According to the Gallup Poll on the Muslim World around 7% of Muslims worldwide have Islamist sympathies. Currently, this group garners the most media attention, and yet they are the group that many Muslim majority countries fear. Here are some of the distinctive features of this group:

  • Seek to develop an Islamic socio-political Muslim society
  • Reject nationalism, secularism, communism and Westernization
  • Emphasize “Islamic” values and institutions in response to Western counterparts
  • Want an Islamic state
  • Groups: Muslim Brotherhood (Salafia) http://www.ikhwanweb.com/, Jama’at Islami and Revolutionary Iran

Oppose: Secularists, Nationalists, Liberals, Modernists, Westernized Muslims and some Puritans


This group of Muslims have a pristine view of the time of Muhammad, thus they want to get back to the time of their prophet and his practices. They believe in a strict adherence to this early form of Islam. The following ideals belong to the Puritans:

  • Concerned with theological matters such as ‘correct Islamic belief.’
  • Get rid of reverence for saints and saint-worship, magic, certain Sufi practices and any innovation (bid’ah)
  • They are literalists
  • Groups: Wahhabis.
  • Oppose: Shi’is, Mu’tazilis, Sufis, Muslim ‘orientalists’, innovators and liberal Ijtihadis.

These Muslims believe that Islam was codified by the 12th century and that there can be no new developments in religion since that time. They look to the literature before the 12th century to find Islamic interpretations for the modern world. Their stance has caused stagnation for them in today’s world. The following are characteristics of traditionalists:

  • Follow strictly the pre-modern schools of Islamic law
  • Uphold solutions arrived at by pre-modern jurists and theologians
  • Reject reforms to Islamic law and criticism of traditionalism
  • Dominate the traditional seminary system across the Islamic world.
  • Groups:Most Muslims fit this category (http://www.ammanmessage.com/)
  • Oppose: Anyone who calls for reform (ijtihad), modernists, neo-modernists, Western-educated Islamic scholars and ‘liberal’ Muslims

These Muslims favor re-opening the door of creative and innovative interpretation of Islam in order to find a place in the modern world. They want a version of Islam that will have positive impacts on the world around it. The following represents this group:

  • Argue for major changes in the methodology of Islamic law and reform
  • Islamic law needs substantial change to meet the needs of Muslims today
  • Traditional Islamic law is not relevant for today and needs new laws to keep up with Muslim needs today.
  • Groups: Modern, liberal and even ‘secular’ Muslims and some reform-minded traditionalists.
  • Oppose: Traditionalists, some puritans and Islamists.

This group is the western educated “elite” within Islamic society. They relegate religion to personal belief and some in this category believe that the religion of Islam is actually the problem. Their distinctives are:

  • Islam is a personal belief
  • They value personal piety
  • No need for an Islamic state nor implementation of sha’ria law
  • Oppose: anyone calling for an Islamic state, socio-political order or those seeking to implement a pre-modern Islamic law in society. (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/isis/)
African American Islam

These Muslims are defined by their ethnicity and fall into two categories. The first are mostly Sunni Muslims who want to get back to the original religion of their African ancestors. The second are the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist movement with religious ideas that other Muslims deem “heretical”.

  • Warith Deen Muhammad, former head of The Muslim American Society (MAS) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Society_of_Muslims
  • Imam Siraj Wahhaj is a prominent modern spokesman for Sunni African Muslims http://www.imamsiraj.org/
  • MAS Operates Clara Muhammad Schools 27 elementary, secondary, and high schools throughout the U.S.
  • Louis Farrakhan, leader of the racist Nation of Islam (http://www.noi.org)
Mystic Muslims (Sufism)

Focus on the inner spiritual life as a response to modernity. Many of the practices of mystical Muslims are found in pre-Islamic practices or mystical practices found in other eastern or animistic religions. Relationship with God is paramount.

  • They are in love with God
  • Poetry and song are used to express their love
  • Some seek mystical union with the divine
  • Groups: International Association of Sufism http://ias.org/, Rumi Forum http://www.rumiforum.org/, Fethullah Gulen http://en.fgulen.com/

This is a group that has been victimized by political, social and/or religious upheaval in their country of origin. Often they have little education and only practice what they have been taught about Islam from their families. The trauma and chaos they have gone through has deeply scared and shaped their worldview.

  • Refugees are disenfranchised, displaced people – nothing is normal
  • Circumstances – abused, neglected, disappointed, hopeless
  • Trust – Broken trust in government, news agencies, ideologies, and religionhttp://www.cal.org/co/muslims/mtoc.html
Folk/Popular Islam

These Muslims mix their practice of religion with animism and magic. They believe the world to be populated by angels, jinn and demons. Over 80% of the Muslims in the world fall into this category.

  • Poor and uneducated
  • Use charms and amulets for protection
  • Use Qur’an as book of magic
  • Support for their beliefs are found in:
    • Qur’an
    • Hadith
    • Superstition


“Who Speaks for Islam” is a title of a book written in 2007. We must be careful that our opinions of Islam are not shaped by the news media. There are many voices or expressions of Islam in the world today.  There are some major movements all vying to be the authentic voice of Islam. What is certain is:

  • A global crisis has increased the stress level within the world-wide Muslim community
  • Some of the literature in the Muslim World is distinctly anti-Western and apologetic in nature
  • Many Muslims are victims of Islamic agendas
  • Some Muslims are open to dialog due to the crisis within Islam

A Christian Response

Some have responded to Islam with fear, others with an uncritical acceptance and still others with attacks and political agendas. But, as followers of Christ we must lovingly approach Muslims with the truth of the Gospel. Only then can they be free from their bondage and enter into God’s Kingdom. Here are some practical steps in embracing Muslims with the Gospel:

  • Show them the loving body of Christ
  • Receive those who are victims of Islamic violence
  • Pray for our Muslim neighbors
  • Resist reducing Islam and Muslims to an ideology we can attack
  • Share Christ with those who are willing to listen