The Challenge of Islam 5

The Challenge of Islam (Part 5)

BEFORE my family and I went to Pakistan we learned our first lesson about Adventist evangelism among Muslims from a returned missionary to the Middle East. . .

Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan, Islamic Historian

Evangelistic Don'ts

BEFORE my family and I went to Pakistan we learned our first lesson about Adventist evangelism among Muslims from a returned missionary to the Middle East. He and his wife told us that pictures and films of the prophets (Muslims show great respect for prophets) should always be shown with the prophets' heads covered (including that of Jesus). Later we learned that this practice depends on the area in which one works, but because all strict Muslims out of a hatred of idolatry oppose art in picture form, both evangelists and illustrators (of Adventist books, visual aids, and whatever) should remember this Muslim veneration for prophets. It should be added, however, that most followers of Muhammed are not so strict, and photographs, still films, slides, and moving pictures of most kinds are popular in many Islamic lands.

I have stood in the midst of hot, angry people and smelled the unpleasant odor of perspiring bodies. I have watched a peaceful and attentive audience become a terrifying mob. 1 have seen hostile people hurl steel folding chairs across the room. Such scenes have resulted when the speaker, however unintentionally, said something that infuriated his listeners. Audiences vary. Some are educated; some are illiterate. The greater the illiteracy, the more potential there is for mob response. So partly for sheer survival I had to learn what not to do and say.

Avoiding Irritants

Some irritants to many Muslims are easier to avoid than others. Two of these have been mentioned previously but are repeated here. The name Mohammedan offends Muslims. It suggests that they worship Muhammed as Christians worship Christ. This reverence they deny. Muslims do sometimes refer to them selves as Mohammedans, but this tend ency may be the result of a Christian or Western editor's work in trying to Anglicize words. Avoid this error. Also, no thoughtful Adventist evangelist will call his meeting a crusade. The word has a bad historical flavor. Many Muslims blame the Crusades for the break in good relations between Muslims and Christians.

Most sacred vocal music is accompanied by at least one instrument. Many purists in Islam are offended by any instrumental music. "Canned" music, in stead of attracting people to your meeting, may actually turn many away. Even those who will listen to cinema or movie music may recognize or suspect some thing religious in what they hear or see and may never enter your meeting. Also the words of many songs are offensive to Muslims.

For an evangelist to argue--in public or in private--cheapens him. The Muslims, however, love a good argument. In stead of seeking to debate or argue points, the Adventist will try courteously to evade anything that savors of a quarrel. You may win the argument by your skill and logic and lose your interested people. And never accept an appointment to a private debate. It may not be as private as you had understood!

Because discussion periods often have been occasions of arguing and disturbance, some evangelists advise against them. I have used them without difficulty, but these periods must adhere to certain rules. If you do open your meeting to questioners, all allowable questions should be on a card you provide that has the rules for questioning printed on the reverse side. 1 This card will ease your problem of crowd control. 2 It is no guarantee against mob action, but when properly used it helps evangelist-audience rapport, and with it I have never seen a disturbance caused by public questioning. (Even illiterates can have someone—maybe an evangelistic staff member or local church member—write out his question for him; and few Muslim audiences nowadays are totally illiterate. Such groups are flattered and honored by your kind attention.)

The term "son of Muhammad" is a Christian one in rare circulation. It should never be used lest it be misunderstood and offend. All Adventist and Christian cliches are likewise undesirable, due to lack of understanding rather than misunderstanding. Neither is good for communication.

The good Muslim—some are culturally nominal or educated secularists—believes in heaven and the hereafter. This may sound like acceptable common ground. But the Muslim holds that there are seven heavens!

The Bible and the Quran

Muslims claim to believe the Bible, but for Islam the Quran is the reputed final authority.3 Conflicts between the Bible and either the Quran or Muslim tradition are settled to the Muslim's satisfaction by one of the latter. Plurality of versions or translations only make the Bible more unreliable to him. Multiplied manuscripts and written proofs mean nothing to him; he believes only in a verbally inspired Bible. This belief, however, is modified by his acceptance of the Quran. Although he respects all true prophets, four books—the books of Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad—hold special validity for him. The last one of these, the Quran, supercedes and abrogates the others. For this reason, quotations from the Quran, unless made in flawless accuracy and perfect Arabic, are best not made at all. I paraphrased the Quran, but had Sura and ayat, roughly speaking, chapter and verse, available if needed. Some Adventists question the advisability of citing the Quran as authority at all. Local circumstances and an individual's own attitude toward authorities will help determine that use.

All true prophets are venerated, but the Muslim has a special place in his heart for the four named above. Never disparage a prophet; certainly not Muhammad. Though contrary to expressed statements in the Quran, many Muslims believe no prophet erred.4 Statements showing otherwise must be made with prudence. Quranic evidence that Moses killed a man helps.

Anthropomorphic expressions applied to God are not received well. The mention of terms such as hands and feet, eyes and ears, or hair and head, although explainable as being only figures of speech, if not used make explanation unnecessary.

Tradition says that Abraham sacrificed Ishmael. 5 In telling this story to Muslims it is wiser to speak of Abraham's dear son or similar terms, for Muslims understand "only son" to be before the birth of Isaac, and thus for them can mean only Ishmael. Also the Quranic story related how the lad lay face down (as an animal might stand for sacrifice so that when the throat would be slit the blood could easily be collected). For greater credibility a slit throat is more meaningful than a knife plunged into the heart. No principle is compromised with either of these two adaptations to the story.

Does Islam Persecute?

Many people believe that Islam persecutes. At least they believe that Islam compels people to accept its faith.6 This belief is controversial. Although several knowledgeable friends disagree with me, I do not believe that this position can bear up under investigation. Although an Islamic state is a church-state, it usually has been quite tolerant of dissenters. The sword-of-lslam approach to unbelievers is not what spreads Islam.

Great misunderstanding is avoided on this question if Islam's military-political expansion can be thought of as distinct from its growth as a religion. 7 That some horrible butcheries have occurred under Muslim rulers and their armies none can deny. But "all's fair in love and war" is a familiar proverb. Some of Islam's bloodiest conflicts have been with Muslim versus Muslim. Take, for instance, the Muslim Timur's (Tamerlane) sack of Muslim-ruled Delhi, India, as told in his own words. 8 War is terrible, and the religion per se should not be held accountable.

The religious spread of Islam in the main was peaceful, involving several centuries. Its leading "missionaries" were traders and peripatetic mystic "saints" personal evangelists, if you please, and lay clergy (there is no clerical hierarchy in Islam). Malaya, Indonesia, and the Muslim portions of the Philippines embraced Islam only by the witness of these Muslim preachers.

Islam is a missionary religion. Muhammad made his first converts by preaching. His first followers were his closest family members and friends---an enviable record for any preacher. Islam's religious growth, past and present, has not been by military imposition. The Seventh-day Adventist witness will be more effective when we bury the myth that Islam necessarily persecutes. The spread of her religion by force is fiction out of the Dark Ages.

The roots of this misunderstanding run deep. Long-standing prejudice, including the evangelist's own bias, blocks effective communication. These issues are of tremendous significance to Seventh-day Adventist evangelism. A reappraisal of erroneous beliefs held by the evangelist should lessen any unconscious hostility he has and make him more able to witness as he should. This hope warrants an extended discussion of the subject.

Bury That Myth

An English authority on Islam, the late Sir Thomas Arnold, writes:

There are no passages to be found in the Quran that in anyway enjoin forcible conversion, and many that on the contrary limit propagandist efforts to preaching and persuasion. 9

The Holy Roman emperor's inability to spare troops from Austria to crush the Lutheran princes ensured Protestantism's survival. The empire's armies were fighting for their lives against the Muslim Turks of Suleiman the Magnificent at the gates of Vienna.

Over the centuries the sword-of-lslam policy (incorrectly derived by extension from a sense often given to the word jihad) of a few Muslim militarists and ad ministrators has seldom resulted in new converts for Islam. 10 After Arnold's extended analysis of the word jihad he shows that the present conscience-coercion connotation is post-Quranic and that "primarily the word bears no reference to war or fighting, much less to fighting unbelievers or forcible conversion of them, but derives its particular application from the contest only." 11 Muhammad's use of it meant the putting forth of serious effort on whatever object to which it applied.

Thousands of Christians and numerous churches existed for centuries under Islamic rule. 12 I have seen the brick church with its built-in crosses erected at the order of the sixteenth-century Muslim Mughal (Mogul) emperor Akbar of North India in his palace at Fatehpur Sikri. Many Christian leaders, such as John of Damascus, served with prominence and distinction in either the government or their professions. A host of Christians escaped persecution from their fellow Christians by living in a Muslim state. 13 Few of us will know how often a Muslim persecution of Christians has been instigated by other Christians.

Furthermore, if Islam were always as intolerant of other religions as many people believe, one would not expect to find in Northern India, as he does, after nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule, the birthplace of Jainism and Sikhism, with Hinduism still ascendant.

Apostasy of Christians did take place. In the course of several generations economic and cultural factors did induce many Christians to leave their churches churches that themselves were split with apostasy, schism, and heresy.

Several factors contributed to the myth of an intolerant Islam. War, hysteria and propaganda for the Crusades, and later wars take the chief responsibility. More recently the persecution of the Armenians by the Turks has furthered it. But it was more political than religious, with thousands of other Turkish Christians living in relative peace. 14

Do Muslims persecute, then, on their own religious grounds? Yes, but usually as individuals rather than as a policy of church or state. Western Christians do that, too, but the religion of Jesus as such is not to blame.

Topics and Terms That Offend

The wise evangelist will delete certain subjects from early discussion or reserve them for personal evangelism. Closely related are terms and texts that offend because usually they are misunderstood. Such topics include the Trinity; the fatherhood of God; the deity, sonship, and crucifixion of Jesus; and the vicariousness of the atonement. Terms such as Father for God, Son of God and Lord for Jesus, are better avoided; although substitute names for Jesus may be used, such as Arabic names wherever understood, Messiah, Sent of God, or Lamb of God (this last name is not yet connoted with the atonement and therefore does not offend).

Texts such as John 3:16 or those having the foregoing names in them should not be used any oftener than necessary. The Trinity and the deity of Jesus, in separable to many Muslims, are so op posed to Islamic monotheism that they are best discussed near the end of a series of meetings. 15

Most Muslims conclude that if, for example, Jesus was God's Son and Mary was His mother, then Christians believe that the virgin was physically the wife of God. Some early Christians did teach the theotokos, or "wife of God," idea. And the heretical Collyridians (fourth- and fifth-century Arab Christians) offered cakes to Mary. The majority of Muslims today think that Christians still believe that Christ's deity resulted from the sexual cohabitation of God and Mary, an idea blasphemous to both Muslims and Christians.

Christ's deity is innately spiritual, not physical. Muslims must learn that Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Messiah's incarnation made God man, not man God. Jesus' nature as God was not a byproduct of His birth. Muslims hold both Jesus and Mary in high regard. Some will accept this spiritual explanation.

The death, crucifixion, and atonement of Christ are parts of a much larger problem in many ways.

Most Muslims hold a "substitution" theory of the crucifixion. Ahmadiyas believe the "swoon" theory. All deny that Jesus died on the cross. They argue that a one-for-many vicarious atonement is incompatible with the nature and at tributes of God. The method or manner of this mystery is not explained in the Bible, The reason for it is told many times, but the method or manner never. The atonement of Jesus must be accepted by faith faith based on God's assertion. The act of atonement baffles the Muslim's logic. It must be grasped solely by faith. Here is the fundamental dichotomy between pristine Christianity and present-day Islam.

How, then, if all these basic beliefs are to be hushed, can the Adventist evangelist make his preaching Christ-and-cross- centered? This effort will challenge the best in a man to create an effective presentation without stirring up prejudice. The Holy Spirit will help. The system of sacrificial services may provide at least a partial answer.




1. I used a translation of a J. L. Shuler question card.

2. It gives you liberty to ask any disturber whether he has followed the rules for asking questions. (Obviously he has not.) Have an usher take him a card or receive his if he has one ready. Then ask him politely to sit down. If he doesn't, the chances are good that the audience seeing your sense of fair play and intentions will help you. Most audience members came to hear you or any visiting speaker you announced rather than listen to the disrupter's language. Assure him that if his question conforms to the printed requirements it will receive your interested and careful attention. Then name a date for a future question-and-answer period. Also, tell him that if he would rather meet you for a private discussion of his question he can meet you at the close of the meeting to arrange an appointment when you can talk things over with him.

3. Cf. H. A. R. Cibb, Mohammedanism, p. 97.

4. Ibid., pp. 125,126. Shiite influence upon Sunnite Islam has transferred to Muhammad the sinlessness and infallibility that Shiites give AM and the Imam.

5. As the Quran tells the story (Sura al-Saffat, 100-109) no name is given, and in xxxvii. 108 it says the lad sacrificed was ransomed by an azim {great, mighty, momentous) sacrifice. Muslim commentators who are aware of the Bible story declare that the sacrifice was symbolical. As a literal sacrifice, a sheep or a ram was used. As a figurative sacrifice some say willing self-sacrifice to do the will and service of God is meant. A national teacher (a Christian) in my language-school days asked rhetorically, "What could be a greater ransom than a ram?"

6. On the contrary, there is greater evidence of coerced conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Cf. James Waltz, "Historical Perspectives on 'Early Missions' to Muslims," The Muslim World, LXI, 3 (1971), pp. 178, 179, 184.

7. Ibid., p. 176, n. 27.

8. The Emperor Timur, Mulfazati Timuri [The Autobiography of Timur], in Elliot and Dowson, History of India, vol. 3.

9. T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam (4th ed.; Lahore: 1956), p. 440.

10. _____, ibid., pp. 440-446; Murray T. Titus, Indian Islam, pp. 36, 49.

11. _____, op. cit., pp. 440, 441.

12. _____, The Old and New Testaments in Muslim Religious Art, p. 4. The author tells of a monk named Burchard of Mount Sion that he calls an "acute observer" who wrote about A.D. 1283 six-and-one-half centuries after the death of Muhammad that in all the Muslim world except in Egypt and Arabia Christians outnumbered Muslims thirty to one. Although Arnold says that these figures appear to be exaggerated, Burchard stoutly maintained against contemporary critics that his statistics were based on his own observations and from the statements of people who knew the facts, "as against those who made the statements about what they had never seen." Arnold adds that independent evidence shows that at this same time Christians in Mawsil lived in 60,000 houses.

13. Cf. Waltz, op. cit., pp. 175, 176.

14. Cf. "Armenia," Encyclopaedia Britannica (1971 printing), vol. 2, p. 421.

15. In many a Muslim mind the Father, Mary, and the Son make up the Trinity.

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Former Evangelist and Teacher, Pakistan, Islamic Historian

October 1972

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