I assume that very few Christians in the west are unaware of the great importance of Islam in the world today, both for the global political situation and for the spread of the gospel. But few of us (including me) know a Muslim personally, and many Christians are not well informed about Islam, having established our impressions on the basis of sensational news items in recent years. I sense that what happens in the Islamic world will profoundly affect the world in our time, not only for the millions of people who live in predominantly Muslim countries, but for the world in general. I also see the Islamic world as one of the greatest challenges facing the church in its task of training up disciples of Christ until his return. (I suspect that some would call it the greatest challenge, but I have doubts that it is a more serious challenge than the pragmatic materialism that is strong in western secularist societies and is spreading rapidly elsewhere in the world.)
How accurately we understand Islam will affect the extent to which we serve Christ well in fulfilling his “great commission.” So I appreciated it when I came upon Zane Pratt’s list of “Ten Things Every Christian Should Know About Islam.” Pratt is Associate Professor of Missions at Southern Seminary in Louisville, and he served 20 years as a missionary in a predominantly Muslim country. His article was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of of Southern Seminary magazine, and it is downloadable as a pdf file, but I read it today courtesy of the Gospel Coalition blog. You may want to read the article in its entirety but I’ll give you Pratt’s 10 points, with occasional clips of his explanatory material.
1. “Muslim” and “Arab” are not the same thing.
2. The word “Islam” means submission.
3. There are two major denominations of Muslims.
4. Islamic theology could be summarized as belief in one God, his prophets, his books, his angels, his decrees, and the final judgment.
Islam teaches that humans are born spiritually neutral, perfectly capable of obeying God’s requirements completely, and that they remain this way even after they’ve personally sinned. The need of humanity, therefore, is not salvation but instruction; hence Islam has prophets, but no savior.
5. Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet.
[On this point, you can find further helpful material in a blog post by Joel Willits on “Jesus in the Quran: Christology Outside Theology”]
6. Islamic practice can be summarized by the Five Pillars of Islam.
These are composed of the confession of faith (“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet”), prayer (the ritual prayers said in Arabic five times a day while facing Mecca and performing the prescribed set of bowings, kneeling, and prostrations), alms (taken as a tax in some officially Islamic countries), fasting (the lunar month of Ramadan, during which Muslim believers fast during daylight hours but can eat while it’s dark), and pilgrimage (the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim believer should make once in his or her lifetime).
7. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.
In fact, normal Islamic religious law forbids the intentional killing of non-combatants in battle. It also forbids suicide. It’s a small minority view that allows these things, and it’s a small minority who engage in terrorist activities.
8. Muslims can be some of the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth.
9. Muslims need salvation through Jesus Christ.
They are lost exactly like any other non-Christian—neither more nor less than anyone else. Furthermore, Muslims do come to faith in Jesus Christ. It usually takes time, and extended exposure to the Word of God and the lives of Christians, but more Muslims are coming to faith today than at any other point in history.
10. God loves Muslims, and so should we—even those few who are our enemies.
We should love them enough to befriend them, love them enough to make them welcome in our homes, and love them enough to share the gospel with them.