A Christian Witness to Islam
Islam is a familiar presence in most Western countries today and, like Christians, Muslims carry a responsibility to share their faith.
“The first objective of the Islamic council is to assist, support and supplement the activities . . . of da’wah (mission).” – Salem Azzam (Secretary General of the Islam Council of Europe)
Christians were told that the 90’s was to be a decade of Evangelism, but many have asked who was and is doing that evangelism?
As Islam is seeking to influence both directly and indirectly the people of the West, what are we doing? Our commission from the Lord is to be a witness to the whole world, but is the Christian Church asleep?
Across the country, where once there were Christian Churches, these have closed and now they serve as mosques. Even in Conservative Working in Surrey there is a Mosque (the first purpose built Mosque in the UK). Regents Park in London is now the home of one of the largest Mosques in Europe. In the Cromwell Road, home of the Natural History, Science and Geological and Victoria & Albert Museums you can now find a splendid Islamic Cultural Centre.
There are now some 2,000,000 Muslims and over 200 Mosques in the UK. Also 22,000,000 copies of Muslims newspapers are published here daily. All this is good news for Muslims and a sign of good health in a pluralistic, muti-cultural society. For most Christians, however, it is a challenge to examine our own lives and missionary efforts.
The nature of their lifestyle and the commitment of their faith would suggest that Muslims often outshine the born-again believers in terms of how they live their lives. Muslims today look at our society and do not see a Christian society, they look at Christian religion and see what they regard as homosexual depravity in the `priesthood’. They see division in the Church, they see leaders involved in sexual misconduct and not believing in the `pillars’ of the faith.
What they see is a nation ripe for conversion to Islam. Would we not take a similar view were the roles reversed? Would we not seek to win a nation ripe for conversion? Then what are we doing about it?
There is a real need to understand what these new members of our society believe, and how we can present the truth of the Gospel to them, and at the same time to our neighbours generally.
The challenge rests with those who have a sure knowledge and a hope of their salvation to be an expression of the love of Christ to those who walk in great darkness – that task falls to you and me.
There are an estimated 500,000,000 Muslims in the world. The religion dominates more than three dozen countries on three continents. There are also, supposedly, about 1,000 Islam missionaries trained each year to spread their message worldwide. In Europe, Islam is the second largest religion. In 1982, there were 24,000,000 Muslims in the whole of Europe and 8,700,000 in Western Europe. More recent estimates can be found at this website. In the USA there are 3,500,000 Muslims, four times the number ten years ago.
Islamic countries are becoming increasingly zealous for Islam and we are witnessing a troubling growth in the extreme militant strain of Islamic belief. More and more countries in the Middle East are becoming run by Islamic regimes. When this happens, it can be readily seen that Islam is not just a religion, but is a way of life. In fact, in Islamic countries, the Muslim faith is interwoven with politics, justice, social behaviour, culture, etc.
Most Islamic regimes also want to reintroduce Shari’a, the Islamic law which (among other things) demands the death of those proved adulterous and which demands the hand of those caught thieving, etc. One of the main catalysts for this renewed Islamic zeal is the re-emergence of the state of Israel. Nationalism, coupled with the Islamic faith and reaction against the enemy, Israel, has served as a raison d’être for many in the Arab world. S. Neil also explains,
“The special intensity and vigour of Islamic, and especially Arab, nationalism springs from a complex of causes – memories of past splendour, resentment over Muslim weakness and Christian strength, and above all that obscure sense of malaise, the feeling that in some way history has gone awry, that somehow the purposes of God are not being fulfilled as the Muslim has a right to expect.”
This is coupled with a backlash to the Western secularism trying to creep into Islamic countries made possible by the wealth generated by petrodollars.
Many countries that embrace Islam as the state religion are expelling Christian Missionaries. Some are even killing the missionaries and outlawing Christian teaching altogether. People who have rejected Islam and become Christians are severely persecuted, for instance, they lose their jobs, are cut off from their family, and have even been the victims of violence. In the zeal for their religion, followers of Islam, in these countries, are totally intolerant of all other religions and ideologies. In fact, most zealous Muslims are trying to purge all forces which compete against Islam. This includes Christianity, communism, western ideology/capitalism, and wrong or weak Islamic sects. Another symptom of Islamic zeal is the way they force their teaching on other people and their, often violent reaction if they are rejected. This is seen especially today in the, ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War’ mentality exhibited by many followers of Islam.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world today. It has the appeal of a universal message, because of its simple creed and tenets. Anyone can enter the ‘Ummah’, the community of faithful Muslims. There are no racial barriers and thus it spreads quickly among the black countries of Africa, and more recently, the black communities in the USA. Its five doctrines and five pillars can be easily communicated.
There is also a real sense of brotherhood among Muslims, which means that a Muslim can go from one part of the world to work in another, and be welcomed. This is very attractive to many people in poorer countries who want to work in say an oil-rich Arab nation. In the West, it is making appeals to the universal brotherhood of man, world peace and temperance. Islam also appeals to those who welcome a religious and nationalistic worldview that permeates every facet of life. However, it is ultimately unfulfilling.
WHAT DOES ISLAM BELIEVE?
A Westerner’s first impression will probably confirm the Muslim’s claim to a simple, uncomplicated faith. An apparently uncluttered theology works itself out in a seemingly rigid, puritanical way of life. A deeper knowledge of current movements in Islam may give pause for thought, but a superficial view of Islam reveals a male-dominated society with strict taboos on drink and tobacco. What then does Islam believe?
The central plank in Muslim faith is a strict monotheistic belief in one God. The Muslims creed states firmly that there is no God but Allah. All other deities are vain idols. Allah alone is God. He is the one sovereign creator of the world. He is supremely great and none can be compared or associated with him. He is so perfect that it is blasphemous to suggest that he could have a son.
Linked to the uniqueness of God in the Muslim creed is the affirmation that Muhammad is God’s prophet. Muhammad makes no claims to deity. He is sent by God as a messenger to bring the message of God to men. He comes as God’s signpost to show men the way.
There were many prophets before Muhammad, including Abraham and the other Old Testament figures, but he is the final prophet. Other nations and peoples had their prophets, but Muhammad came as the messenger of God to Arabs and then, through the Arabs, to the rest of the world.
HEAVEN AND HELL
God’s word through Muhammad clearly warns men of the dangers of hell and the beautiful possibility of heaven. Believers in the one God will probably be granted the bliss of heaven with all the pleasures thereof. Idolaters are liable for the penalty of hell. Judgement according to the will of God is based fundamentally on a man’s works.
God has sent a variety of Holy Books through several prophets even before the coming of Muhammad. The four main books are the Law through the prophet Moses, the Psalms through the prophet David, the Gospel through the prophet Isa (Jesus) and then finally the Qur’an through the prophet Muhammad. Just as there will be no further prophets after Muhammad, so too the Qur’an brings this series of divine Books to its end.
The Qur’an was originally written on a tablet in heaven by God himself. Muhammad played no part in forming the content of the Qur’an, he merely acted as the channel through whom God sent down his revealed message to men. The Qur’an is, therefore totally divine without any human influence or participation. God’s revelation comes through the ministry of angels. Belief in angels stands therefore as a basic tenet of Islam.
THE FIVE PILLARS
The faith of Islam is demonstrated by submission to the will of God, which is particularly seen in the five pillars of Islam.
1. FAITH – All Muslims must subscribe to the simple credal statement that there is no other God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. This creed will be recited frequently throughout life and finally to the angels of Judgement in the grave.
2. PRAYER – Five times each day the faithful are called to the ritual prayer of Islam. On Fridays it is customary that every Muslim should be in the Mosque for at least one of these five prayer times, but on other days Muslims may fulfil their prayers wherever they happen to be. Strict rituals are laid down on how to purify the place where one prays, how to perform one’s ritual washing and the exact movements and words of the prayers themselves. The final act of the prayers is prostration, when every Muslim symbolically bends in submission to Allah with his forehead to the ground.
3. THE FAST – Through the entire month of Ramadam each year, all Muslims must refrain from allowing anything to pass the throat during the hours of daylight. Before dawn and after sundown the Muslims may eat and drink to their heart’s content, but through the long hours of day they may neither eat nor drink. In a hot climate such self-discipline is costly.
4. ALMS – The law of Islam lays down detailed and strict regulations about how much a Muslim must give in alms to the poor. Muhammad himself was an orphan from a poor family, so the care of the poor played a vital part in his teaching. The alms-giving law exemplifies the reforming role that the new religion of Islam played in the social setting of Mecca and Medina. In the light of current debates about accumulated wealth it is interesting to note that alms were given according to a man’s capital, not just his income.
5. PILGRIMAGE – Before the time of Muhammad it was already customary in Arabia to make the pilgrimage to the great black meteorite stone in Mecca. Under Islam this ancient practice was given a new theological dress, but the basis of the pilgrimage rite continued as before. Today, it is mandatory that every Muslim man should perform the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless ill health, extreme poverty or some other major problem prevents it.
The above merely scratches the surface of the beliefs of Islam and greater study would be helpful in order to be effective witnesses to the people. Two recommended books on the subject are Islam and the Christian Witness by Martin Goldsmith and The Historical Development of the Qur’an by Rev. Canon Sell.
CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM
Although many Muslim beliefs come from the Bible, the difference between the two faiths is striking. Muhammad was favourably disposed to Christians, and indeed the Jews, in his early life. However, later he turned against them although he was less severe in his attitude to Christians compared to his attitude to Jews. Of the beliefs of Christianity, Muhammad seems to have had a very superficial and sometimes wholly incorrect knowledge.
To help us understand the position we will draw a comparison between Islamic and Christian fundamental beliefs.
Islam has divorced God from his creation, and in such a way that he cannot even be associated with it. His transcendence is so great that he acts impersonally, i.e., he is too far removed from people to be personally involved or concerned. Not only is he impersonal, but he also emphasises judgement to the exclusion of love, and he motivates people by fear rather than by grace. In fact, Allah is very deficient in such attributes as love, holiness and grace.
Because of the Islamic doctrine of predestination and the fact that both evil and good came from Allah, the God of Islam is a very capricious one. Whatever Allah chooses becomes right. This makes any true standard of righteousness or ethics hard, if not impossible, to discern. This is unlike the God of the Bible who is righteous – the very word righteous means ‘standard’.
Islam teaches the unity of God’s essence and personality, explicitly excluding the Trinity as taught in the Bible. Muhammad accused Christians of being polytheists because of their belief in the Trinity. Some scholars even believe Muhammad thought the Christian Trinity consisted of the Father, the Virgin and the Child. If this is true it is not surprising that he repudiated the whole area of the Sonship of Christ. The Qur’an in fact depicts Christ as a prophet whose followers deified both him and his mother against his will.
“Praise belongs to God, who has not taken to Him a son, and who has not any associate in the Kingdom.” – Surah 17:110.
Muslims find it difficult to divorce the concept of father from the physical realm. To them, it is blasphemous to call Allah or God your father. To do so is the same as saying that your mother and Allah had sexual intercourse to produce you! In addition, while calling God ‘Father’ is to evoke thoughts of love, compassion, tenderness, and protectiveness to Christians, it is not so to the Muslim mind. To a Muslim the father is strict and shows no emotion; he never expresses love; he is bound to his family by duty, not devotion, and for what his family can provide for him.
B. THE BIBLE
Muslims reject the Bible as the only authoritative book on which to base all matters of doctrine, faith and practice. They believe that the sayings of Moses, the prophets, David, and Jesus are holy books. However, these are not exactly like our Scriptures because the real sayings have been lost or corrupted over the centuries by Jews and Christians.
Muhammad based his teaching on inaccurate and untrue interpretations of the Bible. There is no historical evidence to support Muhammad’s contentions that either the Jewish or Christian scriptures have been corrupted. Muslims believe that only the Qur’an, the words of Muhammad, have been preserved free from error. The truth is though, that Muhammad’s teaching in the Qur’an, is based on revelations which he initially believed were demonic in origin.
C. JESUS CHRIST
Muslims do not believe in the deity of Christ; that He was the incarnate Son of God (John 1:1,14,34: John 10:30). They also do not believe that Christ was crucified and was resurrected – cornerstones of the Christian faith. Muhammad’s beliefs, recorded in the Qur’an, state that Isa – the Qur’anic name for Jesus – was born of the virgin Mary (Surah 3:45-47). However, it is not the same as the Christian virgin birth, because Jesus is certainly not regarded as the only begotten Son of God. According to the Qur’an, an angel (rather than the Holy Spirit) was the agency of God’s power in the conception. In fact, as we have already seen, the idea that Allah had a son is repugnant to Muslims.
Islam does believe that Jesus was a sinless prophet (Surah 19:19), but to Muslims, he was not as great as Muhammad. The Qur’an also states that Jesus was the Messiah, and is called God’s ‘word’ (Surah 3:45) and ‘a spirit from God’ (Surah 4:171). He was a great miracle worker (Surah 3:49) and one of the great prophets but the Qur’an depicts him as expressly disclaiming his deity. To Muslims, Jesus is not the Son of God, or Saviour. In fact, they believe that equating anyone with God is blasphemy – the unforgivable sin.
“People of the book, Go not beyond the bounds of your religion … The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God, and His word that He committed to Mary, and a Spirit from Allah. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not, ‘Three’. God is only One God!” – Surah 4:171-172.
The Qur’an also seems to deny that he ever died on the cross. Instead it says that, ‘it was made to appear so’ (Surah 4:156-158) and that God caught him up to Himself. This has mostly been interpreted by orthodox Muslims as meaning that someone else was crucified in his place by mistake, many actually believe this to be Judas. Others believe that it was Christ on the cross, but that He did not die. However, another Qur’anic passage speaks of the death of Jesus (Surah 19:33). The Bible teaches that Christ went to the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sins, died, and was raised from the dead, appeared to the disciples and then ascended to heaven (2 Corinthians 15:3-6,17).
Muhammad also believed that Jesus Christ had foretold the coming of another prophet Ahmad (a variant of Muhammad). Muslims have frequently maintained that Christians have changed this reference into the predictions of the ‘Paraclete’ in the later part of John’s Gospel. The traditions also add that Christ is to come again, to marry and have children, to break the symbol of the cross, and to acknowledge Islam. In Muslim eschatology, the second coming of Christ and the advent of Madhi, the ‘Guided One’, are inextricably mingled.
For a Muslim, sin is lack of obedience to Allah. Muslims, therefore, do have a sense of sin and of the need for forgiveness. However, for the Muslim, man is sinful by act only, not by nature. Muslims also do not believe that sin against God is hurtful to God. The most heinous of sins to the Muslim are polytheism, apostasy, scepticism, and impiety, beside which social sins, and all more subtle forms of evil, pale into comparative insignificance. In contrast, the Bible teaches that all men are sinful by nature; and that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
A Muslim operates under a legalistic system and must earn his salvation. This is mainly achieved by holding to the articles of Faith and by following the Pillars of Faith. A Muslim’s salvation, therefore, is never certain, because it is based on a system of works and complete surrender to the will of Allah. Unlike the God of the Bible, Allah has done nothing for man that cost him anything. The Bible teaches that salvation is achieved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. The Islamic God of strict judgement, Allah, cannot offer the mercy, love, and ultimate sacrifice on mankind’s behalf that the Christian God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, offers each man today.
SHARING THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL WITH A MUSLIM
Be a genuine friend. If you really do care, show it by inviting Muslims to your home, thus sharing your time. Help them with their problems and show them the God of Love through your actions. Do this, when possible, before you start sharing the gospel with them. It also helps if you know something about their beliefs and lifestyle.
Exemplary Lifestyle. Many followers of Islam will be looking at your life and weighing it against their own. Many of these people have given up much for their faith, for instance, they don’t play much sport as they want to submit everything, all their time and energy to Allah. They also never blaspheme; unquestioningly accept Islamic doctrine; don’t argue about the divinity of Allah; and don’t enter into sexual immorality, drunkenness, etc. When, therefore, a Muslim looks at the lives of some Christians, and sees a lifestyle not matching the belief, they are turned off from Christianity feeling that the person doesn’t have as effective a belief in Christianity as he has in Islam. Obviously, they will not readily listen to the gospel message from such people.
A loving God. Muslims are bound with fear and superstition, and have no assurance of salvation. If they see by the testimony of your life that Christianity is different and that the Christian God whom you follow is loving and forgiving, it will speak much to them.
Use the Word of God. Muslims respect the sacred books: the Law of Moses, the Psalms, the Gospel of Jesus and the Koran. When using the Word of God, let it speak for itself. All we often have to do is to let God’s Word loose into Muslim lives. The Gospels are the best portions to start with, especially Matthew and Luke.
The Power of God. Demonstrate the power of God in your life. This will show them that your faith is living and active and dependant on God and His Word.
Be Constantly in Prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who wins men to Christ. Seek His guidance and power as you present the Word.
Ask Thought-Provoking Questions. Do you expect to go to heaven? Do you have the assurance that God will accept you? What does the Qur’an teach about forgiveness? May I show you what the Bible teaches? Questions like these show that you have an interest in the important things in life.
Listen Attentively. When you ask a question, courtesy requires that you listen to the answer, no matter how long it takes. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn.
Present your beliefs openly. State what you believe clearly and without apology, showing scripture passages that support those teachings. Thus, you place the responsibility for doctrine where it belongs – on the Word of God.
Reason and Don’t Argue. Argument may win a point, but usually loses the hearer. There are some points on which you can argue forever without achieving anything, except, maybe, the closing of the very mind you wish to open up.
Never Denigrate Muhammad or the Qur’an. This is as offensive to them as speaking disrespectfully about Christ or the Bible is to us.
Respect Their Customs and Sensitivities. Don’t offend by putting your Bible, a Holy Book, on the floor; or by appearing too free with members of the opposite sex; or by refusing hospitality; or by making jokes about sacred topics such as fasting, prayer, or God.
Persevere. Muslims have a lot of rethinking to do when they are confronted with the gospel. The Word of God and the testimony of your life will do their work, in God’s time. Never give up on Muslims. Don’t look at the Muslim mountain and say it cannot be moved, because it can and will be in God’s way and time.
As Christians, we need to pray for these very needy and bound people. Today, communism, which has been a great hindrance to the spread of the gospel in the countries dominated by it, is being dismantled. I believe that God wants to do the same in Islamic countries so that the gospel message can indeed be preached to the ends of the earth. Remember, Islam was founded by a dead prophet; Christianity was founded by a risen Saviour.