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Introduction (1)

Victor M. Eskew


            In I Thessalonians 5:20-22, the noble apostle Paul sets forth some weighty words regarding our responsibilities when it comes to hearing prophetic words.  He writes:  “Despise not prophesying.  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  Paul knew that two basic sets of teachings exist in the world.  Some teaching is good; some teaching is evil.  Good teaching is to be held fast.  All teaching that has even the appearance of evil is to be rejected.  In this series of articles about Islam, we want you to keep the apostle’s instructions in mind.

            In this article, we want to begin an introduction to some of the basic concepts of Islam.  Let’s begin by defining the words “Islam” and “Muslim.”  Islam is an Arabic word that originated in the 7th century in Arabia.  The word carries two definitions, “peace” and “submission.”  Basically, Islam teaches that peace is obtained by submission to the teachings of Islam.  A Muslim is a follower of the faith of Islam.  The word simply means:  “one who submits to Allah.”  “Allah” is the Arabic word meaning “God.”

            The founder of the Islamic faith is a man name Muhammad.  Muhammad was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 570 A.D.  He grew up as a Bedouin of the Arabian Desert.  Early in life, he was a herdsman.  Later, he became a very successful caravan trader.  His success as caravan leader enabled him to be employed by a very wealthy widow named Khadijah.  His qualities as a leader brought him close to his employer.  Ultimately, they were married.  Their marriage remained monogamous for twenty-five years.  Khadija was very loyal to Muhammad.  Her wealth and support helped him to promote many of his teachings.  Two sons and four daughters were given to Muhammad by Khadijah.  Some doubt this number.  They believe the youngest daughter was the only natural child of the couple.

            At the age of 40, Muhammad was meditating in a cave, when he says the angel Gabriel appeared to him, giving him his first revelation from Allah.  There would be a total of 114 revelations from Gabriel over the next twenty-three years.  These revelations were never written down by Muhammad.  He recited them to his followers.  His followers either memorized his words or wrote them down in note form.  Later, each of the revelations, also called “surahs”, was collected and complied in the Qur’an.  Because of these revelations, Islam teaches that Muhammad is God’s final prophet to the world.

The Qur’an is one of several holy books of Islam.  “The Quran, Islam’s revealed text, is considered by Muslims to be the final and literal word of God” (American Muslims, Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR, p. 9).  The word “Qur’an” means “that which is recited.”  Two explanations have been given for this name.  First, it is called the Qur’an because it records the words of Muhammad that he recited to others.  Second, it is called the Qur’an because this book is supposed to be recited by all faithful Muslims.  The Qur’an is important to Muslims for two reasons.  One reason it is important is because it instructs all Muslims in every facet of life.  There is not an area of living that is not governed by the Qur’an.  Another reason it is important is because it is affirmed to be one of the proofs of Muhammad’s prophethood.  Muhammad is said to have been illiterate.  On his own, he could not have produced a work like the Qur’an we are told.  “Muslims regard the Qur’an as the main miracle of Muhammad, as proof of his prophethood, and as the culmination of a series of divine messages” (Wikipedia.com, “Qur’an”).  In their book, Fast Facts on Islam, Ankerberg and Weldon summarize the Qur’an as follows:  “Whatever Islam has accomplished historically, whatever it is today, it results largely from the revelations received by Muhammad some 1,400 years ago” (p. 15).

The religion of Islam has three holy sites that are honored by all Muslims.  The first site is Mecca, or “Makkah,” the most holy of all the locations.  Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad.  It is located in western Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea region of Hejaz.  In addition to Muhammad’s birthplace, Mecca is also the city where the Ka’ba, the most sacred mosque is located.  All Muslims pray toward Mecca every day.  One of their Pillars of Faith requires all Muslims who can afford it to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

The second holy city is Medina which means “the city of the Prophet.”  For a period of time, Muhammad had to flee from Mecca.  He was accepted in the city of Medina and was made a sort of governor of the city.  The very first mosque of Islam was built in this city.  This city presently has a mosque called “The Mosque of the Prophet.”  It is built on Muhammad’s residence.  It is also where he is buried. 

The third holy city of Islam is Jerusalem.  This was the city from which Muhammad is said to have made his journey to heaven.  In the early days of Islam, Jerusalem was the “qiblah” for the Muslims.  In other words, this was the city toward which all prayers were made.  This was changed to Mecca after Muhammad received a revelation from Allah directing the change to be made.  Presently, Jerusalem contains a very sacred mosque known as “The Dome of the Rock.”