baptize a number of Moslems, but I be­lieve that if we understood more about Islamism our preaching of the message among these people would be much easier. If we could find common ground between us, by the grace of God we could win many more.

Some believe that when preaching the gospel we do not need to know anything about a person's religion and background. We simply have to preach the Word of God and people will be converted. But the apostle Paul warns us not "to beat the air (1 Cor. 9:26) and still expect results.

An engineer makes precise calculations and studies the situation in every detail before he starts building a bridge. It is ad­visable for a minister to do likewise if he wishes good results. He must carefully study the best way to lead a Moslem to the real truth. First of all, he must know what a Moslem really believes. There are many books written on Islam and its beliefs, al­though some give contradictory views. In this article I shall endeavor to present a simple summary of what a Moslem believes in the hope that it may help those of our ministry who may come in contact with them.

Islam in this discussion represents the Sunnis or Sunnites, also called Orthodox Is­lam. There are other minor Moslem sects with somewhat different beliefs but the Sun­nis represent the largest and the major group of Islam in the world. Another large Moslem sect is the Shi'a or Shi'ites, but this group is found mostly in Iran and Iraq.

Moslem Concept of God

Islam teaches strict monotheism. Mos­lems believe that they are the only true heralds of pure monotheism. The funda­mental doctrine of the Our'an, the Holy Book of Islam, is that there is only one God. Mohammed never wavered from this doctrine from the beginning to the end of his mission. It should be noted that when Christians and Moslems speak about God, they are referring to the same Being. There­fore, "since both Christian and Muslim faiths believe in One supreme sovereign Creator—God, they are obviously referring when they speak of Him, under whatever terms, to the same Being. To suppose other­wise would be confusing."' Of course, there is a difference and this difference is found in the understanding about God, and not in the Being. Islam believes that no one and nothing should be put equal with God, or Allah as they address Him. The fundamen­tal creed of Islam is, "There is no god except Allah." To associate other beings with Allah in worship is the deepest offense and is considered as the unpardonable sin. The Arabic term for this sin is shirk.

God or Allah is real to the Moslems. He is the true Deity, the sole Ruler of the universe. Any other partners associated with God are considered false gods. He is the first and the last. Whether He is eternal or everlasting is not clearly defined, though He is generally accepted as such. There is no Arabic word for "eternal"—a Being with no beginning nor end. The Moslem theologians have adopted "al-Samad" for divine eternity but this word is usually connected with "the One who does not be­get and is not begotten" and may therefore suggest boundlessness.

Only Allah is accepted as being eternal. Since Islam claims to be the only true monotheistic religion, they had a long struggle in deciding whether His attributes too are eternal. Nothing equal nor eternal should exist besides Allah. To say that His Word or His will is eternal may suggest coexistence and therefore plurality in the Godhead. It is generally accepted at pres­ent by the Sunnis that the Qur'an is the uncreated Word of God, and therefore eternal.

Predestination or Free Will

Allah is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is the Creator and possessor of power over everything. Here also the Moslem theologians meet with difficulties. If God is Creator of everything, did He also create evil? To say No is to limit His power. And so the doctrine of predestina­tion has developed in Islam. Allah decides all deeds of man, whether good or evil. He knows everything beforehand. At present there are conflicting opinions as to whether Islam should continue to accept the doctrine of predestination or turn to the free will of man. A majority of the people still believes the former. Dr. Daud Rahbar, vis­iting professor of Urdu and Pakistan Stud­ies at the Harford Seminary Foundation, in his thesis entitled "God of Justice," stands for the other opinion. "The Qur'an . . . does not contain the idea that human action is written in heavenly books far in advance or from eternity. The idea is in­troduced by the Tradition." 2 It is well to note that the Tradition, also called the Sunna of the Prophets, is accepted as in­spired in meaning and comes next to the Qur'an as the source of rules and laws in Moslem life. The belief that Allah is the supreme and stern Judge and will judge all human actions has existed since the begin­ning of Mohammed's mission. In fact, the central themes of Mohammed's preaching were the Oneness of God and the coming judgment. Fear of God as the stern Judge is therefore the dominant sentiment in Qur'anic morality. "In the Qur'an the cor­responding central notion is God's strict justice. And so on fear of God's strict jus­tice of the judgment day depends the ful­filling of the law and the whole moral value of Qur'anic duty." 3Faith in God, according to Moslem understanding, has its roots in caution and fear of God. This fear gives birth to faith and sustains it.

The Moslem is not taught to love God. Love in Qur'anic teaching is downward not upward. It comes from God to man, and there is silence from man. That God's love is conditional is also taught. He loves or probably "likes" only those who are strictly pious, those who keep themselves clean, those who guard themselves against His wrath, and those who fight in His cause.

Never Called Father

Among the al-Asma' al-Husna or the so-called Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God, "the Loving" or "al-Wadud" is one of them. Allah is called the Ruler, the Protector, the Creator, the Provider, the Merciful, the Compassionate, but never is God called the Father. As a people the Moslems relate themselves to Allah as the Umma or peo­ple of God, but never as children or sons of God. In their awe toward the all-power­ful God, they refer to themselves as the abd or slaves of Allah. A slave submits himself unconditionally to his master. "Is­lam" really means "submission"—submis­sion to the will of God, the Master and the Judge. Worship in Arabic is ibadah, and the root of the word abd means slave or servant. " `lbadah' is the abstract noun defining the attitude of the `abd', or serv­ant."'

"'God is love.' Islam has never felt able to say that." ' Here is a point which our ministers can use as an approach. The Bible teaches God's Fatherhood and His love for all mankind. We do not need to fear God. Love fulfills the law. We obey Him because we love Him and He loves us. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:18, 19).

Another doctrine that has developed around the Moslem concept of God is the doctrine of bila kaif meaning "without knowing how." Is God really One? Is He eternal? Does He own hands, face, and feet like a man? The Moslem reply, first intro­duced by the great theologian, al-Ashari (d. A.D. 936) will simply be bila kaif. He be­lieves God has them but "without know­ing how"—he has no argument.

By presenting this simple summary of the Moslem concept of God, I suggest that the minister develop from this and his own resources how to personally approach the Moslem with the boundless truths of God's Word and the message for these days.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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P. SITOMPUL, Departmental Secretary, Indonesia Union Mission

July 1966

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