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Renewing Your Mind


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Cults and World Religions


Genesis 16:4, 11, 12; 17:20
16:4 So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. . . 11 And the Angel of the Lord said to her: “Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” 17:20 “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”


Recite, in the name of the Lord who has created,

Created man from clots of blood,

Recite, seeing that the Lord is the most generous,

Who has taught by the pen,

Taught man what he did not know.

The words the angel gave to
Mohammed 180

“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet (or messenger) of Allah” 181

The great Shahada,
the confession of Islam

Just as the child of the promise, Isaac, brought forth the twelve tribes of Israel, so Abraham’s son of the flesh, Ishmael, was a great father of nations. Although sitting here 4,000 years later it is difficult to be completely dogmatic about the facts, for all practical purposes, the entire world of the Arabs came from the loins of Ishmael. 182 Indeed, in conversations with Muslims, I have been personally told that it was Ishmael whom God directed Abraham to sacrifice, not Isaac (Gen 22)!

In the last fifty years, Islam has been the fastest growing religion in the world. As we recited in the opening chapters, Islam has the third largest presences of significant communities in the world. At the same time, with a total membership claim of close to a billion people, Islam is the world’s second largest religion. 183 Islam is a religion of nations and governments. It was the cause of the Crusades of ancient history. For many, it conjures up the thoughts of modern terrorism. It is clearly a religious force to be dealt with.

The early Arabs were polytheistic in religious orientation. They worshiped many gods, of whom the highest was Allah. The religion was very pagan in nature, including gods of nature and people, with the gods being both male and female. It is against these polytheistic gods that Mohammed revolted. Mecca was the center of polytheistic worship. The town boasted some 360 shrines as well as a small temple which housed the Black Stone. The stone was thought to have been given to Abraham by the Angel (djinn) Gabriel. Most likely, the stone is a meteorite.


As with the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, the Islamic religion owes its origins and its sacred book to one man – Mohammed. Born in Mecca in about A.D. 570, Mohammed’s birth name was Ubu’l Kassim. His father died shortly after his birth and his mother died when he was six. He was raised, ultimately, by his uncle. Mohammed became a camel driver on caravans, a profession resulting in contact with many peoples and religions. At the age of 25, Mohammed married his employer, a wealthy widow 15 years his senior. Although not particularly relevant to the development of the religion, none of the couples children survived to adulthood, with the exception of one daughter, Fatima.

As the husband of a wealthy entrepreneur, Mohammed no longer worked on the caravans and, thus, devoted himself to meditation on the meaning and purpose of life. Mohammed’s reflections brought him to a dislike of the polytheistic nature of the Arab religion. Mohammed arrived at the conclusion Allah was the one true God. He spent much of his time meditating in caves, particularly one on Mount Hira located a few miles from Mecca. 184 Beginning in A.D. 610 and continuing to his death in 632, Mohammed “received” visions from Allah which were accompanied by violent seizures. At the urging of his wife, Mohammed submitted to the revelations and determined they were being brought to him by Gabriel. The angel’s instructions to Mohammed were to recite the words he received to others. After his death, his followers recorded these revelations in the Qur’an (“Recitation”). 185 Arguably, “next to the Bible, it is the most esteemed and most powerful book in the world.” 186

Mohammed’s new religion did not quickly catch on. It was contrary to the entire social and moral order of Mecca, and, most likely, had an adverse effect upon the economics of the region. Persecution followed and many of Mohammed’s followers moved to a nearby city called Yathrib. On July 16, 622, Mohammed barely managed to escape an assassination plot, and he, too, fled to Yathrib. This escape is called the Hegira (Hijrah or flight). This date is considered the official date of the formation of Islam.

Mohammed became the leader of Yathrib and the city’s name was changed to Medina, meaning the “City of the Prophet.” Mohammed established a theocracy in Median, developing his interrelationship between politics and religion. He also started a harem with some 10-to-12 wives. Mohammed attempted to win the Jewish population of Medina and upon failing in this effort, he turned to persecuting the Jews.

Mohammed helped to finance his government by attacking and plundering caravans going to or from Mecca. This led to continual warfare with Mecca, a warfare Mohammed won. He entered Mecca and destroyed the idols, but kept the temple of Kaaba which housed the Black Stone. Mohammed made Mecca the most holy city of Islam and the Black Stone became the focal point of worship. When the Muslims of today prayer, they pray to the Kaaba.

The successors to Mohammed are called caliph. It is under the second, third, and fourth caliphs that Islam’s reach was spread, via battles and conquests. During this time period, Islam spread to Syria, Jerusalem, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, India, north Africa, and a part of Europe. The defeat of the Islamic armies by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in A.D. 732 stopped the spread in Europe.


Islam properly means “surrender” or “submission,” to the will of Allah. A Muslim is “one who submits.” Therefore, Islam is properly the name of the religion and Muslim is the name of a follower of Islam. Islam is intensely monotheistic, believing that the great sin is one of associating Allah with anything created. While Islam combines elements from both the Old and New Testaments, it is based upon a religion developed by Mohammed, the “last and greatest of the prophets.” Islam is viewed by its followers as the true continuation of the Old Testament faith.

The Qur’an is about 4/5ths the length of the New Testament and is divided into 114 chapters called surahs. Parts appear to have actually been written by Mohammed with the balance written by his followers. The surahs are ordered by length from the longest to the shortest. The Qur’an is supplemented by a collection of Mohammed’s sayings gathered over the years in the Hadith (“tradition”). The sayings are called the sunna (“custom”).

The beliefs and practices of Islam are set forth and summarized in the Five Doctrines and the Five Pillars (although there are really six of each).

The Five Doctrines

The Five Pillars

Other practices include the veiling of women and the abstention of alcohol, gambling, and certain foods, especially pork. Polygamy is still practiced, but a man is limited to four wives by the Qur’an and Hadith, because each wife must be treated equally. There are also a number of feasts and festivals which are practiced, although this varies by sect.


The sects of Islam developed primarily over a dispute on the method of choosing the successor to Mohammed.

The Sunnites or Sunnis are the largest sect, with the major Islamic countries being 90%+ Sunni. This group believes the true line of succession was with the caliphs.

The Shiites are the other major sect, believing that the succession remained with Mohammed’s family. This succession is known as the Imams. 187 The Shiites are divided over whether there were seven or twelve sinless successors. The Shiites are much more literal in their interpretation and application of the Qur’an and are much more militant than the Sunnites.

The Sufis are the mystics of Islam. They emphasize more esoteric practices and have developed a series of secret rites and rituals. Estimates place the total number of Sufis at around one million.

The Ahmdiyans were founded in the 1890s. They are the apologetic arm of Islam. They are highly visible and very active on American university campuses. The estimates place between five and eight million Ahmdiyans in America, almost all of them being Sunnis. 188

The Qur’an and the Bible

As has been clearly indicated, much of the Qur’an comes from or is based upon the Bible. Indeed, Muslims are taught to believe both. However, the Qur’an is the predefined word of God, so if there is a conflict, the Qur’an controls. There are, of course, major differences between the two, some of which have been previously noted. A couple of others should be mentioned as well.

Sharing Your Faith

In discussions with a Muslim, ultimately the topics of concern are the nature of God, the Person and Deity of Christ, and the issue of salvation by grace versus works. The main problem is that Islam is really a religion of logic rather than faith. The Muslim has no concept of the Christian meaning of faith. They would almost rather look to the Encyclopedia Britannica than to the Qur’an or Bible. You cannot win an argument with a Muslim. The concept of a personal God is foreign to them. Since they view Jesus as a prophet, they have a built-in defense against the Gospel message. To evangelize a Muslim will take a lot of seed planting and a lot of watering – and you must allow for plenty of time for the seed to grow!

180. As quoted in Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference?, Glendale, CA: G/L Regal Books, a division of G/L Publications, 1967, 82.
181. Walter Martin, Hank Hanegraaff, Gen. Ed., The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised), Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, 1977, 1985, 1997, Electronic Edition STEP Files Copyright © 1997, Parsons Technology, Inc., PO Box 100, Hiawatha, Iowa., Appendix D.
182. The word Arab refers to nomads or bedouins and may be connected with the word for desert or wilderness.
183. Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, STEP electronic edition, Appendix D.
184. Mecca is located on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, in what is now Saudi Arabia.
185. A variant or English spelling is Koran. There are also variant spellings of Mohammed’s name and of the word Muslim.
186. John Ankerberg & John Weldon, The Facts on Islam, The Anker Series, Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991, 1998, 5, quoting Dr. J. Christy Wilson of Princeton University.
187. Today, an Imam is a trained teacher/congregational leader of the Sunnis. Imam means “faith.” An Ayatollah refers to a spiritual master or leader in Shiite Islam. Iran is primarily Shiite.
188. Statistical information from Ankerberg, The Facts on Islam, 6.




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