By Rony Tomo, Guest Blogger Working With Muslims in the Middle East
Part One, The GCR and Islam
First of all, I must make it clear that I am sharing about my encounters with devout Muslims because I have had the most contact with them. To clarify the term, devotion does not mean that one wants to join a terrorist network. However, devout Muslims do take their faith seriously, and as a result of that reverence, at times they may seem to express sympathies for violent organizations. Devout Muslims will pray 5 times a day, refrain from drinking alcohol and eating pork, will regularly read and study the Qu’ran, and will seek to live life after the example set by the prophet Muhammad, or at least the example they have been taught that Muhammad set.
Now, I want to begin by sharing three common barriers that one will likely face in a discussion with a devout Muslim about Jesus and the Gospel. Some of these barriers will be present in a conversation with any Muslim, but these three specifically are common when talking with an individual who takes the Islamic faith seriously.
- Jesus is NOT God (God is ONE). This objection is the most common objection with any Muslim. The Qu’ran states that Allah is one and that Allah begets not, nor is He begotten (Surah 112:3). Muslims are taught this over and over again from the time that they are young children. As soon as a believer states that Jesus is the Son of God or that Jesus is God, a Muslim is ready to regurgitate that Surah from the Qu’ran. For a Muslim, to say that Jesus is the “Son of God” is to say that Jesus is the offspring of a sexual union between God and a woman. One can argue and reason all day long that the term “Son of God” is not a description of offspring, but the explanation will be ignored. Repeatedly, I have run into this barrier. So, what do we do? Obviously, we cannot ignore this truth that is essential to the Gospel. So, one must make a “game time” decision when dialoguing with a Muslim at what point you want to proclaim the deity of Christ. I have wrestled with this for a few months and believe that it is best to not begin the conversation with this topic. You can come to this later on down the road. At the same time, one must exercise caution in this area. To leave out Jesus’ deity and rightful place as the second member of the Godhead is to violate the Gospel. The truth is that the Gospel is an obstacle and an offense to many. Yet, we are set apart to be messengers of the truth and must share it regardless of the consequences.
Conclusion: Do not begin your conversation by saying “Jesus is God’s Son, deal with it…” Perhaps it would be best to begin somewhere else. Some have suggested that it is more effective to highlight the actions and declarations (miracles, authoritative commands, and forgives sins) that demonstrate Jesus’ deity. Approaching the deity of Jesus this way allows one to establish that Jesus is God, while at the same time avoiding a problematic term. In light of this dilemma, make sure that you get to Jesus. The Gospel is all about Jesus. Without Him, you do not have a message worth sharing in the first place.
- The Bible (Particularly the NT –Injil) has been changed over time and is no longer a reliable document. Naturally, a Christian will refer to the NT when talking about Jesus and the Gospel. The problem when talking with a Muslim is that they do not believe the Bible to be authoritative. They will agree with the majority or even all of the OT, but the Qu’ran states that the NT has been corrupted over time by human hands (Surah 2:79). This is a convenient argument for the Muslim because it allows them to reject anything from the NT as authoritative. So, how do we respond? There are at least three ways to respond to this objection. First, you can defend the authority of the Bible by proving the reliability of the Scriptures. The argument that it has been significantly changed over time is historically inaccurate. There are over 5,000 manuscripts that show that the texts have been unchanged since they were recorded in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Second, we must demonstrate that we have confidence in the Word of God. Many Muslims affirm the OT, we can use that to show the promised coming of the Messiah. Also, give them a copy of God’s Word so they can read it for themselves (we will look at this more in detail later). In my opinion, getting them into the Bible is the most important answer to this objection. Third, you can recite to them the passage from the Qu’ran that encourages them to read the Holy books that came before the Qu’ran (Surah 4:136). You do not want to give too much credit to the Qu’ran in your arguments, but this is one area where you can use what they believe to be authoritative to push them to the Scriptures.
Conclusion: There is no way to avoid this discussion. Defend the Bible. Demonstrate that you have a high respect for the Word of God, read it in front of them, and read it and share it with them.
- Hypocrisy: Christians do not take their religion seriously. We never see them praying. They live life as if they are not accountable to God. Of all three barriers, this one is certainly the most accurate. Muslims all around the world watch the lives of professed Christians and they are appalled by what they observe. Women dress provocatively, men look at pornography on the Internet, and children have no respect for authority. Do not be mistaken, Muslims are not little angels who live holy lives either; they also are masters at hiding their sin. Yet, this indictment on the lives that Christians lead must be heard. When they look at Christians, they do not see people who have a reverence and fear of the Lord. They believe that we are jokes. Often times they are right. There is no easy way to get around this barrier. The honest truth is that most Muslims have never seen a Christian who takes his or her faith seriously. When they do, it is an eye-opening experience for them.
Conclusion: Explain that not all people who claim to be Christian truly are, just as all people who claim to be Muslim are not truly Muslim. Then explain to them the life of a true Christian. Tell them that you strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, following after the example set in the Scriptures, and that you are a strong advocate of prayer, Bible reading, helping orphans/widows/poor, and that you seek to model your life after the example of Jesus in the Bible. At the same time, we must be clear that living a “good “ life is not possible on our own. On our own strength, we will fail. The good news that we have for the Muslim is that Jesus came and died on the cross because of our sin, so that we could be forgiven and have our hearts changed. As a result of a changed heart, we now strive to live holy lives, not because we are trying to gain God’s approval, but because we have already been accepted by God through Christ and transformed to live like Him.
This list of barriers is not exhaustive. Christians and Muslims have been debating and arguing for centuries, and there are many more barriers than those shared above. However, these are three critical barriers that believers must be familiar with when dialoguing with a Muslim. These barriers can be broken down over time and are not impossible to get around (although at times you may feel like you are ramming your head into a brick wall!). Paul explains to the church at Corinth that the Gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Muslims), foolishness. We cannot expect them to accept Christianity as truth the first time they talk to a Christian. Remember that they are being asked to reject everything they have been taught since childhood. This is not a decision made overnight. This is a decision that they must wrestle with for months and years before they are ready to commit their lives to Christ. In the meantime, we pray that the Lord would tear down these barriers and allow them to clearly see the truth of the Gospel. In the next post I will share what I believe to be the three most effective bridges that one can use when trying to share the Gospel with a Muslim.