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In the West, Islam is a religion in search of an identity. Gone are the days when Islam could run “slip-shod” over cultures, dominating and subjugating them militarily, and then implementing its own culture and religious precepts through the process of “Islamic Ambience.” Today, Muslims are waking up to a new world, one in which they find themselves humiliated militarily, dominated economically, and the brunt of a hostile media. Yet, they are learning quickly how to adapt, employing a new and aggressive approach in propagating their beliefs in a world where, they believe, Islam holds the key to the world’s future.
Much of this adapting reflects the borrowing of evangelistic ideas and strategies tried and proved by Christian missionaries worldwide for hundreds of years. Men like Hasan al-Banna’, Abu A’la Mawdudi, and Khurram Murad have moved away from the rigid hierarchical control evidenced in much of the traditional Muslim world, and have adopted the low-missiological approach common to the Christian Pietistic Movement. As a result, hundreds of people in the West are being introduced to Islam for the first time. They are attracted by its ideas and precepts which are propagated in universities and in prisons, and they are consequently adopting Islam as their own faith.
We, as Christians, must be aware of this current attraction to Islam. Many of us are ignorant of the fact that of the approximately 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, four-hundred and fifty million of them reside outside the traditional Muslim countries, in the Diaspora; in areas of the world where Christianity has traditionally had a strong influence (World Christian News 1992:10). Muslims are, in effect, “right on our doorstep,” living next door, sitting at the next desk at work, and playing at recess with our children. Yet, we pay them little attention, because they are, “Americans now, and so much like us.”
We cannot continue to pass-off their conversion-growth as simple aberrations. We must look at what the Muslims are saying, how they are saying it, and how we can meet the needs which they seem to be answering. We can do this by taking the initiative to make relationships and by spending time dialoguing with our Muslim friends.
The gospel of Christ is clear, simple and rational, despite the claims of Muslims to the contrary. Indeed, in many respects it is clearer, and simpler than the message of Islam. It has often been forgotten that salvation in Christ is, indeed, by faith, alone. If we would return to that basic message, being careful that in our presentation we understand what we are saying, and distinguish between those beliefs which are essential and those which are not, the message could be comprehended and accepted.
New converts to Islam claim that Islam has a better record of being involved in the world, and of dealing adequately with racism. While there is room for disagreement, we must not descend into the pitfalls of argumentation, but work all the more to exemplify Galatians 3, and seek avenues to do what is best for those in need around us, irregardless of their race or creed, while recognizing and respecting their cultural differences.
The perception by new believers to Islam, is that we are polytheistic, and worship three gods. This misconception must be rejected at every turn. Yet, it can only be done if we, and not they, take the initiative to define who God is. In order to attain this we will need to return to our authority, the scriptures, and show clearly that they have not been corrupted, but are as authoritative today as they were two-thousand years ago. Only then can we use them to rectify theological inconsistencies which may exist.
The claim by many Muslims that Christians live immoral and hypocritical lives has to be approached with sensitivity. We cannot answer for others, as unfortunately, the moral record of those who call themselves Christians, historically, has been dismal. Until we ask forgiveness for the sins of the past, and strive to reclaim the credibility which has been lost, we will never be able to be the witnesses which Christ calls us to be. We must differentiate clearly between what a true Christian is, and what a nominal Christian is, so as not to confuse Christianity with “what we find in the West today,” as so many Muslims do.
And finally, because those converts who have been attracted to Islam believe Islam is the final way to God, we must ask whether or not Islam affords any assurance for their salvation? Salvation is the key to our message. The Bible gives the only true answer for the world today, because only it defines the true moral dilemma of humanity, and it alone provides the only solution: the sacrificial act of a merciful and loving God; who, through the forgiveness of His Son, allows all of humanity to find, and then choose that assurance of salvation.
To keep these truths to ourselves is improper. We have the mandated responsibility to share the message of the cross with the world, which includes our Muslim friends; by going to them, where they live, and dialoguing with them, face-to-face.
A point of caution concerning dialoguing with a Muslim: It is important to realize, from the outset, that the gospel of the New Testament will counter, and offend a Muslim’s way of thinking, due to its emphasis on The Cross, and the exclusiveness of Jesus, the Christ.
Dialogue, therefore, can be used for contextualizing, and for creating a bridge to those individuals with whom we have a relationship. This means that we must reach out, by listening to them, so that we can understand their culture, their thought-forms, and their world-views. Only then, will we be able to win their trust, and so gain the right to, then, interpret for them, what God has given to us; the good news of Jesus Christ. This is especially important in the context of Islam, where the historic and current atmosphere between the two religions is almost indelibly marked by miscommunication and mistrust.
Dialogue, however, by its very nature, involves two differing points of view. Thus, it is requisite to respond to the Muslim beliefs with those of our own. But this will be difficult, for a number of reasons, three of which I will list here.
First, Islam is antithetical and opposed to the message of the atoning death, and most everything that delineates Jesus, as Messiah. For this reason it has no answer for the human moral predicament: that humans are in need of a savior.
Second, orthodox Islam has traditionally created its own interpretation of God; one, who is distant and impersonal, and unreachable, in direct contrast to the Biblical view of God as Abba, Father.
Third, Islam has no tradition, nor does it allow any form of criticism (verification or falsification) concerning its beginnings, or its authority.
In order to have true dialogue of any worth with a Muslim, these issues must be addressed; otherwise the one party will talk right past the other, with little hope of a meaningful exchange or understanding.
Obviously, what we are hoping for in a dialogue is that we demand of the Muslim that which we demand of ourselves: to accept only those truths which can stand up to verification.
Therefore, as we seek to bring about the true Kingdom of God, we pray to find those individuals who are truly hungry and thirsty, those who are searching, or who are willing to question all thought-forms, including, by heredity, their own. For this reason, we pray constantly to God, that He will steer to us those who are hungry for The Truth.
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