THE UNREACHED PEOPLES PRAYER PROFILES
An Introduction to Islam
Although Islam is one of the world's largest religions with over 1 billion adherants,
for many, the image of Islam is unclear. Most see images of the Midle East or North Africa with Bedouins on their camels, Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli police,
or radical fundamentalists expounding their reasons for Jihad.
But this picture is not all that correct. Of the ten nations with the largest populations (over 700 million total), only three are in the Middle East. Believe it or not, Islam has an Asian face, and there are more Mulsims who use fishing nets than those who use surface-to-air missiles. More live in rainforests than in deserts. More of their diets are determined by war and famines than by the price of oil. Most of them live in countries where mission is possible, sometimes even welcome.
So who are the Muslims? What are their beliefs? Where do they live? What missions efforts are being done to reach them? This article is designed to help you answer these questions.
- A Quick Quiz
- The Birth of Mohammed
- The Formative Years
- The First Major Crisis
- The Beginnings of Shi'a Islam
- Divisions and sub-divisions
- What do Muslims believe?
- Christian Missions to the Muslim World
- Major Mulsim People Groups
- How to Pray for Muslims
- Further Reading
How much do you know about Islam?
A quick quiz!
- 1. How many Muslims are there in the world?
- 2. What man is usually considered the founder of Islam?
- 3. How many children does the average Muslim woman have?
- 4. What does the Arabic word "islam" literally mean?
- 5. What five countries have the largest Muslim populations?
- 6. What is the name of Islam's holy book?
- 7. What language was this book written in?
- 8. What province in India has the largest percentage of Muslims?
- 9. What are the five pillars (central practices) of Islam?
- 10. What nation in South America is more than 15% Muslim?
- 11. What city do Muslims face when they pray?
- 12. Where is this city?
- 13. What five countries in Europe (excluding Russia) have the largest percentage of Muslims?
- 14. What are the two main branches of Islam?
- 15. What do Muslims call the building where they worship?
The Birth of Mohammed:
Mohammed was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, c572 A.D. His father, who died two months before his birth, was a poor man but belonged to the Koreish, one of the distinguished Arabian tribes. While still a young man, Mohammed married a wealthy widow and was thereby relieved of the necessity of daily labor. Mohammed found himself with enough leisure time to indulge in religious contemplation. At that time, although Judaism and Christianity had been adopted by certain Arabian tribes, idolatrous worship had supplanted most of their ancient rites.
Mohammed would annually go to Mt. Hira to meditate and pray. One year, upon returning from the mountain, Mohammed declared himself a chosen prophet of God. Mohammed claimed that he had his first vision while in a cave on the mountain. On return to Mecca, he preached his message for nine years, and gained a number of adherents. As one might expect, this caused friction with other established beliefs. Finally, in 612 A.D. he was warned by his followers that his enemies intended to murder him and he was forced to flee. This flight marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar and is called 1A.H. (after Hejrat meaning "after the flight or migration"). His flight allowed him to gather his followers and in 630 A.D. he returned to wrest Mecca from
the hands of the Koreish. He was then acknowledged "the prophet" by all Arabia.
During his lifetime (Mohammed died two years after his return to Mecca), his followers carefully transcribed his words and visions, as he himself did not know how to write. In 645 A.D. (about ten years after his death, 'Ali (Mohammed's brother in law) and other leaders collected together all these transcriptions, collated them and created the book of the Qur'an, which has 114 chapters, and 6236 verses. This became the Holy Book for the followers of Islam.
The Formative Years:
Since the time of Mohammed, the Muslim community has tended to split up into various groups. Often political and cultural factors were as significant as theological and philosophical ones in this process. The formative period in the development of Islamic thought was an exciting battleground of ideas, and culminated in what generally became known as Sunni orthodoxy, the established doctrines of the vast majority of Muslims. The main issues involved faith and works, predestination and free will, revelation and reason, the implications of the unity of God, the eternity of the Qur'an,
and whether or not the Qur'an must be taken literally.
Mohammed's flight to Medina in September 622, marks the initiation of the Islamic era, and his death in June 632, succeeded in founding a state of considerable power and prestige according to Arabian standards of the time. During this short ten year period, most of the desert dwelling Bedouin tribes of Arabia had pledged their allegiance to the Prophet of Islam, who thus laid the foundation for the subsequent expansion of the new faith in Allah beyond the Arabian peninsula.
However, the death of Mohammed presented the infant Islamic community with its first major crisis. The crisis of succession marks the beginning of what was eventually to develop into a permanent Sunni Shi'a division in the Islamic community.
The First Major Crisis:
As long as Mohammed was alive, Muslims had taken it for granted that he would provide them the best guidance according to the revealed message of Islam. His death in Medina left the Muslims in a state of serious confusion, because (at least in view of the majority), the Prophet had left neither formal instruction nor a testament regarding his successor. In the ensuing discussions, there was immediate consensus of opinion on one point only. The successor of the Prophet could not be another prophet as it had already been made known through divine revelation that Mohammed was the "Seal of the Prophets". However, it was still essential to
choose a successor on order to have effective leadership and ensure the continuation of the Islamic community and state.
Consequently, amidst much debate, one of the earliest converts to Islam and a trusted companion of Mohammed, Abu Bakr, was elected as successor. He took the title of Khalifat Rasul Allah (Successor to the Messenger of God), a title which was soon simplified to Khakifa ("Caliph" in English). Thus by electing the first successor to the Prophet, the unique Islamic institution of the caliphate was also founded. From its very inception, the caliphate came to embody both the religious and the political leadership of the community. The early Muslims recognized neither distinction between religion and state, nor between religious and secular authorities and organizations. Indeed, a strictly theocratic conception of order, in which Islam is not merely a religion but a complete system ordained by God for the socio-political as well as the moral and spiritual
governance of mankind, had been an integral part of Mohammed's message and practice.
Abu Bakr's caliphate lasted just over two years, and before his death in 634, he personally selected 'Umar as his successor. 'Umar who was assassinated in 644, introduced a new procedure for the election of his successor; he had decided that a council of six of the early companions was to choose the new caliph form amongst themselves. In due time, 'Uthman
b 'Affan, an member of the important Meccan clan was selected and became the third caliph.
The Beginnings of Shi'a Islam:
In the meantime, immediately upon the death of Mohammed, there had appeared a minority group in Medina who believed that 'Ali b Abi Talib, first cousin and son in law of Mohammed (married to Mohammed's daughter Fatima), was better qualified than any other candidate, including Abu Bakr, to succeed the Prophet. This minority group came to be known as the Shi'at 'Ali (the party of Ali) and then simply as the Shi'a. 'Ali's candidacy continued to be supported by his partisans in Medina, and in due time the Shi'a developed a doctrinal view and their cause received wider recognition.
The Shi'a believed that Mohammed did in fact appoint a successor, (or an imam as they have preferred to call the spiritual guide and leader), and that person was in fact 'Ali. As such, 'Ali and his friends became obliged to protest against the act of choosing the Prophet's successor through elective methods. It was this very protest which separated the Shi'a from the majority of the Muslims.
Despite the contention over the rightful order, the first four caliphs (known as the al-khulafa' al-rashidun or "Rightly-Guided Caliphs") were considered to be the orthodox maintainers of the all embracing regulations of the message of Islam as expressed in the revelations contained in the Qur'an. (It was this orthodoxy that became known as Sunni Islam.)
According to Shi'a doctrine the imams ('Ali and his direct descendants) were the only source of religious instruction and guidance, and the most important question regarded the elucidation of Islamic teachings and religious tenets. This was because they were aware that the teachings of
the Qur'an and the sacred law of Islam (Shari'a) came from sources beyond man and therefore contained truths that could not be grasped through human reason. Therefore in order to understand the true meaning of the Islamic revelation, the Shi'a had realized the necessity for a religiously authoritative person, namely the imam.
Although 'Ali eventually succeeded as the fourth caliph, the Shi'a believe he was really the first true caliph, followed by a succession of 11 others. In the eyes of the Shi'a, 'Ali's unique qualifications as successor held yet another important dimension in that he was believed to have been nominated by divine command as expressed through Mohammed's testimony. This meant that 'Ali was also divinely inspired and immune from error and sin, thus making him infallible both in his knowledge and as a teaching authority after the prophet.
Because of their beliefs, these Shi'a became known as the "twelvers" (based on the number of imams). When the twelfth imam mysteriously disappeared in 878 the Imamate came to an end and the collective body of Shi'ite religious scholars or ulema assumed his office, awaiting his return as the 'rightly guided one'. The present Ayatollahs (Signs of God) see themselves as joint caretakers of the office of the Imam, who is to return at the end of time.
However, the succession was not totally agreed upon by all Shi'a and another group broke away and became known as the "seveners" or Ismaelis, because of their contention that the rightful seventh (and last imam) was not Musa al Kazim, but his elder brother Isma'il who died as a child.
As a result of this aspect of the "division", it can generally be concluded that orthodox Sunni Islam basically believes that the Qur'an is the final authority and there is no further revelation. Shi'a Islam believes that the rightful Imam has both the divine inspiration and authority of Allah to add to the message of the Qur'an. Thus Shi'a Islam is seen as the more radical of the two main branches, and throughout the centuries many have claimed to be the next 'imam', attempting to rally Muslims to their particular cause which has unfortunately often been expressed as a Jihad (Holy war against infidels).
Divisions and sub-divisions:
During these early years further divisions were made in the Muslim community.
- The Kharijites (secessionists) withdrew from the "party of 'Ali" because they claimed that the Muslim leaders at that time did not follow the Qur'an strictly and leave the major decisions to God. These Kharijites (who have continued as a small sect in North Africa), also conclude that Islam should be a community of saints and that those who commit grave sins forfeit their identity as Muslims. Those who differed on this point, emphasizing the importance of proper faith over works and
arguing that the decision on grave sinners should be deferred to God at the Judgment day, came to be called Murji'ites (postponers or those who hope). Those who emphasized human responsibility over predestination came to be called Qadarites (determiners).
- The Ismaelis developed their own distinctive ideas, and flourished in the tenth century, influential in establishing the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. They have also been active missionaries for Islam and have spread especially to southern Arabia and East Africa. The main body of Ismaelis is divided into two branches, the Musta'lis (whose headquarters are in Bombay), and the Nizaris (led by the Aga Khan). Other offshoots include the Nusayris and the Druze.
- The Druze are an esoteric sect, meeting on Thursdays instead of Fridays, holding firmly to monogamous marriage, having their own strict code and distinctive beliefs such as that 'Ali was an incarnation of God.
- The Hashshashin (Assassins) also broke away from the Ismaelis in Syria during the period of the early crusades on the eleventh century. They received their name from their use of hashish, and became famous for their seizing of Crusader forts and assassinating the Christians. Today, they are known as Khojas or Mawlas, and live mostly in the Bombay area of India, but some also live in Syria and Iran.
- One of the earliest Sunni schools was that formed by Abu Hanifah (d.767), which became known as the Hanafi rite or school. It is considered to be one of the more liberal schools, when compared to the fundamentalists. The school is dominant among Turkic peoples in Central Asia, Turkey, the Arab countries of the fertile crescent, lower Egypt, and India.
- Malik ibn Anas (d.795) founded another school which became known as the Malakite rite. This rite developed around the concept that it was more important to depend on the traditions of the Companions of Mohammed than with the prophet himself. When it came to conflicting traditions, Malik and his followers simply made an arbitrary choice. Adherants to this rite are very strong in North Africa, particularly Algeria.
- The Shafi'ites take their name from Al Shafi'i (d.820), who had been a follower of Malik. During his life, he had a remarkable impact on the development of Islamic jurisprudence, having a lot of input into the defining of the Shariah (fundamental law), and the establishing of the Hadith (book of sayings of Mohammed) as an authoritative document. Members of the Shafi'ite school can be found in lower Egypt, Syria, India, and Indonesia.
- Mystical ideas began to flow into the stream of Islamic thought as early as the first century A.H. However, the origins of the Sufi orders are just as mystical as their practices. Some claim it comes from the word "suffe", a sitting platform used by Arabs. As Mohammed's close supporters would regularly come and sit on the suffe and listen to his words and learn from his wisdom, they gradually became known as Sufis. Most of these Sufis left their homes and went into the mountains, deserts and peninsulas in search of solitude and closeness to Allah.
Abandoning the physical comforts of the world and pursuing silence prayer and meditation, their ultimate goal was to transcend worldly life and reach an eternal celestial tranquillity in union with Allah. Others claim it comes from the Arabic word suf which literally means wool, referring to the material from which the simple robes of the early Muslim mystics were made.
Despite problems with origins, the Sufis can generally be regarded as Muslim mystics, although many Sufis would argue that Sufism is in fact the real basis of orthodox Islam. The central doctrine of Sufism is wahdat al-wujud (the oneness of being), and they teach that the relative
has no reality other than in the Absolute, and the finite had no reality other than in the Infinite. In Islam, man has access to the Absolute and Infinite through the Qur'an. They also hold the belief that, in addition to the guidance offered to them in the Qu'ran, they must receive instruction and help in their quest for spiritual purification from a wise and experienced "master" or guide. Calling for a life of love and pure devotion to Allah, the Sufis developed a spiritual path to Allah, consisting of various stages of piety (maqamat) and gnostic-psycholigical states (ahwal), through which each Sufi has to pass. This concept of stages of piety led to a concept of sainthood in Islam, along with the related belief that saints could perform miracles.
While strict orthodox Islam frowns on any use of music in religious rituals, Sufi orders have developed a wide variety of ritual observances involving singing, drums and other musical instruments. These rituals often include some form of dance, the best known in the West being that of the Turkish Mevlevi order, often called the "whirling dervishes".
Today there are many Sufi orders throughout the length and breadth of Islam, taking their name from both the school's teacher and its city of location. For example, you may have a Shi'a Sufi from the Oveyssi school at Karaj.
- Besides these clearly defined sects, and numerous others like them, there is a wide variety of other groups involving Islam. In some cases, both Islamic and non Islamic elements have been combined to form syncretistic groups, the most notable being the Sikhs of India, who combine Islamic and Hindu beliefs and practices.
What do Muslims believe?
Muslims believe that their salvation depends upon their own efforts. To become a Muslim, the individual must first repent, especially of idolatry, and then acknowledge that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his messenger. Having done this, an individual's salvation depends on how the weight of his sins compares to the weight of his good deeds at the day of resurrection.
Muslims live and die without any assurance that they will be saved, and they are driven to perform good deeds in hopes of outweighing their sins. Their God - Allah is far off and uninterested in their personal well being. They know very little of forgiveness. Perhaps Romans 10:2-3a aptly describes them: "For I bear them record that they have a zeal from God, but not according to knowledge. For they be ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted.."
Christian Missions to the Muslim World
Historically, Christian missionaries to the Muslim world have had a much harder and less fruitful field to work in, therefore most are not very well known. Sammuel Zwemmer, perhaps the most famous missionary to Muslims, probably had less than a dozen converts in 40 years. Yet he opened the field to modern Protestant workers. William Carey's impact should also be noted. Though a missionary to Hindus, he opened a Muslim community (which today has over 1 million people), through his work in the Bengali language.
What follows is an overview of some of the names which stand out in the history of missions to the Muslim world.
- Raymond Lull (1232-1315)
Lull was perhaps the first missionary to Muslims. Born in Spain, Lull didn't believe the crusades were the right response to the challenge of Islam. Lull went to Tunis at the age of 40, and after a public debate on the merits of Islam vs Christianity, he was stoned and exiled. At age 75, he went back to North Africa, near Algiers. Here, he spent another 6 months in prison after another public debate. At age 82, he returned to Tunis, and won some converts. He was stoned to death in 1315.
- Henry Martyn (1781-1812)
Born in Cornwall in the U.K., Martyn began work in India and Persia in 1806, translating scripture into Arabic, Urdu, Hindustani, and Persian. On arriving in India he wrote in his diary: "Now let me burn out for God!"
He spent 1811-12 in Persia translating the Gospels and Psalms, and debating with Muslims. One of his converts from Islam became the first Indian clergyman of the Church of England.
- Theodore Leighton Pennell.
Pennell was a doctor with the Church Missionary Society, and was stationed on the Afghan border in India in the 1860's. He opened a hospital and a school, and won converts from among the Muslims there.
- Sammuel Zwemmer (1867-1950)
Zwemmer, an American, he sailed for Arabia in 1890 upon finishing medical training. After marrying, he went to Bahrain where he lost his first two children. Later, he spent 17 years in Cairo. Zwemmer wrote hundreds of Arabic tracts, 50 books, and founded the journal "Moslem World". After alsmost 40 years in the field, he joined Princton's faculty in 1929.
- Maude Cary (1878-1967)
Cary arrived in Morocco in 1901 to work with Gospel Missionary Union. She spent a total of 54 years in the country, remaining throughout the second world war. She left in 1955. When French rule ended and restrictions on evangelism were relaxed in 1956, the Mission was able to build on the foundation she'd laid. During the time between 1956 to 1967, 30,000 Moroccans took Bible courses and a Moroccan Church was established. Cary died in 1967 - the year the door to Morocco was again closed.
- Current works
Today, there are many rumors around that work among Muslims is difficult, if not impossible. But the actual amount of work being done is quite surprising.
Much of the work among Muslims happens in Africa. Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) and Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (WEC) both have vital works in the Sub Saharan region. With almost 1,000 people, SIM has works directed at Muslims in 10 nations including Niger and Sudan. WEC is also targetting Muslims in 10 nations in the region. The Africa Inland Mission (AIM) is the only major group working with Muslims in Tanzania, and has somehow managed to maintain a work in the Comoro Islands which are virtually 100% Muslim.
In North Africa and the Middle East there are fewer workers, but an impact is still being made. Middle East Christian Outreach (MECO), Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) all have works in the region. The Southern Baptists (SBC) and Operation Mobilization (OM) are targeting Muslims in Israel. The Christian and Missionary Aliance (C&MA), the Assembly of God (AoG) both have works in Jordan. Numerous other agencies work throughout the region.
The Indian subcontinent has been open since the 1700's, though difficulties do exist. World Vision, CCC, SBC, and YWAM all have works in Bangladesh, and a substantial number of groups are active in India in various capacities.
The information in this part of the article is taken from sources currently published and available to the public. As such, the security of missions work is not jeopardized by the article. Our desire is to show that work is being done, is possible, and needs our support.
Major Muslim People Groups
- Acehnese - 3.1 million on Sumatra, Indonesia.
- Algerian Arabs - 18.3 million in Algeria, and France.
- Azerbaijani - 18.1 million in Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.
- Bosnians - 1.7 million in Bosnia.
- Bugis - 3.1 million on Sulawesi, Indonesia.
- Deccani - 11.7 million in India.
- Fulani - 15 milion in Niger, Mali, and Benin.
- Hausa - 22 million in Niger and Nigeria.
- Hui - 9.1 million in China.
- Madurese - 11.2 million on Madura and Java, Indonesia.
- Makassarese - 1.7 million on Sulawesi, Indonesia.
- Malays - 12+ million in Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia.
- Minangkabau - 7 million on Sumatra, Indonesia.
- Moroccan Arabs - 11 million in Morocco.
- Palestinians - 5.3 million in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon.
- Sindhi - 18 million in India and Pakistan.
- Somali - 10 million in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti.
- Sundanese - 27 million on Java, Indonesia.
- Turks - 42 million in Turkey, and Germany.
- Uighurs - 7.6 million in Northwest China.
- Uzbeks - 21 million in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
- Wolof - 2.9 million in Senegal.
How to Pray for Muslims
Satan has erected many walls to keep Muslims from being open to the Gospel. Political and national barriers have been created between Christians and Muslims throughout history. The crusades of the 11th and 13th centuries developed deep and lasting wounds of bitterness.
- First of all worship God for who He is. Thank Him for his great love, mercy, and compassion. Declare His sovereignty and majesty.
- Secondly, pray for the Church worldwide - especially in the Muslim nations. Pray for strength, courage, determination, boldness, and protection for the believers there.
- Thirdly, pray for the lost. Many Muslims are coming to the Lord through dreams and visions. Pray for a divine visitation for key Muslim leaders, that they might see Jesus for who He really is. Pray for mercy for the nations that are in turmoil, and the massive number of refugees caught in various struggles.
Join with millions of other Christians praying for the Muslim world during the month of Ramadan (beginning January 10th, 1997).
Remember, the fervent prayer of the righteous avails much!
1. 1 billion
4. The "Way of Submission", or "Surrender"
5. Indonesia, Pakistan,Bangladesh, India, Nigeria
6. Qur'an (Koran)
9. The confession, ritual prayer, giving alms, observing Ramadan, making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
12. Saudi Arabia
13. Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, France, West Germany
14. Sunni and Shi'a
Return to Quiz
- Farah, Caesar E. Islam
New York. 1994 Baron's Educational Series
- Guillaume, A. Islam
London. 1956 Penguin Books
- Parrinder, Geoffrey (Ed). World Religions
New York. 1971 Hamlyn Publishing
- Weekes, Richard V. (Editor) Muslim Peoples. A World Ethnographic Survey
London. 1978. Greenwood Press.
- Johnstone, Patrick. Operation World
Seattle. 1993. YWAM Publishing.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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