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Engaging Islam with grace

Masjid al-Quba, the oldest mosque in the world, at dawn in Medina Saudi Arabia (Credit: Abdelrhman 1990 via en.wikipedia.org)Eleven years after 9/11, most people don't know why 19 terrorists flew planes into three buildings and killed 2,974 Americans.  What motivated Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists?  Why do they hate America and the West?

Islam is front-page news every day.  1.6 billion people, 19% of the world's population, are followers of the Muslim faith.  There are more Muslims in America than Episcopalians or Presbyterians.  Muslims now outnumber Jews as the second-largest religion in America.  There are more than 1,100 mosques around the country.

What do Muslims believe?  What differentiates "radical Islam" from the rest of the Muslim world?  What does it all mean for us?

What a fourth of the world believes

Islam was founded by Muhammad (A.D. 570-632), in the midst of religious pluralism, idolatry, and division among his Arab people in Mecca and the Arabian peninsula.

Muhammad's father died before he was born; his mother died when he was six years of age.  He was born in the city of Mecca and raised by his grandfather and then his uncle, Abu Bekr.  At the age of 40, he had become a successful businessman when he began receiving a series of visions or "revelations" which became the Qur'an.

At the time, his people worshiped the seven planets, the moon, and the stars.  Many venerated family household gods and various angels.  Others were involved in fire worship contributed by the Magians from Persia.  There was also a corrupt form of Judaism and heretical Christianity present.

According to Islam, Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel in the year 610 and told that God's previous revelations to the Jews and the Christians had been corrupted.  As a result, God was revealing his word and will a third time through Muhammad.

Of the pantheon of gods worshiped in the day, Muhammad was "led" to choose the one known as "Allah" (Arabic for "the god") as the only true God.  He began preaching in Mecca, inviting the people to join him in his new faith, but most rejected his message.

In the year 622, Muhammad and his small band of followers migrated to a city called Yathrib, now renamed "Medina" ("city of the prophet").  There they established the first Islamic state.  The Muslim calendar begins from the day of this migration (the hijira or "flight").

Muhammad's hatred of idols led him to place an immense emphasis on the unity and transcendence of God.  At first he believed that Jews and Christians would accept his message, and had his followers kneel toward Jerusalem to pray.  When they did not, he taught them to turn their backs on Jerusalem by bowing toward Mecca; this is their practice today.

Muhammad's culture was characterized by tribal warfare, brutality, and promiscuity.  He emphasized divine control, and opposed religious liberty and separation of church and state.  Since Allah is Lord, he must be Lord of all.  Thus Muhammad created a civilization, not merely a religion—a way of life for all people, governing personal autonomy and all morality.  Islam attempts to provide the answers to every conceivable detail of belief and daily life.

Muhammad left no designated heirs.  The "caliphs" (Arabic for "successors") continued his movement, led first by Abu Bekr.  Soon, however, divisions began to emerge.  Most Muslims followed the caliphs and their successors; these are known as Sunnis today.  But some believed that only the fourth caliph (Muhammad's son-in-law) was the true successor Muhammad, and have supported his successors; they are the Shiites ("party of Ali").  Eight-five percent of Muslims are Sunnis; 15 percent are Shiites, living primarily in Iran.

The spread of Islam

Islam's growth worldwide has been the fastest of any religion in history.  Within a single decade, A.D. 622-632, Muhammad united the nomadic tribes of the Arabian peninsula into a single cohesive nation, gave them a monotheistic religion in place of their polytheistic, tribal faiths, organized a powerful society and state, and launched his world-wide movement.

Muhammad died in 632 and was succeeded by Abu Bekr.  Under his reign and afterward Islam continued to spread, promoted by extensive military campaigns.  Within a century after the death of Muhammad, the Islamic empire stretched from Arabia west through North Africa, to Southern France and Spain; also north of Arabia through the Middle East and east throughout Central Asia, to the borders of China.  In the process, Islamic expansion took in much of the oldest and strongest Christian territory.

The spread of Islam in western Europe was finally checked by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (in France) in A.D. 732, exactly a century after the death of Muhammad.  Spain was later reclaimed for Christianity, but a wide belt of territory from Morocco to Pakistan and Indonesia remained Muslim, and has so to this day.

In the meantime a series of Crusades were conducted from A.D. 1095 to 1291, making the Christian mission to Muslims immeasurably more difficult.   Islam has dominated the Middle East for the last 12 centuries, threatening Europe during much of that time.  Today it extends from the Atlantic to the Philippines.  In Africa it is currently making tremendous advances.

Islam in America

There are between 1.8 million (David Barrett's estimate) and 4.6 million (Islamic Society of North America's estimate) Muslims in this country.  Most put the figure at between 3 and 4 million.  This is a "denomination" larger than either the Assemblies of God or the Episcopal Church in the United States.  In the next thirty years Muslims will outnumber Jews to become the second-largest religion in our country.

While there is no unified Islamic movement in America, there is an increasing effort to evangelize to the Muslim faith in our country.  Saudi Arabia is leading the way in funding projects to promote Islam around the world.

Note also the growth of Black Muslims in the U.S., a movement which rejects Christianity as racist.  This crusade began in 1931 among the Blacks in Harlem.  One of the early leaders, Elijah Muhammad, preached a gospel of black superiority; his heir, Malcolm X, attempted to move the Black Muslims toward orthodox Islam.  This movement is known today as The Nation of Islam, and comprises one-quarter to one-half of the total Muslim population in America.

What beliefs do Muslims hold in common?  A good way to understand any world religion is to ask these five questions of it:

•    What is its view of ultimate authority, God or the gods?
•    How does it view humanity?
•    What is its central focus?
•    How does it understand salvation?
•    How does it view eternity?

View of God

Unlike many world religions, Islam's view of God can be stated very succinctly: "Your God is One God: there is no God but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful" (2:163).  The Qur'an makes clear its rejection of the Trinity: "Say not 'Trinity': desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God: glory be to Him" (4:171).

The Qur'an also explicitly rejects the divinity of Jesus: "They do blaspheme who say: 'God is Christ the son of Mary'" (5:72); "They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God" (5:73); "Christ the son of Mary, was no more than an apostle" (5:75).

Muslims believe that God has sent 313 prophets to humanity, and are required to memorize the 25 most important.  Of these, the most significant were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.  Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a virgin (3:47; 19:20), and that he lived a sinless life and ascended to heaven without passing through death.  They reject the atonement and the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ.

View of humanity

Human beings live completely under the sovereignty of God: "Those whom God willeth to guide, He openeth their breast to Islam; those whom He willeth to leave straying, He maketh their breast close and constricted" (6:125).  "God wills it" is a common expression in Islam.  In fact, "Islam" means "submission" or "surrender."

Central focus

The Qur'an is the final revelation of God for Muslims and the central focus of their faith and lives.  All of life must be submitted to its revelation and laws.  According to Muslim teaching, the Qur'an was given by divine miracle through Muhammad when the prophet was illiterate: "It is He who sent down to thee (step by step) in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it" (3:3).

In addition to the Qur'an, the Hadith (a collection of the "sayings" of Muhammad) and the Sunna (the record of the personal customs of Muhammad and his community) give guidance for Muslim life.  But the Qur'an is the only divine revelation.

Concept of salvation

Salvation is achieved by submission to Allah: "So believe in God and His Apostle; and if ye believe and do right, ye have a reward without measure" (3:179).  The "five pillars" express the essentials of Muslim life and practice:

•    The "witness" ("shahadah"): "La ilaha illal lah Muhammadur rasulul lah"—"There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is Allah's messenger."  Every Muslim must declare this aloud at least once in his life very slowly, with deep meaning and full commitment; most Muslims repeat it many times each day.
•    Prayer ("salah") with directed motions, five times a day, facing toward Mecca, the holy city.  
•    Almsgiving ("zakah"), approximately 2 1/2% of all one's income and permanent annual worth, to the poor.  This is an act of worship.
•    Fasting ("sawm"), especially during the month of Ramadan, which commemorates the giving of the Qur'an.  From dawn to sunset every day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a Muslim refrains from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations.
•    Pilgrimage ("hajj") to Mecca at least once from every believer who is physically and financially able to make the journey.
•    In addition, jihad ("holy war") can be declared the unequivocal religious duty of the Muslim man, as the will of God.

Note that strict morality is a hallmark of Muslims.  They obey strong prohibitions against drinking wine, eating pork, gambling, and practicing usury.  They invoke the name of Allah at the slaughter of all animals.  They also require a specific dress code: men must be covered from navel to knees; women must cover their entire bodies except face and hands, with women above the age of puberty required to cover their face while going out and meeting strangers.  Pure silk and gold not allowed for men; men cannot wear women's clothes, and women cannot wear men's garments; the symbolic dress of other religions is not allowed.

View of heaven

Muslims believe that there will be a final day of judgment, the consummation of history, and the assigning of heaven and hell to all persons on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of the message of God and their accompanying good works.  Allah is depicted as weighing good and bad works on a delicate scale of balance which is accurate even to the weight of a grain of mustard seed (7:5-8; 21:47; 23:103-5).

Islam and Christianity

How do Muslims relate to the Christian faith?  Because Islam began in the Middle East subsequent to Christianity, it has always had some reference to Christianity.  Islam's holy book, the Qur'an, maintains this reference to Christianity, speaking specifically of Jesus and the Christian religion.

At the same time, Islam is completely independent of Christianity in faith and philosophy.  There is almost no direct quotation in the Qur'an from either Testament.  All we know for certain is that Muhammad was aware of Jews and Christians and knew something of their history.  Tragically, the "Christianity" Muhammad encountered was heretical, and gave him an erroneous picture of Christ and his followers.

Muhammad claimed to be a biological heir of Abraham through Ishmael.  Through this tie Muhammad saw himself as the establisher of the true religion of the one God in Arabia.  He claimed that the religion Abraham bequeathed to the Arabs became corrupt.  He claimed to receive direct revelation from God identical in content with the original revelations to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and thus claimed to be in direct succession with the Old and New Testament prophets.

Muslims have historically tolerated Christians and Jews as "people of the Book" in that they have a revelation related, though inferior, to that of Muslims.  Nevertheless, various regulations are imposed on Christians in Muslim lands.  One of the most difficult is the law against a Christian's converting a Muslim, accompanied by an absolute prohibition against the Muslim's accepting Christianity.

In addition, recent persecution of Christians has made tensions much greater between the two faiths.  For instance, Saudi Arabia threatens to punish any Muslim who converts to Christianity with beheading.

Islam denies the divinity of Christ.  Muhammad proclaimed that there is no God but God; thus Jesus cannot be divine.  He was God's messenger, not his Son.  Muslims also deny the crucifixion.  According to Muslim theology, when Jewish leaders approached Jesus with the intent of crucifying him, God took him up to heaven to deliver him out of their hands; then he cast the likeness of Jesus on someone else, who was crucified by mistake in his place.   Islam ignores the sin nature which requires atonement, and therefore the need for Jesus' death for us.

The Muslim believes that the Qur'an has exited from all eternity with God in the Arabic language.  In every particular it is the utterance of God himself, with no human element at all.  The Qur'an is seen in purely verbal, propositional terms.  Additionally, the Qur'an does not reveal Allah to us, but only his will.  He remains hidden from all men.  By contrast, Christianity has always seen the Bible as God's self-revelation of himself to us, mediated through the instrumentality of human personality.  Christ is the central focus of our faith (cf. John 20:30-31).

While Muslims believe that Allah can be merciful, they also accept that they are responsible for their own salvation by faith and works.  They do not believe that they can know their final destiny before they face judgment by Allah.  Christianity offers grace, full pardon for sin, and salvation today.

Radical Islam: Why do they hate us?

We have been fighting in Afghanistan longer than any war in our nation's history.  More than 6,000 American combat troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; we have spent more than $1 trillion in those two countries since 2001.  

Since Osama bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war against America, radical Muslims have been waging a campaign against our country.  Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second-in-command (and now leader of the group), explained the anger of extremist Muslims: "America is the reason for all oppression, injustice, licentiousness, or suppression that is the Muslims' lot.  It stands behind all the disasters that were caused and are still being caused to the Muslims; it is immersed in the blood of Muslims and cannot hide this."

According to al-Zawahiri, their retribution has only begun: "We have the right to kill 4 million Americans - 2 million of them children - and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons, so as to afflict them with the fatal maladies that have afflicted the Muslims because of the [Americans'] chemical and biological weapons."

"Radical Islam," that movement which led to the global war on terror, can be differentiated from the rest of the Muslim world in two respects.

First: radical Muslims claim that we started this fight.  The Qur'an forbids a Muslim to initiate aggression, but requires Muslims to defend Islam: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors" (2:190); "if they fight you, slay them.  Such is the reward of those who suppress faith" (2:191); "fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and Faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression" (2:193).

Radical Muslims are convinced that the Western world has been attacking Islam since the Crusades (1095-1291).  They are especially outraged with our support for Israel, a nation they believe stole their land from its rightful Palestinian owners.  They are certain that the Qur'an requires them to attack us in defense of their faith.

Second: radical Muslims assert that there are no innocent victims in the West.  The Qur'an defends innocent people from aggression: "Nor take life—which God has made sacred—except for just cause" (17:33).  However, our society is composed of democracies, where we elect our leaders and support our military.  As a result, to radical Muslims we are all complicit in this perceived assault on Islam.  They view us in the same way we view Germans who supported Hitler.

Radical Muslims do not see 9-11 as an unprovoked attack on innocent citizens.  They view it as a defense of Islam which struck at the heart of Western imperialistic, crusader aggression—the Twin Towers symbolizing the financial; the Pentagon, the military; and Washington, the political.

Where did these ideas originate?

A brief history

Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was an 18th century reformer (born 1703 in what is today Saudi Arabia); he formed the creed upon which Saudi Arabia was founded.  Wahhabism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia today.  It is an extremely fundamentalistic version of Islam, demanding absolute allegiance to Sharia (holy law) in every dimension of life and resisting all Western and foreign influence.

In 1742, al-Wahhab launched his movement to reform Islam by returning it to the "purity" of its founding century.  Prince Muhammed Ibn Saud embraced his initiative as a way of cleansing Islam and reversing the retreat of his faith then occurring in the Middle East.

The "House of Saud" eventually became the dominant state in Arabia, controlling the holy cities of Mecca and Medina along with most of the peninsula.  The Ottoman Empire reconquered the area in 1818, but the Sauds returned to power in 1902.  In 1932, Ibn Saud created the nation known to the West as "Saudi Arabia."  Wahhabi Islam was the religious and cultural force behind this national movement, and is the official form of Islam in Saudi Arabia today.

Wahhabism has been instrumental in supporting the radical Islamic movement of this generation.  The Saudi royal family has spent as much as $100 billion dollars exporting this form of Islam to the world.

Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) was an Egyptian who championed fundamentalist Islam to his country.  Working as an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, he was sent to study America from November 1948 to August 1950.  He was outraged by the sinful aspects of Western culture he observed in his travels and America's passionate support for Israel (the nation had just been formed, on May 14, 1948).  Opposed to such influence in Egypt, he fought vehemently against Western forces in his country.

Qutb wrote Signposts on the Way, now required reading by Wahhabi Muslims around the world, and conspired against the pro-Western Egyptian government.  He was arrested and executed on August 29, 1966; radical Muslims consider him a martyr to their cause.  His writings were very influential in the evolution of Osama bin Laden and his beliefs.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928 as an outgrowth of Wahhabi Islam, has been crucial to the movements which contribute to radical Islam.  Their credo: "Allah is our objective.  The Prophet is our leader.  Qur'an is our law.  Jihad is our way.  Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

These movements have for generations been concerned with the growing Western (infidel) influence they see in the Arab world.  But the creation of Israel in 1948, and America's continued support for that nation, have been especially significant in the rise of radical Islam vs. the West.

Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion of Abraham and Moses, and that the Jewish people follow a corrupted religion.  They are convinced that the Palestinians are the rightful owners of the Holy Land.  As a result, radical Muslims dream of the day when they can "push Israel into the sea."

America's involvement in Arab politics over the generations has been problematic.  For instance, we helped to depose the Iranian leader Mossadeq in 1953 when it served our purposes, then supported the Shah until public opinion turned against him and allowed his fall in 1979.  They see our first Gulf War as protecting our oil interests, and resist our continued engagement with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other moderate governments.

Now al Qaeda and other radical Muslim groups want to lead Arabs to unite against America and the West, force us out of the region, "push Israel into the sea," and then create a unified base for global Islamic expansion.  They continue to interpret our response to 9/11 as a war on Islam.  We attacked Iraq (though no Iraqis were part of 9/11), and occupy Baghdad, at one time the headquarters of the Muslim world.  While military response to 9-11 was obviously justified and essential, bin Laden continued to use our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia to claim that we are at war with the entire Muslim world.

This is the war of our generation.  Killing bin Laden will not end this war.  He was not the singular leader of this movement.  Radical Muslims want all Western influence out of the Arab world, and then want the entire world to convert to Islam.

Western "oppression" of Muslims

There is no question that Islam was the leading civilization in the world during the medieval era.  Muslim scholars discovered and preserved a large number of ancient Greek philosophical writings, many of which may not have survived otherwise.  By the ninth century, Muslim scholars had calculated the circumference of the world and discovered a sea route to China.

Islamic mathematicians developed "Arabic" numbers, "Algebra" (an Arabic word which means "restoration"), geometry and trigonometry.  Muslim doctors made Islamic medicine the world standard for a millennium.  Advances in art and architecture, music and philosophy demonstrated the excellence of Muslim scholarship.

By the 13th century, however, the "Golden Age of Islam" was largely over.  Many Muslims blame the Crusades for turning Islam from an intellectual movement to a military entity forced into self-defense.  While numerous other factors were much more significant factors in the intellectual and cultural decline of Islam (among them the Mongol invasions, the Black Plague, political infighting and mismanagement, and economic challenges), many radical Muslims still indict the West for its perceived cultural and military assault on Islam.

This culture of victimization continues today in much of the Muslim world.  Consider first the political front.  The Ottoman Empire began in modern-day Turkey in 1299 and came to dominate much of the Middle East.  It was ruled by the "caliph" (from the Arabic for successor), the person viewed by most Muslims as standing in the leadership tradition which began with Muhammad.  When the Empire aligned itself with Germany in World War I and was defeated, its lands were captured and divided by the conquering nations of the West.

Constantinople, its capital, was occupied.  Iraq and Palestine were placed under British control; Britain soon partitioned Jordan to the east from Palestine in the west.  Syria was assigned to the French government, which soon divided Lebanon from the rest of Syria.  Turkey was liberated from Western dominance by a leader known as Kemal Ataturk; in March of 1924, he abolished the caliphate and proclaimed himself the leader of a secular, Western-style democracy.

These actions still infuriate radical Muslims today.  They blame the West for abolishing their sacred caliphate, a position as sacred to them as the papacy is to the Roman Catholic Church.  If the Soviet Union had won the Cold War and abolished the presidency, occupying the White House with a Communist dictator, we would be similarly outraged.

The economic plight of the Muslim world is a second cause for bitterness toward the West.  Unfortunately, the standards of living in Muslim nations typically lag far behind both the West and Eastern nations which have adopted Western economic and political approaches (such as Japan and South Korea).

According to the World Bank, in 2000 the average annual income in Muslim countries from Morocco to Bangladesh was only half the world average.  In the 1990s, Israel's gross national product was significantly larger than that of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon combined.  According to the United Nations, Israel's per capita GDP was three and a half times that of Lebanon and Syria, twelve times larger than that of Jordan, and thirteen and a half times larger than that of Egypt.  In 1987, there were 466,211 research scientists in the United States; 11,617 in Israel (out of a population of six million); and only 1,915 in Saudi Arabia (out of a population of 21 million).

Rather than fault their Islamic worldview, many Muslims blame the West and modernity for their plight.  Radical Muslims insist that the answer is not democracy and capitalism, but returning to the theocracy of the first century of Islam.  They claim that the Western world is stealing their oil and victimizing their people.  They view any government which is sympathetic to the West (such as the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey) as conspirators with the infidels.

Many Muslims especially fault Israel for their plight.  They are convinced that the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948 was a theft of land from its rightful Palestinian owners.  Radical Muslims claim that Israel controls the economy and politics of other Western nations, especially in America.

Their antipathy towards Israel is thus directed at the United States as well, since it is seen as the lone superpower in the world and the leader of Western civilization.  Every military action taken by American troops on Muslim soil is viewed as another Crusader/Zionist attack against Islam.  Every political or economic setback is blamed on the Crusader/Zionist enemy.

Extremist Muslims insist that democracy is a poor substitute for "sharia" (the holy law of Islam).  Why would we want the law of man when we can live by the law of God?  It is instructive that Turkey is the only true democracy among the 57 nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an umbrella association of Muslim nations around the world.

Sharia likewise forbids usury, the collection of interest on debts.  Extremist Muslims view this prohibition as a veto against capitalism.  As a result, any attempt by Western nations to bring our culture, economic system, and democratic form of government to an Islamic nation is viewed by radical Muslims as an attack on Islam.

In Islamic theology, the world's population is divided between the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb) or "infidels" (kafir).  The global Muslim community, called the ummah, transcends nationalistic borders.  While Americans view their nation as a country divided by religions, Muslims view their global community as a religion divided into nations.  Islam began as a movement governed by a single leader, Muhammad, who merged spiritual authority, political governance, and military leadership in himself.  As Islam spread, it incorporated other nations within its ummah, but continued to view itself as a single entity.

This worldview is critical for understanding the mind of radical Muslims.  In their view, an attack on any Muslim is an attack on all Muslims.  The Palestinian cause is therefore precious to the president of Iran, though the former is Arab and the latter is Persian.

We are "Crusaders"

The Crusades (1095-1291) are still remembered with bitterness and anger as an example of Western aggression.  Bin Laden often refers to Americans as "Crusaders," even though our nation did not exist for five centuries after the last Crusaders left the Middle East.

The American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq following 9-11 is often cited as Exhibit A of our crusading assault on the Muslim world.  You may remember President Bush's statement to reporters on September 16, 2001: "This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while."  Of course, the president did not intend any identification between our military response to 9-11 and the medieval Crusades, but bin Laden and others were quick to take his remarks out of context.  Since Baghdad was the seat of the Muslim caliphate from AD 750 to 1261, the Western invasion and occupation of this city is especially offensive to many Muslims.

When American troops were based in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War (1991), bin Laden and others were outraged.  One of the "hadiths" (statements attributed to Muhammad but not found in the Qur'an) states: "The Prophet on his death-bed [said], 'Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula.'"  Another quotes the Prophet: "I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim."

For "infidels" to set foot on the sacred soil of Arabia, home of Mecca and Medina, is seen by radical Muslims as an invasion of Islam itself, akin to Nazis occupying the Jewish Temple.  In bin Laden's view, American soldiers did not defend Saudi Arabia—we occupied it.  So long as we maintain even a small military presence there, we are seen as defiling the holy land of Islam.

Jihad

"Jihad" is Arabic for "struggle."  The word can be used to describe a Muslim's struggle to live righteously and to please Allah.  It can also be employed as a call to holy war against the enemies of Islam.

From its inception, Islam has been a warrior faith.  Muhammad and his first followers engaged in numerous armed conflicts, beginning with their enemies in Mecca, and extended Islam across the Arab peninsula largely through military actions.  The spread of Islam in its first century was primarily a military expansion.

Fighting and dying for Islam is still considered a sacred duty by most Muslims.  When asked "What is the best deed?" Muhammad replied, "To believe in Allah and to fight for His Cause" (Sahih Buhari 3.46.694; Sahih Muslim 1:149).  Dying in a jihad is the only guarantee of salvation in Islam: "Allah's Apostle said, "Allah guarantees him who strives in His Cause and whose motivation for going out is nothing but Jihad in His Cause and belief in His Word, that He will admit him into Paradise (if martyred) or bring him back to his dwelling place, whence he has come out, with what he gains of reward and booty" (Sahih Bukhari, 4:53:352).

The Qur'an is explicit about rewards accorded those who die for Islam: "Think not of those who are slain in God's way as dead.  Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their Lord.  They rejoice in the Bounty provided by God: and with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.  They glory in the Grace and the Bounty from God, and in the fact that God suffereth not the reward of the Faithful to be lost (in the least)" (3.169-71).

One much-debated aspect of reward for martyrs concerns virgins in paradise.  The Qur'an promises that God will "join them to Companions, with beautiful big and lustrous eyes" (52.20).  These will be maidens who are "chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched" (55.56).  God has "made them virgin pure (and undefiled)—beloved (by nature) equal in age—for the Companions of the Right Hand" (56.36-38).

Their number is fixed at 72 in the hadith: "The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: 'The smallest reward for the people of Paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah [a Damascus suburb] to Sana'a [Yemen]'" (Sunan At-Tirmidhi, 4:21:2687).

Some Muslim scholars view these "virgins" or "companions" as "symbols of purity, grace, beauty, innocence, truth and sympathy."  It has been debated whether these "companions" are given to all Muslim males, or only to martyrs.  But there is no doubt that the "72 virgins" have been used through Islamic history as an enticement to martyrdom.

Dying for Islam is the highest honor and glory:

•    "The Prophet said, 'Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah's Cause)'" (Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:53).
•    "I heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say:... 'By the Being in Whose Hand is my life, I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way'" (Sahih Muslim, 20:4631).
•    "The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: 'One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire (or determination) for Jihid died the death of a hypocrite'" (Sahih Muslim, 20:4696).
It should be noted that suicide was prohibited by Muhammad: "If someone commits suicide with anything in this world, he will be tortured with that very thing on the Day of Resurrection" (Sahih Bukhari 8.73.73).  But many Muslim scholars make a distinction between a person who kills himself and one who fights for Islam while knowing that he will die as a result.  As a result radical Muslims do not consider those who kill themselves to kill infidels "suicide bombers."  Rather, they view them as martyrs to Islam.

In summary, "Allah's Apostle said, 'Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords'" (Sahih Bukhari 4.52.73).

Osama bin Laden: The world's most wanted man

Osama (spelled phonetically Usama) bin Laden was born in 1957 in Saudi Arabia.  He was the seventh son and 17th of 54 children (from 22 wives) of his father, Mohammed bin Laden.

His father made a fortune in commercial construction, contracts which resulted from his friendship with King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.  His company is today worth $5 billion; it built palaces, highways, and renovated the sites of Mecca and Medina.  He died in a plane crash, apparently due to an error by his American pilot, when Osama was 10 years old.

Alia, his mother, is Syrian; she and Osama's father apparently met when he visited her city of Lattakia in the mid-1950s.  After his father's death, Alia married and had more children.  They were educated in the West, but Osama attended high school in Jidda, a city on the Red Sea coast.

Osama married his first cousin Najwa when he was 17 and she was 13; their first child, Abdullah, was born the next year.  He is reported to have fathered at least 23 children from at least five wives.

Launching al Qaeda

Bin Laden attended King Abdel Aziz University in Jidda, intending to study business administration, but came under the influence of Abdullah Azzam, an Islamic scholar at the university.  Azzam was part of the Muslim Brotherhood (see below), and was devoted to the cause of uniting the Muslim world in a pure Islamic state through holy war with the West.

He joined the mujahedin in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded in 1979.  Bin Laden followed him, becoming the chief fund raiser for Arab volunteers who moved to Afghanistan to join the fight.  By 1986 bin Laden was engaged in fighting himself.  Here he birthed the idea of turning these Arab Afghan volunteers into his own militant brigade, al Qaeda ("the camp").

Bin Laden was soon befriended by an Egyptian physician named Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al-Jihad (the group which assassinated Anwar el-Sadat in 1981).  He agreed with bin Laden that their Arab brigade in Afghanistan should be made into a global fighting force.  When Azzam was killed in 1989, al-Zawahri became bin Laden's partner.

Terrorism against the West

Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia a hero.  He organized veterans of the Afghan war in a fight against the Marxist regime in South Yemen, but the Saudi government felt he was becoming too militant and revoked his passport.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to organize 100,000 volunteers to assist against Saddam Hussein.  His offer was rejected as the Saudi government turned to the hated infidels of the West.  In 1991 he emigrated to Afghanistan and then to Sudan.  Khartoum had become a gathering place for radical Muslims; here bin Laden settled with his three wives.

After learning of his numerous associations with militant Islamists, his family in Saudi Arabia sent emissaries to persuade him to renounce violence.  He persistently refused.  His Saudi government then disowned him; he responded by issuing a call for its overthrow.

The Sudanese government expelled him, so he took his family back to Afghanistan.  Here he married a fourth wife and had a 20th child.  In 1996 he connected with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, and moved his operations to Omar's base in Kandahar.

Outraged with his native Saudi government and its Western partners, bin Laden began fulfilling his dreams of mobilizing a vast militant Muslim movement.  In 1998 he signed a fatwa (legal pronouncement issued by religious authorities) claiming that Muslims have the duty to kill Americans, including civilians, whenever and wherever possible.  This decision to target civilians was prompted by al-Zawahri and rejects the protection of noncombatants which is consistent with more traditional Islam.

In August of 1998, al Qaeda operatives killed 224 people in bombings against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  Washington mounted a cruise missile attack on Afghanistan which nearly killed bin Laden.  Al Qaeda struck again in 2000, killing 17 Americans in the attack on the U.S. Cole.  In 2001, he merged formerly with al-Zawakri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, growing his movement to a core of 200 people, a 122-person martyrdom brigade and several dozen foot soldiers.  Next came 9/11.

The death of bin Laden

Terrorists captured after the 9/11 attacks identified Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, one of bin Laden's most trusted couriers and a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of 9/11.  Intelligence officers sought this courier for two years, then tracked him for two more.  In August of 2010 they discovered that he lived with his brother and their families in an unusual and extremely high-security building.

The three-story, fortress-like compound is eight times larger than nearby houses.  It was built in 2005, apparently for bin Laden.  It is located in Abbottabad, a summer resort 31 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.  The house stands a third of a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy.  The town is headquarters for the Second Division of the Northern Army Corps; many officers retire there.

The compound is surrounded by 12- to 18-foot outer walls topped with barbed wire and contains two security gates.  Few windows faced the outside; the terrace has a seven-foot privacy wall.  Residents burned their trash rather than putting it on the street for collection.  The property is valued at $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service.  Authorities determined that the residents had no explainable source of wealth and that it was far too secure to shield a mere courier.  They concluded that the compound likely harbored bin Laden.

American officials considered launching a B-2 stealth bomber strike, but chose the option which offered the best chance of procuring proof that bin Laden had been killed—a helicopter strike by Navy SEAL Team Six.  This was also the riskiest approach, as American commandoes would be operating deep inside Pakistan without permission.  They could have been killed or taken as hostages, or intelligence could have been wrong about identifying the compound as bin Laden's home.  Relations with Pakistan, already deteriorating due to increased Predator drone strikes in that nation, would have been significantly damaged.  And America's military prestige would have been injured as well, creating a kind of Bay of Pigs fiasco.

President Obama approved the operation on April 29.  A 24-man platoon began preparations at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, utilizing a full-scale replica of the compound.  Authorities intended to capture bin Laden, but assumed he would resist.  They planned to launch the helicopter raid on Saturday, but were forced to postpone due to weather.  So they launched their helicopter raid on the compound early Sunday morning, dropping members of the elite Navy SEALs team into the building.  They found 22 people living in the compound, bin Laden among them, hiding there with his youngest wife.

After 40 minutes of fighting, bin Laden was shot in the head and chest after he resisted the assault force.  Four other adults were killed as well—his two couriers, a woman caught in the crossfire, and one of bin Laden's adult sons.  Two others were wounded.  The president and senior CIA officials watched the operation real-time in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  American troops were at the compound for less than 40 minutes.

Bin Laden has been identified through facial recognition techniques.  One of his wives was living with him in the compound; she identified him as well.  And CIA analysis found a "virtually 100 percent" match between his DNA and that of several members of his family.

His body was taken to Afghanistan after he was killed in Pakistan.  Finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult.  His burial would also have created a shrine to him as a martyr in the mind of radical Islamists.

The body of Osama bin Laden was handled in accordance with traditional Islamic practice which required burial within 24 hours.  It was washed in accordance with Islamic custom, placed in a white sheet and then inside a weighted bag.  A military officer aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea read religious rites translated into Arabic.  The body was then placed on a board and lowered into the sea.  The team also recovered a large trove of documents and materials, which the CIA is only beginning to review.

Al Qaeda after bin Laden

Osama bin Laden's death will not affect al Qaeda's operations on a strategic level.  He had not been involved in programmatic decisions for years, delegating control to Ayman al-Zawahri, the man likely to succeed him as al Qaeda's leader.

The Egyptian physician and eye surgeon was born in 1951 and is the grandson of the grand imam of Al Azhar, one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world.  He graduated from Egypt's most prestigious medical school in 1974 and achieved a second degree in surgery.  By this time he was engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, then joined Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1973.  He became its leader in 1993, then joined forces with bin Laden.

In the 11 years since 9/11, "the Camp" has created centers in Yemen, north Africa, Lebanon, and Iraq.  The center in Yemen (Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP) is stronger than the Pakistani base, and is charged with attacks against America in observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a native of New Mexico who served as an imam in Denver, San Diego, and Virginia, lived in Yemen and led AQAP before he was killed on September 30, 2011.  He held a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University and a masters' degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University.  He and United States Army Major Nidal Hasan exchanged 18 emails before Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 10 others in the Ft. Hood massacre on November 5, 2009.  Al-Awlaki also helped recruit Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of attempting to blow up a jetliner as it landed in Detroit on December 25, 2009.

A second group was created in Iraq (AQI) to undermine democracy there.  A third branch was created in the "Maghreb," the western region of North Africa which includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.  Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud is its leader; AQIM is active in attacking targets across North Africa.  And al Qaeda works with the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon.

As a result, al Qaeda has secured greater reach than ever before in its history.  FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, "Despite the significant counterterrorism pressure abroad, al Qaeda continues to be committed to high-profile attacks directed at the West, including plans against Europe as well as the homeland."

These attacks will be smaller in scale and easier to execute.  Al Qaeda understands, according to Mueller, that "launching a large attack, perhaps a more devastating attack, is not worth the additional effort when you can get substantial coverage and impact with smaller attacks."

Radical Islam: threats today

Iran

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran as part of a revolution which removed the pro-Western Shah and established a theocracy centered in strict Shiite Islam.  Early in this revolution, Khomeini made clear his belief that America is the "Great Satan," the only enemy able to prevent the triumph of Islam around the world.

On November 4, 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized, and 62 Americans were taken hostage.  Ten of the hostages, women and African Americans, were quickly released.  The remaining 52 were held for 444 days, until they were released on January 20, 1981.  Relations between the two nations have been strained ever since.

On August 3, 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He has spoken in denial of the Holocaust, rejected Israel's right to exist, and initiated a program of nuclear energy which could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.  He believes that the "Mahdi" (a Messiah-like figure) will come at the end of history to dominate the world for Islam, and is said to be working to hasten his coming.

Turkey

In 2010, Turkey recently approved 26 amendments to its national constitution.  Voters passed measures to guarantee gender equality and protect children, the disabled and the elderly.  Nearly 36 million people, 77% of the population, cast ballots.  How could this be a bad thing?

Not so fast, opposition leaders said.  They claimed that other measures approved in the reform package have given Fuhrer-like powers to the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Erdogan leads the Justice and Development Party, which advocates a much stronger Islamic character for the nation.

In May of 2010, Erdogan's negotiations with Iran led to a nuclear fuel swap agreement.  The Turkish leader claimed that his efforts rendered further United Nations sanctions against Iran unnecessary.  That same month, a flotilla launched from Turkey was intercepted by Israeli forces; the ensuing bloodshed was described by Erdogan as "inhuman state terror."  As a result of its recent actions, many believe Turkey to be a rising leader in the Islamic world.

The opposition in Turkey's recent election represents the secularist tradition begun in 1923 by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  They claim that the government's recent actions are part of a pattern designed to transform Turkey into an Islamic theocracy.

I have traveled often in Turkey over the years, and have been amazed by the contrast between the country and other Muslim nations.  Women in Turkey are not required to wear Islamic clothing; men often wear Western suits.  The government functions as a parliamentary democracy where clerics have no political office (unlike Iran, for instance, where Shiite Supreme Leader Khamenei is the de-facto leader of the nation).  Many observers fear that the Western and democratic character of the nation is in jeopardy.

Why does this issue matter to America?  George Friedman's fascinating and controversial book, The Next 100 Years, predicts that Turkey will one day become the most powerful nation in the Islamic world.  Turkey already possesses the second largest military in NATO, after America; its economy is the largest in the Muslim world.

Friedman predicts that Turkey's leaders will one day seek to remove Western influence from their region, aligning their nation with other powers in the next world war against America.  None of this may come to pass, of course, but the recent elections are nonetheless food for thought.

Microterrorism

Time magazine called 2010 "the year of microterrorism."  The Department of Homeland Security stated last May that "the number and pace of attempted attacks against the United States over the past nine months have surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period."

Attacks on Russian territory doubled in 2010.  A New Year's Day bombing outside a Coptic Christian Church in Cairo killed 23 people.  Al-Qaeda's new webzine is called "Inspire."  An essay describes "Operation Hemorrhage," the printer-cartridge attack on a UPS plane last October; total cost was $4,200.

Nearly 400 full-body scanners have been installed in 68 U.S. airports, including each of the 25 busiest airports.  They cost $150,000 to $180,000 apiece.  The government expects to spend $173 million on them, with 1,000 scanners installed by the end of 2011.  They are used in place of metal detectors.  We can refuse, but we then face the new pat-down which tries to find explosives hidden in areas where screeners did not previously touch passengers.

This threat has no apparent end in sight.

Homegrown terrorism

On Christmas Day, a Dutch filmmaker prevented the worst act of terrorism on American soil since 9-11.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, was charged with attempting to blow up Northwest Flight 253 as it prepared to land in Detroit.

Abdulmutallab was a student in London before enrolling in language school in Yemen last August.  There he came in contact with AQAP, where radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki inspired him to attack America.

Authorities allege that Abdulmutallab hid PETN, a military explosive, in his underwear.  He bought his airline ticket ($2,831) with cash and checked no bags.  His name was on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, a collection of more than 500,000 names kept by the National Counterterrorism Center.  His visa application had been rejected by Britain, but this information was never transmitted to the NCTC.

His father alerted the American Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria that his son was spending time with Yemenese extremists and had vanished.  In what President Obama has called a "systemic failure," Abdulmutallab was allowed to board his flight.  Twenty minutes before it landed, he allegedly attempted to ignite his explosive.  Jasper Schuringa, a nearby passenger, wrestled the half-melted syringe from his hand.  Flight attendants sprayed both men with fire extinguishers.  The aircraft and its 289 passengers were saved.

2009 was a frightening year for homegrown terrorism.  On June 1, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly Carlos Bledsoe, allegedly killed a soldier and wounded another outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock.  The 23-year-old traveled to Yemen in September of 2007, where he converted to radical Islam.

On September 15, Najibullah Zazi, an Afghani citizen and legal American resident, was arrested in Denver.  He has been charged with planning an attack using back-pack bombs or a truck filled with explosives.

On November 5, Major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed 13 people and wounded 10 others at Fort Hood, the worst mass killing on a U.S. military base.  Hasan called himself a "soldier of Allah" on business cards.  His name appears on radical Islamic websites.  Another officer says Hasan argued with soldiers who supported the American war effort and fought his deployment to Iraq.

As more and more Muslims emigrate to America and Western Europe on legitimate visas and passports, the threat of homegrown terrorism will grow.

The "Arab Spring": Democracy in the Middle East

At the beginning of 2011, who of us would have imagined that Hosni Mubarak would be displaced by a pro-democracy movement fueled by social media?  Or that activists would oust the dictator of Tunisia, force the leader of Jordan to replace his government, and fill the streets of Tehran and Tripoli with demonstrators?  How did this unprecedented uprising in the Arab world begin?  What is its relevance to the rest of the world?  What is its spiritual significance?

In 2005, a group in Egypt organized "Youth for Change," but many tried working through established parties without success.  In 2008 the group attempted to organize isolated labor strikes, but bad weather and police crackdowns defeated their efforts.  A year ago, their movement gained a strategic ally when Wael Ghonim, the now-famous Google marketing executive, joined their ranks.

He set up a Facebook group named for Khalid Said, the young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police last year.  His page attracted hundreds of thousands of followers.  They focused on January 25, which is Police Day in Egypt (a holiday which celebrates a police revolt suppressed by the British in 1952).  More than 100,000 signed up to join their protest, and the rest is history.

Their movement illustrates the power of social media.  Clay Shirky, a professor of New Media and New York University, documents numerous examples of social revolution fomented in this way.  In 2001, text messages produced a million-person crowd in Manila, forcing the removal of Philippine President Joseph Estrada.  In 2004, demonstrations organized by text messaging led to the ouster of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.  In 2009, massive protests coordinated by social media caused the downfall of the Communist Party in Moldova.  And in 2009, the Green Movement in Iran made global headlines, fueled by social media.  Now we can add the Egyptian revolt to the list.

Why is this movement relevant to the rest of the world?

Egypt is most populous nation in the Arab world and Israel's most significant political partner, supplying 40% of Israel's natural gas.  It also controls the Suez Canal, through which oil shipments are carried from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and on to Europe and America.  No one knows what would happen to the price of gasoline if these shipments were disrupted or halted.  And regimes in this region sympathetic to al-Qaeda would strengthen radical Muslims around the world.

Is this movement toward democracy a good thing?

Francis Fukuyama (Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard) is one of the best-known political theorists of our day, with appointments at both Johns Hopkins and Stanford University.  He explains the revolutions in the Arab world in the most cohesive and compelling way I have discovered.

Fukuyama argues that Samuel Huntington's comprehensive theory of social transformation is "singularly relevant" to events currently unfolding in the Middle East.  According to Huntington (1927-2008), political instability results when increased levels of economic and social development conflict with political systems which repress this newly educated and empowered populace.  Attacks against the existing political order are seldom birthed by the poor.  Rather, they are led by a rising middle class frustrated by a lack of financial and political opportunity.

The uprising in Egypt illustrates Huntington's analysis perfectly.  Between 1990-2010, Egypt's Human Development Index (a United Nations composite measure of income, health and education) rose 28%.  Tens of thousands of young adults graduated from colleges.  But they had no pathway to economic or political advancement, hindered by a small group of insiders who monopolized financial and organizational power.  With the advent of social media, they were able to communicate with each other and organize a movement which is changing the Arab world.

Huntington advocated the promotion of economic and social development followed by democratic reforms.  If an authoritarian nation transitions to democracy before it develops political parties, labor unions, and other structural organizations, chaos will likely result (see Russia and Iraq).  If it fosters economic progress without eventual democratic opportunity, stagnation and frustration will result (see Arab authoritarian regimes).  But if a nation engages in financial reforms and development, followed by a gradual openness to democracy, positive transition can be effective and sustained (see Taiwan and South Korea).

Will the "Arab Spring" produce nations which look more like Russia or South Korea?  The answer depends on the degree to which threatened regimes and military rulers now in place work to foster the underpinnings of democracy as soon as possible.  Holding elections in Egypt without organized political parties, for instance, will advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood but may not produce a genuine democracy (see Hamas in the Gaza Strip).

What will be the eventual result of the "Arab Spring"?  Only time will tell.

Offering grace to Muslims

More Muslims are becoming Christians than at any time in Islamic history, many after seeing visions of Jesus (see http://www.30-days.net/testimony/dreams/ and http://www.truthnet.org/dreamsandvisions/ for examples).  Isa (his Arabic name) is appearing to Muslims all over the world, and multiplied thousands are turning to him as their Lord.  This miraculous phenomenon especially occurs each year during Ramadan.  As Muslims purify themselves and pray fervently to God, our Father answers their prayers by revealing his Son to many.

Missionaries around the Muslim world tell of coming to villages where no Christian has ever visited, only to find churches meeting to worship Isa as their Lord.  While they desperately need Bibles and discipleship resources, these churches are multiplying across the Islamic culture at unprecedented rates.

How can Christians join the movement of the Spirit in offering grace to Islam?  Each of us can take six steps today.

First, build a personal relationship with Muslims in your community.  The number of Muslims living in America has more than doubled since 9/11, from one million to 2.6 million.  The God who redeems all he allows is using the growth of Islam in America to give his people opportunity to minister personally to Muslims.  Ask the Lord to direct you to the Muslims he intends you to reach with his grace.

Second, understand Muslim objections to your faith.  Muslims are taught that the Bible has been corrupted, while the Qur'an has been preserved in its original state of purity.  Actually, the opposite is true.  New Testament scholars tell us that the Greek New Testament we possess today is virtually identical to the original documents, and state that the few variants that remain affect no matter of doctrine, faith and practice.  By contrast, the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (led Islam 644-656), after numerous variations of the Qur'an had become popular, ordered every version destroyed except one.  Muslims have no way to know if the Qur'an they read today contains the original message of Muhammad.

Another Muslim objection to Christianity concerns the Trinity.  They have been taught that Christians worship three gods, in violation of the monotheism they embrace.  Christians know that we do not worship three gods, but one God who has revealed himself in three persons.  Jesus clearly affirmed the unity of God: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Mark 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4).

Third, explore Muslim convictions as a pathway to sharing the gospel.  Muslims recognize Jesus as one of their six most important prophets, along with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad.  They believe that he was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, ascended to heaven and will appear at the end of history.  Affirm these beliefs, and use them to share your faith in Christ.

As you do, you might ask your Muslim friend how Jesus could do all that Islam affirms of him and remain only a man.  Muhammad never performed a miracle, but Jesus did.  Muhammad committed sins, but Jesus did not.  Muhammad was not resurrected, but Jesus was.  How could he be only a man?

Fourth, offer God's grace in yours.  Muslims seek a relationship with God through their good works.  Show them that they can have the relationship they desire by accepting the gift of God's love for them.  Explain the gospel, and share your personal encounter with God's grace in Christ.  Then show your Muslim friend how he or she can experience Christ's love as well.

Fifth, support Muslim-background believers.  Those who leave Islam for Christianity are among our most effective missionaries to Islam.  They understand Islam and know the language and culture of those they can now reach with the gospel.  Look for ways to help MBBs grow in their faith and ministry.  An excellent ministry resource is Gospel For Muslims (http://www.gospelformuslims.com/).

Last, join the Fifth Great Awakening.  More people are coming to Christ today than ever before.  Wherever spiritual awakening is advancing, Islam is in retreat.  Wherever there is no awakening, Islam is advancing.  Pray for a great spiritual movement in your life and community.

What would Jesus say to us about Islam?  I believe he would tell us, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matthew 9:37-38).  Let me urge you to pray every day for more believers to share Christ with the Muslim world and for millions of Muslims to turn to Christ as their Lord.  Excellent resources for ministry to Muslims are available at www.gospelformuslims.com and www.30-days.net.  As you pray, ask the Lord how you can show the Muslim world his love in yours.

In one of his songs, my friend Ken Medema says, "Don't tell me I've got a friend in Jesus without showing me first I've got a friend in you."  What will you do to take his advice this week?





Radical Islam: What You Need to Know


Radical Islam: What You Need to Know by Dr. Jim Denison

Why do radical Muslims hate us? How will the death of bin Laden affect this global conflict? What will it take to win the longest war in America’s history?

Jim Denison explains the mind and motives of radical Islam, telling you what you need to know about the greatest threat our nation has ever faced.

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