After more than twenty years of labor in Mohammedan fields, I have come to the conclusion that many of us have approached the followers of the green-robed prophet from the wrong angle. The Mohammedan has almost always been approached from the argumentative side. This is the easiest but most futile way. It is also the one that the Mohammedan welcomes, for he both likes to fight for his religion, and expects to fight for it. He is ready always to battle for his beliefs, whether by material weapons or in a war of words. It is true of all Orientals, that though one may win a football contest by a score of twenty to one, if he loses in the inevitable battle of words over the game, the loser may become the real winner, because the two cannot be separated. Physically, one team may be the winner, but if the word battle be lost, it loses everything.
Knowing this characteristic of the followers of Islam, we do well to seek for points of agreement, and to stress these, eliminating the arguments over differences until their confidence has been gained in us and our work. By dint of much questioning, as well as quiet talks with Mohammedan hadjis, imams, and old men in the southern portion of the Far Eastern Division, we have found many points of greater or less similarity to Christianity. These are not all found in books concerning Mohammedanism, because the writers of such books have not had the background of belief in the special truths of our message to enable them to observe and note such beliefs, which are handed down chiefly in oral form, though some are in commentaries on the Koran. The Koran itself does not disclose all these things. The points to follow, which I have here placed together, have been hard to get, and have been gathered but slowly, here and there, through the years.
Points of Marked Similarity
Mohammedans believe in Christ—not as a Saviour, of course, but as a great prophet. They believe it was the intention of the Jews to crucify Christ, but by a miraculous intervention of God another was substituted on the cross. They believe Christ ascended to heaven, perhaps without dying. They believe that Messiah will return to the earth; that He will destroy the false messiah (Satan) ; and all evil, at His appearing; that Messiah will make it possible for all the good to ascend to heaven. They believe that the false messiah will come to the earth with great power ; that he will work miracles; and that he will stir up evil for forty days (similar to the period after probation closes), at the end of which time, Messiah will appear to destroy Satan and all evil.
They believe there will be a special company at the end of time, who will have special privileges in heaven. They have a vague idea about a resurrection. They believe in all the prophets from Adam to Christ,—and of course in others besides,—and also believe their writings. They distinguish between clean and unclean meats. They believe, at least theoretically, in temperance. They believe the Sabbath was given by God in the beginning. Their word for Saturday is the word for Sabbath, day of the Sabbath, or rest. All this affords much common ground, not found in any other Christian body.
Without doubt, by careful questioning and quiet talks, one could learn of many more points of similarity, and thus be enabled to work for these people with a positive gospel, capitalizing similarities, rather than stressing a negative approach of differences. It is always to be remembered that getting information from suspicious peoples, such as the Malays and Moros, is attended with difficulty, and one must not seem too eager to press a point, or appear too inquisitive, lest he arouse suspicion and distrust, both for himself and his methods.
With all these favorable approaches afforded us as a. people, we should be able to accomplish more than any other mission society. As a matter of facts, no society that fails to differentiate between clean and unclean foods has been able to win any of these peoples who are real Mohammedans. But we have won a number of the Moros within the last few years. The Moros call us "clean" Christians, and the other churches "unclean." They say they want to learn more of a religion which causes us to work disinterestedly for all peoples. This means that we must live our message before them. These Moros are reading, and desire to read in our lives God's message of love and peace to all men.
Receptive Attitude Developing
There is a movement on foot, among the Mohammedans of the Far East, which is taking them away from their old customs and beliefs. Moros have protected our workers from stone throwers, while they were holding open-air meetings. As a result of these meetings, a number of Moros have become interested in God's truth. Our church members have been assured that they would not be molested, while murders and thefts were taking place all round them, because word had come from high Moro authority that no Sabbath-keepers, or their belongings, were to be touched. To this day, so far as my knowledge goes, this has been observed. Not one of the Sabbathkeepers has been disturbed. In another district, Sabbathkeepers have been permitted to take up homesteads in a locality into which the Moros refused to allow any others to come. In the Malay States, where a few years ago Mohammedans would not give anything toward our Ingathering work, many are now giving from ten to twenty-five dollars yearly to support our medical work.
Surely, with these avenues of favorable approach to the problem of Islam, we need to give more earnest study to wise ways of working for these peoples. The methods used will have to be different from those used in working for the peoples of other faiths. Just as, under God, successful methods of approach have been adopted for dealing with Catholics, Protestants, pagans, etc., may we not expect that better ways of working for these stalwart sons of Islam may be developed?