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What Is the Muslim Worldview?

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    Perhaps you, like me, have found it difficult to understand what makes the Muslim tick. Despite all the similarities between Islam and Christianity, Muslims seem to operate on a different wavelength. Beneath the surface we are poles apart. The explanation, I believe, lies in the Muslim worldview.

    The key to the Muslim worldview is the word "Islam" itself. It is an Arabic word, a kind of verbal noun which Muslims love to tell you means "submission" (similarly, "Muslim" means "one who submits"). Its importance lies in the fact that it defines how Muslims understand the relationship that God intends should exist between Himself and man. The verb form is typically used of a person laying down his arms in defeat; he "makes peace" or "submits." This same idea comes out in the principal synonyms for God and man used in the Qur'an: Rabb ("Lord") and 'abd ("slave"). Five times a day Muslims must address God in prayer as "Lord of the worlds," in the words of the first Sura of the Qur'an, and prostrate themselves to the earth as His "slaves."

    Christians will note that the Bible also has something important to say about "submission" to God (cf. James 4:7); indeed, it is at the heart of Jesus' teaching on discipleship and the Kingdom of God. And yet we must also say that the Bible's idea of submission is quite different from that of the Qur'an. That is because it is based on radically different presuppositions.

    To just highlight some of the differences, Islam holds that mankind's present separation from God is due to God's transcendence, not human sinfulness. God is "Wholly Other" and essentially unknowable; He does not "reveal Himself" to human beings. In other words, our present condition is normal. People are essentially "good" and "pure," albeit "weak" and "forgetful" (in the garden Adam simply "forgot" God's command). Human beings do sin, but they have the moral power not to sin, and to do the Good. All they need is "guidance." And God has provided that guidance in the Qur'an and the Muslim Traditions, held to be the very "Law of God." The objective in all this was the creation of a new social order, one based on Divine Law. To Muslims, this new order came into existence in 722 A.D., when Muhammad founded the first Muslim community.

    To be sure, a host of other factors, both historical and ideological, would have to be mentioned to complete the picture. But it is clear that at the heart of Islam's disagreement with Christianity is its utopic view of human nature; this is its "Achilles heel." How utterly realistic, by contrast, is the Bible, for which the problem lies not in God's transcendence but in sinful human nature. Far from having moral power, mankind is a slave of sin. "Guidance" alone cannot transform man into a submissive being. The message of the Bible is that God alone can accomplish that kind of transformation! He has already done it through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3-4).

    Courtesy of Arab World Ministries. Used by permission.
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