All of us are much more aware of Islam since September 11. If we did not know it before, we know now that more than 1 billion people on Earth, about one of every six people, are Muslims. In the United States alone, according to Muslim leaders, there are more than 6 million Muslims, a little less than half the size of our nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (at 15 million). Social scientists who count religious adherents, however, place the number of American Muslims much lower, somewhere between 1.8 million and 2.8 million. This more realistic figure falls in the same range as the Assemblies of God or the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In any case, the faith is growing exponentially in some parts of the country. Today in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, which some call the buckle of the Bible belt, there are several mosques and a thriving Muslim community.
We've also been reminded that Islam, along with Judaism and Christianity, is one of the three monotheistic faiths. Some take that fact and assume that all three faiths are just one great religion, or three equally valid pathways to the same God.
But at this historical moment, when Islam is in our consciousness as never before, we need to look at that claim more closely, especially in regard to Islam. One of the better ways to get at an answer is to focus the question like this: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? And what difference does the answer make?
What We Share
These three great religions share a number of important traits not shared, for example, by Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Even within these agreements, however, we find significant differences.