Beginning in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, the Christian faith spread by preaching the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The book of Acts tells how despite persecutions, the first Christians “preached the word wherever they went” (8:4). The early centuries of Islam followed a much different pattern. Already during the lifetime of Muhammad, his religion spread by the sword. At the time of his death, the prophet was ruler over most of Arabia. That pattern of conquest did not stop with his passing.
Spread of Islam under the Rightly Guided Caliphs
The early and formative history of Islam revolves around the first four successors of Muhammad, all of whom ruled from the city of Medina in Arabia.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the Bible, God’s revelation, which in the Old Testament prophesies the coming of the Messiah and then in the New relates how those prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. At the heart of Islam is the book known as the Qur’an. The Arabic word Qur’an means “reading” or “reciting,” a reference to the command said to have been given to Muhammad to read or recite.
Unlike the Bible, which consists of 66 books written by several dozen inspired writers over 1500 centuries—from 1400 B. C. to A.D. 100—the Qur’an is the product of one man, Muhammad, between the years 610 and 632. Moreover, while the Bible is arranged chronologically and by subject matter, the Qur’an follows no such arrangement. Rather, it is simply a collection of chapters, called suras, which are divided into verses, called ayat.
The interchange between Christianity and Islam is not unique to our age. The ancient centers of Christendom—Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, Alexandria—fell under Muslim control, and in the first strongholds of the Christian faith, the churches all but died off.
The first word that comes to the minds of many in thinking of Muslim-Christian interactions is Crusades, and Muslims often respond to criticisms of jihad by claiming Christians did the same thing in the Crusades. Often the Crusades are portrayed as a Christian invasion of Muslim lands. Historical facts show it was not that simple.