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Islam, What Christians Should Ask

Updated on May 23, 2013
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The Questions Run So Deep...

This was written in response to a question my professor in American Ethnics asked a couple of years ago. I wanted to share it because it stands relevant in our American cultural diversity and continued globalization. I hope that it sparks interest in the hearts of the readers to explore their own desire to learn about cultures and religions which are not their own. I have always had an interest in the Mediterranean area and the Middle East. There is no easy way to explain it other than to say it is in my heart and in my soul. As a child, while others played cowboys and Indians, I played Sinbad (I was Sinbad). In the 1980s and 1990s, I was a professional belly dancer living in an apartment full of Marines (yes, during Desert Storm). I love the cultures, the religions (monotheistic and polytheistic) and the landscapes, though I have not had the privilege of visiting the Middle East yet.

Growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the words “Arab” and “Islam” (simultaneously used at that time) were just coming into the American home. I rejected the idea that a whole group of people could be the same way, portrayed as evil and crazy or worse, having deep desires to own 7-11s. Even Sinbad was a stereotype. I was fascinated and saddened. I left my Kansas home in 1982 and moved to California, to be surrounded by “all kinds of people” so I could be with people who thought like me – open-minded. (Kansas has changed drastically since then.)

In addition to my love of the Middle East, I love history. I truly believe that if we can understand history, we can understand each other and that this will make for better relationships. I do not use the word “peace” simply because I believe relationships are imperative before we can develop peace. We have to want the relationship first. It is like that in our homes and local communities. To me, it is logical that this is true on a world-wide scale as well.

When I began studying Biblical history in a church setting, I was discouraged from studying anything but the Bible. If I wanted to go beyond that, it was suggested I study Jewish history because it was part of Christian history. But I knew that if I wanted to properly study in context anything of the Bible or the Middle East, I would have to study all of it. That included pre-Jewish history and paganism, as well as Islam. To me, they intertwine and one cannot be accurately understood without understanding the others. This did not sit well at my church, so I headed to college and found a new church. All of this leads me to questions that I would like to have answered about Islam, so that I can more properly understand the ancient cultures of the Middle East, as well as our political situation that we find ourselves in during this modern time.

One important thing for me to know about Islam has to do with Muhammad himself. I am fascinated about how he knew the stories of the Jews and Christians. There is some thought that he knew very little about them and used what he had “picked up” to come up with his own belief system. There is another thought that he was well-educated on Jewish and Christian religions because he was a caravan leader and had access to a lot of people so learned it. Perhaps Jewish and Christian religions were so common place by that time that everyone had a general knowledge of them. After all, they shared the same cultures. On a historical level, there has to be an answer--even if we do not know what it is yet. On a spiritual level, Muhammad “just knowing” these stories would indicate God at work. In any case, though the stories are similar, there are definite issues to be worked out historically because Muhammad seemed to be vague in his knowledge of why the Jews and Christians did and thought as they did. Another related question is, when did all of these religions come to the point of similarity?

There exists the history of Islam before it became Islam. That is, the cultures and social settings that allowed Islam to come into being and flourish. Many people come up with religious concepts and even in modern times, there are those who claim to be God’s prophets. One question I have is, what were the surroundings leading up to Muhammad’s revelations and, in spite of his controversy, why did so many people became followers of these new revelations? What is the phenomenon (besides the obvious normal spreading over time and rulers) that has allowed it to grow? Many religions promote peace, so I am not sure it is the desire for peace that promotes particular religions. Many people around the world, including the Arab world, are Christian and Jewish, so just the fact that Islam is practiced in a particular area does not seem to be the answer, unlike “Christian” America.

I do not have any particular questions about terrorism and Islam. I understand that there are terrorists in all religions and in all countries. However, I would like to understand exactly the differences between the radical Muslims and the basic every day Muslim, culturally, doctrinally and historically. I know there are those who profess to be Christian and those who truly believe. I also know the lines between the two are fuzzy, but I understand the difference, and usually can explain those differences if need be. However, I do not know the differences between those who claim to be Muslim and those who truly follow Islam in the way it was meant to be. This is because I do not understand the Quran. I do know that many Muslims do not consider radical groups to be Muslim, just as many Christians do not consider radical Christians to be Christian. However, an outsider looking in to either group cannot see much of a difference. One thought that keeps crossing my mind is, why don’t Muslims denounce radical Islam? I know some have tried. I realize the same question can be asked of Christians. Though Christians generally, at least in America, do not fear their lives if they do. But they do fear for their reputations, and in America, isn’t that “everything?” American-Christians are, in my opinion, simply too lazy and too worried about offending God to stand up to those who use Him for their own gain. Is this true of Muslims as well?

What exactly do the words in the Quran mean? I do not simply want to know what it says because I will interpret it in my “western” way, but I want to know how it is interpreted by Muslims. Again, I use the Bible as an example and this is really split into two questions. I knew the religious things about the Bible by attending church. I knew the facts of the Bible and its history (as far as we know at this point) from other means, such as learning Greek and learning history. Are there the same intense arguments about the interpretations of the Quran and each passage’s meaning and its validity as in Biblical scholarship? I know that the Bible has other issues since it is older and more pieced together whereas the Quran was written whole and never changed.

Finally, above, I have used Christians and Muslims in the sense of those living in America and I realize America was born of ethnic differences, but we face a common elitist culture. So, it is important to me to always remember to be “un-American” once in a while and think outside our little box. I believe that one key to understanding and building those relationships in the United States is to understand the rest of the world.

I know many Christians, Jews and Muslims get along just fine and have great relationships and I believe more would if the media were not involved. That is a statement, not a question. There is a deep desire on my heart for the good relationships to flourish.

I know that I have many more questions that will come up as I learn. These listed simply scratch the surface of my brain. If there was one question that was the most important about what I wished I knew about Islam, it would be, can I know it all?

A side note: Since I wrote this in 2009, I have learned a lot of Islam, taking classes and becoming friends with Muslim students at my university. Of course, since I do not practice it, I do not know near enough for my own desires. However, what I do know holds true: we are one people in one world and there are many Christians and Muslims who think like I do. That is, we can create peace by first desiring relationships then seeking and developing relationships with each other. I will be posting more on my educational ventures as time goes on. --Karre.

Christianity and Islam

American Christianity and Islam

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    • Pintoman profile image

      Pintoman 4 years ago

      The Koran is the final authority. Radical Muslims simply follow the Koran. Moderate Muslims pick and choose. Do you really think moderate Muslims are going to stand up to Radical Muslims? They don't, not anywhere, not when it comes to violence. Muslims have been the same from the start. Islam means submission. Muhammad was a warlord, that's why so many followed him, they were forced to. Iran just ruled that everyone is born a Muslim and to join another religion is punishable by death. Iran, ruled by radical Muslims has in their Constitution they are to rule the world. Islam is not a religion of peace, regardless of what any Muslim says; the Koran is the final authority. It's also permissable for Muslims to live like foreigners while in a foreign land and to lie to foreigners, because the Koran says; Allah is the greatest deceiver. The Bible says Satan is the greatest deceiver. I have no doubt who Allah is.

      I also have a Muslim friend, he's a nice guy. I have no doubt if he had to choose between me and radical Muslims, I'd lose my head.

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 4 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      Thanks for your comments, though I respectfully disagree. There are many deceivers, including many in the Christian church. There are also those, like the Phelps in my own home state, who thrive upon "God's hatred." I too know many Muslims, some disagree with radicals. But many Christians disagree with Christian radicals yet do nothing to stop them. I would ask any Christian this, could it be that we could consider Islam a mission field? I think we need to remember that flesh and blood is not the enemy. Someone needs to step forward and begin the process. Having said that, there are those radicals, terrorists, who are not Muslim or Christian, simply they are criminals. Thanks for your opinion and clarification. Karre.

    • Pintoman profile image

      Pintoman 4 years ago

      The difference is between Phelps and Christianity is the Bible does not say what Phelps says it says. But the Koran does say what the Radicals say it says. Where are these Christian terrorists or radicals (besides Phelps and his ten relatives) you claim exist? If there are, you must agree the Bible doesn't say to kill anyone if they don't convert. The Koran does. I have no problem with seeing Islam as a mission field, I do see it that way. The Koran's punishment for converting a Muslim is death. And the punishment for leaving Islam is death. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying the Koran says what it says regardless of the flaws of other groups. Phelps isn't killing anyone. If he were killing, he would be stopped. Big difference with Islam. Also we have free speech here, speech you don't agree with is protected. Not in Islam.

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 4 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      Granted, but its free speech as a Democracy, God typically has us think twice about murdering with our tongue. I would say that much of what you are talking about is a difference not just so in Islam, but perhaps in Middle Eastern issues using Islam (theocracy) as an excuse. Indonesia has more Muslims than the rest of the world and we don't hear much about them and violence. No, Christians don't kill people on a regular basis -- but they have slaughtered people in the name of Christianity in history (Crusades). I have read but not studied thoroughly the Koran to a huge extent, but if I was new to studying the Bible, I would be a little freaked out too. 10% of Muslims are from radical sects and only 1% of those actually practice or condone violence. Mainly, the other 99% are silent on the issue. In America, Phelps would be stopped if he killed, so would others who kill (Muslims). But that's America, not Christianity. The Middle East has theocracies which bring a whole new set of stuff into play. I think there's a lot we have to look at and no easy answers or generalizations. I do love our freedom of speech, in spite of what I deal with every time I go anywhere in Topeka -- what protects them also protects me. :-)

    • Pintoman profile image

      Pintoman 4 years ago

      The crusades were not Christians killing Muslims in the name of Christianity for the sake of killing Muslims in the name of Christianity. It was a war against Muslims who were invaders. It certainly was not a slaughter of Muslims, they fought back and also won. There is plenty of violence by Muslims in Indonesia and the Philippines, look it up. There is no equating Islam with Christianity.

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 4 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      I am not trying to equate Islam with Christianity, what I am trying to say in my original article is that there can be peaceful relationships between the two of them -- as a matter of fact, there must be for international relations and for the sake of Jesus. I do believe that this is possible because we are called to love our enemies (though I personally do not see Islam as the enemy). As for the Crusades -- a political venture by the papacy in the name of Christianity, was also a place where it got out of control. "Western" Christians slaughtered Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians in a blood bath by putting them into a corner of Jerusalem and also burning them. Though I personally believe there is no equation to Christ and Muhammad in their roles (as the son of God and a self-professed prophet respectively). But religions do all kinds of things neither side should be proud of. We will have to agree to disagree on this one, but I do respect your opinion on the subject. In America, what gives me the right to practice my Jesus-following also gives others the right to practice their religions and I will always fight for their right to do so in America -- unless of course, people are killing, that's criminal, no matter what the religion is. I think we are blessed to not have theocracy here, that's for sure. :-)

    • profile image

      Melanie 4 years ago

      First off i would say that the koran as i have heard numerous times is not the right copy to read. it has been changed multiple times by non practicing muslims. the real one is Qur'an and i bet the translated one will help you Karre in a lot of ways. I have studied world religions for 4 years and i have visited the middle eastern countries and spoken to a variety of muslims friends. The real meaning of islam is Peace and a muslim means submission to god. We have been wrongfully taught about Islam in so many ways in which many regret. the thought about "jihad" is so wrong; the real meaning of jihad is self struggle. to fight against sins not harm other. Islam ONLY allows self defense; to protect one self from harm; all this time muslims have been protecting themselves from harm and not more, but when time comes the animal within comes out and we all know what this could be here in the west its teen pregnancy, drugs, vandalism and in the middle east its rebels and rapes. there isn't much for the people in poor countries. we need to help them; even their countries are working on it. we cannot blame religion for the mess politics have created.

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 4 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      I completely agree Melanie. I have read a good translation -- the name escapes me now, into English. And taken a few Islam classes. The few Muslims I do know personally would completely agree with you. Politics really does use religions, all religions, to control its people and create messes. Thanks for your comments! -- karre.

    • Mark.Issa profile image

      Mark.Issa 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hi Karre,

      I read your hub carefully and found it very good. You seem to be willing and desiring to understand Muslims which is a very good and important Christian trait. In fact it’s a necessary trait if we are to preach the Gospel to them.

      I am an Egyptian Christian. I was born and raised in Egypt and most of my neighbors and the children in my school were Muslims. I also studied Islam in school because it was compulsory. So based on my experience with Islam and Muslims I would like to make a few points here.

      I’m afraid that most Muslims do condone violence. A very clear piece of evidence for that would be the fact that, when given a choice, many Muslim nations voted for an Islamist regime that’s openly pro Al-Qaeda and pro-violence. This has happened in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iran and will happen in Syria if the regime is overthrown. Yes, many Muslims are against extremism and in all of these countries there are very strong anti-islamist oppositions, however they are not the majority; at least not yet.

      Most Muslims, especially religious ones are very much like the Pharisees in the Bible. It’s all about how they look to people, but they are never concerned about cleaning the inside of the cup. This happens among Christians too but in Islam it’s the norm.

      As for how Muhammad knew the stories of the Jews and Christians; Muhammad knew 2 “Christian” clergymen very well. Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, a priest, and Buhaira, a monk. The reason I put “Christian” between quotation marks is that these men probably belonged to Gnostic sects rather than orthodox Christian sects. The Jews also lived in Arabia before Christians did and some tribes were completely Jewish. A good example of that would be the tribe of Bani Al-Nodair which Muhammad completely exterminated. So there’s no mystery that Muhammad knew biblical stories. Also, the quranic stories are very incomplete and unorganized. A very good example of that would be the story of Joseph in the Quran. The Quran mentions Jospeh’s dream, 11 planets, the sun and the moon bowing before him, however it never mentions that Joseph had 11 brothers; which is the whole point of the story.

      I also have to disagree with you in the comparison between the Bible and the Quran. After Muhammad’s death many versions of the Quran appeared, especially since it was not written yet but rather memorized, and Muslims fought against each other because of that until Caliph Othman Ibn Affan burnt all the versions except for one. And that’s why the current version of the Quran is alternatively known as Othman’s Quran. I do not know of any similar event occurring in the history of Christianity.

      While Christianity and Islam seemingly have a lot in common, however the deeper you go into Islam the more you’ll see the difference is huge. I would liken it to your personal experience with Wiccanism.

      Finally I would like to say that although as Christians we disagree with Islam, we must love Muslims as fellow humans and as people that Christ died for also. To preach the gospel to Muslims we have to love them first. Many Christians try and evangelize Muslims for the wrong reasons. They actually hate Muslims and that’s why their missions are almost never successful. On the other hand, I know of many Muslims that came to Christ by being shown the love of Christ and without much preaching.

      Thanks,

      Mark

    • Karre profile image
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      Karre Schaefer 4 years ago from Eskridge, Kansas

      Thank you for your insight and history Mark. I am obviously limited in my experience and most Muslims I know live here in the US or are in the Middle East and work towards democracy. I mention this because their outlook may be different than the typical Muslim's outlook. I totally agree with you on loving Muslims -- its a mission field just waiting and I think we are letting God down by not building bridges and showing the love of Christ -- without preaching. Jesus preached, but mostly he developed relationships and loved. I do not hate Muslims, but you are right, there are a lot of Christians who do. I don't know about Egypt but the US Christians do -- though that usually comes from lack of understanding or fear. My real point in this article is to begin bridging gaps so that the love of God can come through, but I am limited on my experiences, never having been to your part of the world.

      I appreciate your honesty and approved your comment so that there can be some scholarly conversation on this. I wonder, do you think with more and more Muslims leaning towards democracy that Islamic Modernism will take hold? Do you think that the ones you mention above turn towards extremists because no one is helping them? I think in particular of Syria's people. What are your thoughts?

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