Professor of Theology at Tyndale Seminary

March 2011

Volume 3

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[Editor’s note: Please continue to the end of  this article for Prof. Beverley’s extensive list of books and web-sites on Islam.]

A proper evangelical engagement with Islam must be multifaceted in light of the scope of Islamic history, the vast spread of Islam globally, the variety within Islam, and the tangled socio-political realities of the Muslim world. In other words, analysis of Islam must not be simplistic, as in the popular desire to say that Islam is or is not a religion of peace, with no qualifications.


Sooner or later Christian engagement with Islam involves reaction to the life and teaching of Muhammad. It is important to capture the basics about him. To that end, here is a timeline of the major events in his life. The list adopts the standard Muslim chronology of his life. Westerns scholars of Islam are uncertain about its historical accuracy, even on the non-supernatural components.

Birth in Mecca
After death of mother, Muhammad raised by grandfather and uncle
Married Khadijah, a travel merchant
Claimed to have divine revelations through mystical experience. These revelations formed the basis of the Qur’an.
Began to preach a monotheistic message and endured persecution
Muhammad added “Satanic verses” to the Qur’an, then deleted them because they contained false revelation approving the worship of three idols.
After the death of Khadijah, Muhammad married Sawdah, first of many other wives.
Muhammad was taken by the angel Gabriel to Jerusalem and ascended to seventh heaven on a ladder (called the miraj)
Escaped to Medina to avoid persecution in Mecca
Defeated Meccan enemies at the Battle of Badr
Married Zaynab, his cousin, who was previously married to the Prophet’s adopted son Zayd
Raided the Jewish clan of Qurayzah and ordered the death of hundreds of Jewish men
Signed treaty with Meccan leaders at Hudaybiyyah
Conquered his enemies at Mecca and removed idols from city
Muhammad died on June 8 after a period of ill health.

Islam 101

Engaging Muslims involves understanding their faith. In my teaching on various religions, I like to present a basic outline that captures the heart of a faith, while recognizing that every religion is subject to its own divisions and nuances. Here is my chart for Islam from my Illustrated Guide:

The Five Pillars of Islam

Confession of Faith: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
Prayer: All Muslims are to pray five times per day, facing Mecca, the holiest city.
Tithing: Muslims must give financially to the poor and the needy. This involves giving at least 2.5 percent of their total wealth.
Fasting: During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are to refrain from food, water, and sex from sunrise to sunset.
As far as possible, at least once in a lifetime, Muslims are to travel to Mecca to engage in rituals of prayer and worship at the central shrine in Islam’s holiest city.

The Prophet

  • Most Muslims believe that Muhammad was sinless.
  • Muhammad is not viewed as divine.
  • Most Muslims believe that the Prophet was illiterate.
  • The prophetic status of Muhammad is not to be questioned.
  • Muhammad provides the greatest example for all aspects of life.
  • The traditions about the Prophet are known as hadith.
  • The Prophet was given permission by Allah to have twelve wives.

The Qur’an

  • Muslims believe the Qur’an is the perfect Word of Allah.
  • The Qur’an contains 114 chapters or surahs.
  • Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel.
  • The Qur’anic material was composed from 610 through Muhammad’s death in 632.
  • The final compilation of the Qur’an was completed about AD 650.
  • The Qur’an is basically ordered by chapter length. The shorter chapters appear later but are usually from the earlier part of Muhammad’s ministry.

Critique of Islam

Engaging Muslims sometimes involves critique of Islam. Since 9/11 it bears repeating that Christian witness to Islam should focus more on the positive news of the gospel and less on the weaknesses in Islam. Affirmation about Jesus is usually preferred over negative critique of another religious leader. However, it is sometimes necessary to engage in critique, particularly since this may be used of the Holy Spirit to lead Muslims to the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

The Unique Identity of Jesus

Islam fails in its core denial that Jesus is the Son of God. This error about the identity of Jesus strikes at the very integrity of Islam as a revelation from God. Muhammad’s failure to capture the essence of the New Testament teaching on Jesus shows how little he knew of the Gospel accounts. This error alone constitutes sufficient reason for abandoning any notion that Muhammad was a prophet of God. Surprisingly, some great Christian scholars, like Kenneth Cragg, have tried to argue that Muhammad deserves to be treated as a prophet. However, how could a prophet living after the time of Jesus be so misinformed about the identity of God’s Messiah?

Christians must remember that most Muslims misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity, so explanations are in order about Christian affirmation of God’s oneness. We must also admit that the teaching of three persons in one God is a mystery. However, Muslims need to realize that Christian affirmation of the Trinity is rooted in New Testament teaching and that all early Christians held to the divinity of Jesus. In these early periods Jesus is often identified using the titles of Yahweh, for example, and he is even addressed at times as “God” (see Murray Harris, Jesus as God [Baker, 1998]).

The Historicity of Jesus’ Crucifixion

The Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross is further illustration that Muhammad had no real sense of what constitutes the heart of Christianity. The Islamic notion that Jesus was replaced on the cross by Judas (or some other figure) shows complete disregard for the Gospel records and for ancient historical testimony about his death. Muslims are forced to deny the crucifixion on the basis of a few Qur’anic verses (4:156-159) in a book written six hundred years after the death of Jesus, while denying many passages that attest to his death in books written within a few decades of the events.

The Credibility of Claims about the Qur’an

On a broader level, Christians must remain extremely sceptical about the Qur’an, given its frequent distortion of biblical stories and teachings, not simply in relation to Jesus, but also relating to the whole range of scriptural data. Muhammad’s knowledge of the Bible derived from his minimal contacts with Jews and Christians of his day and their reliance on extra-biblical traditions about the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

Though the Qur’an contains many teachings in harmony with Christian faith and with Old Testament tradition, it is difficult to believe that it is a product of direct dictation from God, given its lack of order, its redundancy, and its increasing mean-spiritedness. It proves itself to be largely a product of Muhammad’s thirst for prophetic status and unquestioned authority, especially in light of his growing use of the sword as a defence for his divine calling.

The Life of Muhammad

Christians must also express serious reservations about the prophet Muhammad, especially in contrast to the Person of Jesus Christ. This does not demand treating Muhammad as if he were the embodiment of evil. However, Muhammad’s life reads more like that of Moses or David, as if we were taken back to the wars of the Old Testament. This is not that surprising given that the Arabia of Muhammad’s day was a land of tribal warfare.

To be more specific, the Christian tradition has always had enormous difficulty with the following aspects of Muhammad’s life: (a) episodes of extreme brutality both in war and in dealing with some of his enemies, (b) his lack of tolerance toward critics and those who chose not to follow Islam, (c) his adoption of polygamy and arrogance toward his wives, especially in the use of his prophetic status to crush dissent, (d) the consummation of his marriage to Aisha when she was only nine, (e) his marriage to Zaynab, his stepson’s wife, while the stepson was still alive.

Here it is important to give a word of caution. Most Muslims find it very offensive to hear or read criticism of their prophet. Obviously these points of concern about Muhammad must be presented in the right way at the right time. This is not about minimizing free speech but about maximizing wise use of knowledge.

The Nature of Salvation

Christians must also reject central elements in the Islamic understanding of salvation. Islam has little concept of the New Testament doctrines of salvation by faith alone and grace alone, apart from the works of the law. Islam’s emphasis on law and obedience leads to uncertainty about assurance of salvation. As well, the Qur’an puts such an emphasis on the sovereignty of Allah’s will in salvation that the ordinary Muslim is often unsure of his/her eternal destiny.

The Place of Women

The Islamic treatment of women must remain a matter of concern for Christians. Though Christian tradition has often abused women, this is no ground for ignoring the contemporary plight of women in many Muslim countries. Generally, Muslim women in non-Western countries have little access to the freedoms taken for granted by Muslim females in the West. This is illustrated, for example, in the 2009 Globe and Mail interviews of Muslim women in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Of course, concerns about mistreatment of women in various Muslim countries should be matched by recognition of the ways that Western hedonism treats women as sexual objects.

The Lack of Recognition of Human Rights

In a related vein, the overall lack of human rights and freedom under Islam must also continue to be the object of Christian critique. This applies to the issue of death for apostates under all schools of Islamic law. As well, Muslim repression of non-Muslims, in one form or another, has been a constant reality in Muslim history. This is not saying that Muslim leaders usually forced Jews or Christians to become Muslims. Rather, Jews and Christians were generally treated as second-class citizens under Islamic caliphs and empires. For a study on Islamic expansionism, see Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism (Yale, 2006).

Related to this, Muslims have a distorted memory when it comes to the issue of the Crusades. They have every right to object to the wicked aspects of the Crusades carried about by the church against Islam. However, the early Islamic empires were built on a Crusade model, as Islamic armies overthrew Christian and Jewish peoples across North Africa, Palestine, and southern Europe. This imperialist model continued in later centuries, under warriors like Saladin. For the most significant recent study of the Crusades, see Christopher Tyerman, God’s War (Harvard, 2007).

As in the time of the Crusades, relations today between Muslims and Christians are marred by the realities of war and the terrorist threat. The Palestinian-Israel conflict also looms large in Christian-Muslim relations. On December 3, Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV ran a sermon which implored: “Allah, strike the Jews and their sympathizers, the Christians and their supporters. Allah, count them and kill them to the last one, and don’t leave even one.” Such Muslim provocations are real and relatively common.

However, they must not be interpreted to suggest that all Muslims condone such violence and hatred. This is seen most clearly in the declaration A Common Word between Us and You, issued by 138 prominent Muslim leaders in 2007. It appeals for greater Christian-Muslim dedication to peace. “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.” Christian leaders at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture responded graciously with a document titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together.”

A Light to the Muslim World

Greater peace between Muslims and Christians will provide a new opportunity for Christians to present Muslims with a better understanding of the person, work, and teachings of Jesus. Assume for a moment that Islam granted total freedom to other religions, that its record on women’s rights was exceptional, and that Muhammad was the epitome of gentleness, humility, and love. Even making these assumptions, Muslims still need to be aware of the proper identity of Jesus, the reality of his death and resurrection, and the path of salvation. For these reasons alone, it is the Christian’s duty to witness in love to the Muslim world.

Resources on Islam


  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (New York: Free Press, 2007).
  • Paul M. Barrett, American Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).
  • Bruce Bawer, Surrender (New York: Doubleday, 2009).
  • James A. Beverley, Christ and Islam (Joplin: College Press, 2001, 2nd ed.).
  • ________. Islamic Faith in America (New York: Facts on File, 2011, 2nd ed.).
  • ________. Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions (Nashville: Nelson, 2009).
  • Gary Bunt, iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
  • George W. Braswell Jr., Islam (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996).
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2005).
  • ________. Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic (Princeton: Darwin Press, 2002).
  • Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1985).
  • John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? (New York: Oxford, 2008).
  • ________ and Ibrahim Kalin, eds. The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World (Amman: Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, 2009).
  • Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Los Angeles: University of California, 2011).
  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization (New York: Knopf, 2005).
  • Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleed, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).
  • Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
  • Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
  • Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers in the Sand (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001).
  • Charles Kurzman, ed. Liberal Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  • Hans Küng, Islam (London: Oneworld, 2007).
  • Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford, 1993).
  • Rick Love, Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God (Pasadena: William Carey, 2001).
  • Irshad Manji, The Trouble with Islam Today (New York: Vintage, 2005).
  • Paul Marshall, ed., Religious Freedom in the World (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000).
  • Jane Dammen McAuliffe, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  • V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers (London: Penguin, 1982).
  • Seyyed Nasr, ed., Islamic Spirituality: Manifestations (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1991).
  • Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival (New York: Norton, 2006).
  • Michael Oren, Power, Faith and Fantasy (New York: Norton, 2007).
  • Melanie Phillips, Londonistan (New York: Encounter, 2006).
  • Fazlur Rahman, Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).
  • Andrew Rippin, Muslims (London: Routledge, 2000).
  • Reinhard Schulze, A Modern History of the Islamic World (New York: New York University Press, 2000).
  • Mark Sedgwick, Islam and Muslims (Boston: Intercultural Press, 2006).
  • _____ Sufism: The Essentials (Cairo: AUC Press, 2003).
  • Jane I. Smith, Islam in America (West Sussex: Columbia, 1999).
  • Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Washington: Regnery, 2005)
  • Christopher Tyerman, God’s War: A New History of the Crusades (Cambridge: Harvard, 2006).
  • Josef Van Ess, The Flowering of Muslim Theology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).
  • Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim (Amherst: Prometheus, 1995).


  • Clinton Bennett, In Search of Muhammad (London: Continuum, 1998).
  • Michael Cook, Muhammad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).
  • Martin Lings, Muhammad (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1983).
  • Harald Motzki, ed. The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources (Boston: E.J. Brill, 2000).
  • F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam (Herndon: State University of New York Press, 1994).
  • Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, trans. Anne Carter (London: Penguin, 1976).
  • Uri Rubin, ed. The Life of Muhammad (London: Ashgate, 1998).
  • Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985).
  • Robert Spencer, The Truth about Muhammad (Washington: Regnery, 2006).
  • W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961).

Women and Islam

  • Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire (London: Penguin, 1996).
  • Ergun Caner, ed. Voices Behind the Veil (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003).
  • Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey (New York: Anchor, 1998).
  • Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor (New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 1994).
  • Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1991).
  • Anne Sofie Roald, Women in Islam (London: Routledge, 2001).

Israel and the Palestinian issue

  • Mitchell Bard, Myths and Facts (Chevy Chase, MD: AICE, 2002).
  • Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1989).
  • David Grossman, The Yellow Wind (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1988).
  • Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History (Portland: Frank Cass, 2000, rev. ed.).
  • Efraim & Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
  • Walter Laqueur & Barry Rubin, eds. The Israel-Arab Reader (New York: Penguin, 2001).
  • Benny Morris, Righteous Victims (New York: Vintage, 2001).
  • Michael Oren, Six Days of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006).
  • Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds. The War for Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).
  • Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete (New York: Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2000).
  • Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001).

Jihad, Terrorism, Middle East, and the West

  • Peter L. Bergen, Holy War Inc. (New York: Free Press, 2001).
  • Michael Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  • Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam (New York: Penguin, 2006).
  • David Cole, The Torture Memos (New York: The New Press, 2009).
  • Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (New York: Penguin, 2004).
  • _____, The Bin Ladens (New York: Penguin, 2008).
  • Steven Emerson, Jihad Incorporated (Amherst: Prometheus, 2006).
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, My Year Inside Radical Islam (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2007).
  • Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, rev. ed.).
  • Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama bin Laden (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
  • John Kelsay, Arguing the Just War in Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007).
  • Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli, eds. Al Qaeda in its Own Words, trans. Pascale Ghazaleh (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).
  • Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993).
  • Monte and Princess Palmer, At the Heart of Terror: Islam, Jihadists, and America’s War on Terrorism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).
  • Walid Phares, The Confrontation (Basingstoke: Macmillan Palgrave, 2008).
  • Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).
  • Ahmed Rashid, Taliban (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
  • _____, Descent into Chaos (New York: Viking, 2008).
  • Thomas Ricks, Fiasco (New York: Penguin, 2006).
  • Michael Scheuer, Marching toward Hell (New York: Free Press, 2008).
  • Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam (New York: Doubleday, 2002).
  • Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God (New York: Harper, 2004).
  • Bob Woodward, State of Denial (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
  • Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (New York: Knopf, 2006).

Internet Resources

Christian Sites
Academic Sites
Muslim Sites
Israel-Palestinian Conflict
Ex-Muslim Sites
Terrorism/Militant Islam
CD Christian Resource
  • The World of Islam 2.0 (GMI) www.gmi.org
  • Features major work by Dudley Woodberry, a scholar at Fuller Seminary


  1. ali

    Thank you for a wonderful work.

  2. Sam

    good work, i like it.


  3. Mark Bezanson

    Thanks, Dr. Beverley,
    The analysis and comparison of Islam to Christianity was quite strong and honest. I just wonder what is drawing so many people to Islam? Is this a matter of cultural conversion, or conversion to the authoritarian way, or a counter-culture movement to find certainty in the face of post-modernity? Not sure what is happening.

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