“Islam” means “submission,” and “Muslim” means “one who has submitted his life to God.” Islam focuses on the total submission of one’s life to a lifestyle based on law. Islam is more a religion of deed than belief. It is appealing to some because it is so concrete and specific in what it requires. Sexual immorality is prohibited, as are intoxicates and gambling. The main requirements, however, are delineated in what are known as the Five Pillars of Islam.
The first pillar is the profession of belief required of all Muslims, the shahadah. This creed of Islam is extremely simple: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” All it takes to become a Muslim is to publicly recite that phrase with sincerity of heart. The second pillar is prayer five times a day. (You’re probably familiar with the scene of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people kneeling together in prayer—a powerful and binding ritual for Muslims.) The third pillar is charity. Giving two percent of your profit to help those who are less fortunate is a fundamental act of mercy. The fourth pillar is observing the holy month of Ramadan, which includes fasting from food and drink from sunup to sundown. And the fifth pillar is the requirement of a pilgrimage to Mecca once in the Muslim’s lifetime.
Part of the appeal of Islam is how straightforward it is. No matter what country you come from, whether you are Arab or Indonesian or African-American, to become a Muslim, you begin by reciting the simple creed: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet” and agree to a set of specific, concrete rules. It is a form of religion that many seek.
One day Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28). It’s likely that each person in the crowd was hoping to get a short list of rules, perhaps something akin to the five pillars. “Lay it on the line, Jesus, and I’ll hop right to it. God wants it; He’ll get it. He’ll be pleased, and I’ll be justified.” But Jesus looked at the people and said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Amazing. Unexpected. Simple, but powerful. According to Jesus, God is looking for something much more than a lifestyle based on law. He is looking for a faith relationship out of which come not merely conformity of behavior, but spiritual character and connection with divine power. This is how a human life tainted by sin is cleansed and reshaped. Life ethics are shaped by the power of faith relationship.