The chief confession of Islam, "there is only one God, and Muhammad is his messenger" separates it from all the pagan religions of the world. On the surface it seems plausible that Muslims believe in the same God we do, so why the need for a contextualized strategy for evangelism? We both believe in one personal and transcendent God who has sent his messengers into the world. Both the Christian and the Muslim cite sacred writings and passionately hold to these beliefs in all areas of life.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many in the West began to question what Muslims believe and why. Questions began to surface about the toxicity of religious belief in general. Various people from all sorts of worldviews began asking if Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Should Christians spend all their time and energies presenting their beliefs to Muslims in the hope that they embrace the truth claims of Christianity? Or, is all this simply a huge waste of time?
Embracing the mystery of the Gospel
Many in your congregation feel an uneasy tension in sharing the gospel with their Muslim neighbors. They may wrestle with the fact that their own grasp of doctrine may not be enough to break through the exterior of others Islamic beliefs. They simply talk themselves out of taking that first step hoping that someone with more credentials will walk through the door with all the answers to others hard questions about God and the Bible. Creating an eagerness for evangelism, coupled with the heartfelt seeking of the Muslim can lead your congregation into conversations that are biblically fertile.
In his book, The Gospel for Muslims, Thabiti Anyabwile gives us hope in the outcome of these conversations, urging the Christian to hold fast to the mystery of the Gospel;
"We can talk with one another as people with a sobering, vitally important question in common: how will anyone be reconciled to God and enter His presence? The answer to that question is inextricably connected to who God reveals Himself to be. In other words, the doctrine of God and the person of God cannot be divorced from the work of salvation. This is where Muslims and Christians divide and where Christians must hold fast to the Trinity." 1
There is a lot of common ground upon which the Muslim and the Christian stand. That does not mean, however that we loosen our grasp on the doctrines that divide us. We must stand firm on key doctrines like the Trinity, Inerrancy, and Special Revelation. We can reach out to our neighbors from Islam believing fully in the Truth contained for us in the Bible.
I will have to give up everything
On September 16, 2017, the Lord called home Nabeel Qureshi after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Born to Pakistani Immigrants who fled their homes at the hands of fellow Muslims, Nabeel by age 5 had read through the Quran and memorized large portions of the sacred book. At a young age his parents taught him apologetics so that he would not only know this faith he had confessed but that he would also be able to defend it against questions from other religions.
Living out the obligations of the five pillars (listed below) became a framework for daily living. These obligations weave themselves, together with a tightly-held system of beliefs, into a life of sincere religious devotion. Nabeel was no stranger to this devotion and would constantly be in prayer and study.
1. The Profession of Faith—The Shahada
The Profession of Faith, the shahada, is the most fundamental expression of Islamic beliefs. It simply states that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” It underscores the monotheistic nature of Islam. It is an extremely popular phrase in Arabic calligraphy and appears in numerous manuscripts and religious buildings.
2. Daily Prayers—Salat
Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. This does not mean that they need to attend a mosque to pray; rather, the salat, or the daily prayer, should be recited five times a day. Muslims can pray anywhere; however, they are meant to pray towards Mecca. The faithful pray by bowing several times while standing and then kneeling and touching the ground or prayer mat with their foreheads, as a symbol of their reverence and submission to Allah. On Friday, many Muslims attend a mosque near midday to pray and to listen to a sermon, khutba.
The giving of alms is the third pillar. Although not defined in the Qu’ran, Muslims believe that they are meant to share their wealth with those less fortunate in their community of believers.
4. Fasting during Ramadan—Saum
During the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk. While there are exceptions made for the sick, elderly, and pregnant, all are expected to refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.
5. Pilgrimage to Mecca—Hajj
All Muslims who are able are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and the surrounding holy sites at least once in their lives. Pilgrimage focuses on visiting the Kaaba and walking around it seven times. Pilgrimage occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar. 2
In college a providential meeting would shake him to the core and cause his life to move in a completely different direction. While witnessing a fellow student, who would later become his most trusted friend, reading the Bible, Nabeel challenged David Wood by asking him if he knew that the Bible he read had been corrupted over time.
That question took both David and Nabeel on a journey through a time of debate, friendship, and ultimately the conversion of Nabeel from Islam to Christianity. After becoming convinced of the general trustworthiness of the New Testament, God began to move on the heart of the young convert.
“I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make. On the first day of my second year of medical school, it became too much to bear. Yearning for comfort, I decided to skip school. Returning to my apartment, I placed the Qur’an and the Bible in front of me. I turned to the Qur’an, but there was no comfort there. For the first time, the book seemed utterly irrelevant to my suffering. Irrelevant to my life. It felt like a dead book.
Electric, the words leapt off the page and jump-started my heart. I could not put the Bible down. I began reading fervently, reaching Matthew 10:37, which taught me that I must love God more than my mother and father. ‘But Jesus’ I said, ‘accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.’” 3
Nabeel was right. He did have to give up everything. When we move with compassion towards our Muslim brothers and sisters we must remember that they, like all of those whom God calls, are commanded to give up everything and follow after Christ. Muslims are often conflicted because of the family structure they are raised in. Family becomes everything to them and once a decision is made to leave Allah and cling to Christ it means they lose the love and acceptance of their families, their mosques, and even entire communities.
Nabeel went on to lead a very fruitful ministry alongside author and apologist Ravi Zacharias. As he traveled from location to location, God used him to prick the hearts of young Muslim men and women across the world. As a convert to Christianity the label of “former Muslim” would stick with him for the rest of his life. In an interview with Focus on the Family's Boundless, he added that;
“I would be thrilled if I never had to talk about Islam again, focusing instead on the awe-inspiring power of God’s incarnation and resurrection! But as long as there are Muslims, there will be Christians who need to be equipped to share the Gospel with them in compelling compassion. Until that is no longer the case, I am honored to discuss my former way of life to build up the body of Christ.” 4
We have this treasure in jars of clay
Another, perhaps more familiar man, witnessed this same God work in his own heart. After moving from imprisoning and persecuting Christians to becoming the most prominent evangelist the Church has ever seen, the Apostle Paul would go on to write; “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)
When we consider our strategies for evangelism it becomes clear that no amount of preparation or training will ever be sufficient. Our methods become ineffective if not bathed in prayer and a seeking after the God of the Bible. Ultimately it is the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the men and women who constitute the body of Christ. It is our constant dependence on the grace of God not only for us, but also for the Muslim, the Hindu, the Atheist, and the Buddhist.
Do we have confidence in the Gospel? This glorious Gospel that transformed the hearts of Nabeel and Paul alike? We must not be ashamed of the good news we have received “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 ESV) As we continue to press in to all that Christ has for us and for our congregants, we can be sure that His words remain true even today; “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations…(Mat. 24:14)
1. Anyabwile, T. M. (2018). The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ With Confidence (pp. 31). Chicago: Moody.
2. Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis (2014) The Five Pillars of Islam
Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/cultures-religions-ap-arthistory/a/the-five-pillars-of-islam
3. Justin Taylor (2017, September 16) Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017)
Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/nabeel-qureshi-1983-2017/
4. Joshua Rogers (2014, September 29) Five Questions With a Former Muslim Who Converted to Christianity
Retrieved from http://www.boundless.org/blog/five-questions-with-a-former-muslim-who-converted-to-christianity/