A Brief History of Islam

Have you ever wondered how a religion gets started? Do a bunch of people get together and decide to start a church just so they can pass the collection place and launch a television ministry? Does God look down from heaven and choose someone to start a new belief system just so he can have a few more buildings with stained glass windows built in his honor? Or does some ambitious person decide to blaze a new path to God because he believes all the others are wrong?

Here’s one story—the story of Islam—that may help you understand how a religion gets going. This is the true account (short version) of the early beginnings of Islam, the world’s second biggest monotheistic religion.

The Story of Islam

Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born in A.D. 570 into a prominent family in the city of Mecca, Arabia (now Saudi Arabia). His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was six. Raised by his uncle, Muhammad married a 40-year-old wealthy widow named Khadijah when he was 25. The newlyweds settled in Mecca, where Muhammad became a successful businessman.

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Bible vs Qur’an

Christianity and Islam are both monotheistic religions that believe in one almighty creator. The Muslims’ holy book—the Qur’an—teaches creation, the existence of angels, that Jesus was a sinless, virgin-born prophet from God, and that there is a heaven, a hell, and a day of judgment. So with all these similarities, what are the differences between the Bible and the Qur’an?

Muslims believe the Qur’an is a revelation from God (Allah) that began to be verbally transmitted through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad when he was 40 years old (AD 610). They say that over a 23-year period Muhammad received these messages, which he precisely memorized. Shortly after his death (AD 632) the Qur’an was compiled into a single book. Today it is divided into 114 chapters, or suras, and is about the length of the Christian New Testament. Muslims consider the Qur’an in the original Arabic text to be the literal word of God. They believe it provides divine guidance for all humanity. They say Muhammad was God’s last prophet, superseding Christ, and that the Qur’an is God’s final revelation to us all.

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I Dreamed a Dream: What Book Can Explain Jesus?

I dreamed last night that a friend I have been praying for finally became interested in Christianity. He asked me, “What’s the best book I can read to understand Christianity?” I was puzzled. At first, I thought, Mere Christianity, only to realize that Mere Christianity is better suited for a new Christian or someone who needs to become more serious about their faith. Then I was troubled. I didn’t have an answer.

My friend had asked me the question because he had recently heard me pray. While I was praying, he realized how much Jesus means to me and desired to believe—but wasn’t convinced yet—that there could be more to life. I assumed, in my dream, that the prayer made him realize that I actually believed that I was having a conversation with God: not just that I was petitioning, but that someone on the other side heard me, listened, and spoke back.

A Review of "Free Will" by Sam Harris

Last year I took a group of high school students to UC Berkeley to interact with skeptics. After spending an evening with S.A.N.E (Students for a Non-religious Ethos), I found myself in a conversation with an undergraduate student about the existence of free will. She told me that she recently embraced determinism and rejected free will.

 

In response to my query about why she changed her mind, she appealed to genetics, background forces, and environmental factors. In other words, she believed there is no free will because external forces determine beliefs. What she didn’t realize was that the justification she offered for her belief in determinism undermined her deterministic beliefs. She believed that she had evaluated the evidence and embraced the position—determinism—that is most logical. And yet if determinism were true she would have been incapable of evaluating evidence and freely following the logic because all her choices were already set. Logically speaking, her position was self-refuting. In other words, she sawed off the branch she was sitting on.
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Christian Students Engage Muslims

Last week seventeen high school students from my Christian school went on a mission trip sponsored by Stand to Reason to reach Muslims in L.A. This was the first trip of its kind, so these students were really trekking out on faith! We were able to join an Iranian Christian Bible study, visit an Islamic center, engage Muslims in personal conversations, hear testimonies from former Muslims, get training from missionaries to Islam, share a meal with Muslims, and visit a major mosque. The students did not go unprepared – they had spent the last seven months reading books and attending training sessions outside of regular school hours. My thanks in particular to Brett Kunkle, Alan Shlemon, and Dawnielle Hodgman for planning such a great trip. Here are some highlights and reflections.
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The Qur'an Unveiled

For the past few weeks I have been carefully reading through the entire Qur’an. One reason is because there are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, including an estimated 3-7 million Muslims in America. Understanding the Qur’an will help me better relate to my Muslim neighbors and friends. Second, Muslims consider the Qur’an the greatest miracle and proof of Islam (Surah 10:37-38). It is considered the most beautiful, holy, and truthful book. I wanted to assess this claim for myself.

Following are some observations and criticisms of the Qur’an. Just one precursor: If the Qur’an were true, then I would believe it. I’m just not convinced it is. If someone begins with the conviction that the Qur’an is true, then certainly these critiques will have little effect. But if one begins with an honest attempt to evaluate the historical, theological, philosophical, and scientific evidence, I believe they would come to a very different conclusion.

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Mormon Scriptures Revealed

Mormonism is everywhere. A leading Republican candidate for president is a Mormon, there is a play on Broadway about The Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church has launched a multi-million dollar ad-campaign about Mormons called “I’m a Mormon.” Even though I have been teaching a class on comparative religion for years, taking students on trips to Salt Lake City, and interacting with my Mormon friends, I had never read Mormon scriptures in their entirety.

Recently I asked some Mormon missionaries to show me that their religion is true. They said if I read The Book of Mormon with an open heart then God would impress its truthfulness upon me (they quoted Moroni 10:4). So, I earnestly prayed that God would impress upon my heart the truthfulness of the Mormon scriptures, and then I determined to read as many of their books as I could, including The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), and The Pearl of Great Price.

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Latter Day Uneasiness

Let me just put it out there and take the wacks for being intolerant; I would be very uneasy having a devout Mormon in the Oval office.

Watching the political wrangling of the pachyderm party and the various missteps of those hopefuls for nomination to lead the nation, it is quite obvious that the “religious affiliation” question is a minefield not to be crossed.

So let me attempt to bravely venture out where one is forbidden to go and explain my queasiness.

Some religions are nutty.

Scientology comes to mind as a loopy scam. 

Some religions are deceptive, cloaking their real ideas and agenda in the guise and language of an already accepted faith.

The Gnostics were pretty good at this as I recall. 

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Learning From Mormons

Last Friday I invited a local Mormon leader to speak to my 11th grade theology class. This is the first time I have ever done this. Typically I take my students on trips to visit other people, but some students don’t go on those trips so I wanted them all to hear from a Mormon firsthand. He was thoughtful, kind, prepared, and very articulate. In fact, I was very impressed by how well he knew his stuff and how confidently he portrayed it. He even quoted from C.S. Lewis, although he took him out of context. I wish more Christians had his poise and confidence.

I learned a couple things from this encounter that Christians may consider taking to heart.

First, the higher degree of education a Mormon receives the higher is his/her participation in the church. And yet the exact opposite is true for evangelicals. Even though the Mormon faith is essentially built on a subjective experience (see Moroni 10:4), Mormons have come to value the intellect and education. Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck are good examples of leading Mormon intellectuals who are having a positive impact on culture. Why is it that a faith built on subjective experience produces many leading thinkers?

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Did Christianity Copy From Pagan Religions?

In one of the scenes of the Coffeehouse Chronicles, my new novella series, Nick a student who is questioning his own Christian faith, watches the popular Zeitgeist YouTube video.

The video tells a story about religious leaders throughout history who had similar characteristics to Jesus. The video implied that Christianity simply plagiarized from other religious stories that were circulating years before. Names like Attis of Greece, Krishna of India, Dionysus of Greece, and Mithra of Persia were included in the video. The narrator described how these religious leaders, based on astrology were born on December 25, born of virgin, discovered by a star in East, adorned by three kings, became a teacher at twelve, baptized and started ministry at thirty, had twelve disciples, and performed miracles, were known as the “Lamb of God,” “The Light,” crucified, buried for three days, and resurrected.

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