In this weeks article Geoff Lloyd from Wyndham Evangelical Church helps us grapple with reaching out to Muslims in our communities.
A little Anglican Church building became a mosque. A sentence like that doesn’t startle anyone any more. But we live in the rural, conservative, predominantly white, European Deep South. If the influence of Islam has reached here, it’s everywhere.
The local newspapers picked up the story. It was on the lips of locals in the Town and Country Club on Friday night. (The busy night when at least 6 people are there!) But most fascinating, was the reaction of Christian friends. For most, this was yet another disappointing sign of spiritual decay in the South. I don’t deny there’s truth in that assessment. But my concern was tempered by another emotion. Excitement.
In my experience Muslims are far more open and willing to talk about spiritual things than the average kiwi who seems indifferent, apathetic and unprepared to engage.
To the Muslim, the spiritual world is very real, very important and unlike some religions, very clearly defined. Those things, along with a genuine willingness to talk, provide a great framework for robust, honest conversations. The kind that would take years of friendship building to initiate with a Kiwi.
But how do we do it? How do we engage with people who have vastly different cultural and religious experiences from western Christians? After all, Hindus and Buddhists are often willing to talk, but their beliefs are so complex and mutable that it’s almost impossible for a western mind to unpick them. How do we speak to Muslim’s in a way that is loving to them and beneficial to the Kingdom building mission of Christ?
There’s much been said by much more qualified men. I want to share two personal experiences that have been transformative in my approach to Islamic evangelism.
1) Short term mission.
Recently, my wife and I were able to visit missionary friends in South East Asia who work with unreached, Muslim people groups. Short term mission is often criticised for doing more harm than good, but the nature of the work our friends do relies on foreign visitors. So we immediately felt useful.
While there, we were given a little training on speaking to Muslims. We found out Allah is an Arabic word for God that predates Islam so we should have no fear of using it. We found out that greeting people with the standard Arabic greeting ‘As-salaam Alaikum’ (peace be upon you) or asking how the fast was going (we were there during Ramadan) immediately opened a door into conversation. Sometimes we would be asked ‘are you a Muslim’ which was our opportunity to say ‘I’m a follower of the prophet Isa’ (the Arabic for Jesus). This was far less inflammatory and acceptable to Muslims who recognise Jesus as a great prophet.
We were also shown how natural it is to speak about God. You could open a conversation with ‘What a beautiful day God has made!’ or ‘God has blessed me with a beautiful wife’ (assuming you have a beautiful wife! I do, so not only was this a helpful conversation starter but continually won me husband points with wifey).
Our visit with these friends was a life changing, ministry shaping experience. They’re always looking for visitors. If you’d be interested in a transformational trip to the orient, please get in touch!
Everything we learned (I know it may be hard to believe) transplants seamlessly into New Zealand. I can walk into a kebab shop in Hokitika and say ‘As-salaam Alaikum’ and be immediately responded to Wa-alaikum Salaam (and unto you be peace) because it’s built in to Muslim culture.
Not only that but asking questions about the fast (remember – this is only applicable at certain times of year) replaces suspicion with genuine inquisitiveness. You shouldn’t be surprised to quickly be asked ‘are you a Muslim’ which is a ready-made gospel opportunity.
Not everybody is going to read this and run to the nearest Baklava stand and start reeling off Arabic greetings. But asking about the fast during Ramadan while you’re waiting for your falafel is not beyond any of us and may well lead to a chance to share your faith, or even better, a gospel focused friendship.
So that’s the foot in the door. What else do you need? You need to know a bit more about Islam. I’ve read a few books, but none of them is more helpful than:
2) Nabeel Quereshi’s ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’. Get this book!
It’s written as a personal story of one young Muslim’s journey to faith in Christ. So not only is it highly readable, but the Muslim in question is a very intelligent, well researched young man. Not only will this book help you understand where Muslim’s are coming from, what the Quran teaches and how to lovingly engage followers of Islam, it will fill your heart with love and reverence of Christ and His gospel. The book is especially helpful for grappling with Islamic epistemology (how we know what what we know).
For example: unlike westerners who are naturally sceptical of authority and are encourage to find everything out for themselves. Arabic Muslims see it as a point of honour to believe there teachers without having to check up on the details. Consequently, the vast majority of Muslims have learnt from Imams and Scholars but never studied the Quran for themselves. They certainly haven’t read the Hadith (biographies of Muhammad’s life) and only know certain verses quoted to them by their teachers.
Quereshi’s book, gives a limited survey of the Hadith and persuasively argues that if Muslims read them for themselves they would be blown away by the discrepancies between what they’ve been taught and what is written.
What I came to realise from ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’ is most Muslims are not convinced adherents to a system of doctrine they have personally investigated. Rather they’re followers of their teachers who, culturally, they are obligated not to question but believe.
They are blind followers of blind guides who, just like the rest of the world need the illuminating, soul satisfying love of Jesus Christ who died to redeem them from Hell. They don’t need our suspicion or complaints when our tired liberal churches are converted into mosques. They need Christians who will invest time into them, speaking the truth in love, people who are prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 Faithful people who will go into Kebab shops, corner stores, and mosques.
If you want to be a better witness to Muslims, what would be a good next step?
1) Read: Nabeel Qureshi ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’. Improve your understanding of Islam. I read mine with a Quran nearby and found that especially helpful as he often references it.
2) Consider visiting our missionary friends in Asia. Participating in front line mission work is a life changing experience and you would be warmly received! If you’d like to hear more about this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.