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15. The challenge of Islam: a Christian perspective

My life (put) alongside God's word. Islam section.


by Elisama Daniel

The challenge of Islam as a force to be reckoned with in

world evangelism and missions needs to be discussed.

Here, we briefly look at the similarities that exist

between Christianity and Islam, then give a broad

outline of the differences. The issue of tolerance and

intolerance of non-Muslims by Muslims, in situations

where Muslims are both the majority and minority, is

outlined. Islam is a hard religion to penetrate with the

Gospel and those who choose to follow Christ from

among them pay a high price. Nevertheless, the

opportunities to reach them are tremendous. It is a task

to be confronted by prayer and action. Different strategies and methods are prayerfully suggested to all those burdened for the lost peoples of the world, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Islam is the second biggest religion in the world with 19.6% of the population and it has one of the fastest annual growth rates at about 2.9%. This compares with Christianity (all denominations) which represents 32.8% of the total world population and has an annual growth rate of

2.3%. Most Muslims live in the territory stretching from west Africa to central and southeast Asia, but their numbers are also increasing in the West. The significantly high growth rates in Islam are largely attributed to high birth rates, but also come through conversions.


Therefore, if Christians believe the Bible to be true saying that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life", John 3:16, and "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved", Acts 4:12, then we might need to humbly pray and reach out with God's love to all His people, including all of the Muslims.


In recent years several changes have taken place, with the result that Islam is now very much a force to be reckoned with. The Muslims feel that for centuries they have been exploited and ignored by many countries, especially the so-called Christian countries

of the West. Now that oil has given them wealth and power, they are keen to make up for the lost time.


What is Islam?

The Muslim faith's sacred book is the Qur’an, always referred to as the final book of guidance from Allah, sent down to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel (Jibril) in

a period of 23 years. It contains 114 chapters (surras) and over 6000 verses (ayyat). The Sunnah, another important collection of Islam, is the example of the prophet Mohammed which is contained in the books of the Tradition (El Hadith). They are collections of his

sayings and actions, and the actions approved by him.


The six main beliefs (iman) of Muslims are:

  • Belief in one God Allah (tawhid), who is unique, all powerful and merciful to Muslims.

  • Belief in prophets (anbiya), and prophethood or messengership (risalah), 126,000 including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and ending with Mohammed (pbuh), the last and greatest of all.

  • Belief in the 5 Holy Books, Scrolls of Abraham (Suhuf), Law of Moses (Tawrat), Psalms of David (Zabur), The Gospel of Jesus (Injil) and the Qur’an of Mohammed, plus the Sunnah (Hadith), Ijma and Qias.

  • Belief in Angels (Malak) and evil spirits (Jin).

  • Belief in the Day of Judgement (Akhirah), good and bad deeds balanced by the "book of destiny" predestined by Allah, with the saved going to paradise (Jenna) and those who disobey the will of Allah thrown to hell (Jehannam).

  • Belief in decrees and the Predestination of Allah, everything good or evil is preordained by Allah, thus man is resigned to fate (Qisma), and calls for God's will (Insha'Allah).

Islam has five basic duties

These are often called the five pillars of Islam, which when when performed regularly and faithfully transform the life of a Muslim. They are:

  1. Confession (Shahadah) which states that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his apostle "la illah ila Allah, Mohammed rasul Allah". This spoken with conviction, consciously and voluntarily, is claimed to make a person a Muslim.

  2. Compulsory prayer (Salah) is offered five times, between dawn and sunrise (fajr), between midday and afternoon (dhuhr), between mid-afternoon and sunset (asur), just after sunset (mughrib), and between nightfall and dawn (isha).

  3. Welfare contribution (Zakat), a compulsory payment from a Muslim's savings for helping the poor and needy, the disabled, the oppressed, the debtors and for other welfare purposes as prescribed by the Qur’an and Sunnah.

  4. Fasting (Sawm), is an annual obligatory fast during the month of Rammadan (the ninth month in the Islamic calendar).

  5. Pilgrimage (Hajj) to the house of Allah (Ka'ba) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This an annual event is obligatory at least once in a lifetime.

Holy war (Jihad) is also considered as a sixth pillar or duty of every Muslim, among many sects. It has three levels, beginning with the individual's inner striving or struggle against sin, with the third or final level involving physical struggle or war in the defence or

cause of Allah (Sebil il'Allah).


Islam claims to be the true religion for humankind and affirms that Mohammed is the "seal of the prophets", the last and the greatest of God's prophets who supersedes

all prophets before him, including Jesus. Therefore, every individual Muslim believes they have a divine mission and obligation to evangelise and subdue the world into submission (Islam).

A comparison between Christianity and Islam

A Muslim in Tehran or in Toronto says to his Christian friend, "Really, there is no great difference between my religion and yours. We both believe in one God, we believe that Jesus was sent by God and was a great prophet, we believe in doing good deeds, and we both hope to be forgiven by God, and to go to paradise when we die. Why should we let our religions divide us? We should stand together in opposition to the people in the world who do not believe in God!" Whilst it is indeed

true that Christians have many beliefs in common with Muslims, the above statement seems to be a thing of the past. At least where Muslims are a minority the real Islamic call or mission (Da'wa Islamiya) is disguised or camouflaged.


In the theology of both Christians and Muslims, although similarities exist, there are also irreconcilable differences. Some of the similarities include the belief in the Creator, all Powerful and Merciful God, Who is Monotheic (but Triune for Christians, a great dividing

point with Muslims), similar history, prophets, Scriptures (Muslims claim the original Scriptures which contain prophecy of Mohammed's coming have deliberately been corrupted, although they cannot prove it), moral teachings and volition.

Many differences also exist, but only a few are discussed here because of space. They include the following:


God

According to Islam is distant, transcendent, merciful to those who do his will, and a master to be obeyed. For the Christian, God is personal, Yahweh, Abba, Who relates

to His people through the sacrificial death of Christ. He is just and righteous, but also gracious and loves His enemies.


Trinity

The Muslim concept of the Trinity is that Christians worship three gods - Jesus, Mary and the Father. So they insist God is one (Tawhid), and is only one dimensional. The Christian of course believes in the one and only God known in the plural Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Genesis1:1,26; Genesis 3:22; Genesis11:7; Deuteronomy 6: 4; John 8:58, and this is explained by God's love.


Jesus

In the Qur’an Jesus is mentioned more than Mohammed, although not always correctly from the perspective of Christian belief. Muslims see Jesus as one in the line of the prophets sent by God. "..We do not discriminate between any of them and to God we

surrender..", surra Al An'am 84-85. In Surra Mariam 17, Jesus is referred to as the spirit of God and later in verse 34 of the same surra, Jesus said about Himself that "..peace is upon me the day of my birth, and the day of my death, and the day of my being raised up alive",

which clearly agrees with the Bible in that Jesus was born, died and rose again, in the order of this verse.


Jesus is born of a virgin as a sign to the people and a Word from God, surra Mariam 21. In surra Al Imran 48 God tells of Jesus as the one who He will bring to an end or to death (mutawafiqa) and raise unto Himself and purified from those who disbelieved; and He will set those who believe in Him (Christians) above them that reject until the day of resurrection. However, the interpretation of these verses about Jesus has been

twisted or explained away by many Islamic scholars, who also vary among themselves.


There has always been an insistence and emphasis among Muslims on those verses that say Jesus was not crucified, He is only a messenger. Those that tell of His miracles, uniqueness and other important features are played down. To the Christian Jesus is absolutely central. He is God incarnate to reconcile the world to Himself, Isaiah 9:6;

John 1:1,John 10:30, John 14:6; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 1:8.


Salvation

The Muslim idea of salvation is of working your way into paradise (Jennah). Assurance of salvation and forgiveness is not for the Muslim to know, but only for God (Allah y'alim), surra Maida 118-120. Unlike the assured forgiveness of sins for the Christians, John 3:16;

Colossians1:14; 1 John 1:9; and definite eternal life in Christ Jesus, John 5:24, John 6:47;

1 John 5:11-13, the Muslim lives in uncertainty about the world to come.


Tolerance and intolerance in Islam

Islam, which means submission, is also associated with peace (salaam). Many Muslims you meet or hear on the media will refer to Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance. Kateregga and Shenk mention that Islam means submission and peace, and that Muslims are urged to live peacefully with one another. However, the verses quoted from the Qur’an, surra Al Hujurat 9-10, "...Lo! Allah loveth the equitable. The believers are

naught else than brothers..", are in the context of Muslim brothers fighting each other. Both should eventually return to the affairs of Allah (the requirements of Islam), but this provides no protection for the non-Muslim.


The saying is that when Muslims are a minority in a non-Islamic environment, then peace and tolerance will prevail, but when they constitute a simple majority, the situation changes. It is also important to note that the level of tolerance and intolerance varies from nation to nation, even among Islamic states. Again the expressions within the same state can vary. For example, a European or a western Christian missionary may be more

respected as a past colonial master and foreigner than an indigenous Christian from a Christian background, and even less respect given to a Christian convert from an Islamic background.


Although some of this intolerance can be justified as being initially started by Christians in the past, which is undeniably true, however this work is only looking at the issue as a matter of the 20th and 21st centuries, without comparing or contrasting different historical times. To understand some of these arguments a few illustrations are hereby given with no attempt made to go into specific experiences.


Dress




In general terms a Muslim is free to dress their own Islamic way anywhere they go, although some institutions and working places may not allow it.

Leaders from Islamic nations do not have to change their dress when visiting other nations. But if western leaders or ordinary people, especially women, visit an Islamic

state, then they will have to wear special dress and may be made to cover their heads.

Worship

In the west, Muslims constantly complain of a lack of freedom to worship, with restrictions on building their worship centres and institutions. This claim is refutable, especially in the UK where I have observed tremendous freedom for everybody. This freedom does not happen in most Islamic countries, where the building of any churches is legally made difficult or impossible. Foreign citizens may somehow be allowed to worship in their own premises and have baptisms in swimming pools, although it may officially be illegal. Where the law is Islamic (sharia Islamiya), a non-Muslim is not allowed to become head the country nor hold certain positions in Government, and non-Muslims must obligatorily pay duties (jizya) in such states.


Marriage

According to Islamic teachings, marriage is another means of conversion. A Muslim man or a woman marrying or getting married to a non-Muslim is permitted only on the condition of submission to Islam by the non-Muslim partner and not vice versa. Many

liberal Muslims try to deny this and perhaps can get away with it in a non-Islamic country. But they may not escape in a Muslim country.


Conversions

In Christianity, the freedom of the individual to choose or reject Christ is respected. The punishment for abandoning one’s faith is left with God. Whereas in Islam, those who turn away from the faith are considered to have caused betrayal, usually referred to as apostasy (irtidad), and they may face the death penalty. Therefore, in an Islamic state, there is freedom to become a Muslim, but not to leave Islam. Many proof testimonies exist of those who have gone, and others are still going through, hardship, imprisonment and even facing the death penalty because they have turned away from Islam.


Speech

Christians get offended when their faith is insulted or even when Jesus is insulted or criticised, but the punishment belongs to God in His own time. In Islam however, when the religion is insulted (saab-a-din), there is punishment by stoning or other forms.

Criticising or insulting the prophet (nabz-a-rasul) is punishable by death.


Relationship - confrontation or coexistence?

The Muslim is opposed to secularism, as reported by Chapman quoting Nasr, (C. Chapman, 'Islam and the West: Conflict, Co-existence or Conversion?'), who explains that between the Islamic world and the secularist West there can be no deep harmony or accord, for there are no common transcendent principles between them. Islam is said to emphasise man's humble state before the grandeur and majesty of the Divine, seeing man at once as a servant of God (abd'Allah) and also his vice-regent (khalafa'Allah) on earth. If Islam surrendered to western patterns of thinking and acting, as do many Muslim modernists, there would have been no confrontation between the two worlds. However, Nasr in Chapman also recognises that much of the dialogue carried out between Christians and Muslims today is coloured by the presence of the third silent partner, the anti-religious secularism.


Akbar Ahmed in Chapman portrays the Islamic world as weak and frail and as being constantly under threat from the powerful West. Nasr joins Ahmed in dismissing the

language about the 'threat of Islam', pointing out that if anyone has reason to feel threatened, it is the Muslim world. This thought somehow reflects the view of Islam

in the West and western Muslims, who so far are a minority.


Zaki Badawi also in Chapman, however, describes the history of the Islamic faith as that of state (dawla) or nation (umma) and a community (dhumma) of believers living by Divine law. The Muslims, jurists and theologians, have always expounded Islam as both a

government and a faith. This reflects the historical fact that Muslims from the start lived under their own law. Muslim theologians naturally produced a theology with this view: it is a theology of the majority. Being a Muslim minority was not seriously considered or contemplated.


Although it is a question nobody would want to discuss, the saying goes that wherever Muslims have a square metre of land in a non-Islamic state, they claim it for Allah and subsequently the whole nation, and any attempt to dispossess Islam of such land creates conflict.


Many people find it hard to admit that the Muslim's agenda is global and not only a self defence reaction to attack. The Muslim is under obligation from Allah to purify and submit (aslam) the whole world (a'alam ajma) to the will of Allah. Temporary peace and

coexistence is always the tactic when Muslims are a minority and weak, but conflict replaces that as soon as a simple majority is realised, which is usually achieved

through conversions, mass marriages, no contraception and other ways, methodology that has existed right from the historical birth of the religion. But if Muslim nations could practice the mutual respect, tolerance and coexistence which is exercised by most non-Muslim countries in the western world, Latin America, Africa and Asia, then conflict could be minimised. It should not however, become an issue of diplomacy, media theory or

research. It should be a practical day to day experience for the common man. Having the attitude that the state belongs to all people and that faith relates man and God makes a genuine difference.

Opportunities for reaching Muslims

In every difficulty, there is a tremendous opportunity for God. It is true that there are still very many people everywhere who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It becomes even harder for Muslims because they are not allowed to have a chance to choose

and those seeking to help them meet Jesus are often persecuted and denied access. But since “the earth is the Lord's and everything in it”, Psalm 24:1, and since He “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”, we therefore have a Gospel which is true and universal. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”, 1Timothy 2:4-5.


As Christians we have a living message for a dying world, and Muslims need this message as much as all those who are without the hope that is in Christ. Briefly

discussed here are some of the ways and opportunities which could help in reaching Muslims. However, the most effective ways and methods of doing this I humbly

admit are not necessarily found in this work. They will come from our Great Teacher, the Holy Spirit Who indwells every believer.


Integrity

In witnessing to Muslims, you may come across different types of people, some of whom are pious and sincere in the Qur’anic teachings. Therefore effective and fruitful witness for Christ depends on how we live. Careless Christians have negatively affected the image of

Christianity as viewed by the Muslim world. These things have included the way we dress (especially women), eating and drinking (especially alcoholic drinks), and how to relate to the opposite sex. It would be wise if contact with our Muslim friends is on a same sex basis.


Knowledge and respect

The knowledge of some basic teachings and culture of the Muslim groups we are relating or seeking to reach is important. When we know and respect some things

about them, although we may not agree with them, we help break barriers. Wisdom and dependence on the Holy Spirit is very vital. We must not be too careful so as not to offend or cutting the edge of our message so as not to upset or create walls. In both instances, God may be left out, which is never right. In one of my encounters with Muslims, I and a Christian brother had spoken to about 35 Muslims about Christ, in a bus we were

travelling on. Being satisfied that no one could ask any more, we expected the next thing would be seeing some of them coming secretly to receive Jesus. Then one man

asked if I believed in Mohammed! Saying ‘no’ would have been something else, and saying ‘yes’ would have been a lie and a sin, which is just as bad. As I prayed the Lord

spoke to them from Ephesians 1:13-14, which the Holy Spirit brought into my mind, that Jesus Christ promised me an inheritance, a deposit guaranteeing this which I have. If I believed in Mohammed, what promise does he offer me which I do not have now? On that occasion God used this response to reveal the uniqueness of Christ, without offending Mohammed or compromising the Gospel.


Scripture

First of all affirm the infallibility of God's Word and use it rather than merely talking from your head, even if it may be memorised Scripture verses. Avoid topics that cause

endless arguments, like Trinity and Jesus the Son of God, but do be prepared to prove these from Scripture when the need arises. It is worth noting that Muslims usually attack Christianity but offer nothing convincingly better. It is now in the West that they have learned the Christian language of Islam offering peace, joy and so on, but this may not necessarily have a Qur’anic proof. Therefore, as you prove from Scripture your claims, ask the Muslim to do likewise from the Qur’an.


Islam is a public religion and gives no clear answers for deep personal issues, like 'are you sure your sins are forgiven?', 'what happens to you if you die now?', 'if you believe in good works, do you think you are qualified for heaven - are you better than Adam who committed only one sin, yet was thrown out from paradise?'



In summary, your different methods of witnessing to Muslims will depend on which you are comfortable with. Maxwell and Smith suggested the following at a UCCF day conference, All Souls church, London, 1998, where I was present:


  • Proclamation, by proclaiming Christ through preaching and speaking, for meetings or addressing large groups.

  • Confrontation, through openly challenging issues of belief (apologetics).

  • Institutional mode, showing Christ's love and speaking in the workplace and in different institutions.

  • Friendship evangelism, by the relational approach or personal evangelism with true friendship, involving listening and learning as well as speaking.

  • Dialogue, being a good listener but not surrendering your position, having clear purposes and goals. This needs preparation.

  • Debate is appropriate in university. Have well-prepared speakers, but also use the debate as a trigger for small, or better one to one, discussions (many Muslims discuss freely in private).

Sharing the Gospel of Christ among Muslims involves the ministry of prayer, speaking and sharing the Word, and being clothed with love of Christ. Christians should be aware of the questions usually asked by Muslims about Christianity. Below are seven of such questions:

1. 'Your Bible is corrupted'. There is no proof of when, how and who did it. The Qur’an speaks highly of the Scriptures, surras Al Maida 43, 46; Al Ana'am 34, and importantly, God cannot allow His Word to be corrupted.


2. 'What about the predictions of Mohammed in the Bible?' John14:16 is always mistaken to mean Mohammed, instead of the Holy Spirit Who Jesus was talking about.


3. 'Christians worship three gods, and God has no son'.


4. 'Why atonement? - after all God forgives if I confess, in addition my good deeds and the doing of my duties will hopefully please Allah’.


5. 'Jesus was never crucified', referring to surra Al Nissa 156-157, where the Jews said they slew Jesus, and Mohammed claimed that Jesus was not slain!


6. 'The Qu’ran agrees with science and contains scientific statements which prove that it was inspired by God'.


7. 'The West, which is associated with Christianity, is a depraved society, whereas Islam is pure'.


It is certainly helpful to know what Muslims think about us, which necessarily may not be completely true, but is useful as we reach out to them with the love of Christ, 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 3:15.


Conclusion

The world is increasingly becoming a global village whereby students' riots in Indonesia can be felt anywhere in the world, regardless of whether we want to be involved or not. With the Islamic challenge, it is no longer only for those countries where Muslims constitute the majority, because Muslim populations are growing rapidly in the non-Muslim world. It is worth remembering that the strongholds of Islam today were once the centres of the Christian Church.


The question we should ask is, what happened to the early Christian Churches in Carthage, Alexandria, Nubia, Ethiopia, Ephesus, and many other cities or countries we can name? I consider the major challenge for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this generation as Islam, not only because of its large following and rapid growth, but also because of the

difficulties involved in reaching Muslims and their subsequent conversions. Therefore we need to pray, share and live the Gospel in whatever capacity we may be called.


It is true that 1200 years ago, the Church in Carthage was destroyed, but isn’t it also true that Jesus said He would build His Church and the gates of Hades will never overcome it? While acknowledging the hardness of the situation on the ground, I am equally convicted with the message the apostle Paul had for the church in Corinth, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ",

2 Corinthians 10:3-5.


This is possible by God’s grace, for it is actually Him Who is doing it.


Discussion questions

1. Share ideas for “revealing the uniqueness of Christ without offending Mohammed and compromising the Gospel”.


2. Consider the Muslim(s) you are talking with, and 1.Peter 3:15.


3. Which of Maxwell and Smith’s six methods of witnessing see bullet points above is best suited to your situation?

Why?

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