The Great Commission during Service and after Separation

Christmas Eve Service in IraqMilitaries of the world have always been at the leading edge of intercultural relations and security remains one of America’s most significant exports. If professional exposure to some of the neediest parts of the world creates ministry opportunities, then no segment of the Church in America is more strategically positioned for advancing the Great Commission than Christians who are in the U.S. military.

But what is the Great Commission?

The imperative command in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is the word for “disciple.” It is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission. The word commonly translated into English as “go” is not an imperative command. It is a modifying participle, otherwise known in English as an “-ing” word.

The Great Commission has three modifying “-ing” words. These words modify the imperative. They describe how to “disciple.” They are the words “going,” “teaching,” and “baptizing.” Jesus tells his followers to “disciple” by “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.”

The verb “disciple” is transitive. That means it takes a direct object. That object is commonly translated into English as “all nations.” So the question becomes, “What does it mean to disciple a nation?”

The actual Greek words translated into “nation” are “panta ta ethne” from which the English word “ethnic” comes. So a better translation of the verb with its object is, “Disciple all ethnolinguistic groups!”

Curiously, the grammatical object to be discipled is not individuals but entities. And significantly, the subject commanded isn’t individuals but the whole group of Jesus’ followers. It includes you and me, but not just you and me as individuals but also you and me as members of the entire group – the Church.

So how do you and I use our lives and our unique set of talents and enthusiasms to participate in the Church’s mission to insure “all peoples” get discipled?

I think we pursue what we love to do and what God has uniquely inspired us to do in a way that serves and grows the dominion and prestige of Jesus Christ (the Kingdom of God) into new ethnolinguistic territory. That to me is the essence of obeying the Great Commission.

So how does this practically integrate service and life after service?

  1. First, it means that every endeavor from career to hobby and family life coordinates with deliberate efforts to “disciple” entire “ethnolinguistic groups.”
  2. Second, it means we do not act alone. Imperfect as they are (because we are not perfect), we must join with others in organizations or associations that intend to strategically impact entire ethnolinguistic entities.
  3. Third, it means we engage or support those engaging ethnolinguistic groups that do not yet have any discipling happening among them. Cross-cultural testimony has got to happen, and it will, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Jesus said that the “end” will not come until the “gospel of the Kingdom” is “proclaimed” in every ethnolinguistic entity (Matthew 24:14). See my article “Who Are Unreached Peoples” for a definition of this frontier.

Discipling cross culturally takes capacity in at least four areas:

  1. Bible, ecclesiology, and targeted cultural anthropology. “Discipling a nation” requires a robust knowledge of the Bible and a firm understanding of what the Church of Jesus Christ is and what it is not in various cultural contexts. Choosing partners and participating in activities that advance the Kingdom of God in new contexts without cultural baggage take capacity in Bible, ecclesiology, and cultural anthropology.
  2. Language and cultural adjustment. To understand and have a sphere of influence takes fluency and comfort, not just with language but also with different roles and values around which people organize and govern their lives. This requires being a learner before becoming a teacher. Language school, Rosetta Stone or a LAMP immersion program are good tools. An introductory course on the science of linguistics can really help with self directed study.
  3. Marriage and family enrichment. This is the most easily overlooked yet often the most significant preparation for endurance on the gospel’s frontier. Cultural and spiritual stress on families is exponentially higher in cross-cultural outreach situations. Organizations like PREPMissionary Training International, and Link Care can facilitate self-directed study in this area.
  4. Secular entry skill. Christians can rarely get among “unreached peoples” (except among refugees and international students) as full-time Christian workers. Working among them requires a valid and respected role. Often it is possible to be in both a secular organization and a mission agency. A secular skill provides a platform for operating among “unreached peoples,” and missionary agencies strategically coordinate and assure spiritual capacity.

Here are some agencies that embrace and place secular skill sets:

Asymmetry in “Ways of War” Surfaces in Facing Political Islam

History doesn’t just repeat itself. Once a cycle starts, it practically never ends. Today’s challenges for stability across the Muslim world are not new. They are small aspen saplings sprouting in a grove from a giant root ball that winds through half the globe and over 1,400 years. Modern community leaders should not sever situation assessments on the surface from this massive ball of proverbial roots, no matter how painful, embarrassing, and politically incorrect those connections might be.

Around 610 C.E., Muhammad began introducing more than a new religion. He revolutionized the Middle Eastern “way of war” and initiated an empire that would rival all the others. That rivalry continues today, along with differences in the Western and Middle Eastern “ways of war.”[1]

Muhammad started a military revolution. According to Knox and Murray in The Dynamics of Military Revolution, military revolutions are like major earthquakes. They are unpredictable and uncontrollable. Their upheaval impacts the whole society. They may impact economics, politics, and culture even more than armed forces.[2] The military movement that Muhammad started was unforeseen, and it drastically changed the world. Muhammad introduced religious fervor to the Arab “way of war.” The Old Testament records God telling the ancient Jews through Joshua to conquer Canaan.[3] Similarly, the Qur’an has Allah telling Muhammad’s followers to “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! . . . Fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).”[4]

Whether or not Muhammad was a prophet of God, he was a great statesman and military leader. In What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, Bernard Lewis notes, “Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime. He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was supreme sovereign.”[5] Whether or not Islam is a religion of peace, it inspired military campaigns and united an empire that reached from Morocco to Afghanistan within fifty years of Muhammad’s death.[6]

The new empire was a military success inspired by religion rather than a religious success inspired by the military. In God’s Battalions, Rodney Stark declares, “The conquering Arabs constituted a small elite who ruled over large populations of non-Muslims, most of whom remained unconverted for centuries.”[7] Imperial success flowed from a military revolution in the Arab “way of war” and not from religious missionary activity. In The Lost History of Christianity, Philip Jenkins notes that although “this was a movement of armed conquest and imperial expansion, which on occasion involved ferocious violence. . . . conquest was not quickly followed by Islamization, or the destruction of church institutions.”[8] Referencing calculations by historian Richard Bulliet, Jenkins reveals that Islam had little initial religious impact outside of Arabia, and it did not become the majority religion in its own empire until sometime after 850 C.E.[9] Antioch and Jerusalem actually had Christian majorities as late as the beginning of the Crusades (1096 C.E.).[10]

Arab warfare before Muhammad was hit-and-run raiding between tribes. Islam united the tribes, and fervor to spread the new faith sustained Arab unity. In The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State, Hugh Kennedy underscores how the Arabs now “fought for their religion, the prospect of booty and because their friends and fellow tribesmen were doing it.”[11] Arab conquest received no advantage from the five essentials that Geoffrey Parker associates with the Western paradigm for its “way of war”: 1) technology; 2) discipline; 3) highly aggressive military action; 4) innovation; and 5) a unique system of finance.[12] According to Stark, for technology, the Arab advance neither possessed nor sought any systems or weapons more modern than their enemies. For discipline, it featured fierce desert tribes, not professionally trained battalions. For aggression, it razed some major cities like Carthage, and it massacred some defenseless villages in order to provoke nearby fortified garrisons into an open fight. However, many people in diverse Christian traditions all across Orthodox Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia welcomed the Arabs as liberators.[13] As for innovation and finance, according to Samuel Moffett in A History of Christianity in Asia, “it was the conquered who represented civilization, and the conquerors were still nomad warriors from the desert.”[14] Stark says that the sophisticated culture of Muslim empire “was actually the culture of conquered people.”[15] Ultimately, when the Arabs finally met the Western “way of war,” they stalled.

Against the Persians of Asia, the Byzantines of the Middle East, and the Visigoths of Spain, the Arabs seemed invincible. Beyond the Pyrenees, however, they met the elements of the Western “way of war” that were in the midst of their own “revolution in military affairs.” If MacGregor Knox can call “the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, which merged mass politics and warfare,”[16] a military revolution, then he should call the rise of Islam a military revolution as well. What Napoleon did for politics and war in France, Muhammad did for religion and war in the Middle East. However, the military revolution that Muhammad started was not a revolution of what Geoffrey Parker calls “the Western way of war.”[17] It was a revolution of the Arab “way of war.” It overcame Persia and Byzantium, and it created one of the world’s largest empires. It has not overcome the West, at least not yet. Weapons of mass destruction, globalization, and information technology are revitalizing the Arab “way of war” with a renewed military revolution. The Western world is answering, as it did at Tours, by revolutionizing the military affairs of its Western “way of war.”

Beyond the Pyrenees, the Arabs met Charles Martel, who was building what would become his own empire—the Carolingian Empire. His military success did not come through revolutionary factors affecting all of society. It did not come through a military revolution. Rather, it came through measured and strategic innovations in organization, doctrine, tactics, and weaponry that were limited mostly to the battlefield. According to Stark, Martel’s were not the gutless garrison mercenaries of Byzantine cities or the hired hands filling Persian cavalry. His were citizen professionals with better armor, better weapons, better horses, better food, better discipline, better leadership, better logistics, and better pay.[18]

The Muslim empire thrived in North Africa and Asia, turned back Mongol invaders, spread into South Asia and Southeast Asia, eventually crushed Constantinople, and drove deep into Eastern Europe. However, whenever it encountered the armies of the West, it failed. Against the Western “way of war,” the “way” inspired by Muhammad’s revolution eventually lost Al-Andalus (1492), abandoned Barbary Piracy (1815), surrendered Egypt to Napoleon (1798), and submitted to British occupation (1800s). The Caliphate maintained by the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed completely (1923), and the non-Muslim state of Israel formed in the Muslim heartland (1948). Even with great numerical and geographic advantage, the Muslim empire could not eliminate Crusader settlements in Palestine for nearly 200 years (1098-1291). Those settlements eventually failed, but not for military reasons. According to Stark, they failed due to resentment in Europe over their cost in taxes and “a medieval version of an antiwar movement.”[19] If modern Israel is functionally equivalent to medieval Crusader colonies, then it might endure a similar lifecycle.

The West, with its characteristic science, technology and “way of war,” remains dominant in the world today, but that might be changing. Globalization, weapons of mass destruction, and information technology are resurrecting a military revolution among Muslims that may favor non-Western “ways of war.” Since the 1979 regime change in Iran, Islam is surging militaristically. This time, it’s not through a new religion uniting Arab tribes, but through fanaticism uniting millions of Muslims dispersed around the world among Muslim and non-Muslim majorities. A Pew opinion survey published in December 2010 found that 82 percent of Muslim Egyptians favor stoning for adultery, 77 percent favor severing limbs for theft, and 84 percent favor death for apostasy (leaving Islam).[20] With those kind of popular opinions characteristic in a relatively moderate Muslim country, more democratic Muslim governments might not prevent a clash of civilizations any better than democracy prevented civil war in America.

Like the original military revolution in the Arab “way of war” that resulted in a Muslim empire, today’s military revolution is also uncontrollable, unpredictable, and broadly transformational. The “End” for this revolution is restoring the Muslim Caliphate. Its “Ways” are fear, intimidation, and fanaticism. Some of its “Means” include: 1) starting non-state terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda; 2) assassinating moderate leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer in Pakistan; 3) employing weapons of mass destruction like flying jet airplanes into sky scrapers; and 4) orchestrating violent demonstrations like those against the Danish cartoons of Muhammad and the burning of a Qur’an.

Against these “Means,” the West is answering with updates to military organization, doctrine, operations, tactics and technology that resemble a revolution in military affairs. Organizationally, America created new departments and commands. For example, it created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate federal agencies, and it started the U.S. Northern Command to lead Homeland Defense in the continental United States. America is also trying to rebalance its defense force structure and modernize its doctrine in order to address more non-traditional threats. For example, Stability and Civil Support Operations now require the same attention and proficiency as major combat operations.[21] Operationally, tactically, and technologically, over one million of over three million service men and women served in nearly 80 foreign countries in 2010. Most of those American military personnel were focused on Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions.[22]

The difference between military revolutions and revolutions in military affairs is significant. It is profoundly necessary to understand both history and current events with respect to Western and Muslim civilizations. Military revolutions impact all of society. Revolutions in military affairs affect only the military. The military revolution surging outside of the West among Muslims is having a broader impact even on Western society itself than the revolution in military affairs that’s happening within Western militaries.

As when religious zeal inspired Arab tribes to burst forth from the desert and conquer most of the non-Western world, modern circumstances are kindling widespread fervor to reestablish a Muslim Caliphate. It is another military revolution. New methods involving non-state enemies and weapons of mass destruction are reshaping economics, politics, and sociology in every nation. The West, with its “way of war” and its revolutions in military affairs, withstood and overcame non-Western military revolution once before. Only time will tell if it can do so again.


[1] Geoffrey Parker, “Introduction: The Western Way of War,” The Cambridge History of Warfare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005), p. 1.

[2] MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, “Thinking about Revolutions in Warfare,” in The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 6.

[3] “The Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot.'” Holy Bible: New International Version (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1973), Joshua 1:2-3.

[4] Muhammad M. Pickthall, The Glorious Qur’an Text and Explanatory Translation (Mecca, Saudi Arabia: The Muslim World League, 1977), Sura 9:41, 123.

[5] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 101.

[6] Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., “Afghanistan—History,” 13:32b, and “North Africa—From the Islamic Conquest to 1830,” 24:959b (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2003).

[7] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2009), p. 27.

[8] Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (New York: Harper Collins Pub., 2008) p. 101.

[9] Ibid., p. 113.

[10] Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 148, 155.

[11] Hugh Kennedy, The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 6.

[12] Parker, The Cambridge History of Warfare, pp. 1-10.

[13] Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 12-27.

[14] Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1500, 2d ed. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1998), p. 338.

[15] Stark, God’s Battalions, p. 56.

[16] Knox and Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, p. 6.

[17] Parker, The Cambridge History of Warfare, p. 1.

[18]Stark, God’s Battalions, pp. 39-44.

[19] Ibid., p. 238.

[20] Pew Research Center, Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Most Embrace a Role for Islam in Politics: Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah,” December 2, 2010. <> (viewed April 8, 2011).

[21] Department of Defense Instruction Number 3000.05 September 16, 2009. <> (viewed April 8, 2011) and Department of the Army, FM 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, February 2008), p. D-3.

[22] George W. Casey Jr. and John M. McHugh, Headquarters Department of the Army. “2010 Army Posture Statement.” <> (viewed April 8, 2011).

Missionary Service After Military Service

Bruce & Tom in HondurasTom and I served as Army Combat Engineer Lieutenants together in Panama in the early 1980s. Our wives became fast friends, and we shared lots of memorable experiences, both on and off duty. Tom and Robyn helped Lynn and me when we went to Indonesia for seven years. Today, we get to help Tom and Robyn as they head to Africa.

Here’s the transcript of the interview that I recorded on the way to Breckenridge for a snow boarding adventure before they head to the tropics.

What are you doing in the next 6 months?

Tom & RobynRobyn and I are heading to West Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators sometime this summer. I’m going as an administrator to help manage language translation projects. It’s been fascinating to learn the huge scope of need for translation of Scriptures into many languages. A lot of unwritten languages remain in three major parts of the world: Africa, the Pacific Region, and Central Asia. Nigeria alone has something like 300 languages without any translated Scriptures.

What have you been doing?

This is how I’m handling mid-life crisis. I served over 20 years in the Army as an engineer. I did almost every different Army Engineer job that you can do — from combat engineering, to construction, to mapping, and facility management. But I always wanted to do something related to ministry or missions in my second career, and we’ve just been waiting on the Lord’s timing and direction. to find out when and where we’d end up.

Do you feel like your time in the Corps of Engineers has prepared you?

Tom & Robin inside the Panama CanalI feel our life is like this puzzle to which God has given us one piece at a time. It’s for His purpose that we pull on these different puzzle-piece experiences as he leads us into the future. I have always felt the Lord preparing me for something beyond the Army. One of the greatest things that interested Wycliffe is what the military calls “leadership,” but missions agencies call “administration” or “management”. Wycliffe is a fairly large mission organization with many different entities around the world. They need folks with leadership experience and administrative skills to help run things at every level. That’s what got them interested in Robyn and me.

I was a little reluctant initially to be put in “administration.” I felt I wanted to be more of a worker since I’ve been doing mid-level management jobs in the Army for the last ten years. They were happy to accommodate that and said, “Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do?” To which we answered, “We don’t know. We want to go where you need us the most.” So we’re going to West Africa, and I’ll be doing project management for translation projects. Robyn’s role will be in “member care” which is sort of the missionary equivalent of an Army unit’s Family Readiness concept. It involves working with missionary families to help them deal with the stresses that they are experiencing, and she’s been doing that on and off for the past twenty plus years as we’ve been stationed around the world with the Army.

Also, parts of Africa can be challenging in terms of having water, power, and utilities. Living in these conditions takes some resourcefulness. But I’ve been coping with similar circumstances on various Army assignments for years. My experiences in Army engineering may turn out to come in handy here as well.

How did you get connected with Wycliffe?

We applied through the Finishers Project. They made our resume available to many mission and ministry organizations that were searching for people with various skill sets and interests. We got phone calls from many organizations that were doing everything from teaching English in China to drilling wells in Africa. Wycliffe was trying to fill a wide variety of assignments. When their recruiters saw our resume, they were like, “Yeah great! We would love to have you.”

Once we got into applying it was kind of funny because several recruiters we encountered had the perception that everything in the military is very structured and very orderly. So they would caution me repeatedly, “You have to realize, this is mission work, and it’s going to be pretty different from the Army.” They were trying to explain how the mission organization was bureaucratic and how sometimes decisions take a long time. We laughed. Anyone who’s been around the military for a few tours knows about bureaucracy – often the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and you get different stories coming from different people. You can get on the ground, and they say, “I don’t know who told you to curtail your leave and report in last week – we don’t need you until next month, and by the way, you’ll be doing a completely different job.” In the Army we learned to be flexible and have a good sense of humor. We’re thinking, “there’s a little more commonality between the military and Wycliffe than they may realize.”

Tell me more about Finishers Project.

They are pretty easy to find on the web. They put on great seminars for people who are thinking about a second career related to ministry or missions.

Robyn and I are like a lot of people of our generation. We have thrived in our first careers, but we’re at that stage of life where we don’t need to keep accumulating stuff. We’ve seen enough to know that fulfillment means more than having a nice retirement home. We see some of our friends working harder and harder for more benefits or more money, but missing out on the joy they were expecting. We’re not unique in thinking this way. Finishers Project will blow your mind with how many opportunities there are for folks wanting a second career in missions or ministry. If you have any kind of restlessness and interest in travel or worldwide ministry, there’s some organization with a niche for you.

Military service is about serving others, and you get excited about going to work each day because you’re part of an organization that is others focused. The Army is not only protecting and defending the United States but also trying to help people around the world who have a lot more needs than we do. The idea of a second career in a corporate business environment just didn’t appeal to us.

How did you choose to go with Wycliffe?

Without the Lord and without the Holy Spirit guiding you into what you should do, it’s overwhelming. That’s the way we felt. Initially, we got so many calls and emails that we said, “The Lord’s going to have to show us which ministry to do because there are so many options.” And the Lord answered that prayer. We didn’t know how he would, but we trusted that we’d recognize his answer when it came.

When the Wycliffe recruiters talked to us about their needs, and why they wanted us, it resonated with past experiences. When stationed in Germany, our chapel had sponsored some Wycliffe missionaries who were doing Bible translation for central Asia. One day in our living room, they told us, “Hey, we really need administrators as “team-leaders” to help translation teams be more effective and get the work done quicker.” When the recruiter talked to me last year, he described the same needs with the same words. I thought, “Wow! This meshes exactly with the desire God cultivated in my heart ten years ago.” The Wycliffe opportunity connects a lot of dots in our life. One of them goes all the way back to my first assignment in Panama where the pastor of our church was a Wycliffe missionary on a furlough of sorts from a language translation project. God seemed to be saying, “See, I’ve known what I was doing all along. Trust me.” So we started the application process, and that’s gotten us to where we are now.

How do you feel about raising financial support?

We’ve grown some as we get our minds around the Biblical model of being supported by others. We’ve got the best of both worlds. On the one hand, I’ve got a military retirement income, and I could probably structure our finances to survive on my military pension if we had to. However, from the standpoint of having a Christian community invested in what we’ll be doing so that they are praying for us and joining with us as partners, I think as “lone-ranger” missionaries we would really miss out.

Our Christian life so far has never been a “lone-ranger” existence. It’s us. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s the body of Christ. It’s people praying for us. That’s kind of how we make it through every day in life. And it’s going to be much more that way in Africa where we expect to face culture shock and spiritual opposition.

So with Wycliffe’s help, we have structured our budget to be partially self-supported, and then supplement that with what Wycliffe calls “partnership development.” It means we tell people about what we’re doing and invite them to partner with us financially. For years, we’ve been in the other seat where we’ve been partners with others on mission assignments. And we always felt like, “You know what, I’m part of what they’re doing there. I’m not only praying for them, but I’m investing in the work they are doing for the Lord. And when I get to heaven there’s going to be things I’m going to learn about how God used my gifts to bring people into His kingdom.” So we consider it a privilege to invite others to be partners with us and Wycliffe in the work of Bible Translation for people who have never read or heard God’s word in their own language.

And the response has been overwhelming. We’ve found once you tell people what you’re doing and that there is a need, many of them are eager to help. Part of our monthly living expenses and the cost of setting up an entirely new household in Africa will be picked up by our church back home and friends that have been in various Bible studies with us over the years. It’s encouraging to have so many who want to be a part of this calling.

How do you feel about how the transition has gone from military to missions?

We’re through the application process, and for the past six months Wycliffe has been training us. We’ve been to new member orientation, a course on management principles and philosophy, and now I’m learning some basics on linguistics and language development projects. We’re really starting to feel like, “Wow! This is exciting.” We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like. We have a picture in our mind. We haven’t actually set foot on the ground there yet, and we won’t for a few more months. But we are just praising the Lord and praying to Him for strength, and we are preparing in every way we can. In many ways it’s not much different from a lot of the military assignments we’ve had. As with previous relocations, there’s some grieving and sadness over friends we’re leaving behind, but we’re excited that God is going ahead of us, and that He’s sending us to a good place – because He is good, and He’s going with us.

Landscape of Islam

Printable pdf Version

The chart below illustrates

Institutional Development of Islam

Click different regions to learn more about sects and movements in Islam.

Denominations in Islam

The diagram below illustrates

Diversity Within Muslim Institutions

Two individuals in different denominations may be more alike than two individuals in the same. Regrouping along these five different sliding scales produces the modern movements within Islam that are creating tension and new institutions.

Click different regions to learn more.

Diversity in Denominations

Belief Scale – Orthodox to Folk:

In Indonesia our house helper warned us to hang a clove of garlic around the neck of our 6-month old son whenever we might take him with us into the market. A few miles from our house, the tomb of the missionary who’d established Islam in that part of Indonesia attracted everyone from barren women praying for a child to students praying to pass exams. What most educated Americans consider superstition affects most Muslim lives more than the five ritual “pillars” of Islam. Charms of the evil eye and the hand of Fatima abound even in modern Turkey. Saddam Hussein had reportedly worked some magic that would protect him from bullets. Scholars call these expressions “Folk Islam.” Many clerics claim the Qur’an forbids Folk Islam and the beliefs attached to it. In the early 1800s, Wahabi-influenced pilgrims returning from Mecca started a war in Sumatra against the traditional aristocracy to purge heterodox folk practices. Similar sentiment impacts many today. On the belief scale, most Muslims lean folk. Most religious leaders lean orthodox. . (Back to Diagram)

Exegesis Scale – Fundamentalist to Liberal:

After 9-11 on September 16th, Al-Muhajiroun released a statement to the press praising the Taliban for their work towards establishing Shari’a. It called upon all Muslims to support them. Two days later, the flagship English language newspaper of Bangladesh ran an article saying that no true Muslims anywhere can support such terrorism because “Islam is a religion of peace.” The difference in these two statements flows from methods of interpreting scriptures. For exegetical fundamentalists, scripture is “the” authority to be taken at face value and interpreted independent of cultural context and history. For exegetical liberals, scripture is “an” authority to be balanced with knowledge from other sources. Strong liberals prefer allegorical and figurative interpretations. Strong fundamentalists prefer literal ones. In Surah 9 verse 5, the Qur’an says to slay, capture, besiege, and ambush non-Muslims unless they repent and submit. At the fundamentalist extreme, this verse calls for jihad against Americans and Jews. A more liberal approach studies the context and discerns that this verse should not be applied in that way. Irshad Manji sits at the liberal end of the exegesis scale. She is a Muslim, a Canadian, a speaker, and an author. She produced and hosted the Gemini award-winning show QueerTelevision, and she is lesbian. Osama bin-Laden sits at the other extreme. Most Muslims are in the middle. Most political leaders lean liberal. Most common people lean fundamentalist. Religious leaders span the whole spectrum. (Back to Diagram)

Science & Technology Scale – Traditionalist to Modern:

Extremes on this scale become most apparent in the fields of medicine and education. In Indonesia, when they got sick, some of our friends turned first to herbal cures and witch doctors. Others turned first to state-of-the art imported medical technology. Some sent their children to boarding schools with European style curriculum. Others boarded their children at schools committed to the conviction that everything anyone ever needed to know was in the Qur’an. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is the largest religious organization in Indonesia and one of the largest of its kind in the world. It leans traditionalist. Its schools follow the traditional pesantren Muslim boarding school model. They teach religion as traditionally taught and practiced in Indonesia. Many of its leaders practice a pre-Islamic Javanese mysticism called Kebatinan. Modernist leaning Muslims would consider it to be vain superstition. Before its national assembly meetings, NU has been known to sponsor an exorcism of the facilities. Muhammadiyah is Indonesia’s second largest religious organization. It leans more modern. Its schools are more European in style, curriculum, and methods. It opposes unorthodox syncretism to pre-Islamic beliefs and practices while embracing a more modern view on gender equality. It seeks to reform Islam, as it has been traditionally taught by the ulema, in order to to make it more relevant in the modern world. On the scales addressed so far, NU leans folk, liberal, and traditionalist. Muhamadiyah leans orthodox, liberal, and modern. On the remaining two scales, both emphasize nationalism and fervency. (Back to Diagram)

Political Scale – Ethnic/Trans-Ethnic to National:

Position on this scale depends on personal identity and group allegiance. Heads of state as well as nearly all politicians and government workers land solidly at the national end. Translators working with coalition forces to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq land on the national end as well. At the opposite extreme would be someone like bin-Laden who cares nothing about either political borders or ethnicity. He envisions an imperial Islam, like in the days of old, transcending ethnic identities and nation-state boundaries. For many Muslims, like for most Kurds, ethnic and tribal identities transcend both national and religious ones. Among many Muslims, ethnicity and religion cannot be separated. The name Minangkabau for a tribe in Indonesia means “winning buffalo.” Minangkabau people say that if a Minangkabau person leaves Islam, all that remains is the buffalo. The saying means that when a Minangkabau person leaves Islam, that individual ceases to be a person in the ethnic group. (Back to Diagram)

Fervency Scale – Zealous to Nominal:

The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, and, “co”-incidentally, the vast majority of Muslims are nominal. Of the two billion people who claim to be Christians only a very small percent attend church regularly or give sacrificially to religious causes. The same is true for one billion Muslims. The percent faithfully keeping the pillars and sacrificially donating to charities is small. Being zealous does not equal resorting to violence, but it heightens that risk. Fortunately, Jesus understood human nature enough to teach strongly against violence in his name, and he set a solid example of non-violence. Historically, many Christians still have not followed his example. I am not qualified to teach about Islam or the life of Muhammad, and I will not do that. I can, however, teach about Jesus, current events, and history. Around the world we see that when Muslims turn zealous because they have been offended over something like cartoons of Muhammad, they often resort in very large numbers to using violence in the name of Islam. Being zealous in a faith does not make one violent in that faith’s name, but the tendency to violence in the name of a religion will be higher among the zealous believers than among the nominal ones. (Back to Diagram)

Muhammad (570-632):

He is the founder of Islam. Muslims regard him as the last and greatest of four prophets who dictated divine scriptures. The other three were Moses, David, and Jesus who delivered the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel respectively. Mohammad revealed the Qur’an, the supposed last and only undistorted scriptures available today. He and his followers were persecuted in Mecca. In 622, he and his followers fled to Medina. This event marks the beginning of the shorter lunar Muslim calendar year. In Medina, Muhammad established his political as well as religious rule. In 630, he returned with a larger following to conquer Mecca and unite the Arab tribes under Islam as a religious and political system. He died from illness in 632. Muhammad’s closest followers (and followers of those followers) recorded his non-revelatory acts and sayings. These writings are called Hadiths. They establish precedents for interpreting the Qur’an into Shari’a law. (Back to Chart)


World Politics in 632

Abu Bakr (573-634):

He was the father of Muhammad’s third and favorite wife, Aisha. He was a close companion and advisor to Muhammad. He subdued rebelling tribes at Muhammad’s death in 632 and ruled as Islam’s first Caliph until his death from illness in 634. He compiled the Qur’an from various scraps of paper and other materials upon which Muhammad’s revelations had been written. He then forbid revising his “authorized” copy. He invaded Sassanid Persian and Byzantine empires. He expanded the emerging Caliphate into parts of modern Syria and Iraq. (Back to Chart)

Caliphate under Abu Bakr

Umar a.k.a. Omar (c. 590-644):

He took over as the second Caliph the day that Abu Bakr died in 634. He had been a close companion of Muhammad. He was an expert jurist and military commander. He became one of history’s greatest political geniuses. He expanded the Caliphate taking over the whole of the Persian Empire and two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire. Many non-conforming Christian groups (i.e. Maronites, Jacobites, Copts, Nestorians) initially welcomed the Arab liberation from Byzantine intolerance. He laid the foundation for administrating non-Muslim majorities that preserved Muslim imperial expansion. He developed a reputation for ruling justly over Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For example, he allowed Jews to live and practice Judaism in Jerusalem where it had been forbidden for 500 years. At the peak of his power in 644, he was assassinated. (Back to Chart)


Caliphate under Umar

Uthman a.k.a. Usman (579-656):

He took over the growing Muslim empire as the third Caliph upon Umar’s assassination in 644. He had been a close companion of Muhammad. He expanded the Caliphate, instituted economic reforms, and expanded public works. He put down revolts in Persia, resisted attacks from Byzantium, prepared to invade Constantinople, and expanded into Crete, Sicily, Cyprus, Nubia, and the Iberian Peninsula. During his rule, differences in content of the Qur’an began to emerge in various parts of the empire. He obtained from Muhammad’s fourth wife, Hafsa, a copy of what Abu Bakr had assembled. Copies were sent to each province with orders to destroy all others. While featuring economic and military success, he faced intrigue and political unrest. In 656, rebels besieged him in his own home in Medina and assassinated him. (Back to Chart)

Caliphate under Uthman

Ali (c. 600-661):

Ali is Sunni Islam’s fourth Caliph and Shia Islam’s first Imam. He succeeded Uthman to become fourth Caliph in 656. He was not universally accepted as caliph, resulting in the empire’s first civil war. In 661, he accepted truce with opponents by arbitration. A member of a faction that opposed the arbitration assassinated him. Ali was both Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Because of this blood relationship through which Muhammad has grandchildren, Shia Muslims accept Ali as Muhammad’s correct successor. They view Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman as usurpers. (Back to Chart)


Caliphate under Ali

Hasan (626-669):

He is Ali’s oldest son. Muhammad is his grandfather. He reigned for less than one year in 661 as fifth Caliph. For Shiites, he is the second Imam. After a few minor skirmishes between major opposing armies, he ceded the title of Caliph to Muawiyah in exchange for peace. Hasan was poisoned by one of his wives in 669. His younger brother, Hussein, followed him as Shia Islam’s third Imam. (Back to Chart)

Muawiyah (602-680):

He was governor of Damascus and Uthman’s cousin. In 656 he contested Ali’s selection to be the fourth Caliph and instigated civil war. After Ali’s murder in 661, he took the caliphate from Ali’s oldest son, Hasan. This marked the division between Shia and Sunni Islam with Hasan heading the Shiites as their second Imam and with Muawiyah heading the Sunnis as their fifth or sixth Caliph depending upon whether or not Hasan is counted as the fifth Caliph. He founded the Umayyad caliphate, which ruled from Damascus until defeated by the Abbasids of Baghdad in 750. His dynasty governed the largest Arab-Muslim state in history and the world’s sixth largest contiguous empire ever. (Back to Chart)


These are the first schismatic sect of Islam. They accepted the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar, but rejected and rebelled against Uthman. They initially accepted Ali, but then rejected him over his accepting the arbitration that ended the first civil war. They believe in obedience to the Caliph as long as he rules justly and piously. If not, they believe the Caliph must be confronted, deposed, or even murdered in order to be replaced. Ali’s assassin was a Kharijite. They eventually split into more than twenty sub-sects. Of these, only the Ibadi remain today. (Back to Chart)


The last remaining Karijite sect. Mostly found in Oman. Smaller communities are also found in Algeria, Libya, and Zanzibar.(Back to Chart)


These were heads of state and supreme religious leaders of the Muslim community ruled by the Shari’ah law. Shia Muslims reject all caliphs except Ali and Hasan. After the first four caliphs, who were personal friends of Muhammad, the title went to the members of the Umayyad (Damascus), Abbasid (Baghdad), Fatimid (Cairo), and Ottoman (Istanbul) dynasties with occasional competition from dynasties in Spain, North Africa, and Egypt. Regional governors were called sultans or emirs and ruled under the caliph. Muslims have not had a caliph since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. (Back to Chart)

Muslim Empires


These are the spiritual, political, and hereditary successors to Muhammad according to Shia Islam. Though human, they were infallible. They ruled with perfect justice and perfectly interpreted divine law. Their words and actions have become the model for everyone to follow. (Back to Chart)


The Shia faith is vast with various theological beliefs, schools of jurisprudence, philosophical beliefs, and spiritual movements. Shia Islam breaks with Sunni Islam primarily over its system for interpreting divine revelation and implementing political authority. In Shia Islam, the religious/political leaders are divinely selected and divinely inspired to infallibly interpret revelation and govern accordingly. (Back to Chart)


They are called “seveners” by their detractors because they believe the Imamate ended with the seventh Imam Ismail ibn Jafar whose son disappeared to one-day apocalyptically return as the Mahdi. They also have seven rather than the five pillars of practice that are present in most other forms of Islam. They were once the largest Shiite branch. The Cairo-based Fatimid dynasty of the tenth century was Ismali. Today’s Ismalis fall into several different traditions or paths called tariqah. The largest is the Nizari path. It recognizes a living “Imam” as the 49th hereditary Imam. Though mostly Indo-Iranian in modern times, they also live in India, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Jordan, Usbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa, and South Africa. Many have emigrated to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. (Back to Chart)


They are called “fivers” because they follow the teachings of a different fifth Imam named Zayd ibn Ali. They embrace all the other eleven of the Shia imams. Unlike other Shia Muslims, they don’t believe the Imams were infallible or that they received special divine guidance. The Zaidi divide into three main groups. The largest group makes up over forty percent of Yemen. One Zaidi group in northern Yemen is revolting against the central government creating a humanitarian crisis there. (Back to Chart)


They call themselves Shia and take their name from Ali. Orthodox Sunni Muslims consider them to be completely heretical. They keep many of their distinctive beliefs secret. They are a powerful religious minority in Syria where they control many key positions in the military and government, like the presidency. Over one million live in cities throughout Syria and another million live in neighboring regions of Turky. They are one of the eighteen recognized minorities in Lebanon where they mingle with the Druze. (Back to Chart)


They started as an Ismaili movement during the Ismaili Fatimid dynasty early in the eleventh century. They drew heavily from Greek philosophy and Gnosticism. They opposed some major trends in the religious landscape of their day. They have always been a minority. They have been alternately used and abused by the prevailing powers, sometimes rising to prominence and sometimes suffering vicious persecution. Today they remain socially and religiously distinct. They often conceal their beliefs and identity. They forbid intermarrying. Since 1043, they have forbidden proselytizing. Worldwide their population probably reaches one million. Lebanon, Israel, and Syria treat them as a separate community with their own religious court system. They have an important role in the politics of Lebanon. In Israel, some live in separate communities while others have citizenship and have served in the armed forces. Five Druze lawmakers are serving in the 18th Knesset. Unlike most other Muslims, they reject tobacco and polygamy as well as alcohol and pork, and they believe in reincarnation. They believe rituals are purely symbolic for an individualistic effect, so the pillars of Islam are not obligatory for them. (Back to Chart)


They represent 85% of Shia Islam. They are called “twelvers” for adhering to a progression of twelve imams in the lineage of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and son-in-law Ali. The imams were chosen by God and not by human consensus. They infallibly interpreted and applied Muslim law. They reject legal precedents set by Sunni caliphs. They believe every age has a divinely selected Imam. The imam for this age is the twelfth who was born in the ninth century. He has been supernaturally preserved and hidden. He will reappear someday to establish a correct and global Islam just before the final day of judgement. This is Iran’s national ideology. Most twelvers live in Iran and spill into neighboring Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan. Significant twelver minorities live in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Lebanon. (Back to Chart)


Both Shia and Sunni Muslims hold the Qur’an to be the ultimate authority for faith and practice. Both revere the acts and sayings of Muhammad (Hadith) as the key to interpreting and applying the Qur’an. Sunni and Shia Muslims differ over who gets to do the interpreting and applying. Shia Muslims conform around the identity and teachings of their imams. Sunni Muslims conform around the consensus of scholars who interpret and apply the Qur’an in accordance with what they identify as the Sunnah – the tradition of Muhammad and of the emerging Muslim community. As Shia Muslims ascribe infallibility to their imams, so Sunni Muslims ascribe infallibility to scholarly consensus, resulting in interpretations and applications that cannot be changed. Four legal traditions and three theological traditions have evolved from Sunni scholarly consensus. The legal traditions concern applying th Qur’an to everyday life. They are Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi. The theological traditions concern the nature of God, revelation, man, and fate. These are Ash’ari, Maturidiyyah, and Athari. Ash’ari tradition emphasizes divine revelation over human reason for determining ethics, and it emphasizes divine sovereignty over free will for determining fate. Maturidiyyah tradition reverses Ash’ari emphasis by more highly esteeming human reason and free will. Athari tradition is more intuitive, anti-intellectual, and tolerant of ambiguity than the other two. (Back to Chart)

Legal Systems
See more detailed source map here.


Students of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal started this tradition around 855. It is the strictest and most literal in its approach to the Qur’an. It has the smallest number of followers. It predominates in the Arabian Peninsula. It prefers the Ash’ari theological tradition that elevates divine revelation above human reason for formulating ethics and divine sovereignty above free will for determining fate. (Back to Chart)


Wahabism is the strictest sect of Hanbali Islam. It is primarily practiced in Saudi Arabia, and it is exported from there with oil profits. Abd al-Wahab started it in the 18th century. He advocated restoring Muslim practices to the days of the prophet and his imperial successors. He sought to purify Islam of syncretism and of what he considered to be later innovations. When pilgrims influenced by Wahabism returned to Indonesia in the early 1800s, they instigated revolution not only against the Dutch but also against traditional aristocracies. (Back to Chart)

Salafi jihadists:

Salafi Muslims want just like Wahabi Muslims to return to the “perfect” Islam that was practiced in the days of Muhammad and his companions. The terms Salafi and Wahbi are often used interchangeably. Salafism differs from Wahabism (and is more dangerous) by drawing from all four of the legal systems in Sunni Islam. Salafists describe themselves as “Muwahidoon”, “Ahl al-Hadith”, or “Ahl at-Tawheed” (listen for these terms). Salafists reject calling themselves Wahabists. They contend Abd al-Wahab did not go far enough because he did not restore the pure Islam. Salafis usually reject Western ideologies such as Socialism and Capitalism as well as concepts like economics, constitutions, and political parties. They seek to advance Shari’a (Muslim law) rather than a Muslim political program or state. Salafi ideology represented in Sayyid Qutb is producing schismatic jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Back to Chart)


Followers of Abu Hanifa an-Nu’man ibn Thabit established this jurisprudence tradition around 780. It is the oldest of the four systems. It emphasizes human reason. It is the most liberal of the four schools, and it has the largest following. The Ottoman Empire ruling from Istanbul and the Mughal Empire ruling the Indian subcontinent used and spread this system. It is the most popular system nearly everywhere they ruled. (Back to Chart)


Two literary works by Imam Malik (711-795) inspire this jurisprudence system. It predominates in West Africa, North Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and parts of Saudi Arabia. Around fifteen percent of Muslims follow this system. It’s main distinctive comes from ascribing more weight to sources originating in Medina and precedents established there than sources and precedents derived from other early Muslim communities. (Back to Chart)


This is the second most widespread Muslim legal system. It’s name comes grom Imam ash-Shafi’i. His categories for legal reasoning included a secondary place for community consensus and analogy in addition to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Shafi jurisprudence is the official system for the governments of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is also predominates in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, the U.A.E. Chechnya, Kurdistan, Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, the Maldives, and Singapore. (Back to Chart)


This is a monotheistic faith founded in nineteenth-century Persia by a man claiming divine inspiration and the title Baha’ullah. Followers assert they follow a distinct and new religion. Most Muslim political and religious leaders do not concur. They say it is an apostate form of Islam. Followers have been severely persecuted in Iran and Egypt where their religious activities are illegal. Since Islam claims to be the last and final divine revelation, new religions are often less tolerated than old ones. Bahai followers view their heritage in Shia Islam to be similar to the heritage of Christians in Judaism. Worldwide followers number above seven million. Over two million live in India. The rest are widely distributed among all the world’s nations. Over 300,000 of them form the largest religious minority in Iran. (Back to Chart)


In the late 1800s, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the promised Jewish Messiah, second coming of Christ, and the Muslim Mahdi. He started the Ahmadiyya movement in British occupied India/Pakistan as a branch of Islam. His followers today claim to be Muslims leading the revival and peaceful propagation of true Islam. They predominantly live in Pakistan, Indonesia, and India. They have freedom in India, but are persecuted in Pakistan and Indonesia. Orthodox Muslims consider them heretics for embracing a prophet that followed Muhammad. (Back to Chart)

Nation of Islam:

Wallace D. Fard, a.k.a Elijah Muhammad, founded the Nation of Islam (NOI) in Detroit in 1930. He aspired to restructure the conditions of black men and women in America. He claimed to be the Mahdi of Islam and second coming of Christ. Louis Farrakhan heads the religious organization today. The NOI preaches adherence to the pillars of Islam, but its followers do not practice them in accordance with traditions in Islam. Many NOI teachings about God and mankind are not in accordance with mainstream Islam. (Back to Chart)


Sufism pervades every denomination of Islam at varying percent levels. It results in an inner mystical and experiential manifestation of personal spirituality that is outside of orthodox Muslim law and theology. Sufi movements span languages, cultures, continents, and a thousand years. Participants usually seek divine love and knowledge. They typically exhibit discipline and piety. They commonly use dancing, trances, chanting, and singing. They frequently venerate local saints at their tombs. Sufis are organized into brotherhoods around spiritual leaders and grouped into orders called tariqas. (Back to Chart)

Ways to Befriend Muslims on Their Holidays

Holidays offer great opportunities to start or strengthen relationships. The two holiest days in Islam are Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. Eid ul-Adha is the Feast of Sacrifice. It concludes the period set aside for the pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj, and it commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his firstborn son. Eid ul-Fitr is the Feast of Breaking the Fast. It concludes the fasting month of Ramadan during which Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Both of these times of feasting and celebration start at sunset and last for two or three days. Here are some ideas for leveraging this feast day in your relationships.

1. It is a time of giving sweets to each other and to children. Give your friend or neighbor a plate of candy, cake, or cookies to help them celebrate.

2. It is a time of giving small gifts to children. Give your friend or neighbor something simple for the children.

3. It is a time for holiday greeting card exchange. Give or mail your friend or neighbor an “Eid Mubarak” greeting card. You can make this yourself with images collected from the Internet or you can order one from a dealer on the Internet.

4. It is a time for sending text-message and e-mail holiday greetings. Send your friend or neighbor an “Eid Mubarak” or “Happy Feast Day” e-mail or text-message as they begin their celebrations.

5. It is a time when Muslims drop in on each other (often with house gifts). It’s a time when they expect and are prepared for visitors. These holidays are good times to visit your Muslim friend or neighbor to introduce yourself or build your relationship. You won’t necessarily need an appointment, but they may be out doing their own spontaneous visiting.

6. It is a time when Muslims ask for forgiveness from one another for any unspecified offenses that they may have committed against each other during the preceding year. Ask your Muslim friend or neighbor for general forgiveness on these days. Do not mention any specific offenses! Say something like, “If I’ve done anything to offend you in the time that we’ve known each other, will you please forgive me?”

7. It is a time of heightened religious awareness and instruction. It is a good time to ask questions about Islam and Muslim culture, especially about the holiday. However, do not criticize or try to speak knowledgeably about Muhammad or Islam. “Stay in your lane!” You may present yourself as the subject matter expert on Jesus, Christmas, and communion. Let them be the subject matter experts on all things Muslim.

Finally, in thoroughly unevangelized lands, some Muslims meet Jesus in visions and dreams ( Jesus-in-you, however, may be the only Jesus your Muslim friend or neighbor can be expected to ever meet. Jesus may want you to go out of your way so that he can meet some of your friends and neighbors who he would otherwise never get to know.