Essentials of Islam, by Dr. Timothy Tennent

1. Historical Context. The geography and cultural influences in Arabia during the 6th century A.D. had a significant influence on the beginning and development of the religion of Islam. Muhammad's early life was normal. When he was 40, he claimed to have a revelation from the angel Gabriel about worshiping the one "true" God, Allah. He received further revelations that he recorded in what has become known as the Qur'an. Because of this revelation, Muhammad destroyed the family idols and then fled to Medina with a group of his supporters. There were significant military battles in which Muhammad and his followers defended themselves even though they were greatly outnumbered. Some of the Muslim mosques that were built have great religious and historical significance.

2. The Qur'an and the Five Pillars. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is a divine revelation from God given directly to Muhammed beginning in about 610 A.D. The Five Pillars of the Islamic religion are the confession of faith, ritual prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

3. Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufi Islam. Muhammad's successors were called caliphs. From the beginning, there was disagreement over what characteristics would qualify someone to be a caliph. The four "Rightly Guided Caliphs" were in power in successive years from 632 to 661. The two major divisions in Islam are the Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. One of the major differences between these two movements was over how the successors to Muhammad would be determined. A third movement in Islam is known as Sufi.

4. Authority and Revelation. Along with the Qur'an, the Hadith is another source of revelation for the Muslim religion. The Hadith addresses many social and economic issues that come up in daily life. The Sunna is a collection of oral tradition about Muhammad, and the Hadith is a collection of narratives about Muhammad that are written. The Sunnis also have a provision for the community coming to a consensus about something new being agreed to as having equal authority with the Qur'an and Hadith. In the Shia community an Imam can declare something as revelatory truth. These components combine to make up Sharia law, which governs the Muslim community.

5. Is Islam a Religion of Peace? If we look at this as an exegetical statement, we can see from looking at the teachings of the Qur'an that Islam is not a religion that, at its root, advocates peaceful propagation. If we look at this as a historical statement, Islam has not historically been a religion of peace, even though some of its followers may advocate living at peace with others. The two contradictory principles that exist in tension in the Muslim religion are Da'wah and Jihad.

6. Islamic Fundamentalism. It is timely to explore the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and how that has resulted in the rise of Osama bin Laden and recent terrorist activities. An effective response to this movement will require a Christian presence among Muslims around the world.

7. Islam and Christianity. Islam and Christianity have major theological differences including their view of Scripture, the nature of God, who Jesus is and what is required for salvation. There are specific strategies that can help us witness to Muslims genuinely and effectively.