The Challenge of Islam

The Challenge of Islam (Part 1)

ONE of my first contacts with Islam, as an earliteen son of an Adventist minister-missionary, resulted in my giving Bible studies to a Muslim man. Every week I rode my bicycle across the fields to his house. And every week at the close of the study he offered me tea cakes, which, because it was between meals, I politely refused. . .

-Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan; Islamic Historian

ONE of my first contacts with Islam, as an earliteen son of an Adventist minister-missionary, resulted in my giving Bible studies to a Muslim man. Every week I rode my bicycle across the fields to his house. And every week at the close of the study he offered me tea cakes, which, because it was between meals, I politely refused. These studies continued for several months until I went away to boarding school. About the only thing I learned regarding Islam at that time was the Muslims' intense belief in unity of God, and the practice, in some countries, of secluding the women. As I look back on the experience now I believe he took the studies only to humor me.

Later, as a missionary in my own right, I had an opportunity many times during my years in Pakistan of addressing predominately Muslim audiences, and of studying in the graduate school of a large Muslim university.

I Had Much to learn

When I began evangelism in a Muslim country, I thought I knew something about holding evangelistic campaigns; but I knew little about my prospective auditors. Every successful Seventh-day Adventist evangelist knows that a good knowledge of his audience is important. I had much to learn about mine.

Of course, I asked a great many questions. One national brother felt that only a thorough knowledge and use of the Quran would be effective. Others felt the exact opposite. I tried to do my best, but in a small campaign saw only two people baptized—and they were both Christians who had had much previous contact with the church. In fact, only one Muslim came with any degree of regularity. The next series of meetings showed little improvement, with no Muslim attending more than two or three times. I sought counsel of others in the area who had preached many times to Muslims, but their advice proved ineffectual. I asked international evangelists of repute, to be told they didn't know. Learning was difficult.

Why Should You Care?

Why should any North American evangelist or other minister, or those ministers working in any non-Muslim field, be interested in reading about Islam? Apart from the value that one receives from the study of comparative religions, there are several reasons.

One may someday be called to work in a Muslim field, or for Muslims. A knowledge of their religion, or at least a general knowledge of where information about them can be secured quickly, would be most helpful.

Also, in traveling to other countries one may be asked to address an audience in which Muslims are present. Or he may be asked to write an article for an Adventist paper in his homeland which is distributed free to people overseas, including Muslims. If so, this will help him to be discreet, avoiding offense.

Islam, after Christianity, has the most members in the world. Every Seventh-day Adventist minister should have a knowledge of any religion affecting so great a portion of the world's population.

Large concentrations of Muslims con front Seventh-day Adventists in at least six of their world divisions. Three other divisions contain smaller communities of Muslims.

Seventh-day Adventists must of necessity know how to deal tactfully with Islam. Islam claims physical kinship with Abra ham through Ishmael, also spiritual kin ship, since Abraham was a monotheist. Islam claims to believe the Bible. In a few parts of the world Islam is the fastest growing religion. The work of bearing the gospel witness to the whole world will not be finished until Islam hears the message. All this being so, the time has come for Adventist evangelists to give this matter careful attention.

The Meaning and Outreach of Islam

Islam means surrender. A Muslim 1 is one who submits to God (Allah). If that were all that Islam implied, every true Seventh-day Adventist would be a Muslim. But Islam's simple creed (not found in one combined form in any text of the Quran 2) includes the statement that Mohammed is God's apostle and prophet.

The Islam of Mohammed has changed. The simple has become complex. By the development of its legal system, both civil and religious, and the Hellenization of its philosophy, it is no longer just a religion, but also a culture and a way of life.

In these articles, unless otherwise indicated, by Islam I mean the religion today of those who profess to follow the teaching of Mohammed.

Islam extends from the chilly steppes of Russia to the sun-drenched shores of South Africa, and, with only pockets of Muslims in some areas, it reaches east ward from the islands of the western South Pacific across two other oceans, numerous islands and island chains, and via continents to the Sacramento and Imperial Valleys of California. 3 While Islam predominates in the Middle East and North Africa, immigrants and their descendants account for the smaller communities. With the rapid rise of the population in some areas, statistics are soon out-of-date. But present figures approximate followers of the teachings of Mohammed to be more than a half billion— about one sixth of the world population.

Our Approach to the Subject

This series of articles is an attempt to be both practical and factual. The footnotes following each article will benefit the scholar particularly. They contain comments pertinent to Islam, yet not pertinent to the body of the article. These comments will also be of interest to the average reader.

Following the references in this first article is a list of names of authors whose works, for the most part, are in English. (In a few cases, the books have also been named.) The list is far from exhaustive. Because available books vary from country to country and from language to language, a bibliography has not been included. The list of names, however, will take its place along with certain other information that should make the list more valuable. Every Seventh-day Adventist working among Muslims would do well to familiarize himself with the literature on the subject.

Most Christian missionaries find little good in Islam, while many Muslim writers are apologists for Islam. Few Christians study and write of Islam from the perspective of the centuries-long struggle be tween wrong and right. 4 Here is the Adventist opportunity for a sympathetic approach to Islam and its followers. This common ground provides us with a base from which to work. But it requires study and open minds. This stance may require a new diction, and a change of cherished opinions. It also requires an understanding of semantics, its use, and different methods. Under the guidance of the Spirit of God such study will bring satisfying results.

Wisdom Needed

The Seventh-day Adventist worker, be he a beginner or one with many years of experience, who proposes an academic study of Islam should have committee sanction based upon a careful review of his spiritual maturity. Christians often joke about seeming inconsistencies in this great religion or in its founder. Such only reveal their ignorance or the depth of their personal prejudice. It is neither funny nor simple. To dismiss it with a joke is foolhardy. Other elements, like its worship ritual, aside from its oft-debated marriage laws, appeal strongly to the "carnal nature." To resist its strong appeal to the mind, I spent hours in extra study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. None should venture unaided upon the study of such a powerful philosophy.

Large parts of the Islamic world are in a state of crisis. This is due to such factors as education, technology, race relations, and economics. This breakdown ranges from dissatisfaction to unrest to revolution. The religion of Islam, however, has certain strong unifying factors. Three of these are: (1) its monotheism and belief that Mohammed is the prophet of God; (2) the Hajj or Pilgrimage; and (3) the umma. This latter, to be discussed later in this series of articles, is the community or brotherhood of the Muslims. Adventists have a close parallel in the remnant. If Seventh-day Adventists would make better use of this relationship, it could be a strong social force for the holding of converts.

Into the unstable situation that exists in much of the Muslim world, the Adventist evangelist steps with a message. He quickly discovers that Christians hold one of two views regarding Islam and Mo hammed. One is that Mohammed was patently a false prophet, and to some, even the anti-christ. To them Islam and Quran are false. The other view is one of Muslim-Christian dialogue, many accepting Islam as a parallel way of salvation. The Adventist evangelist must avoid all attempts at polarization. He must be aware of the extremes, using only those approaches that will help him get his message across.

The Challenge

Seventh-day Adventists, though having worked in Muslim lands for many years, have for the most part concentrated on Christians and other non-Muslims. Muslim converts have been few and often incidental. The Roman Catholic Church and Islam are nearly equal in the number of adherents, yet Adventists have often concentrated on the former to the neglect of the latter.

An unevaluated summary of Seventh-day Adventist endeavors to effect a break through to Islam over the past few years is appended in a footnote. 5 Until a much wider and more acceptable approach is made, and that by nationals, the hope of assimilating Muslim converts as part of God's remnant people is dim. 6

No one method will produce sure results. Some, however, are better than others. These will be discussed later in this series. This present article is to acquaint the reader with the role of Seventh-day Adventist evangelists in the world of Islam today.

Details of evangelistic do's and don'ts will come later. But here are a few things the evangelist should consider before he begins his meetings. Because of long adverse understanding, Muslims dislike the word crusade, so don't use it. Several Adventist beliefs provide points of contact. These include the health and temperance message, the final resurrection (but in Islam it is not Christo-centric), Jesus as Messiah (but not a divine incarnation), and the virgin birth.

National believers have the very real social problem of daughters marrying young male converts from Islam. A wall as real as that which separated jews and Samaritans in Christ's day exists between Christians and Muslims today. The disciples could not understand Jesus' work with the woman at Sychar's well, and sometimes national believers find it equally incomprehensible why missionaries should carry a burden for Muslims. But the Spirit of Jesus, when the time is ripe, will break down that wall as He did at Pentecost. Meanwhile, the work of evangelism in all its facets must go on.


1. An Arabic term, preferred to the Anglicized form, "Moslem." Sir Hamilton A. R. Gibb, one of the foremost of modern Islamists, lists three derivatives from Persian, also: Musalman (a is pronounced like the a in father), Mussulman and Musulman, Mohammedanism (second edition, 1953), p. 1.

2. Ibid., p. 53.

3. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Canada, in a letter dated April 8,1971, states that there are 30,000 Muslims (according to the 1961 census, which are the latest figures available) in Canadian cities and provinces. In the United States the Census Bureau has no statistics available. But the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States (which the Bureau of the Census recommended I try) estimates a total of 20,000 Muslims. (Letter, June 4,1971.) This makes a grand total of 50,000 to 60,000 adherents ot Islam in the North American Division of Seventhday Adventists. If current statistics were available, the grand total might be double this amount, for many students (usually temporary) and others have entered these countries in the last several years.

4. Cf. Suras xxxiv-xxxix, which A. Yusut says is a Quranic description of this conflict.

5. Erich Bethmann, Master's thesis: revised and published as Bridge to Islam.

Cottfried Oosterwal, syllabus: "S.D.A. Mission to Muslims."

General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists sponsored Islamic study conferences, 1961, 1963. These resulted in several General Conference recommendations. Mimeographed reports of the 1963 conference had a limited circulation and are no longer available.

Rifai Burhanuddin, mimeographed monograph: "Christ in the Quran."

Pakistan Union, VOP correspondence lessons: "Light from the Ancient Prophets," in English and in several translations, but now in need of revision.

Miscellaneous authors, assorted tracts and articles.

6. As Dr. Oosterwal said to me in a recent persona! letter: "The Muslim convert stands in great need of a new community, a new fellowship, . . . new brotherhood in Christ. Preaching and service remain sterile without such new communities. This has proven to be the cause of converted Muslims going back to their own Muslim-communities, thereby losing their newly won Christian faith."—Letter of January 12, 1971.


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-Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan; Islamic Historian

June 1972

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