If and when a Christian makes an honest effort to convert a member of the Islamic faith, there is no definitive strategy and no book of rules to follow. But the Christian who has a great deal of passion about his or her faith must also have a great deal of patience and respect for the Muslim’s beliefs before launching the conversion effort. This paper points to the need for respect and tolerance Christians must embrace during conversion attempts.
ISLAM: Islam is probably the most often misunderstood of all religions. This is because of the fundamentalism combined with extremism that has resulted in campaigns of terrorism against the West by certain radical Arab groups who claim to be motivated by Islamic tenets. These violent groups use their Islamic religion to justify the bloodshed and wreckage they are responsible for.
The attacks on Western cultures (the U.S., UK, among others) are part of what is called “jihad” – the Arab word meaning “holy war” – which combines the fierce hatred for the West with a religious justification for the violence against the West. For example, when the al Qaeda organization (led by Osama bin laden) attacked the United States in 2001, many people in America and elsewhere came to hate people of the Islamic faith because they linked the horrific acts by Al Qaeda with all Muslims (another name for people of the Islamic faith).
Meanwhile, the truth behind Islam is far from any cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan where militant young men obtain weapons and ammunition and plot murder through suicide bombing strategies. The truth is that the word “Islam” actually means “submission…” To the will of God, who is the central figure in the religion. There is no Son of God, nor is there a Holy Ghost – there is only God – whose messages are brought to humans through prophets – and the Muslims are very strict about that. The Qur’an is to Islam what the Holy Bible is to Christians, and the Qur’an is believed to have been based on revelations brought from Angels through Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam.
The story of Islam cannot be told without including some of the history of Muhammad. According to the book a Muslim Primer: Beginner’s Guide to Islam (Zepp 18), Muhammad married a wealthy woman named Khadija and had six children – two boys (who died as infants) and four girls. The deaths of the two sons “…deepened his spiritual sensibilities” and helped Muhammad “appreciate the mercy and compassion of Allah” (Zepp 18). Although Muhammad was enjoying the fruits of affluent living during his marriage, he yearned for deeper meaning. He began to visit a cave near the summit of Mount Noor on a regular basis; he received peace there and had time and quietude for reflection and “contemplation.” This meditative period in his life gave him peace but also made him “restless,” Zepp writes. He began to have dreams and visions and heard voices.
On the night of the 27th day of Ramadan – when Muhammad had turned 40 – he clearly heard a voice “…next to him, as clear and distinct as if it belonged to a friend,” Zepp asserts on page 18. The voice asked him to “…Recite in the name of thy Lord and cherisher who created man of a clot of congealed blood! Proclaim!” This passage was taken from the Qur’an (96:1-2). This was the defining moment in Muhammad’s life. He was “overwhelmed” and protested to the voice that he couldn’t read or write, Zepp continues on page 19 of his book. He came to believe that the voice was the angel Gabriel, who had also spoken to Moses and to the Virgin Mary prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.
He understood that he had a huge responsibility to lead, using the philosophy and mandates that were being recited to him to give people a path to understanding and honoring Islam. Indeed, the main tenets of Islam are to give 2.5% on one’s incomes; to pray 17 prayers daily; to fast during certain holy days; to visit Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime; to recite the “shahadah” (bearing witness that there is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad is his messenger); and to fast during certain holy periods (and go without sex and drink).
HOW DO MUSLIMS VIEW JESUS CHRIST? The Islamic religion views Jesus Christ as a prophet, a major prophet in the same category as Abraham, Moses, Solomon, John the Baptist and Noah. But to suggest that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is “blasphemy,” according to the International Students publication (Worldview) “Islam.” And so any overture from a Christian to a Muslim must be made initially without pushing Christ as the Son of God. It must also be made without insisting that Christ died on the Cross for human’s sins, because Muslims believe that Judas died on the cross for Jesus, and that instead of being crucified, Christ went to Heaven. Further, since salvation in Islam (according to the Qur’an) is achieved simply by being a good person, and having performed more good deeds than bad deeds, there is no need to accept a “prophet” like Jesus Christ as the savior who can provide the keys to paradise.
HOW SHOULD a CHRISTIAN APPROACH a MUSLIM? Glover Shipp writes in the CBN.com (Christian Broadcasting Network) (“Sharing Christianity with Muslims”) that initially, the Christian must absolutely have a good working knowledge of Islam, and know the tenets as well as the identifying terms and phrases. Ignorance of Islam will close the door immediately to any worthwhile discussion. Also, Shipp continues, “hospitality and friendship are essential to any relationship with Muslims” (Shipp 2007). The reason good hospitality is so pivotal in any conversation a Christian has with a Muslim is that Muslims believe that Americans “…are superficial in their friendship and not particularly willing to open their hearts, homes, and kitchens.” Also, Christians must be “discreet” and realize that Muslims form friendships male-to-male and female-to-female.
Another way to indicate a warm willingness to befriend a Muslim is to invite the Muslim to a Christian event, preferably a group setting. In this environment, the Christian can demonstrate to the Muslim the “vital Christian faith and practice,” Shipp suggests. Once the conversation is well underway, and a tone of understanding and respect has been established, the Christians in the group can “…draw out the Muslim with sincere questions and share with him or her what Jesus means in their lives.”
That suggested interaction may sound a bit simplistic, and perhaps it is, but the article goes on to suggest perhaps a more workable plan for bringing Muslims to a point of at least accepting the validity of Christianity, if not embracing Christianity entirely. The article by Shipp references a dissertation by Evertt W. Huffard, who suggests using the Biblical concepts of Kabod, Doxa, and time – all of which are understood by Muslims. “Kabod” is a Hebrew word meaning honor (ethical honor and physical honor), which can mean “respect, praise, power, fear and worship,” according to Shipp. In other words, if both parties are speaking and understanding the same religious-based terminology, there can be a dialogue of meaning based on that unity of thought.
Also, “Doxa” means “glory” (and the Greek word “time” means “inner worth or social approval”) so again, knowing terms that are familiar to Muslims, and engaging in intelligent dialogue with those terms, is a good and smart way to approach Muslims with Christianity. For example, Huffard explained, “…what God has done through Christ is for His Doxa.” To wit, Christians are asked through their faith to “share the redemptive message because God’s honor is at stake,” Huffard (through Shipp’s narrative) explains. Of course getting through to the Muslim with the idea that Christ is the Son of God – which Muslims believe is heresy – won’t be a simple matter of sharing terms and ideas. But the Christian who truly wishes to approach a Muslim in an attempt to attract that Muslim to the Christian faith must begin somewhere, and must be patient, must have an open heart and mind, and must not be pushy or arrogant.
Meanwhile, Douglas Pratt, writing in the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice (Pratt 2007), suggests that a Christian discuss revelation with the Muslim. Christians and Muslims can agree that God has spoken through prophets – to Islam through Muhammad and to Christians through Jesus. And though the timing of what God said and the delivery of the divine messages may be different, “do not necessarily mean one is true and the other false, or that one is better than the other, or that the earlier is superseded by the latter.” Timing, Pratt insists, “is determined by God.” On another point – war and aggression – the Christian must be careful not to blame all Muslims with the present terrorist violence, and indeed the Christian must recognize openly, Pratt continues, that “Aggression has figured to a greater or lesser degree in the history of both religions.” So there is common ground for starters. Now, to avoid more generations and centuries of killing and hatred, Christians and Muslims must indeed find common ground. And for the Christian hoping to convert the Muslim, common ground is just the launching pad.
Another way of bringing the discussion down to familiar territory for the Muslim is to point out that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Muslims may believe that Christians worship “three Gods, and are therefore polytheists,” Pratt explains, and Christians may think that “Allah” is different than “God.” Getting past this point and explaining that the prophet Jesus Christ was the Son of God (and that it has been made clear in the prophecies through the Holy Bible) and that the “Holy Ghost” or “Holy Spirit” is not a God but rather a divine spirit that is ever-present and never-ending will likely bring about good dialogue for starters.
In the International Students’ material (“How Can We know the Bible is the Word of God?”) the emphasis is on the fact that the Bible is “historically accurate.” And while not putting down the historical accuracy of the Qur’an, a Christian must make a strong effort to lay out the truth about the Bible. Archaeologist Nelson Glueck argues “categorically” in this material that “no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.” Excavations in the Holy Land have verified the writings in the Bible again and again as historically accurate, according to William Ramsay (quoted in the Religion Profile). The Bible was written by men who were teachers and taught “the highest standard of ethics, including the obligation to always tell the truth,” and even though many of the writers of the Bible “paid a high price for their truthfulness” – martyrdom. It can be explained to the Muslim that few people are willing to die for what they know “…to be false,” the Religion Profile asserts, and therefore the authors of the 40 books in the Bible who gave their lives by standing up for the truth of what they wrote should be believed and respected.
Writing in Time Magazine (“Should Christians Convert Muslims?”), David Van Biema explains that any Christian attempting to convert a Muslim should know that “Of the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam is the most ferociously opposed to the straying of its flock” (Van Biema, 2003). Indeed, Van Biema continues, Shari’a law calls for “the death penalty” for Muslims who leave the faith for other religions; if not death, at least “persecution” is quite common in some Muslim countries. So a Christian asking a Muslim to convert is risking harm to that Muslim, albeit the Gospel according to Matthew (the “Great Commission”) says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
CONCLUSION: The devout Christian trying to convert a devout Muslim has a Herculean task, a very steep mountain to climb. Among the two most difficult teachings of the Christian faith to put across to the Islamic believer are: one, that Jesus Christ was not just a prophet but the Son of God; and two, that sin is not just a matter of having made bad decisions, but in fact sin is a moral rejection of God, which cries out for acceptance of Christ’s dying on the Cross as a path to forgiveness. If those two Christian principles can be conveyed (and accepted by the Muslim) through respectful, honest dialogue, the Christian believer will have completed a task only a very few accomplish.
International Students, Inc. “Secularism / Is Jesus the Only Way to God? / How Can We Know
The Bible is the World of God? / World Religions Overview.”
Pratt, Douglas. “Islam: A Challenge to Christianity.” The New Zealand Journal of Christian
Thought & Practice 15.2 (2007), 2-9.
Shipp, Glover. “Evangelism: Sharing Christianity with Muslims.” The Christian Broadcasting
Network. (2007). Retrieved Feb. 4, 2008, at http://www.cbn.com.
Van Biema, David. “Should Christians Convert Muslims?” Time Magazine. 15 June, 2003.
Retrieved Feb. 4, 2008, at http://www.time.com.
Zepp, Ira G. A Muslim Primer: Beginner’s Guide to Islam. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
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