We have briefly explored some of the history and main beliefs of Islam, including a bit about the Quran and the “Five Pillars of Islam.” Last week we examined a Baptist-Muslim dialogue and discussed the need for working toward peace in getting along with our Muslim neighbors. This week we will look at how it might look to share our Christian faith with our Muslim neighbors in an authentic way.
A helpful booklet was passed along to me entitled “Islam and Christianity: Reaching Out to Muslims, Answering Misunderstandings,” by Bruce Green. In comparing Islam and Christianity, this pamphlet is written for Christians to help us overcome misunderstandings of Christianity that Muslims may have, even as Christians may often have misunderstandings of Islam. The main categories printed here include:
Islamic culture has been at odds with Western European Culture for centuries. Today’s conflicts are often seen by them as another chapter in holy wars and Crusades. It may be important to point out that almost all Christians today believe the “Christian” Crusades of the Middle Ages were not a good expression of Christianity, and that wars are more often the result of political and economic forces. Behind violence and war lies Satan and evil, and common ground might be reached with a Muslim against a common enemy of sin.
The Trinity is a sticking point for Islam, and Muslims tend to view Christians as polytheists who worship 3 gods, something strongly condemned in the Quran. It may be important to reinforce that the actual Christian teaching is one God in three persons, that there is only one divine essence or being, but this God is revealed to us in three relational persons. While this will likely still not be satisfactory, we can at least deflect the charge that we are not monotheistic. Also, Islam honors Jesus as a prophet, who was virgin born, performed miracles, and will return again. Some Muslims might be willing to read the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels to compare how Christians understand him in our Bible.
Muslims are taught that Jews and Christians corrupted the Bible, therefore it disagrees with the Quran. However, the science of textual criticism has demonstrated the basic reliability of the text of the Bible, especially the New Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls date from the first century AD (500 years before Muhammad), and also show that the Hebrew Scriptures were preserved remarkably well. Since Muslims revere the character of God, and they believe the main biblical characters were prophets, then it seems reasonable that the record of their words in the Bible could also be considered reliable.
Since Muslims so revere Muhammad, it is important not to insult him or be directly confrontational against Islam unless you want the conversation to be cut off and to be considered a blasphemer. It may be more important to lift up and exalt Jesus than to tear down Muhammad.
As we discussed earlier, Muslims find the essence of their religious practice in their “Five Pillars.” Christians also have important religious practices, some of them overlapping (giving, praying, fasting). We also observe baptism and the Lord’s Supper, read our Scriptures, attend worship with other believers, etc. All of these are intended to cultivate a spiritual life and sincere heart before God, something valued in Islam. By living a dedicated Christian life, we will gain the respect of Muslims who are trying to be devout themselves. But since the Christian practices are less legalistic and come from inner motivation, the genuineness may be appealing.
Judgment day looms large in Islam, and the hope of entering paradise is a strong motivation for Muslims. But since their judgment is basically works-based, one never knows how good one may have to be, and there is always fear of God and insecurity. Christians can offer a gracious view of salvation in which Christ, our substitute, kept God’s law for us and offers forgiveness for all of our sins. God as a loving Father is also of great appeal to many Muslims who have become Christians.
Muslims believe Western culture is corrupted by sex, drugs and alcohol. Muslims believe women are to be modest, and Western women are thought to have loose morals based on the way we dress and the images seen in media. It may be useful to point out that Christians also disapprove of many of the cultural images that are so widespread in society, and these do not represent Christianity but rather the secular culture in which most Christians find themselves living. While we may not wish to adopt the strict Islamic culture, we might appreciate their willingness to live in a counter-cultural way in the midst of the moral decay surrounding us.
Do—live a righteous lifestyle, build relationships, practice hospitality, ask questions as a learner, explain your beliefs, talk about Jesus, pray with and for Muslim friends, treat your Bible with respect, be gender sensitive, observe body language, practice modesty
Don’t—assume Muslims know what Christians believe, be surprised if you are rejected or treated suspiciously, treat them as hostile or strange, insult the prophet Muhammad, argue, use your left (unclean) hand, get into compromising situations with a member of the opposite sex, assume Muslims are thinking the same way as you do.