Who are Muslims?
The Importance of Arabia in History and God’s Plan
Story 1099 words = 7 minutes
Islamic Lesson 1387 words = 9 minutes
Bible Lesson 2371 words = 14 minutes
Questions 6 questions = 30 minutes
Gui Chen buried his head in his hand and closed his eyes. For the last two weeks he had kept a smile on his face even though his heart was heavy. Now that he was alone, tears welled up in his eyes as emotions swept through his body. His mind flashed back to the events of the past year.
The people in his church back home in China had been proud to send him to the mission field. His wife Mei and his son Huan had stood proudly by his side as the pastors prayed for him. Everyone had given willingly and sacrificially so that they had the money they needed to travel to Central Asia.
Their first months in the capital city had been stressful, but they had also been good times. They met with other missionaries, lived in a small apartment and studied the local language. During that time they had been praying that God would provide a way for them to get a more permanent visa. They had received letters from home. Everyone was praying that God would give them a means of employment that would provide a visa so they could stay and minister.
And then they met Mr. Ruslan. Actually it seemed that Mr. Ruslan met them. Gui thought about their first meeting at a local market. Mr. Ruslan had seemed very interested in him and had wanted to meet his wife and son. He had been very warm and had invited them to his home. After two visits, Mr. Ruslan had offered Gui a job. It seemed like God was leading them forward.
Mr. Ruslan told them of a shop he owned near an industrial area. The shopkeeper had left and he was looking for someone to manage the store for him. Mr. Ruslan had gone on to talk about the store in glowing terms: it was the only for several thousand people. It was well stocked, and even had an apartment attached to it. Yes, it was a cosy apartment, but it was a perfect setup for the right person. When Gui had expressed interest, Mr. Ruslan explained that the store manager needed to live in the apartment and sell goods. Half of the profits would belong to the manager and half of them would be sent back to Mr. Ruslan.
Mr. Ruslan had explained that he had good connections in the government, and that it would be easy for him to get the needed visa and permits. He would be happy to arrange everything.
After a time of prayer with some of the other missionaries, Gui had accepted Mr. Ruslan’s proposition and had given him their passports. That was the last time he saw them. Whenever he had asked about them afterwards, Mr. Ruslan had explained that they were at a government office, or some other location. But that had been after that fateful day when Alibek, Mr. Ruslan’s skinny employee had taken them to the store. The events of that day were clear in Gui’s mind.
Gui’s first impression was that the area seemed very run-down. The store matched the dilapidated condition of everything around them. They had stood in the doorway of the small shop and stared in disbelief and shock. Suddenly Gui knew he had been taken advantage of. His instinct was to try and block the doorway so that his wife Mei and his son Huan could not see inside, but it was too late. Huan twisted himself through the door and made a face.
“What is this? It’s not much of a store.”
“It’s a wonderful store,” replied the skinny man with the white skull cap. “Mr. Ruslan is doing you a fine favour by letting you run this business for him. This is an excellent business. There are no other stores this side of the factory. Many people do their shopping here.”
“But where will we live?” Mei asked, looking between her husband and the skinny man that she didn’t trust.
“Oh, we have a fine apartment for you here at the back of the store” the man as he pushed aside a dirty curtain. With a crooked smile he welcomed them to their new home. It was a very small room with a door leading to a small cooking area. The toilet was reached by going into the alley outside.
As Gui stared bleakly around him his wife Mei suddenly realized the predicament her husband was in. She turned to speak to Alibek but he had stepped outside and was unloading their suitcases onto the sidewalk. As soon as they appeared he smiled crookedly and jumped into the vehicle. “I’ll be back in a couple of days to check on you,” he shouted as the vehicle roared to life.
As her husband stood forlornly, Mei realized that now was the time to act. “Huan, help me with the cases. Let’s get them inside and then we can clean our apartment before we unpack.” Gui had done his best to help, but his heart was very sad. After cleaning the back rooms, Mei found some tins of fish and some rice. They ate in silence. Then Mei turned her attention to the store. Gui was grateful for his wife’s energy. She seemed to know just what needed doing. As they cleaned each shelf, Huan wrote down what goods were there. As nightfall came they had inventoried everything in the small shop, and the place was looking much cleaner.
“With a little pain” Mei sighed “I think this place could look much better.”
Gui waited until Huan was out of earshot. “But we cannot stay here. This is not what we expected.”
“It’s what God has provided,” Mei answered.
Gui was usually pleased when his wife thought of spiritual things, but now her answer grated against his feelings. “I think this is a mistake. I don’t think that God provided this. I think Mr. Ruslan is cheating us.”
Mei looked at him. “We won’t know that until we’ve been here a while. We must make the best of it.” Mei smiled. “Think of Huan, we don’t want to burden him with this right now.” Gui nodded, not so much because he agreed, but because whenever his wife smiled and looked deep into his eyes he could never say ‘no.’ “Besides” his wife added, “we prayed that God would give us a place to life and work in the middle of a Muslim neighbourhood, and here we are. We can be thankful for that.”
Every day, five times a day, almost a billion Muslims bow down and recite a prayer to Allah, given to them by Muhammad, their prophet.
Every day, five times a day, they face a black rock in far off Mecca, and submit themselves afresh to the religion of Islam.
Every day, five times a day, they bow as a corporate group, all around the world, to express their solidarity as followers of Islam, for whom Mohammad is their prophet, and the Qur’an is their scriptures.
And every day, their numbers grow.
Islam is now considered by some to be the greatest challenge that the Christian church is facing all around the world. Next to evangelicals, no other religious group is growing at such a rapid rate. Not only is the population of Muslim countries expanding, fervent Muslims are sharing their message all around the world. Most cities in the world now have a mosque or Muslim place of prayer. While many Christians feel inhibited about sharing their faith, Muslims are often bold and excited. As a community, they reach out to those around them, offering support and encouragement to those that need it. In a time when the west is struggling with broken families and sexual immorality, Muslims uphold their strict code of conduct as an example of what true religion should be. Unfortunately, the number of Muslims in the west is growing as well.
Even China has its Muslim groups. The first Muslims arrived in China only a few years after the death of the prophet Muhammad. Since then Muslim merchants have spread their religion and founded communities along China’s coasts and along the Silk Road trade route through Central Asia.
Sometimes it is hard for us to grasp just how large and important the Muslims are. Unlike many other people who have a Christian church among them, there are millions of Muslims who have no Christians near them. Many Muslims have never met a Christian. Most have never seen a Bible. Many will pass into eternity having never heard the gospel, simply because no one cared enough to go and tell them.
On the other hand, most Christians have never reached out to Muslims. Most Christians have no idea what Muslims believe and how they are different from Christians.
That is where this course will help. It is designed for Christians everywhere, who want to become more aware of Muslim and the specific needs and opportunities that exist when ministering to Muslims.
This course is the first of three courses aimed at helping Christians reach out to Muslims. Each course has a very specific aim and purpose. Course one introduces the students to the religion of Islam. Course two highlights some of the struggles that exist when ministering to Muslims and Course three trains the student in using several bible-based tools that have proven effective when ministering to Muslims.
We trust that God will use these courses to inform and prepare Christians as they reach out to Muslim people everywhere.
The land of Arabia is a vast place with rocky plains, rugged mountains, burning deserts, and huge sand dunes; few rivers and virtually unknown to the outside world until recent years.
Three great deserts exist in Arabia. All of them are barren waste lands where very little lives.
The Syrian Desert is in the north
The Nafud Desert is in the interior
And the Empty Quarter is in the south east
Each of these deserts consists of extremely hot, dry, barren, rocky and sandy parts where nothing lives. Each of these deserts is impassible, except by the few nomads who live in central Arabia.
1. The Syrian Desert in the north is a flat plain covered with sand and pebbles. Travelers as early as Abraham would journey around it rather than try and pass through it.
2. The Nafud Desert in the center of Arabia alternates between fields of rock and fields of sand. It is known to some of the Arabs as “God’s Anvil” It’s particularly harsh environment makes it a place that even nomads avoid if possible. From above it appears as rivers of sand flowing through rivers of rock.
3. The Empty Quarter in the south of Arabia is filled with great mountains of sand known as sand dunes. It is known as the Empty Quarter because it is just that, empty, and avoided by nomads because it is almost impossible to pass through let alone live in.
Along the west side of Arabia are mountains, which are great piles of silent rock surrounded by a sea of desert. Blistering hot during the day, and bitterly cold during the night, their narrow valleys are home to some green plants and wild life.
And yet, in the desert there is some life. Rain visits these deserts several times a year. Most of the rain is quickly absorbed into the sand, but sometimes there is enough water to encourage plants to rise, flower, produce seed and then die. Sometimes there is enough water to provide patches of green for a few weeks. After it rains, some of the rain water collects in rocky areas and valleys. The places where the water collects and life can exist are called oasis. Sometimes the water source is surrounded by small bushes; sometimes there is a grove of trees. Huddled around these oases are often small groups of Bedouin tents, the nomads of the desert.
Bedouin nomads carefully watch the sky for indications of a burst of rain. The location is carefully noted as several weeks later they will visit this location with their small herds of sheep and goats, hopeful to find green grass and bushes.
The camel is the Bedouin’s key to life the desert. Its soft padded feet and the capacity for storing fat in its hump have made the camel capable of drinking water only every three days. The Bedouin love the camel, and much of their diet is based around products produced from the milk of camels. So, using the camel as their chief mode of transport and a source of food, Bedouin have moved across the deserts of Arabia for many centuries.
Arabia connects three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. This land mass should have acted as a bridge between continents. But history has proven otherwise. For many centuries, Arabia was a barrier between the great continents and their civilizations. Its vast deserts proved to be the graveyard of many armies. And so the deserts separated man. On all sides civilizations rose and fell, many of them unaware of the other’s presence.
For thousands of years these deserts were only traversed by Arab merchants and their camel caravans. It was these merchants who conquered the deserts. For them the desert was a place of refuge and safety where they could travel in relative freedom - from one civilization to another. On all sides of the desert the merchants were welcomed for they brought goods from other places, and more importantly they brought news, ideas and knowledge.
In their own quiet way these desert merchants wielded immense power. Being the only contact between civilizations, the news they brought influenced world leaders, be it truth or lies.
And so it is even today. Arabia continues to play an important role in world events. Be it trade, oil, or the Islamic religion, Arabia is a key to many major events in the world.
And yet Arabia continues to be unknown. Its history is obscure, its regions un-traveled, its culture misunderstood, and its importance in world history ignored by the historians of the great nations that surround it.
Christians, Jews and others focus their attention on the nation of Israel. Israeli history is studied and expounded on in most universities around the world. Jewish history and religion is studied and expounded on by countless millions of pastors, theologians and interested Christians. Egyptian and Babylonian history is carefully studied. But few people know anything about the history of Arabia, and how Arabia influenced and shaped the events in the Bible, and even world history.
How much do you know about Arabian history? If you answer, “not much” you are like most people. However, we trust that by the end of this course, Arabia, its history, people, and religions will be much more familiar to you.
The Founding of the Nations (Genesis 10 & 25)
The history of Arabia goes back to the very earliest of time. All peoples of the world are descendants of Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. The descendants of these three sons spread out over the whole world. In time, different languages, cultures, worldviews, and even skin color would vary, but all human beings are linked together through the three sons of Noah.
The book of Genesis provides us with a history of how the nations developed from these three sons. You can find this information in Genesis chapter 10, and you can discover much from this chapter..
The sons of Japheth moved east into Asia, inhabiting India and the nations beyond.
The sons of Ham originally moved into northern Arabia and then migrated into Egypt, Ethiopia and eventually Africa.
The sons of Shem lived in the Middle East and later in Europe.
Genesis chapter 10 contains many names of people who were the fathers of other people, who were the fathers of other people. While some may find this information very boring, it is vitally important to historians and to the Arabs in particular. Nothing is in the Bible by mistake. Everything is there by God's design, and is useful to teach us things.
A reconstruction of Genesis 10 provides us with some fascinating information. It shows us that Shem’s line continued through Salah and Eber until Joktan. The sons of Joktan listed in Genesis 10 became the tribes that settled in southern Arabia or present day Yemen.
If you visit the Middle East you will find that the old tribal historians and poets can recite their tribal lineage all the way back to Noah and from there to Adam. The tribes in Yemen all trace their histories back to Joktan who they call “Yahtan” the descendant of Shem, the son of Noah. This explains why the people of Yemen had a very distinct culture and a very distinct language until the coming of Islam, which forced the Arabic language and culture on everyone.
In Genesis ten the descendants of Shem continue on through Peleg until we come to Terah. Terah was the father of Abraham.
Genesis 11:27-30 tells us about Terah.
This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot.
While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.
The Bible continues on to tell us of Terah who took his family and moved away from the great city of Ur to the land of Haran.
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and he died in Haran. v31-32
The whole purpose of Genesis chapter 10 is to show the reader how the tribes and peoples of the Middle East are related. Terah’s sons and grandsons all became the fathers of great nations.
From Haran’s son Lot – there came the nations of Moab and Ammon.
From Nahor’s sons - came the Buzzites and the Syrians and other Middle Eastern people.
From Abraham came many nations.
Abraham’s first son, Ishmael was the father of many Arabian tribes.
Abraham’s second son Isaac was the father of the Israelites, the Edomites, the Temanites and the Amalekites.
Another of Abraham’s sons, Midian, was the father of the Midianites.
So from this we can see that the following tribes were all closely related, finding their roots in Terah.
This is very important to realize as you read the Old Testament. Originally all these tribes spoke the same language, and related together as cousin tribes. Early on in their existence there must have been alliances and support for one another. This affected history as we shall see a bit later.
Names are important to God. In some cases God changed people’s names to new names to demonstrate their importance. This is important to us because it alerts us to the fact that these are very important people in the Bible.
While God changed the names of several people in the Bible, God gave names to four people before they were born. Four and only four were specifically named by God before they were born. Others had their names changed later, but four very important people were named before they were born. Can you list them? (pause)
Two of them are in the New Testament. Do you know these two? (pause)
If you are thinking: Jesus … Very good. Jesus was the promised messiah. He was the son of promise, and so God named him before he was born. Who was the second? (pause)
If you are thinking: John the Baptist… very good! The angel announced before he was born what his name would be. Why did God choose John the Baptist? Why this man who would wear hairy clothing and live in the wild? The Bible tells us that this wild looking man was the fore-runner of Jesus.
Now, do you know the two people in the Old Testament who were named before they were born? (pause)
If you are thinking Isaac, you are right. In Genesis 17 God told Abraham to name the promised child, Isaac. This made Isaac the son of promise. (pause)
But who is the other person in the Old Testament that God named before he was born? Do you need a hint? He was born before Isaac. (pause)
If you are thinking of Ishmael, then you are right. In Genesis 16:11 the angel of the Lord tells Hagar ‘that his name will be Ishmael,’ even before he is born. And, the angel adds, ‘he will be a wild man living in the desert.’
Imagine this, the fore-runner of the son of promise is a wild-looking man: both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
Why did God name these four before they were born? Two in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament. It would seem that from God’s perspective, they are the four most important people in the Bible. The second most important people like Abraham, Jacob, Paul and others had their names changed, but they were not named before they were born.
Out of the four who were named before they were born, Christians know the most about three of them. John the Baptist was the fore-runner for Jesus. His ministry prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is the promised messiah and he is the central figure in the Bible, so we understand his name being announced before he was born. Isaac was the son of promise to Abraham. It was from Isaac that the Children of Israel would come. These three names we understand, but why Ishmael?
How much to you know about Ishmael?
How many sons did he have?
Who were they?
Where did they live?
Most Christians have never considered that Ishmael had 12 sons, all of them the fathers of tribes and nations. You will find their names listed in Genesis 25:12-18. The names of these tribes re-appear in many other places in scripture.
These tribes settled in northern Arabia. So the descendants of Johtan lived in Southern Arabia while the descendants of Ishmael lived in northern Arabia.
The 12 sons of Ishmael, their history and present locations
The 12 sons of Ishmael are listed in Genesis 25
“Now these are the generations of Ishmael, ... The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebayoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedmah. These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns and by their encampments; twelve princes according to their nations.” Genesis 25:12-16
It was these 12 tribes that settled in northern Arabia. There are still towns and areas that bear their names today. These 12 tribes of Ishmael are the origins of many of the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and the Gulf countries on the east side of Arabia.
Most of these tribes are only mentioned a few times in history, but the tribes that descended from the two eldest sons of Ishmael are mentioned over and over again. Nebayoth and Kedar became the major tribes in Northern Arabia. The black tents of Kedar were known from Iraq to Israel, and they are mentioned in many places in the Old Testament.
The Nabayoth became the desert merchants who moved goods from one end of Arabia to the other. It was from this tribe that Muhammad the founder of Islam would eventually emerge.
In the beginning, the sons of Ishmael all worshiped the Lord Jehovah, the God of Abraham. We understand this from the angel’s message to Hagar in Genesis 16:10 – 15
The angel said to Hagar, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.
Hagar received a promise that was very similar to Abraham’s. The angel promised Hagar that her children would also greatly multiply. In doing so, this slave woman received a promise that was very similar to the one that Abraham received. The big difference was that there was a covenant with Abraham and a promise that God would blessing the whole world through his line. When Hagar received God’s promise she acknowledged God as her Lord, and the one who saw her and watched over her. Ishmael would have grown up following God. However, after many generations worship of Jehovah, the one true God, grew distant in their minds, and they began to adopt the gods of the people around them.
This happened in several places in the Bible. Look at I Chronicles 1:28 – 41. This list begins with the children of Ishmael. It then goes on to tell us about the sons of Esau and those that ruled over Edom. Verse 49 tells us that the seventh ruler of Edom was named Baal-hanan. His name included the name of Baal, a pagan deity. This demonstrates how even the sons of Esau gradually moved away from worshiping Jehovah God, and eventually followed other gods. The descendants of Ishmael also did the same.