[This sermon is contributed by Hal Seed of New Song Church in Oceanside, California and of www.PastorMentor.com. Hal is the author of numerous books including The God Questions and The Bible Questions. If you are interested in The Bible Questions Church-wide Campaign, please visit and watch Hal’s video at www.PastorMentor.com.]
Good morning New Song!
Pick up a Bible (yours or ours) and turn to Matthew 7:15, p. 961
Towards the climax of Jesus’ most famous sermon, and arguably the most widely-acclaimed speech of all time, he says, Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:15-16
Since Sept. 11, large numbers of Americans, and large numbers of people around our world have wondered about the 19 plane hijackers and their backers who reeked havoc on the East Coast of our nation.
Who were they? What drove them? What motivated them?
Of course you’re all aware that within hours our nation’s leaders had identified these terrorists as Muslim Fundamentalists. Which raised a second string of questions:
What’s a Muslim?
What do they believe?
W hat made them think that such an act could be condoned by the God of heaven?
In the words of Jesus, they seemed to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Which raises a third set of questions: (add these to the above set, with a space between)
Are they false prophets?
Or do they carry with them the commands and commission of God?
My goal this morning is to answer the second set of questions, and hopefully with the information we discover together you’ll be able to make your own call on this third set.
As with last week, I want to remind you of our spirit in this series. The purpose for spending time on this is not so we can worry or get angry or figure out how to get revenge, but to be informed so that we can be wise as serpents, gentle as doves. So that we can see things in their proper perspective and respond with the gentleness of Jesus.
With that in mind, what do Muslims believe?
If you were with us last week, you know that the word “Muslim” means “one who is submitted.”
And “Islam” means, “submitted,” or “surrendered.” (not “peace” as some are saying these days. The Arabic word for peace is “salaam.” It’s a related word because Muslims believe that those who are submitted to Allah experience peace.)
Last week we covered the background on Islam, it’s founder, Mohammed, and it’s history from Gen. 16 in the Bible up till today. Tapes of that talk are available in the lobby if you’d like to pick up a copy.
Since we covered Muslim history last week, we’ll stick with Muslim theology this week.
Like Christianity and its mother, Judaism, Islam is a monotheistic religion. Mohammed’s ancestors and contemporaries worshiped a multitude of gods, and Mohammed became convinced that there was only one God, and that his name was Allah. So he ruthlessly went about preaching belief in this one God and purging the Arabian Peninsula of polytheism.
Misunderstanding Christianity’s belief in one God expressing Himself in three persons, Mohammed sometimes taught that Christianity’s belief in the Trinity made us polytheists. But for the most part, he labeled Christians and Jews and Persian Zoroastrians as “people of the book,” because each of these three religions taught a belief in one God and practiced the teachings of one book of truthsource, in contrast to the animists who believed in many gods and had no written truthsource.
Mohammed also taught that, in contrast to many of the prophets who had come before him, like Jesus and others, the only miracle he would perform was what he called, “The miracle of Koran,” or, the miracle of giving divine revelation from God. So Mohammed would speak, and he would expect his followers to receive what he said as divine and infallible. These speeches and short utterances he would make were written down and compiled and became known as “The Koran,” or the Muslim Holy book.)
Within the Koran is description of all manner of how true believers are to conduct themselves.
In the Koran, Sura 47:12, Mohammed says, God will admit those who embrace the true Faith and do good works to gardens watered by running streams. – Sura 47:12
What are those good works, you may wonder? Well, boiling it down to its bare minimum, all Muslims have believed for the past 1300 years that to be a faithful Muslim and to earn your way to heaven, there are essentially 5 good works that you must perform.
These good works they call
2. The Five Pillars of Islam and the means by which all true believers earn their way to heaven.
So if you want to follow the Muslim path, these are the works you must perform.
First among them is, you must
1. Recite the shahada – This is the fundamental teaching of Mohammed to combat polytheism and direct all people to the one true God. The shahada is a short sentence or creed that goes,
“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Maybe you’ve heard that before. Every orthodox Muslim will recite that phrase at least five times a day, as pillar number one of their faith. But it also becomes a part of pillar #2 of their faith. Because pillar #2 is to
2. Pray (salat) 5 times day.
(Daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, early night-time.)
There’s a good chance you’ve seen an exercise of this on TV in recent weeks. All over the Middle East and other Muslim countries are tall towers, called minarets. In ancient days, five times a day, a local crier would climb the minaret and chant a call to all the faithful to come and pray. In many places these days, the tower has a mechanized loud speaker system with an automatic recording calling people to prayer.
So that in every Muslim country, you’ll see every person who is out either stop where they are, or make their way to the nearest mosque, and prostrate themselves towards Mecca for a set of ritual prayers. Each Friday at noon, there is an expanded prayer time that includes a sermon by the local preacher. So Friday noon is the Muslim equivalent of the Christian weekend worship service.
If you ever visit Israel, Muslims take off Friday as their holy day, Jews take off Saturday, and Christians take off Sunday. Which makes it very hard to get much business or shopping done. So should it ever be safe to visit there in the future, be sure to do your shopping Monday through Thursday.
The third pillar of Islam is to
3. Give (zakat) Which is
(A portion of your income to the poor.)
Because Mohammed grew up as an orphan, he was sensitive to the needs of those less fortunate, and taught that giving alms to the poor was an essential part of earning the favor of Allah.
So Muslims have a formula for how much they are to give, according to the size of their income. The more you make, the more is required of you. And that includes zakat from any bootie you receive by plundering or defeating an enemy as well.
The final two good works are both to be performed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and believed to be the month in which the Koran was originally revealed, so it is a very special time to all Muslims.
But when it is celebrated can be a little confusing to westerners, because the religious calendar of the Muslims is based on a lunar year, so it’s actually 11 days shorter than our solar year and therefore Ramadan shifts from one season to another as the years pass on. Because of what’s going on these days, it might be useful to note that Ramadan will take place from Nov. 16 to Dec. 14 this year.
4. Fast (sawm) during the month of Ramadan.
(Fast from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity during daylight hours.)
5. Perform a Hajj at least once in your lifetime.
(Pilgrimage to Mecca, performing certain activities there.)
“Hajj” is the Arabic word for pilgrimage to Mecca. Mohammed’s polytheistic ancestors performed an annual hajj to Mecca to worship their many gods, but particularly one associated with the Kaba stone. So, when Mohammed received his revelations of the one true God, he insisted that all his followers, if they were able, perform the hajj at least once in their lifetime.
Of course that has gotten harder as Islam has spread throughout the globe. So the stipulation is that if you are able, you should do it.
There are various rituals to be performed while on the hajj, and 6-7 to be done once you’ve arrived in Mecca. So many of these pictures capture activities that hajjing Muslims do during this pilgrimage.
And since, like Christianity, part of Islam’s value is the value of community, all pilgrims are encouraged to make the hajj during the holy month of Ramadan. So it can get quite crowded in Mecca during that month, particularly on the 27th of Ramadan, which is thought to be a special day of power.
I’ll give you a few moments just to peruse these pictures.
Amongst some of the poorer Muslim communities around the world, taking the hajj is so rare and difficult that when a person returns from Mecca, they add, “al-hajj” to the end of his name as an honorific.
3. The Nature of Paradise
Ask any good Muslim and he or she will tell that that, “If a person is faithful to perform these five steps,” that they will eventually make it to paradise. Two things you should know about paradise.
One is that it is a bit different than the Bible’s picture of the Christian heaven.
Here’s a description from the 55th chapter of the Koran:
They shall recline on couched lined with thick brocade, and within reach will hang the fruits of both gardens. Which of the Lord’s blessings would you deny?
Therein are bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before. Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?
Virgins as fair as coral and rubies…
Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?…
Chapter 56 talks says They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine )that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they will relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls: a [reward] for their deeds.”
Interestingly, I read a substantial portion of the Koran this week and did not find one reference to Brad Pitt-like males serving the women who make it to heaven.
Chapter 49 says The true believers are those that have faith in God and his apostle and never doubt; and who fight with their wealth and their persons for the cause of God. Such are those whose faith is true.
The other is that Allah, being all sovereign, has ultimate say over who gets in and who doesn’t. So even faithfulness isn’t an absolute guarantee of getting in. And there are inferences to a transitional place like the Catholic purgatory, so even fairly faithful Muslims aren’t thought of as going directly to paradise. The only sure way to be transported immediately to heaven from this life is to be killed in the act of jihad.
Jihad = Holy War against those who threaten the community
(source = Sura 9:123)
One Islamic source I read said, “Jihad, war against those who threatened the community, whether [against] hostile unbelievers outside of it or non-Muslims within it who broke their covenant of protection, was usually regarded as an obligation practically equivalent of one of the Pillars. The duty of Jihad, like the other [pillars] was based on the Qur’anic saying: “O you who believe, fight the unbelievers who are near to you.”
One ominous prophecy found in the Hadith, the companion volume to the Koran, where in Hadith 4:109 it says, “The Prophet said, ‘The first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s City will be forgiven their sins.”
One Islamic commentator followed that passage with these words. He said, “Muhammed had a vision for making Islam a universal religion. One of the keys to fulfilling this desire would be to conquer Rome in the name of Allah. One could question what right Muhammed’s armies would have to invade a powerful city and impose their religion on its inhabitants. The answer is that it is the will of Allah for all heathen everywhere to become Muslims.”
“In this Tradition, Muhammed gives assurance of warriors having their sins forgiven because of their involvement in jihad. This promise seemed to apply only to the first army to enter Rome. Most likely this was because of the inevitably high casualty rate of the initial wave of soldiers seeking to penetrate the city. In 1400 years of history, this particular promise of forgiveness of sins is yet to be claimed by Muslim warriors. Rome remains unconquered by Islam.”
Within Islam, the world is described as divided into two “houses.” One is called
Dar-as-salaam = The House of Peace That is the place where Muslims live.
The other is called
Dar-al-Harb = The House of War That is the place where people who are not yet Muslims live.
One more concept that might be helpful to you is what Muslims call
Shari’a = Obedience to the law derived from God’s commands in the Koran
(Source: The Hadith)
Unlike Christianity, Islam makes no distinction between church and state. Which is why in countries submitted to the shari’a, many of the heads of state are clerics, or imams.
Like almost all religions, Muslims that their description of spirituality and heaven is the only right and true one. And that their description of the pathway to heaven is the only way. Which is in part why they are willing to go to such great lengths to convert people. Like Christianity, their goal is to win every person on the planet to faith in their God and his way of living.
So, in their mind, because Mohammed commanded them to convert, subjugate, or eliminate all non-believers, many are willing to go to great lengths to make that happen. Some of those lengths, you and I would consider unethical.
Immersing myself in all this research these past two weeks just made everything seem so dark to me. – Maybe it’s feeling that way to you too, right now. So what I did to bring a sense of hope back into focus, was to spend a few minutes reading some of the teachings of Jesus. That really helped me. One afternoon, I just did a comparison of Muslim prophecy with a prophecy of Jesus about the future of His followers.
During what is known as, “The Last Supper,” Jesus let His disciples know that He was going to the cross the next day to die for the sins of the world. This shocked the disciples because they couldn’t bear the thought of living without Jesus being with them.
As Jesus looks from one shocked face to another all the way around the room, he says this to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you know that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The words that I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
- John 14:1-11
In this short talk, Jesus disagreed with virtually every teaching about the future put forth in the Koran.
1. For instance, in contrast to the fear factor about working hard enough to merit heaven, Jesus says to His followers, “Don’t be troubled about heaven and your place in it. You don’t have to prepare your place in heaven, I am preparing it for you. Your responsibility is to place your trust in Me.”
2. “Besides that,” Jesus would say, “God is not whimsical. He does issue guarantees. God makes promises to His children. And you know what? He has always only, ever kept His promises. And you yourselves know that. Because for 3 1/2 years I, God’s Son, have walked among you. And I have only ever kept my promises to you.”
3. One of the disciples, a little confused, asks, “Well Jesus, you say we know the way to heaven, but we’re not sure, so tell us again.”
To which Jesus, as clearly and succinctly as He knows how, just articulates the means to gain entrance to heaven. He says, “Fellahs, it’s through me. Make no mistake about this. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
To back up those words, the next morning Jesus went to the Cross on behalf of your sins and mine, paying our way to heaven. And 36 hours after His crucifixion, He made His way back from death to prove that He is the way, and to make the way for us.
Of all of Jesus’ teachings, many people find this one statement the hardest to swallow. “This is a statement of arrogance,” they say, “because if I’m reading this right, Jesus is claiming absolute exclusivity for His way to heaven. That just seems to narrow to me.”
Never have I heard this exclusivity or narrowness complaint leveled about Islam. You know why? Because most people who make this statement have never studied the alternatives.
Mohammed was very clear. According to his teachings, it was the way of Allah, or the way of hell.
And in this talk, Jesus was very clear. Without a touch of arrogance, but only compassion, he explained to his disciples that the way to heaven was by following him.
- By the way, next week, as an add-on to this series, instead of studying Islam, we’re going to take a look at the other large religious systems – Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism so that between this week and next you can be fully informed on the 5 major religious options and then come to your own conclusion about them. But if you come back next week, you’ll discover that every religion claims exclusivity for itself. So I hope you’ll return for that one.
4. Going on with Jesus’ talk, he says something that is very encouraging. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” What he’s meaning by that is that there is a special place in heaven for every person who is willing to follow Jesus’ way. There is no shortage of room in heaven. Whosoever will may come. Plenty of room for all.
5. And then, in contrast to Mohammed’s claim that Jesus was not the Son of God, but simply a lesser prophet than himself, Jesus comes right out and claims positional equality with the Father, hinting at the Trinity (which we see elsewhere, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together.) “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me,” he says. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, because we are one and the same substance. –Different persons, but one substance, Father, and Son.”
6. And then, unlike Mohammed, Jesus boldly claimed to be able to do miracles, and asks His followers to examine those miracles to see if they don’t substantiate his claim to be equal to the Father.
You know how you come out of an intense movie sometimes and just say, “I need to get my mind on something else”? Well, that’s how I felt this week after completing my reading on Islam.
So I opened the words of Jesus and found it light and hope-filled and it felt true to me.
You have to make that call for yourself. And I hope that you will if you haven’t done so yet. But hopefully, between this week’s look at Islam and next week’s look at other religions, all of us in this room will have the information we need to make a choice of which to follow.
So I hope you’ll come back next week.