What Is Islam: A Crash Course for Children (and Their Parents)

What is Islam

We live in a diverse world. Our world is full of people who look different from each other, who speak different languages, who dress in different ways, and who have varying beliefs about God and religion. While this is something to praise, it can present challenges for parents as they do their best to raise well-balanced children.

In all likelihood, you work with or live near people who do not share the same beliefs as you. In all likelihood, your children attend school (or participate in extracurricular activities) with children from families with different beliefs from theirs. So, as Christian parents, how do we navigate this?

How do we talk about faith differences in a world where relativism is praised? How do we talk about beliefs in a culture in which people are discouraged from doing anything that might offend someone else? How do we guide our children to speak to their friends when differing beliefs emerge?

One of the largest religions represented in the world is Islam. In an effort to equip parents with tools to talk about this religion with their children, I have prepared some child-friendly explanations of what Muslims believe, along with brief descriptions of some of the common practices of Islam. My hope and prayer is that you take time to learn a bit about Islam, that you teach your children the basics of Islam, and that in doing so you develop an understanding of what makes Christianity and Islam distinct from each other. I hope that you and your child develop a confidence in speaking about Jesus so that you can speak about him boldly (and gently) to anyone from any religion.

Crash Course in Islam 

What is Islam?: Islam is a religion. The word Islam means submission to (coming under the authority of) Allah (the god of Islam). People who are part of the religion of Islam are called Muslims. The point of Islam is to get everyone in the world to come under the authority of Allah.

Is God the Same as Allah?: Muslims pray to Allah (which means God in Arabic). Christians pray to God (not Allah). Do both Muslims and Christians pray to the same God? No. The actual words, Allah and God both have the same meaning (refer to the all-powerful, Creator of the universe), but they are not the same person. Here’s an analogy: Two friends might both use the same term to speak of their fathers, Dad. But, just because they use the same term does not mean their fathers are identical. Dad means father, but not all Dads are your Dad. Here’s the point: we use the same term for that all-powerful Being, but we are not speaking of the same Being. They have very distinct characteristics. For example, Christianity teaches that God is Triune (Three Persons in the one Godhead); Islam is not Trinitarian.  Allah (the God of Islam) does not love sinners (those who make bad choices) at all. He only loves those who submit to him. Allah keeps record of the good and bad things that people do. The Christian God loves all people and gives them the chance to be forgiven through Jesus.

Jesus: The big difference between Islam and Christianity (what Christians, those who follow Jesus, believe) is how each views Jesus. There is a big difference between who Muslims and Christians say Jesus is and what Jesus did. Christianity is based on Jesus Christ (messiah/savior/one who came to save). In Islam, Jesus is not the main person.

  • Christian Belief: Christians believe that Jesus is God, the Son. They believe that Jesus came to Earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (bad choices). Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment we deserved for all of the things we have done wrong. After Jesus died on the cross, Christians believe that God, the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Christians believe that they are forgiven of their sins (bad choices) and can be sure that when their bodies die they will live forever with Jesus.
  • Muslim Belief: Muslims believe that Jesus was a great teacher and prophet (one who speaks the words of the one who sent him). Muslims do not believe that he is the most important person. Muhammad has that role in Islam. Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God the Son. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was on the cross or that he was raised from the dead. Since they don’t believe that Jesus is God the Son, or that he died on the cross and was raised from the dead, they do not believe that he can forgive sins.

5 Pillars of Islam

  • Shahada: This is what people say to become Muslim. They must say it three times to become Muslim. The statement goes like this: There is no god but Allah, Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah.
  • Salat: Muslims are supposed to pray five times each day. Before they pray, they must wash their body parts in a certain way and turn towards Mecca (a city) to pray.
  • Zakat: Muslim people give a certain amount of money (based on how much money they make) to help people who need things (those who are poor, who no longer have husbands, who do not have parents).
  • Sawm: Muslim people fast (do not eat, drink, etc.) during a special season that they call Ramadan. Ramadan lasts for about a month, and Muslim people fast from sunrise (when the sun comes up) until sunset (when the sun goes down) during this month.
  • Hajj: Muslim people try to take a pilgrimage (special trip) to Mecca (important city in Islam) one time during their lives. They travel to the city, walk around a special place (Ka’ba) seven times, and kiss a special black stone.

Common Muslim Practices

  • Removing Shoes: Muslim people remove their shoes when they enter their home or someone else’s and when they enter a mosque (where they go to worship).
  • Boys/Girls: Muslim men and women pray and spend time separately in the mosque.
  • What Women Wear: Many Muslim women cover their heads with a scarf, or a hijab. Other women cover even more of their bodies and their faces. women wear
  • Where Muslims Live: Muslim people live all over the world. Some live in America, and some live in other countries.
  • Qur’an: Muslim people have a book that is special to them. The book is called the Qur’an and is written in a different language called Arabic. Muslim children are taught to read Arabic when they are young so that they can read the Qur’an.
  • Washing: It is important to Muslim people that they be clean before they pray  and before they eat. They follow certain rules about what to wash, and how to wash, their body parts. (Image from Lil Muslim World app)

washing

  • Prayer: Muslim people call their God Allah. They pray to Allah five times each day. When they pray, they kneel and bow on a special rug. Muslim people turn their bodies toward Mecca (a city) and put their bodies in different positions when they pray. In the mosque (where they worship), they often follow a leader as they pray.

kid pray     man pray     woman pray

  • What Muslims Eat: Many Muslim people only eat certain kinds of foods. There are certain foods that they will not eat, and they only drink certain drinks. Muslim people have special rules about how their food is prepared and what ingredients are used. (Children will have the chance to sample some non-western food during dinner.) Muslim people also abstain from (don’t eat) certain foods during special holidays. This is called fasting.
  • Muhammad: Muslim people speak about and listen to what a man (who they call a messenger of Allah) says. His name is Muhammad.

What Makes Christianity and Islam So Different? 

Jesus: The big difference between Islam and Christianity (what Christians, those who follow Jesus, believe) how each views Jesus. There is a big difference between who Muslims and Christians say Jesus is and what Jesus did. Christianity is based on Jesus Christ (messiah/savior/one who came to save). In Islam, Jesus is not the main person.

  • Christian Belief: Christians believe that Jesus is God, the Son. They believe that Jesus came to Earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (bad choices). Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment we deserved for all of the things we have done wrong. After Jesus died on the cross, Christians believe that God, the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Christians believe that they are forgiven of their sins (bad choices) and can be sure that when their bodies die they will live forever with Jesus.
  • Muslim Belief: Muslims believe that Jesus was a great teacher and prophet (one who speaks the words of the one who sent him). Muslims do not believe that he is on the same level, or higher, than Muhammad. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was on the cross or that he was raised from the dead. Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God the Son.

How Should We Treat Muslims?

Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God first. He said that the next important commandment was to love your neighbor (anyone you are around, not just who lives next door to you) like you love yourself. Jesus didn’t say to only love people who look like us, sound like us, or believe like us. He said to love your neighbor. So, we should treat our Muslim friends with love, kindness, and respect. We should respect our Muslim friends’ customs and never make fun of Muslim people or their beliefs. When in a situation where we can participate in some Muslim customs around our Muslim friends (like taking off shoes when entering a home or washing hands before eating), we should. We should never participate in any customs (for any religion/culture) that may cause us to sin/make bad choices).

How Should We Talk to Muslims About Our Beliefs?

Focus on Jesus and what the New Testament (part of the Bible beginning with the book of Matthew) says about Jesus. The Qur’an talks about Jesus, and Muslim people respect Jesus as a teacher and prophet, but they likely don’t know all about Jesus since the Qur’an does not say much about Jesus. Encourage Muslim friends to read the New Testament. Be ready to answer their questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask a trusted pastor or fellow Christian friend and then give your Muslim friend your best answer.

 

For More Information for Parents: Watch the sermon An Introduction to Islam for Christians   by Dr. David W. Pendergrass.

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