The Muslim view of God
The substance of Islamic theology is summed up in six articles of faith: Belief in Allah as the one true God, belief in Angels, belief in Scriptures (Taurat, Gospel and Quran), belief in the Prophets, belief in the Day of Judgment, and belief in God's predestination. There is a Friday Sabbath and Muslims observe Jewish dietary laws. Muslims have a fatalistic outlook on history. They believe that Allah dictated everything that will happen and that history unfolds accordingly. This comes from the Muslim’s view of God’s absolute sovereignty.
The Shahada is the central profession of faith (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”). The praise Allahu-Akbar (“God is great!”) is central to prayer. Allah is the Arabic name for “God,” although in pre-Isalmic Arabia, Allah was the name of the god of the moon (one of many idols, Al-ilah or “THE god”) who was married to the sun goddess and had three daughters who were stars. Muslims deny that Allah was originally a pagan deity within a pantheon and assert that Allah was originally viewed as the one God of Abraham and that early monotheism was corrupted by polytheism and later restored by Muhammad.
"Say, He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him" (Surah 112:1-4). Islam asserts that God is one, eternal, absolute, and utterly transcendent. He is not a trinity, does not have a son, and there is none like him. Allah created all things and the purpose of life is to worship him. He is personal, but not intimate. God is utterly holy and just, who punishes us for our sins. He is also gracious and merciful and forgiving, but does not have feelings toward mankind (including love—the idea that “God is love” is foreign to the Muslim mind). Allah offers salvation based on repentance and good works. He has mercy if the good outweighs the bad on the scales at Judgment Day, but even then, salvation is deterministic—he saves whom he saves and damns whom he damns. Allah wills everything that happens. Sin is not really cleansed or pardoned as much as overlooked. Allah is to be worshiped and feared as served as a master.
Allah created man from a blood clot and he also created angels. These messengers do not have free will. They serve as the intermediaries between God and man. There are no formal clergy (imam is the one who leads the prayers), but some imams are paid teachers.
Jinn are creatures who are hidden fire spirits. They have physical form, angelic abilities, and free will. Iblis is the Arabic word for “Satan.” In Islam, he is not a fallen angel, but a jinn.
Islam teaches that all of God's prophets preached the message of Islam—submission to the will of God. The Quran mentions the names of numerous figures considered prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Isa is the Arabic version of “Jesus” in Greek or “Joshua” in Hebrew. He is seen as a prophet, not the Son of God. He was Virgin-born of Mary, was sinless, did healings and other miracles, did not die on the cross, was assumed into heaven and will return at the Day of Judgment. Both Jesus and Mary are highly esteemed.
Islam teaches the general resurrection of the dead at Judgment Day. Muslims believe all mankind will be judged on their good and bad deeds and consigned to Jannah (paradise) or Jahannam (hell).
Who is Muhammad?
Muslims believe in the prophets of the Bible (and believe Jesus was one of them) and see Muhammad as the final prophet. “Peace be upon him” is an expression of reverence that Muslims will always use about God’s prophets, and especially about Muhammad.
Muhammad was born in 570 in Mecca into the Quraysh tribe, which ruled the city and served as custodians of the Ka’abah. The branch of the family Muhammad was born into was impoverished. His father died before Muhammad was born and his mother died when he was six. The orphan first went to live with wealthy grandparents, then a wealthy uncle, then to a poor uncle. Many of his family never accepted him as a prophet.
His first visions were in his youth. He claimed an angel has opened his stomach, stirred his innards, and sealed him back up. He worked in the caravan trade and gained a reputation for being trustworthy. At 25, he met and married a wealthy Christian widow of 40 named Khadija and began a life of leisure. In 610, Muhammad was visited at by Gabriel in a cave who called on him to “recite.” He doubted the authenticity of the experience, but his wife encouraged him to pursue his call as a prophet. Muhammad asserted the claim of his family deity Allah to be not just the supreme god of the pantheon, but the only God. He called himself a prophet to appeal to Jews and an apostle to appeal to Christians. He found his audience hostile. Merchants felt that this undermining of the pagan deities at the Ka’abah was bad for business. At first he modified his preaching to appeal to the Quraysh by saying that Allah’s daughters could be worshiped as well. This concession to pagans was later rescinded and claimed that it was not a true revelation from Allah, but from Satan (hence, the “Satanic verses”).
Muhammad’s first wife died in 619 and growing hostility forced him to flee to Medina in 622. This is the Hijra (migration) and the beginning of the Muslim era. On the way, Muhammad preached to the jinns and converted them. He turned to raiding caravans and found Jews to be lucrative targets. His Muslim band defeated the Quraysh at the Battle of Badr. After some setbacks and more attacks, he conquered the city of Mecca in 630 and cleansed the Ka’abah of idols and made it the center of Muslim worship. Muhammad was poisoned by a Jewish woman and died in 632, and without having provided for a successor.
Although the Qur’an forbids more than 4 wives, Muhammad married 22 times. He had two sons who died in infancy and four daughter, only one of which (Fatima) outlived him. She was revered as one of the greatest women who ever lived. Muhammad's marriages after the death of Khajida were contracted mostly for political or humanitarian reasons. The women were either widows of Muslims killed in battle and had been left without a protector, or belonged to important families or clans whom it was necessary to honor and strengthen alliances with. Most controversial was Aisha who was 6 when betrothed and 9 when the marriage was consummated. She became known as Muhammad's favorite wife in Sunni tradition, survived him by decades and was instrumental in helping assemble the scattered sayings of Muhammad that form the Hadith literature for the Sunni branch of Islam.
What is the Qur’an?
Muslims have three sources of doctrine and practice:
1. The Qur’an (or sometimes “Koran”) is the sacred scripture. The word means “recitation.” The Muslim view of scripture is not the same as Christian. We believe in the inspiration of the Bible by God. Muslims believe in the dictation of Allah’s words to Muhammad through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel). They believe there is an “original” copy in heaven and that the earthly dictation corresponds exactly.
2. The Sunna is the collection of written tradition from the time of Muhammad. It is composed of several volumes of Hadith ( “stories”) which are the sayings and biographical stories of Muhammad that are not the dictated recitations from God. They are the next standard for doctrine and practice among Sunnis (less for Shi’ites).
3. Ijma is the sacred tradition, deemed authoritative only by Sunnis, and not by Shi’ites. It is the consensus of imams, commentators, and legal scholars of Sharia.
The Qur’an is written in units of chapters and verses. The 114 chapters (called Surah) are numbered and also have names (like “The Cow”, “The Jinn”, “Clots of Blood”) which are arranged from longest to shortest, rather than in any chronological or narrative order.
Roughly speaking, the surahs from the first half of the Qur’an are the later revelations from Medina, when Muhammad had risen to power and deal with government and ethics. The more violent passages occur here (Surah 9 most of all). The earlier revelations from Mecca, where Muhammad was powerless and persecuted, occur are placed in the second half of the Qur’an. The more peaceful passages occur here. They talk about judgment and doctrine.
Muslims believe that God gave revelation before the Qur’an (i.e., the Torah and Gospel), but it was corrupted, and the revelations given to Muhammad sets the record straight. The Qur’an does not have much narrative like the Bible, but is a chaotic collection of sayings and stories with many contradictions. The Islamic view of revelation has the principle of abrogation when dealing with conflicting revelation—later verses always cancel out the earlier ones, even within the Qur’an (e.g., Surah 2:106 - “If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar. Did you not know that God has power over all things?” c.f., Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” ).
Curiously, although the Islam asserts that Christians and Jews have distorted God’s revelation, the Qur’an testifies to the veracity of the Bible itself and even says to go to the Christians and Jews for help to understand God’s revelations. “If you doubt what We have revealed to you, ask those who have read the Scriptures [i.e., the Bible] before you. The truth has come to you from your Lord: therefore do not doubt it” (Surah 10:94). Also, Surah 4:136 commands the Muslim to “have faith in God and His apostle, in the book He has revealed to his apostle, and in the Scriptures He formerly revealed.” It instructs the Muslim not to argue with the Christians, but to simply assert that God has added to his former revelation.