My dream for Islam

The author examines five evangelizing principles-proven by Christ-for reaching Muslims.

Luka Tambaya Daniel is the president of the Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Traditional Seventh-day Adventist theology sees Islam in the light of the fifth and sixth trumpets of Revelation 9. We view the fallen star of verse 1 as representing the weakening of Persia and Rome because of their wars with each other during the seventh century A.D., preparing the way for the subsequent Muslim conquests. We have held that the bottomless pit in verses 1 and 2 represents the Arabian deserts from which the first Muslim forces came forth to spread their authority over vast areas. 1 Incidentally, the thirtieth chapter of the Koran, the Muslim Scripture, is entitled "Al-Rum," or "The Romans."2 Verses 1-7 reveal how the Romans and the Persians exchanged defeats and how the Persians would soon be overthrown.3

We also view the "locusts," of Rev elation 9:3 and 10 as representing the overwhelming Arab Muslim conquests of the Near East, North Africa, and Spain within 100 years of Islam's existence as a religion. Moreover, we view the scorpion-like stings of the locusts as representing the effectiveness of the spread of Islam through the use of the detestable jihad, or holy war, by the Arab Muslim empires, beginning with Islam's prophet Mohammed (570-632), and by the Ottoman, or Turkish Empire, founded by Osman I (1259-1326).4

This general view of Islam might tempt us to ask, "Can the gospel ever reach Muslims?" My dream is that Muslims can and will be saved by Christ. My dream is that soon, very soon, Muslims will respond to the last call and by the thousands and the millions join the Good Shepherd's fold.

Achieving that dream is unlikely if our view of Muslims and Islam is restricted to Revelation 9. For a balanced view, we should consult other Bible prophecies, such as Isaiah 60. We seldom if ever include the Muslims in our interpretation of the "Gentiles" in verses 3 and 4 who "shall come to thy light" and "shall come from far." Since we exclude them in our interpretation, we do not include them in our ministerial training, either.

Muslims do indeed belong to "the forces of the Gentiles" who will respond positively to the light, because in verses 5-7 we read that among the new people who will flock to the fold of the Lord of light are Midian, Ephah, Sheba, Kedar, and Nebaioth. A careful reading of Genesis 25 shows these nations to be descendants of Abraham through Hagar and Keturah (verse 6). These nations, in turn, are ancestors of the present-day Arabs.

Psalm 68:31 and Isaiah 45:14 contain two other prophecies that offer hope for Islamic outreach. Here we read that the nations of Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sabeans will recognize the Lord of light and seek after Him at the end of time. These three nations represent the present-day nations of North Africa and the "horn of Africa," with their overwhelming Muslim populations.

The Bible pictures the entire human race as sheep that have strayed and be come lost (Isaiah 53:6). God's wish is that all should be saved (1 Tim. 2:3, 4). Luke 19:10 reveals that Jesus came "to seek and to save that which was lost." While here on earth, the Saviour divided humanity into two main groups—namely "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24) and the "other sheep" (John 10:16). From His approach to both the groups, we can develop fine evangelistic principles that would help in our approach to non-Christians.

Principle 1: Begin at home

Christ began His ministry among His people Israel (Matt. 15:24). He then commissioned the 12 apostles to do like wise (Matt. 10:6). However, when He later sent the 70 (Luke 10:1), He imposed no such restriction, thus showing that evangelization must begin at home. The logic behind this is that love must start with those closest to us, those we can most easily reach (cf. Uohn4:20). Truly, "charity begins at home." Another reason is found in 1 Peter 4:17: "Judgment must begin at the house of God." In other words, the Lord's chosen people should be warned first because of their historical special relationship with Him.

Statistics show that most Adventist converts come from other Christian denominations. Unfortunately, our work among non-Christian groups is disappointing. This is largely because Adventist colleges and seminaries have not been reaching non-Christian groups such as Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The recent initiative by the General Conference to set up study centers for Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism opens up the prospect of dialogue and approach with the major religious groups of the world.

Principle 2: Cultivate love and tolerance

In John 10:16, Jesus speaks of "other sheep" outside His fold that He desires to bring in. He identifies them in Matthew 10:5 with the "Gentiles, and ... the Samaritans." Reaching these "lost sheep" is not an easy task because of physical distance or, even more seriously, cultural distance.

Again, Christ's example provides direction for our own evangelism. John 4:9 reveals that the Jews had "no dealings with the Samaritans" a situation that originated after Solomon's death, with the split of Israel into two rival kingdoms: Judah in the south with the capital at Jerusalem, and Israel in the north with the capital at Samaria. With time, the political and religious gaps between the Jews and the Samaritans widened beyond repair. Not surprisingly, the Samaritans would not allow Jesus to pass through their village because "his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51-53).

"Sons of thunder" disciples James and John were furious at the insult. They wanted Jesus to destroy the village by fire from heaven, but He rebuked their vindictive spirit: "For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (verse 56). So Christ's second principle of evangelism is cultivate love and tolerance. In other words, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you" (Matt. 5:44).

In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4:5-42), Jesus also shattered the age-old barrier between Jews and Samaritans. Indeed, His behavior serves as a model for all interfaith evangelism.

We need to cultivate this quality of tolerance now more than ever. Today Islam is the largest single non-Christian religion in the world. The late G. Arthur Keough, founder of Middle East College, Beirut, observed that of the 2.5 billion unreached people—(as of 1987), "more than 900 million people one out of every five individuals in the world are Muslim."5

Using the model of Christ's day, Christians and Muslims are the modern-day Jews and Samaritans, respectively. And the division between Christians and Muslims today has come about for the same reasons that the original Hebrew nation split: politics and religion.

Mohammed, the prophet and founder of Islam, never claimed to introduce a new religion (Al-Ahqaf 46:9). In Al- Ankabut 29:46, his Koran states that Muslims worship the same God that Christians and Jews do. Al-Imran 3:3 suggests that the Koran itself is only a confirmation of the Hebrew Torah and the Christian gospel. It is also obvious from Al- Baqarah 2:143 that Mohammed's early practice was to pray facing toward Jerusalem. Some scholars even believe that Mohammed originally observed the seventh-day Sabbath.6 In fact, the Koran speaks of all the Ten Commandments. Hence, Islam can subscribe to most of the tenets of Christianity and Judaism. Of course, the major theological barrier be tween Christianity and Islam, as it is also with Judaism, is the saving atonement of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, prominent historian Philip K. Hitti sees Islam as a "heretic Christian sect,"7 while Canon Taylor calls it a "reformed Judaism."8

Unfortunately, Mohammed found Judaism too legalistic and exclusivistic. He found Christianity divided sharply by Christological controversy. The Eastern churches had rejected the divinity of Christ upheld by the Western churches at the Council of Nicaea in 325. What made matters worse for Christianity was that by Mohammed's time the worship of Mary had developed so fully that its condemnation appeared in the Koran (Al-Ma'idah 5:119). The resulting confusion contributed to Mohammed's rejection of the Trinity (Al-Ma'idah 5:76).

So it was that Mohammed parted company with both Jews and Christians, whom the Koran calls "the People of the Book" (Al-Ma'idah 5:68 and 69). To ensure that isolation, he changed the fasting period from that of the Jewish Ashura to the month of the Ramadan (Al-Baqarah 2:183-185) and the direction of prayer (Quiblah) from Jerusalem to Mecca (Al- Baqarah 2:142-144). Mohammed finalized his split from Judaism and Christianity when he said, "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion" (Al-Kafran 109:6).

Mohammed's religious separation led him to sever political ties as well. T4ius, the jihad, or holy war, which according to Al-Nisa'i 4:75 and 76 was primarily to defend Islam or to fight the polytheists until they repented (Al-Taubah 9:5), was also directed against the Jews and the Christians until they paid the capitulation tax (Al-Taubah 9:29). As mentioned before, the jihad in any form has caused non-Muslims to consider Muslims as bloodthirsty hordes.

It may surprise some to discover that Muslims also regard Christians as a bloodthirsty lot. They remember the atrocities of the church during the Middle Ages, especially the Inquisition and the Crusades. Crusaders committed all manner of carnage in the name of Christ "God wills it" was their slogan.9

The Muslims also join African nationalists in condemning the role the church played in the Transatlantic slave trade and the colonization of the Third World. 10 They blame the church for condoning these obnoxious policies or at least being insensitive to the plight of the oppressed. Muslims also hold Christianity accountable for apartheid in South Africa. 11

We see, then, that both Muslim jihad and Christian Crusades have perpetuated mutual intolerance and resulted in in credible atrocities. Certainly history would tell a kinder story if both Muslims and Christians had emphasized the true spiritual meaning of jihad and crusade. It is clear in Al-Ankabut 29:8 and 69 that jihad also means "spiritual striving." That suggests a parallel with Ephesians 6:12, which states that "we wrestle not against flesh, and blood but against. .. spiritual wickedness in high places."

Principle 3: Meet the immediate needs

As we consider relations between Christians and Muslims, examples from Christ's ministry provide us direction. Luke 17:11-14 tells He healed 10 lepers as He was passing through a Samaritan village. Was He not aware of His earlier ill-treatment at the hands of another Samaritan village that refused Him passage just because He was en route to Jerusalem? Yes, He was, but His love for people took priority. He was fulfilling another of His evangelistic principles the third on my list meeting the immediate physical needs of people. The immediate physical need of these lepers was healing, and Christ ministered to them irrespective of their nationality or creed.

Adventist Health Services deserves praise for its healing work, especially among non-Christians. Adventist Development and Relief Agency has also helped significantly by supplying food, clothing, and shelter to the needy in Muslim communities. Precious souls have been won through these acts of compassion in relieving physical needs.

Back to the example of the Samaritans who would not allow Jesus to go through their village to Jerusalem. The tendency was to brand all Samaritans as mean and unfriendly. That was certainly the general belief of the Jews. But Jesus called this notion into question when He told the story of the good Samaritan's rescue of a robbery victim after two Jewish clergymen had failed to help (Luke 10:30-36). Notice also that among the 10 lepers Jesus healed (Luke 17:11-15), only one returned to thank the Master Healer "and he was a Samaritan" (verse 16). In verses 17-19, Christ commended the faith of "this stranger."

Principle 4: Recognize the good in others

Accordingly, the fourth principle of Christ's evangelistic approach is to recognize the good in unbelievers. That purges us from prejudice, as with Peter after meeting Cornelius (Acts 10:34,35).

Many Muslims have also sensed the need to dispense with prejudice. In the past, Muslim empires were sometimes more humane than their Christian counterparts. The Koran mandated such tolerance in Al-Taubah 9:29, already mentioned above. Muslim jihadists were not to kill Jews or Christians, or destroy their property, so long as they paid the capitulation tax.

Other texts in the Koran advocating Muslim tolerance to Christians and Jews include Al-Imran 3:113 and 114 and Al- Hajj 22:40. The second text condemns anyone who destroys monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques. Then there is Al-Ma'idah 5:85, which specifically singles out the Christians as the best of friends to Muslims.

Even today we experience much love and caring in our interactions with Muslims. I have personally met in government offices and schools Muslim leaders who granted my requests for cooperation more readily than some Christian officials.

In April 1988, I conducted a ministerial seminar in the North Nigeria Mission on evangelizing Muslims. More than 200 ministers attended, along with delegates from churches and interested members. I gave this group the assignment of listing good things they could remember that Muslims had done for them. Two days later I asked for a list of the bad things.

Ninety-one participants reported a total of 463 positive items. Eighty-eight per cent said that Muslims had been helpful to them, 74 percent said they were generous, and 38 percent said they were sociable. As for the negative responses, 62 participants mentioned a total of 320 items. Forty-eight percent said that Muslims were violent, with particular mention of the burning of churches (an apparent reference to the religious riots that took place in Kaduna state in 1987), 35 percent said the Muslims called Christians "heathen," and 25 percent said the Muslims were scornful.

In this exercise, I discovered that the positive responses were more specific in nature than the negative ones. The negative responses were a list of general grievances against the Muslims, while the positive ones almost always mentioned names of individuals, towns, circumstances, or dates.

Let us remember the good deeds of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and not dwell on the bad ones. Then we can appreciate them, come close to them, befriend them, and share with them the good news about Christ.

Principle 5: Move from the known to the unknown

In the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, after Jesus broke down the social barrier between Himself and the woman, He moved the topic of conversation from the physical water she knew to the spiritual water she did not know. Here we have Christ's fifth principle of evangelism: move from the known to the unknown.

So now you know my dream—that Christ's five principles of "lost sheep" evangelism, which worked so well with the Samaritans of old, will reach the hearts of Muslims today. The time to act is now.

1. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), vol. 7, p. 791.

2. All Koran texts in this article are from Abdullah Ysuf Ali's translation.

3. Holy Qur'an (Washington, D.C.: The Islamic Centre, 1978), pp. 1051, 1052 footnotes.

4. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 791, 792.

5. Arthur Keough, "Islam," Adventist Review, July 16, 1987, p. 9.

6. Philip K. Hitti, The Arabs (Chicago: Henry RegneryCo., 1967), p. 36.

7. Ibid., p. 44.

8. S. M. Ahmad, Islam in Africa and the Middle East (Allahabad: The Abbas Manzil Library, n.d.), p. 18.

9. Wallace K. Ferguson and Geoffrey Bruun, A Survey of European Civilization (Boston: Houghton MifflinCo., 1962), p. 214.

10. See Hamza Adesola Dawood, "A Memoir to the Constituent Assembly," National Concord, July 1,1988, p. 5.

11. Compare Gottfried Oosterwal, Mission: Possible (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1975), pp. 84, 85.

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Luka Tambaya Daniel is the president of the Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

February 1992

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