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Exploring Islam 07

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Exploring Islam

7. Variety In Islam

Today we are going to look at the variety found within Islam. We can at times be tempted to think that all Muslims are alike, but as we shall see there is great diversity in the categories of Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi and Folk Islam.

Sunni and Shi’a

After Muhammad had died and the difficult process started for the people to decide a new leader the seeds of division formed which would remain in the form of Sunni and Shi’a groups. Some believers, the majority at that time, believed that a new leader could and should be chosen from the close companions of the prophet by the majority consent of the Muslim community.

As a result the Islamic empire remained superficially unified through four successive caliphs, or leaders, before this underlying disagreement took a more direct and violent turn. Through many battles the minority group who always contested that Muhammad’s successor must be from the prophet’s own blood line took arms against the majority. They never succeeded in overthrowing the empire, but instead strove forward as a distinct group who broke away from the rest.

Within Shi’ism the first genuine successor was Al-Husain the grandson of the prophet and who was brutally killed on the battle field against the Sunni in one of the final confrontations. This is commemorated each year and if you type ‘Shi’a’ into most search engines the images at the top will be of bloody processions of remembrance in Iran.

With the dismissal of the previous caliphs came the equal rejection of many Islamic traditions, Hadiths and parts of Sharia law which were instigated by them. Instead of successors being chosen by the people, Shi’ism believed that the rightful successor who had Muhammad’s blood in them also shared some mystical connection with the prophet, and hence it is only them who had the authority to lead and make choices.

In a way these subsequent leaders of the minority Islamic sect had moved on from a political successor, which is all that Sunni had, into a combined spiritual and political figurehead. Shi’a Muslims remain a minority in the world today and are found mostly in Iran, but also elsewhere. The two groups seemed to have accepted themselves, but equally on the ground there can be much animosity.

Because of the different theological foundations in Shi’ism, some of their practices are different to Sunni. Instead of praying five times a day they only do it three times. When they pray they include a stone, clay, or wooden tablet which they bow and place their head on, this is sourced from one of their different Hadiths. Because of these differences it is common for Shi’a believers to attend separate Mosques.

Sufism

Sufism is not a separate sect of Islam like Sunni or Shi’a, but instead followers can reside in either camp. The difference between them and non-Sufi lie in their awareness and specific beliefs around the nature of Allah and humanity’s ability to commune with him. For non-Sufi orthodox believers Allah is so vastly different and superior to humanity there can never be any kind of relationship or meeting between the two.

Even when in Paradise after death you are not with Allah who continues to reside elsewhere. Allah would not desire it to be otherwise, for example the Qur’an describes his disgust at the concept of him becoming a man as the Christians claim of Jesus. But for Sufis they yearned for a more otherworldly experience of Allah.

 This is achieved through specific methods of prayer and meditation under the guidance of a Sufi master or teacher. They tend to emphasise the love of Allah over any other characteristic, and believe that through these activities it is possible, even if very difficult, to draw closer on a spiritual level and experience union with Allah.

This might all sound rather strange and unusual, but it is not a far cry from Eastern Orthodox Christianity’s practices and beliefs, and indeed when I pray as a Western Protestant I desire to draw close to God in some tangible way.

Folk Islam

Similar to Sufism, Folk Islam can exist within either Sunni or Shi’a groups, but primarily it is found in the former. It can equally be referred to as Popular Islam and is the combination of orthodox beliefs and practices with additional non-Islamic concepts. This is not unusual and all world religions have faced the threat of outside influences sometimes conceding ground.

One of the major concerns for people is that of sickness, death and what is to come afterwards. In times where normal medical treatment fails and orthodox Islamic belief would only provide the comfort of Allah’s predetermined and unknown will, a desire to have some influence in the situation led to the acceptance of some pre-existing religious beliefs.

For the most part these additions can be centred on the role of a shaman or wise man who is gifted with the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Through this intercession and in combination with certain practices a person may be able to positively impact their difficult situation. In conjunction with this are the two opposing concepts of positive blessing versus the evil eye.

Some people, objects, locations or things are more blessed and lucky than others. Fridays are always like this and so many important business meetings or personal choices are purposefully delayed if possible to this day of the week. The evil eye on the other hand is seen as a strong negative force or spirit which resides within each person from birth. Its role is to undermine the faith and religious commitment of the believer. This is commonly seen through the act of envy and it is common in parts of Africa for newborn babies to remain within the house for as long as possible so no one is able to invoke the evil eye onto them.

What we have covered here is only a taster into the different expressions of Islam around the world today. But I hope that it has helped to expand our appreciation that what aspects we normally see in the media does not properly represent the overall diverse picture.

 

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Part 2 - Beliefs and teachings

Already we have seen how the movement began and also we have noted sadly how the founder Charles Russell moved away from the Orthodox Christian Faith which he learned from His father and mother who were Congregationalists.
When confronted concerning one particular doctrine, eternal punishent,  he found himself floundering in his own beliefs and succumbed to unbelief and began to form a new set of teachings after his own likings.
Later we found similarly the Movement did not like using the King James Authorised Bible as it differed from their thinking in certain areas of doctrine so they composed their own Bible: "The New World Translation". They did this supposing they had more knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew than those fully trained who had brought the King James Authorised into being. So when you begin in this way is it surprising when they go even further astray as we shall see in today's study.
Recently I put a question to four Witnesses to give you an idea of their thinking. I asked "If you were visiting a home where someone was very unwell in fact dying and only had a short time to live what would be the most important Bible Truth to share with them?
One said "Well I would turn them to Isaiah where we read that Jehovah is the name of God." "Interesting" I replied. The second man who was also an elder (teacher) within the ranks of Jehovah Witnesses had little to say. The new trainees with them both said "Its a good question , what is the one you would share with them?"
Now remember this person is shortly leaving this world and he needs to be prepared for eternity. I went to the story of the conversion of the Philippian Jailer and when he asked Saul and Silas "What must I do to be saved ?" received a straight answer" Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31;) The result? That same night not only the jailer but his whole family were saved and baptised having taken the short step in faith and obeyed the Scriptures way of salvation.
I am convinced the only faith the witnesses had that I spoke to were trusting in the fact they belonged to an organisation who alone profess to hold the truth and being equipped to understand and teach the Bible. However if you ask them if they have an assurance of hope in eternal l life they will reveal they do not have it.

What do Jehovah Witnesses believe?

1. First they tell us they are the only organisation that are directed by God's Spirit
To them alone they say God reveals His sacred truth. They are equipped with apparent gifted evangelists, shepherds and teachers. I quote..."There is no other organisation that is doing the divine will of God or is educating people for life everlasting." (from the Watchtower..1st July 1973 pp 402, 404 , 406) How gifted were they to help a man who was dying to show him the way to heaven? Why didn't John 14:6; come to mind easily? It is so clear isn't it? Jesus said "I am the way the truth and the life no man comes to the Father but by Me"
2. Secondly they tell us the Bible is of no private interpretation . "The Bible is an organisation book. It belongs to the organisation not to individuals regardless how sincere they believe they cannot interpret the Bible without the aid of Watchtower notes." (W.T. 1st October 1967, page 587)
So whatever we say to them about what the Bible says, because it is someone telling them outside of their own organisation they will not receive it but close their ears even if we quote directly from the Bible they are conditioned not to take it in.
3. Thirdly you must join the organisation in order to receive salvation. "Any person who wants to survive into God's righteous new order urgently needs to come into the right relationship with Jehovah and his earthly organisation now." (W.T. 15th November 1981 pp16-17)
So what they are saying is whatever church you belong to , whatever faith you say you have in God's Word and its teachings and promises, whatever experience you have of The Holy Spirit working in your lifer it is of no good to you unless you join the Jehovah Witness organisation.
4. Finally in ending this lesson just listen to what they say about their organisation and to the marks of an organisation which they say is true to God. They are saying " we fulfil all these requirements." Here are their seven principles Think carefully as you read or listen and see if you can believe they do keep to those principles.

  • (a) Exalt Jehovah as the True God
  • (b) Recognise Jesus vital role in Jehovah's purposes.
  • (c) Adhere closely to God's Word.
  • (d) Keep separate from the world
  • (e) Maintain a high level of moral cleanliness.
  • (f) Preach the Good News.
  • (g) Cultivate the fruits of The Spirit (Life)

5. Anyone who rejects their organisation having once begun in it is in fact shunning God. Such people will be shunned by all other Jehovah witnesses and will not receive the reward of eternal life (W.T. September 15th 1981 pp25,29). Next time we shall see "Why no one is allowed to question Watchtower policy. " and what The Bible has to say about that!!

  • Do they really exalt Jehovah as The One True God?
  • Do they really recognise Jesus vital crucial role in the purpose of Jehovah to save his people from their sins?
  • Do they really adhere closely to God's Word or only the words they have included to justify their own teachings. Doesn't the Bible warn people about tampering with His Word and either adding or subtracting from it?
  • Do they preach the Good News as found in Romans 1:16; where Paul the Apostle writes "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is God's power working unto salvation (for deliverance from eternal death) to everyone who believes with a personal trust and a confident surrender and firm reliance, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Amplified Version)

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POD - Psalm 93

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Psalm 93

 

93:1 Yahweh reigns! He is clothed with majesty!

Yahweh is armed with strength.

The world also is established. It can’t be moved.

93:2 Your throne is established from long ago.

You are from everlasting.

93:3 The floods have lifted up,

Yahweh, the floods have lifted up their voice.

The floods lift up their waves.

93:4 Above the voices of many waters,

the mighty breakers of the sea,

Yahweh on high is mighty.

93:5 Your statutes stand firm.

Holiness adorns your house, Yahweh, forevermore.

 

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Think Spot 20th November 2017

As part of our living as followers of Jesus, here is something which has the capability of affecting every person on the planet.

Jesus, our Master, said in Matthew 12:36-37 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Jesus took words and thoughts extremely seriously. Jesus’ words encouraged others gently towards paths of right living. He spoke words of love, kindness, rebuke, forgiveness, encouragement and blessing upon and to others. Jesus is to be our guide and Master in the use of thoughts and words.

In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus equates calling somebody a fool with the physical act of murder. Murder has its beginning in anger developing into uncontrollable rage. Improper attitudes, words and thoughts can lead you and I to sin if we don’t stop their destructive use quickly. May the words we communicate and think about, be like those of Jesus – “full of grace”. How is your WOW factor of Jesus now?

When Jesus Christ called you to follow Him, He called you to follow Him wholeheartedly and be committed to only Him. Jesus calls you and I, to love God and be totally committed to Him.

Here is a brief prayer to help us into the new week.

Father, help us this week to be totally committed to you in all aspects of our lives. May those we live with, work with and interact with, know we are your child by the words we speak. We ask this, through the mighty name of your Son, Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Exploring The Bible

40. Old Testament

Daniel - 605-536BC

 

G'day and welcome to our series, "Exploring the Bible" This is also the title of our latest book available on Amazon by clicking here or visiting PulpTheology.com

Key Verses:

  • Daniel 7:9-14
  • Daniel 12:1-3

 

Daniel preached in Babylon 605 - 536 BC bridging the entire 70-year exile in Babylonian captivity. He spoke for God to the Gentile and Jewish worlds to declare God’s present and eternal purpose.

Daniel used dreams and visions to show God’s guidance, intervention, and power in the affairs of men. His great vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man is much referred to in the New Testament.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 122 - Revelation 1:1–3

Jesus - when will it all happen?


We have an immediate problem with the question - when is it all going to happen? John starts straight off with “what must soon take place” and “the time is near”. The full quote is “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near”.

But here we are nearly 2000 years later and it still has not happened. If IT is the end of the age as we shall soon see that in John’s thinking it is, it has not happened. And, as you may well know, the idea that the return of Jesus to this world as a conquering king is a common idea throughout the New Testament writings and almost always expected ‘soon’.

On the other hand you will probably also be all too well aware that there are many people prepared to make forecasts of when it will all end. In the 1980s I heard a preacher who confidently predicted that Jesus would return within the next 12 months. Then I heard that our church had booked him to come and speak next year!!! That was all too much of an amusing story but the difficult part was that there was a lad in our church about to go to university who was asking what the point was if Jesus was coming so soon. That is the danger of such things said by irresponsible preachers who have never come to terms with Jesus saying “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark 13: 32.

Let me share my own vision of how this can be: as we progress through life we are moving along a long and comparatively narrow tunnel which is this world. Outside it, almost visible through the thin walls of the tunnel is the kingdom of God. In the far distance, showing as only a small blob of light is the end of the tunnel, which is the end of the world in which we are in. but the walls of the tunnel are so thin it is obvious that we could break out, or the kingdom could break in at any moment. Indeed one day we shall break out as we die and go to be with the Lord. Because of the thinness of the tunnel walls it is entirely reasonable to use words like ‘soon’ and ‘near’ for that moment of breakout. We think, but we do not know, that the end is the point of light so far away at the end of the tunnel

I hope that picture will help you.

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