EARLY BEGINNINGS OF ISLAM
Any study of the world in which we now live must include a study of the Islamic faith. Our international news media almost daily reports on events in reference to Islamic countries, usually wars and bombings that are associated with some radical group of Islam. In all the conflicts, there is a great deal of misunderstanding between the Western world and the world of Islam. The misunderstandings are almost always based on the fact that neither side of the conflict understands the other. The West cannot sift through all the radical groups of Islam and clearly understand the core nature of the Muslim who is trying to bring his faith into modern times. On the part of the West this misunderstanding is particularly difficult. Western thinking is almost totally biased toward the separation of “church” and state. But the true Islamic world is theocratic. There is no such thing as a separation between one’s faith and the law of the state.
The Muslim often views all Christians to be in a theological box wherein he judges all Christians from the twisted perspective of medieval crusaders. This maligned judgment of the West is so critical that the Muslim cringes at even the mention of the word “crusade.” And thus, accusations are thrown back and forth between the two world views in order to increase the conviction of the adherents of either group to cling to their perspective faith.
What we would say to our Muslim friends is that they are not too objective in viewing everyone of the world of Christendom to be Christian simply because one believes in Christ. In this context of discussion, we would use the word “true” Christianity in order to identify in Christendom those who have obeyed the gospel and do the will of their Father in heaven (See Mt 7:15-23). Christians are not religionists who invent for themselves all sorts of man-made religious beliefs and practices, and then claim to be Christian simply because they shout “Jesus, Jesus” on Sunday morning.
The Crusades of the Middle Ages were certainly not the work of true Christians. The Crusades were political efforts on the part of apostate religionists who masqueraded themselves as Christians in order to prop up their religious/political power in Europe. And simply because the Crusaders, and those in this modern times, either carve a cross on their shields or wear one around their necks, does not mean that they are true Christians according to the definition of a Christian that is given in the New Testament.
The true Christianity of the New Testament focuses on the humble devotion of disciples who seek to be servants of others in a society in which order is maintained by a secular government. Simple Christians do not seek to usher in a new system of government. They are simply willing to pray for those in power in order that all citizens might lead a quiet and peaceful life of serving others (See 1 Tm 2:1,2). Muslims must understand that true Christianity has been hijacked by religionists just as they claim that Islam has been hijacked by radical Islamic murderers. So we say to the moderate Muslim, let us all live in peace wherein we can be friends, and then, disagree concerning our faiths in the context of healthy discussions. However, all of us must be allowed to confront one another’s beliefs under a government that allows separation of faith and state. If a Muslim does not allow this—and true Islam cannot—then the true nature of Islam is revealed. In other words, this environment of freedom of speech cannot exist in a truly Islamic state.
Christians must also be fair and objective in their search to understand true Islam. They must not make their judgments based on what they see on the news media, which is often twisted. As Christians are embarrassed by the twisted portrayal of Christianity to the Muslim world, so moderate Muslims are embarrassed by the behavior of those Islamic sects of Islam who have emphasized the aggressive statements of the Qur’an in order to advance their efforts to gain power and oil wealth.
Though there is definitely a difference between the Bible and the Qur’an, Christians must keep in mind that neither simple Christians nor moderate Muslims seek carnal war with one another. It is only when the radicals of Islam start obsessing over the aggressive statements of the Qur’an that we have trouble. So in order to help those of the West, particularly Christians, to better understand Islam, it might be good to review the birth of the Islamic faith. Its birth and conquest of the Middle Eastern empires will provide some definition of Islamic beliefs, and the “holy book” that originated out of the struggles that prevailed in the century of its birth.
I. The birth of a religion:
Islam was born out of a conflict that one Arab person, Muhammad Idn Abdullah, had with his fellow pagan Arabs, unbelieving Jews, and those who were actually apostate Christians. At the time, the seat of authority of “Christianity” had moved from Jerusalem to Rome and Constantinople. A division had occurred in Christendom by the seventh century that had established the another seat of authority in Constantinople (the Greek, or Eastern Orthodox Church).
After its initial birth, Islam was accepted by millions and spread throughout the Middle East in the seventh century. It spread like wild fire because of the apostate “Christianity” of the day. We would learn much today by reflecting on the reasons that led up to the birth and early growth of Islam in the Middle East. Some of these lessons may be difficult to accept by Christians today. Nevertheless, history is a good teacher in order that we not repeat the mistakes of the past.
II. Growth out of conflict:
The historian Tertullian (160-220) stated, “The blood of the Christians is the seed of the kingdom.” What he meant was that when the kingdom of God was persecuted in its early beginnings, it grew. It grew because Christians responded to persecution with love. And it was the Christians’ love of Christ and one another that drew people to Christ. It was love at the core of the gospel message that caused the growth. The early Christians lived the pronouncement of Peter:
But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Pt 3:15).
The persecutors of the early Christians were intrigued by the commitment of Christians to their Savior who gave them hope by so loving them (Jn 13:34,35). They had to wonder why the Christians would so willingly die for their Savior who loved them so much.
Christianity was first the object of persecution by the Jewish religious/political system, and then came the persecution of the Roman state. Since Rome had developed its own state religion, beginning with Nero, the Romans saw Christians as insurrectionists against the state because they would not proclaim Caesar as lord. The state/religious persecution of Rome ended under Emperor Constantine only when Christianity was eventually made the state religion of the Roman Empire. Once this happened, Christianity began to apostatize into what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church. It is inevitable that once a faith becomes connected with the power of a state, it becomes the persecutor of all those who do not conform to its man-made mandates. The designated religionist of the state use the state to enforce their mandates upon those with whom they disagree, and thus, consider enemies of the state. When this happens, we can know that the religion is from man and not God. Constantine, therefore, became the demise of true Christianity. By the time of Muhammad, it was not Christianity that Muhammad encountered, but an apostate state religion.
Roman Catholicism corrupted for centuries those states that it controlled, even as late as the 1950s and 1960s. In Italy, as in many other countries where Catholicism was dominant, it was very difficult for one to get a job if he was not a Catholic. This socio/economic intimidation also prevailed throughout Latin American countries. Catholicism was not the state religion, but everyone who was in power in the state and business were Catholics. In Latin America, it was not until the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism in the 1960s that the religious stranglehold of Catholicism on society was broken. The growth of Pentecostalism was actually a social revolution against a religion that was too connected with the state. In South Africa today we too still live with the legacy of churches that aligned themselves in the past too close to politics in the struggle against apartheid. Many of the religious leaders of these churches now consider their churches as small political parties that might somehow fuel their personal ambitions to be somehow voted into a seat in parliament.
The past history of Catholic control of states illustrates the problem of Islam, and should caution all would-be political pastors. Muslims have a difficult time separating the beliefs and behavior of Islam from the laws and function of the state, since the Qur’an teaches that there is no division between faith and state. The Crusades of the Middle Ages were a result of an apostate Christianity being aligned with the sword of the state, and thus, the Roman Catholic Church of the times used that sword to maintain and propagate its authority throughout the territory the state controlled. And in order to increase allegiance to the state (the church), bands of “believers” were organized (crusaders) to go fight against the unbelievers (Muslims). In order to recruit and build an army of Crusaders, a holy cause had to be given to the recruits. The recruits were thus told that they must free “the land of our Lord,” which they would call, “the holy land.”
(Actually, there was nothing holy about it. It was only a segment of dirt on earth where our Lord determined to set His foot in fulfillment of His promises that were made to the fathers. Once He had accomplished His mission, and His foot left earth at the ascension, the Bible nowhere teaches that He would ever set foot on earth again.)
After Christianity was adopted by the Roman state as the state religion, those who assumed that they were Christian began to ride on the shoulders of the Roman state. It was then that Christianity began to go into apostasy. While unity prevailed among Christians during the early centuries of struggle and persecution, disunity began to prevail across those lands where the name of Christ had gone through the efforts of the early evangelists. The moral and doctrinal norms that produced unity in the first century began to be influenced by the false philosophies of men by the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the greater number of those who professed to be Christian aligned themselves with the power of the state, these began to persecute non-Christian faiths, even those who were of a minority of Christianity who refused to compromise their faith by aligning themselves with the state.
The Christianity that prevailed over the unbelieving world during the first three centuries of the existence of the church, began to be changed into a religious-state monster that unleased persecution on all other faiths after A.D. 325.
The transformation of “Christianity” to a state religion continued for the next three centuries after A.D. 325. But in A.D. 610, a new world order in religion was born, which order we deal with today as 1.4 billion Muslims populate the world. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the “Christianity” that was represented from Rome, and then also from Constantinople, was morally destitute and doctrinally corrupt. It was not the Christianity we read about in the New Testament. As a result of its divided nature and institutional appearance that was upheld by the state, those of the Arab world began to look for something else. The Arab world perceived that Christianity must work through the power of the state in order to be successful, for this was all that they knew of the Christianity of the day. This is what they witnessed in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. They also perceived that Judaism worked through the efforts of the Jews to reestablish their state in Palestine.
Both Judaism and “Christianity” claimed to be from one God. But the Arabs concluded that God would certainly not be so divided. The Arab world concluded that if God works, then certainly He must work outside and apart from secular and pagan states that existed at the time. Religion, therefore, must become the state in order to banish wars between states, and subsequently bring peace to the world.
Islam had its small beginnings with a militant Arabian name Muhammad. Muhammad was born around 570. He grew up into being a religiously zealous young man, and subsequently, began preaching in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 610. Though he initially believed in the inspiration of both the Old and New Testaments, his preaching generated great opposition from the “unbelieving” (idolaters) Arabs, as well as the Jews and Christians of his time. He initially instructed his disciples to pray facing Jerusalem, but later in his life after he moved away from the influence of the faith of the Jews and Christians, he called on his followers to pray facing Mecca. The Jews were dedicated to Jerusalem. The Christians were focused on what he perceived was the center of their faiths, Rome or Constantinople. So in order to refocus the Arabs, he needed a city. That city was his hometown, Mecca.
Because of the great persecution that he first faced in Mecca, he eventually fled to Medina north of Mecca. It was in Medina that his following grew. Their number grew to the point that there was relentless persecution of himself and his followers by pagan Arabs, Jews and Christians, even in Medina. But it was in 630 that Muhammad and his followers militarily overcame their opposition in Medina, and then they marched to and conquered Mecca, which he subsequently made the sacred city of Islam.
Muhammad died in 632, and over the next one hundred years, his followers militarily and economically spread Islam throughout the Middle East to as far east as India. Islam essentially wiped Christianity off North Africa, and then spread up through Spain, Portugal, and was about to advance into France. Now consider this. By the end of the seventh century, almost eighty percent of the Mediterranean world had been “Christianized.” However, within one hundred years after the beginning of Muhammad’s work, Christianity was almost eradicated throughout all the territories that were conquered by Muslims.
This rapid growth of the Islamic faith would have continued on into Europe if it were not for one battle in history. In 732 a historical battle was fought in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. It was in this year that Charles Martel stopped the advance of Islam into western Europe at the Battle of the Tours. If Martel had not won this battle, Islam would have inevitably advanced into all of Europe, possibly into England, and then made its way eventually to the New World through those who migrated to America, if indeed they as Muslims would have desired to go to the “new world.” But we will never know the significance of the 732 victory in the Pyrenees Mountains. The future of the world was changed by this battle.