Christianity and Islam: Witnessing to our neighbors
By MARK RATHEL
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Over one billion people in the world adhere to the Islamic religion. Through immigration, large families, and conversion, Islam is one of the fastest growing religious movements in the United States. Islam is the third largest religion in America. Muslims outnumber such mainline Protestant denominations as the Episcopal Church. Muslim immigrants to the United States arrive from over 60 Muslim nations; many of those nations prohibit the communication of the Gospel or proselytizing others to the Christian faith.
The world is coming to the United States and, in particular, the state of Florida is an international mission field. Over 70,000 Muslims live in the Dade-Broward county area. The growth of the Muslim population is not limited to large urban areas. In the rural panhandle county in which I live, Muslims conduct worship services at a local mosque and frequent a store that specializes in selling meat prepared according to Islamic law.
How can Christians exalt the person of Christ to their Muslim neighbors?
First, ask the Lord of the harvest to give you as an individual and your church a burden for the Muslim people. Fear and mistrust often comprise our initial response to Muslims living in our community. Some Christians erroneously equate all Muslims with terrorism. We will never reach Muslims for Christ if we are guilty of prejudice and stereotyping. After September 11, many Christians expressed a desire for national revenge against the leader of an international terrorist organization. During a college class, a student requested prayer for this leader's salvation and reminded all in the class of a focus on the spiritual needs of Muslims. A former student recently returned from a mission trip to China. He returned to the U.S. a pastor with a changed heart. The persecuted believers in an underground church movement possessed an incredible burden for Muslims. May the evangelical Christians in America experience a brokenness regarding Muslims!
Second, become knowledgeable about Islam: its beliefs, history, and contributions to civilization. Read the Qur'an, a book slightly shorter in length than the New Testament. Read the Qur'an, not as a book inspired by God, but as the key authority to your Muslim friend's beliefs and lifestyle. A Christian approaching the Qur'an for the first time will be familiar with many of the Quranic narratives, for example, narratives about Abraham, Moses, and David. Read a book that explains the basics of Islam. Thankfully, numerous fine explanations of Islam from a Christian perspective are available. I recommend the following resources: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? by Timothy George and Unveiling Islam and More than a Prophet by brothers Emir Fethi Caner and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Caner brothers are former Muslims actively serving as key leaders in Southern Baptist theological education.
Third, seek to cultivate positive relations with Muslims. Relationships are the key to sharing Christ with Muslims. In our microwave generation, we want instant results. Muslims are not likely to come to Christ with one presentation of the Good News. Muslims must first see Christ in our lives. As people of grace, Christians should graciously respond to honest questions from Muslims. In proactively seeking to establish relationships, be aware of the cultural sensitivities unique to Islam. Hospitality is very important to Muslims, particularly those from the Middle East. Extend hospitality to Muslim families and graciously accept hospitality from Muslims. Refusing hospitality insults Muslims. Remember that Muslims practice many of the same dietary prohibitions found in the Old Testament. Do not seek to establish a friendship with a member of the opposite sex.
Fourth, distinguish between Western culture and Christianity. Because Islam has no concept of a division of church and state, many Muslims assume that America is a Christian nation. Point out that Christianity is a matter of a personal, individual faith relationship; therefore, no Christian nation has existed in history. Share with your Muslim neighbors that Christians are outraged and shocked about the moral decadence of Western culture. Attempt to help a Muslim distinguish between ìnominalî cultural Christianity and biblical Christianity. Both nominal Christianity and Islamic culture have committed terrible atrocities against each other in the name of serving God.
Fifth, use points of common belief as a bridge to the Good News. Christians and Muslims believe in one creator God to whom we owe submission. Both faiths affirm the existence of angels, prophets, the value of prayer, a coming judgment, resurrection, heaven and hell. (As far as I can discern, almost all Muslims are premillennialists, that is, they affirm that Jesus returns prior to the establishment of an era of peace on earth.) In addition, Muslims and Christians share high ethical standards. These points of common beliefs open the door for discussion of differences.
Sixth, encourage your Muslim friend to read the Bible, particularly one of the Gospels. Do not use the King James Version. Because of the affixation of a man's name with a book claiming to be inspired, many Muslims erroneously believe that the king of England translated and corrupted this version. Do not give a Muslim a marked New Testament. A Muslim respects the Qur'an intensely and would never mark in the text, place the Qur'an on the floor, or even carry the Qur'an with his left hand. Recommend the Sermon on the Mount as a good beginning point. The Sermon on the Mount emphasizes the ethical teaching of Jesus. Ask if anyone could observe such an ethic through his or her own strength. The Gospel of Luke may be the best individual gospel for a Muslim to begin reading. The third gospel highlights the theme of salvation, the universal mission to all groups, and the parables of Jesus. Muslims enjoy stories. Reflect on the power of the parable of the two lost sons (Luke 15) as a teaching took to Muslims.
Seventh, keep the focus on Jesus. The Qur'an mentions Jesus approximately 95 times. Christians, therefore, have a natural bridge to discuss the core of our faith, the person and ministry of Jesus.
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