by P.D. Bramsen - October 2007
As a non-Muslim, what images do these terms evoke in your mind?
Did you visualize planes crashing into buildings? Suicide bombers? Masked executioners exulting over blindfolded hostages? Women concealed under black hijabs? Towering minarets blaring out Arabic catchphrases? Mosques with turbaned, bearded men prostrating toward Mecca…?
While such mental images flow from the above terms—it is wrong to think that all such stereotypes typify most Muslims. While Islam is no ordinary religion, most Muslims are ordinary people with dreams and disappointments common to humankind.
As for the literal meaning of the above terms…
Islam is an Arabic word meaning surrender or submission.
Muslim means one who is surrendered and submitted to the will of “Allah.”
Allah has a two-fold meaning. First, it is the Arabic word for God (literally: the God). Before Muhammad’s time, Arab Jews, Christians, and pagans used it. To this day Arabic-speaking Christians use it. Muslims do not own it. Allah is the generic term for “God” in Arabic Bibles. A transliteration of John 3:16 begins: “Li-annhu haakadha ahabba Allahu…”. However, neither Jews nor Christians ever considered “Allah” (if speaking Arabic) or “God” (if speaking English) to be the proper, personal name of the LORD (YHWH). Just as my name is not “Man,” neither is His name “God.” Nevertheless, in the 7th century AD, Muhammad proclaimed "Allah" to be the personal name of the one true God and proceeded to redefine "the God" who had already clearly revealed Himself in the Scriptures of the prophets and had lastly "spoken to us by His Son" (Hebrews 1:2). Just as the English word "God" can be misused, so the Arabic word "Allah" can be misused.
Koran (or Qur’an) is Arabic for recitation. Muslims believe this book (about 1/5th the length of the Bible) to be God’s final revelation to mankind. Curiously, the Koran also commands Muslims to accept the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospel of Jesus. However, since much of the Koran contradicts these “previous Scriptures” (Koran 20:133), my Muslim friends tell me that the Bible has been tampered with and corrupted (for more on this read Chapter 3 in One God One Message). As for Jesus, the Koran declares that while he was born of a virgin, did mighty miracles, and bears the titles Messiah, Word of God and Soul of God—he was not the Son of God, nor was He crucified (Koran 4:171,156-158).
More than a century ago, in his book “The Life of Mahomet,” Sir William Muir wrote of Islam: “No system could have been devised with more consummate skill for shutting out the nations over which it has sway from the Christian Faith, for there is just so much truth, truth borrowed from previous revelations, yet cast in another mold, as to divert attention from the need of more.” Yet Islam is more than a religious system designed to offset and oppose the Gospel. It is also a political system which stirs up zealous Muslims to “fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah, and His Apostle [Muhammad], nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth [Islam], even if they are of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [special tax for non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Koran, sura 9:29) With such words, Islam provides an ideological and theological basis for the ongoing use of aggression and terrorism to subjugate the world to its dictates.
But this article is not about Islam. It is about Muslims and how to bless them for time and eternity.
Islam is an imposing ideology. Muslims are our neighbors and colleagues who, for the most part, are friendly, hospitable people who want to enjoy life, care for their families, pay their bills, live in peace with their neighbors, and be ready to meet God on Judgment Day.
Last week, a friend told me of a young Iranian Muslim woman who is attending their home Bible study. Amid the trials of life, she is discouraged and depressed, even doubting the existence of God. But she is seeking. My friend also has contact with a Muslim man who is a waiter in a local restaurant. He is open to discussing the Bible, though he does so warily, lest his religious community find out and make his life miserable... or worse.
Like these two seekers, Muslims worldwide are looking for that which Islam cannot provide.
Several years ago, 600 Muslim-background believers were surveyed. They were asked to list and prioritize the reasons they left their religion to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many mentioned the assurance of salvation. Based on the consistent message of the biblical prophets, they discovered that they could know that their eternal destiny would be heaven and not hell.
Another reason was the incomparable Person of Jesus. While Christ and His redemptive work is the centerpiece of the faith of every believer (since all the prophets pointed to Him), it was the all-together lovely character of Jesus that attracted them in the first place.
Others discovered that the Bible is a truly holy book. They found the New Testament with its promises and fulfilled prophecies irresistibly compelling.
Some mentioned that seeing Chrisitan believers persecuted for righteousness sake motivated them to take a closer look at Christ’s claims. They concluded they would rather be the persecuted than the persecutors.
A quarter of these former followers of Islam told how the Lord had also given them a complementary dream or vision to get their attention and point them in the right direction. Just as God gave Cornelius a vision to prepare him for Peter’s Gospel preaching (Acts 10), so God, whose purposes will not be thwarted, is graciously intervening in lands where governments deny their citizens the right to read the Holy Scriptures.
For some Muslim-background believers, the reality of a close relationship with God was the strongest apparent factor in their conversion. My Muslim friends see themselves as God’s slaves. To learn that God invites them to become His sons and daughters is a great discovery!
By far, however, the most compelling reason—which is intertwined with the previous reasons—was the power of the love of God. Nearly half of those interviewed concurred that “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13). To these who shifted their allegiance from their religion to the Lord Jesus Christ, love’s attraction expressed itself in two subcategories. The first category was the practical love, kindness, and compassion shown to them by God’s people. The second was the infinite, amazing love demonstrated by God’s Son who became human to suffer and die in their place.
Most Muslims perceive God as distant and unpredictable. While all but two of the Koran’s 114 chapters (suras) begin with “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” those words ring hollow. It is often with a stick over their heads that children learn to recite the Koran, perform ablutions, repeat ritualistic prayers, and observe the fast of Ramadan. No matter how faithfully such obligations are followed, apart from being killed in jihad, the Koran offers no guarantee of entrance into paradise. Muslims do not know the God who demonstrated His love to us “when we were enemies.” (Romans 5:10) Many grow up believing that God wants them to hate their enemies. A Muslim in the USA, with whom I have had extensive e-mail correspondence, wrote: “The last man who blasphemed the Holy Prophet to my face swallowed both his front teeth about three seconds later. I took great pleasure in the fact that the next time he spoke blasphemy it would be with a lisp.”
This man’s words and actions stand in stark contrast to the Lord Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you….” (Matthew 5:43-44) And on the cross, Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!” (Luke 23:34)
Such love is not natural.
One day a Middle Eastern Christian minister asked my friend, “Why are you witnessing to Muslims?”
“Because they need Jesus.”
“Muslims need hell!” responded the minister.
Does the response of this "Christian minister" shock you? It should. His attitude goes directly against the teaching and example of Christ. Yet if we neglect to pray for and do our part to share God’s love and truth with Muslims, how different are we from this minister who verbalized his thoughts?
Paul said of his Jewish countrymen, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren….” (Romans 9:2-3) Although his “brethren” had inflicted on his back no less than 195 lashes (2 Corinthians 11:24), Paul did not wish hell for them. His “heart’s desire and prayer to God…[was] that they might be saved.” (Romans 10:1) The rest of Paul's statement says: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God ... is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:1-4)
What if in our private devotions, homes, and churches we began to pray that Muslims “might be saved”? What if we looked for opportunities to share a smile or a kind word with Muslims and foreigners we pass in the marketplace? What if we sacrificially invested more of our time, treasures, and talents in seeking to bless these precious people with God’s love and truth? Are we willing to change the way we view Muslims and other foreign guests living in our land?
One day, as the Lord Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem to die in the place of sinners, He and His disciples “entered a village of the Samaritans… But they did not receive Him. …When James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:52-56)
Even as the disciples had no right to despise the Samaritans, so we have no right to despise those who are of a different culture and belief system. Whether or not people receive God's way of salvation is outside of our control. We are called to be channels of God’s love to all. In Senegal, we had to wait seven years before we had the joy of seeing the first Muslim believe God's good news. Two decades later, this brother continues to be a channel of God’s love and truth. As a result, many of his countrymen are coming to Christ.
Over the years, I have read dozens of books about Islam and how to share God’s truth with Muslims. Still, my most valuable insights have come from Muslims themselves as I have befriended them, listened to them, and dialogued with them. Radio, websites, e-mail, mailings, and the printed page are powerful tools for communicating the Gospel, but there is no substitute for “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) within the framework of an established relationship or personal contact.
This week we received an e-mail from a colleague in Senegal. She wrote:
The Muslim month of fasting, which began a few days ago, affords many occasions to speak of spiritual matters. I struck up a conversation with Eve, a veiled high school girl. “Are you fasting?” she asked me. “Why do you fast?” I turned the question. She replied, “Because God commanded it; and by it our sins are forgiven.” I gathered by her earnestness she was a true seeker after God, so I recited the Genesis account about the fall and God's promise of the Savior who would suffer to bear the penalty of sin for everyone. She accepted a calendar listing the hours of The Way of Righteousness Wolof radio broadcasts, and at her request we exchanged phone numbers.
Asking the right question in the right spirit is an effective way to discover what a person thinks about God, man, sin, and salvation. Their answer to your question will open a door for you to share with them an appropriate word from Scripture which the Spirit of God can use to touch their mind and heart.
Some time ago, I received the following e-mail from a Muslim background follower of Christ who lives in the USA. He is a traveling businessman.
In my work I have opportunities to spend time with Muslim families in their homes, maybe only 3 or 5 minutes after I conclude my business. I was challenged to rearrange my message to give them, in that time, something of significance, as it may be the first and last time this side of eternity that they heard the Gospel from a Christian in a way that confronted them with who Jesus was.
Recently, I met one of the leaders of a mosque 10 miles from here and having concluded business sat with him and his wife drinking tea. I remarked on his vast library of religious, philosophical and political books and he asked me what I thought of Islam. I said I had problems with the God of Islam because I could not see how such a God could love me, but that the God of the Bible was of such a nature and I was of such a nature as to make that a possibility both in reality and to satisfy me intellectually too.
They were stunned.
We agreed that love only existed in a meaningful way in a relationship and that a God in whom no relationship could be defined could not be loving. They sat puzzled for a moment and then the wife said, "You better tell us about Jesus then."
Now I was stunned.
I simply said that He was the Word of God manifest in the world and being the Word of God He was the expression of God's love, the expression of God's mercy and salvation and when we died He would be the expression of God's judgment for those who had rejected His claims. It was therefore imperative that we put our trust in Him and accepted the salvation He offered.
They sat in silence until the husband said that I had given them many things to ponder which they had never ever considered before. It all took less than 5 minutes and I really do believe they understood for the first time in their lives what they were missing.
This businessman said just enough to stir within this Muslim couple the desire to get to know the God of love. Once Muslims begin to search the Scriptures, it is often only a matter of time until they grasp the basic truths about God’s absolute holiness, man’s utter sinfulness, and God’s gift of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life to all who believe.
So how can Muslims be won to the Savior?
The same way we were won. By love.
“The greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)