Throughout the traditional world of Christendom, today more commonly termed "the West", Muslim communities have become a permanent feature of the environment. Since the end of the last world war, countless thousands have emigrated from their homelands to settle in Europe and North America. Others have emigrated to Australia and other countries generally associated with the Western world while in my home country, South Africa, Muslims from the Asian sub-continent have long been resident in sizeable communities throughout the land.
The Church has a situation it has never seen before - whole world of Islam in miniature at its traditional doorstep. It has an opportunity to reach Muslims with the Gospel such as it has never enjoyed before. It possesses a number of advantages in the circumstances which it has not seen in its efforts to reach Muslims within the traditional world of Islam, namely North Africa, the Middle East, the Indo-Pakistani region, and South-East Asia.
This is one of the major reasons for the publication of this book. It is the conviction of many that the emigration of so many Muslims to the West, which has created such a new field of witness for the Church, can only be explained by the hand of providence. The potential for a broadly-based witness and thrust among the Muslims in our midst and, through them, to the Muslim communities of the world must surely be identified and acted upon. Christians and churches generally can now become directly involved in evangelism among Muslims and an open door has been set before us which we can only ascribe to the express will of God that we should seize the opportunities he has given us.
It is my persuasion that the work cannot be embarked upon without a conscious awareness of the issues involved and an adequate preparation for the task. If we are to realise it, we must identify the opportunities we have, be instructed in the whole subject of Muslim evangelism and effective methods of reaching Muslims with the Gospel, and finally know how to handle the usual Muslim objections to the Christian faith, its scripture, doctrines and beliefs.
We also need to be conversant with Islam, its beliefs and practices, its heritage, its founder and its scripture. For this reason I first wrote the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, and published it in 1986. The present volume, The Christian Witness to the Muslim, seeks to canvass the field covered in the previous paragraph. I have begun by outlining the whole fact of the Muslim presence in our midst with its attendant opportunities and, in the second chapter, have set forth what I believe is the most effective practical method of reaching Muslims with the Gospel as evident in our lives and service. In the third chapter I have covered the whole subject of Muslim evangelism, the perspective we need on it, and what I believe is the Biblical model of cross-cultural and cross-religious witness.
As the mushrooming of Muslim communities in our home countries has been taking place, so the traditional Church has considerably receded and even within its realm voices have come forth seeking to turn away the Church from its Christ-appointed commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28.19). The Church today, in particular the living eternal Church of Jesus Christ born of the Holy Spirit and - united in one body to the Father, dare not despise or overlook the opportunity and commission God has given us. With a bold sense of vocation and purpose we must penetrate the Muslim communities in our midst and bring them the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8.12).
The Muslims themselves have seen their presence in the traditional Christian world as a similar opportunity to Islamise those around them and they are going ahead quite vigorously with their own perceived task of winning the West to Islam. In the process they are equipping themselves for the battle and are acquainting themselves more than ever with the Christian faith and seeking means to contradict and refute it. A perceived threat to their identity as minority Muslim communities, scattered thinly among predominantly Christian societies, has also spurred them on to become more invulnerable than ever to Christian influence. We must not underestimate the task, nor must we avoid it. Never before has the Church enjoyed such an immense opportunity to reach Muslims with the Gospel as it enjoys now. We must press on so that the light may shine in Muslim hearts and so that many may become children of God and followers of his Son Jesus Christ, ready for a kingdom to be revealed in the last time.
The second major section of this book has been devoted to the whole subject of reaching Muslims with the Gospel and practical examples of how this can be done most effectively. All three chapters in this section have been given to ways and means of putting the Biblical approach to Muslims, discussed in principle in the third chapter, into effect.
Many books have been written on the subject of explaining the Gospel to Muslims and of Christian witness among them. It is a bold statement, but nonetheless a true one, that there has never yet been a book which informs Christians how to actually preach the Gospel in an Islamic context. All the books written thusfar on the subject since the inception of Christian missions among Muslims dating back to the beginning of the last century, notwithstanding their titles, do not actually tell one how to positively relate the whole substance of the Gospel to Muslims against the background of their own beliefs.
On the contrary most of them deal principally with explaining Christian beliefs and doctrines to Muslims or cover the field of handling Muslim objections to the Gospel (so Bevan-Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims). Others cover the subjects of points to be stressed and pitfalls to be avoided (so Harris, How to Lead Moslems to Christ), while yet others deal primarily with our attitudes and the spirit of our approach (so Dretke, A Christian Approach to Muslims). Some cover all these issues briefly but comprehensively (so Miller, A Christian's Response to Islam).
Not for a minute would I suggest that these works have missed the point or failed to deal adequately with their subjects. Some are excellent treasures in the library of any Christian seeking to know how to handle Muslims and their arguments. I stand by my statement, however, that there is no book which specifically shows the Christian how to witness effectively to Muslims by making the Gospel especially relevant to them as Paul made it to the Jews and Gentiles during his travels through Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth. I have endeavoured to do this in the second major section of this book, using Paul's approach as an example.
The whole of the fourth chapter is given to an analysis of the common ground between Christians and Muslims on the personality, faith and life of the great patriarch Abraham with the purpose of showing how effectively Christians can relate the whole of the Gospel to the principles we have in common and show how, by implication and by fact in Abraham's experience' these lead perforce to the Gospel. While addressing Christians at various meetings on the subject I have occasionally been asked to present my points in as simple a l point-for-point form as possible to enable the average Christian to understand and present them more easily. I have deliberately avoided doing this in this book. While not against the suggestion in principle, it is my belief that Christians should make a real effort to come to grips with all that was really involved in the development of Abraham's faith and how this led ultimately to an anticipation of the Gospel, for then they will be best-equipped to effectively discuss the subject with Muslims. The whole chapter, therefore, has been given to canvassing the issue as a whole in the hope that Christians will be able to absorb its essence and thereafter be able to put its message into their own words and, where necessary, simplify it.
The last section of the fourth chapter has been given to a study of the common Muslim belief that the son who was to be sacrificed by Abraham was not Isaac but Ishmael. Although this belief is universal in the Muslim world today, there are evidences that early Muslim commentators were persuaded that it was Isaac and, although the Qur'an does not say which son it was, the study proceeds to show that the evidences that do exist in the early Islamic sources really favour Isaac.
This brings me to the fifth chapter where once again I have avoided setting forth a prescribed point-for-point method of witness. In this chapter I have covered the common ground between Christians and Muslims on the subject of Jesus himself, in particular those points of agreement between Christianity and Islam on the person and life of Jesus which, when analysed, can only lead to the conclusion that he was quite unique and far more than a prophet. The whole chapter is thus given to the uniqueness of Jesus as it appears in both the Qur'an and the Bible where these two books are in agreement. Once again the purpose of the chapter is to show how effectively Christians can preach the Gospel to Muslims against the whole background of their own beliefs.
This is a good place to say something in passing about the Jesus of the Qur'an. Christians, and very often Muslims, are more familiar with the denials in the Qur'an than its admissions regarding his person and work. Its two great denials affect his deity and crucifixion. In both cases the Qur'an flatly denies the fact and in doing so cuts right at the root of Christian belief, denying Jesus as both Lord and Saviour. This has led one author (Kenneth Robertson) to recently title his book on the subject Jesus or Isa as though the two personalities are radically different.
I believe this to be a mistake. There is only one Jesus and it is clearly the Qur'an's intention to speak of the same person in whom Christians believe. When the Qur'an acknowledges his virgin-birth, sinlessness, miracle-working power, ascension to heaven and second coming, when it gives him the titles Messiah, Word and Spirit of God, and attributes to him the power to raise the dead to life which it otherwise attributes to God alone, there can be no doubt that we are discussing the same Jesus.
The Christian must seek to lead the Muslims on to a full knowledge of Jesus, without which they cannot be saved. The Isa of the Qur'an is not a false Jesus but an incomplete Jesus. If the Qur'an had set him forth purely as an ordinary prophet and had had nothing more to say of him I could have agreed with the distinction drawn in the title of Robertson's book. But the Qur'an does not restrict itself to this portrayal. It acknowledges numerous unique features in the life of Jesus which Christians can use very profitably to lead Muslims on from their inadequate and incomplete concept of his personality and work to a fuller and more complete knowledge of the salvation God has vested in him.
It is true that Islamic dogma has reduced Jesus to the level of common prophethood and, in its blunt rejection of his deity and saving work, refuses to give him any further consideration It is also true that this dogma is based on the Qur'an and that the declaration that Jesus was illa rasulun - "nothing but a messenger" (Surah 5.78) - is intended likewise to be the Qur'an's full sum and appreciation of his office.
Nevertheless this is not the full picture of Jesus in the Qur'an. It seems that Muhammad himself was prepared to accept any teaching about the life of Jesus and any title which the Christians might apply to him where these did not appear to conflict with his general supposition that he was only a prophet. For example, he was quite willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah and quite openly gives him this title (Al-Masih) no less than eleven times in the Qur'an. The lack of any attempt to explain the title in the book, however, shows that Muhammad was unaware of its meaning and blissfully ignorant of the fact that it testifies to both the deity of Jesus and his saving work he had come to perform. Seeing no reason to reject it, however, in his ignorance he willingly admitted the title. In so doing he did the Christian evangelist to Muslims an enormous favour and it is perhaps in just this one word, found on so many occasions in the Qur'an, that we have the finest common ground against which to present the message of the Christian Gospel.
The same can be said for all the other unique features and titles the Qur'an gives Jesus and in the fifth chapter of this book I have endeavoured to show just what a wealth of material Christians have for witness in these admissions and in the Qur'an's positive teaching about Jesus.
This is why I object to the distinction between the Jesus of the Bible and the Isa of the Qur'an because the Jesus of the Qur'an is often more Christian than Muslim in the uniqueness the book allows to him. The declaration that he was only a prophet and a messenger like those who went before him is contradicted again and again by the unique features the Qur'an attributes to him. The Jesus of the Qur'an, whose life began and ended on earth in unique circumstances, who today dwells in heaven, who alone is declared to be sinless among the prophets, who alone has God's power to give life to the dead, who alone is the Messiah and a Word and Spirit from God, is the Christian Jesus and we must be thankful that whereas the Qur'an denies the fact of his deity and crucifixion, it has absorbed enough Biblical material to provide a forthright testimony to these two all-important features.
The sixth chapter pursues the common theme, giving further examples of how a comparison between beliefs held commonly by Christians and Muslims can lead by implication to the Gospel, and it finishes with a brief assessment of the Qur'anic denial of the crucifixion and inherent weaknesses in the Qur'anic alternative. The first two sections of this chapter analyse the love of God as it is set forth in both the Qur'an and the Bible and the distinction between Adam and Christ, in particular how the latter superseded the former and brought relief from the effect of that one man's sin.
The third major section of this book deals with Muslim objections to the Gospel, in particular those objections that Christians are most likely to encounter in their witness to Muslims. I regret that I have only been able to cover the subject briefly in this book but do trust that the examples given and the answers offered will assist Christians in some measure to handle the usual obstacles that will be placed in their way. In time I will perhaps be able to write a comprehensive work on this subject alone and cover all the Muslim objections to the Bible and the Christian faith that we find in the writings of Muslim polemicists, but for the moment the limited treatment of the subject in this book will have to suffice as an example of the whole. I can safely say from personal knowledge and experience that there is no objection to Christianity which cannot be satisfactorily and adequately answered and the Bible itself I have always found to be the strongest resource we have to seek and find the answers to the questions that will invariably be put to us.
In the third chapter of this book I have dealt with the need to answer Muslim objections and why we should never avoid or evade them. Very often these are raised as a test of the Christian's credibility - does he really believe what he is saying and can he justify it? Evasion at this point will be fatal to the Christian's witness and the effect he desires to achieve. No matter what reasoning we may use, the Muslim will take any avoidance of argument on the merits and credibility of our faith as a sign that we cannot really back up and vindicate what we are saying.
There is one principle at this point that I believe must be established. When argument about the merits of our beliefs degenerates into pure controversy or a quarrel the object of such argument will surely be lost. We need to see argument and debate about our respective beliefs as a supplementary means to the desired end - a witness to the Muslims of God's saving grace in his Son Jesus Christ. In other words we must use every occasion for argument as an opportunity to speak further on behalf of the Gospel and turn such occasions into a chance to witness yet more deeply to Muslims. In the seventh and particularly the eighth chapters of this book I have given a number of practical examples to show how one can use Muslim objections as a springboard for a further witness to them of the essence of the Gospel itself. Our objective must never be just to make a defence of our faith, it must be to pursue the claims of God on the souls of the Muslims and of his reconciling grace in Jesus Christ.
The Christian evangelist to Muslims must also learn to be wise in his assessment of Muslim objections and to distinguish between those that are raised in a spirit of enquiry apd those that are purely expressions of antagonism. Many Muslims are deeply prejudiced against Christianity for whatever reason and Christian love and charity do not demand that we pretend that many of the assaults we commonly experience against the Gospel are occasioned by anything other than the hardness of the human heart against God's revealed truth. Pilate rightly discerned that "it was out of envy" that Jesus was delivered up to him (Mark 15.10) and we do our cause no great service if we suppose that many of the attacks that are levelled by Muslim writers against Christianity are motivated by anything other than pure prejudice against the Gospel.
One must likewise be wary of Muslim attempts to reinterpret the Bible according to their own convictions and suppositions (and, I might add in all fairness, the similar efforts on the part of some Christian writers to reinterpret the Qur'an so as to make it teach the basic doctrines of our faith, such as the deity and crucifixion of Christ, even though these are flatly denied in the book).
Christians who believe the Bible to be the Word of God are far more likely to seek and find its true meanings than those Muslims whose minds are made up before they even read the book and whose only interest, so it appears, is to force the book to yield their preferred interpretations. Having already decided in advance what they believe the Bible should say, they endeavour to make its teachings correspond to their presuppositions as Syed Ameer Ali does when he flatly denies that Jesus ever taught that he was the Son of God in an absolute and eternal sense:
No objective analysis of the words of Jesus in this respect as set forth throughout the Gospels and the first three chapters of Revelation can possibly yield any other interpretation than that which the learned Muslim author is at such pains to deny.
Another typical example of how the same author seeks to reinterpret the teachings of Jesus to suit his own Muslim presuppositions and thereby make them say what he feels they ought to say, rather than the real meaning they convey, is set out on the following page of his book:
Once again we have an interpretation totally inconsistent with the original intended meaning of Jesus' words. The idea that Jesus taught that "all mankind were the children of God" runs contrary to his express declarations that it was only his own followers, a "little flock", who belonged to the eternal Father as his children and to whom alone the kingdom would be given (Luke 12.32) and that those who refused to heed his words were, in fact, not the children of God at all but of the devil (John 8.44).
Such a line of reasoning against Muslim polemicists may seem harsh to some, but one only has to read through a selection of Muslim works on Christianity, such as those recorded in the bibliography to this book, to get the point. They simply testify to a fundamental reality:
We should not therefore expect Muslims to write sympathetically about Christianity, still less to take any attitude other than that of opposition to our faith. Likewise we must be ready to face objections to the Gospel, to give a sound defence of the faith, and seek to use such objections as opportunities to present the Gospel to its detractors even yet more effectively.
A word or two about the bibliography at the end of this book. I have listed only those publications which relate to the subject of Christian-Muslim interaction. Virtually all the works on Islam itself that are quoted in this book are listed in the bibliography at the end of the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam. Once again all quotations in this volume from the Bible are from the Revised Standard Version and all those from the Qur'an, except where otherwise stated, are from Yusuf Ali's translation. Although this translation is considerably defective and one which I cannot personally prefer over other far better works, I have nevertheless continued to use it as it is the translation with which Muslims in the West are most familiar.
I have been faced with a criticism of the companion volume that I should perhaps mention here as I anticipate it again in reaction to this second volume. I have been criticised for quoting certain authors with approval where it is known that I do not agree entirely (or at all) with their general standpoints and theology. Despite such differences I nevertheless endeavour to appreciate any expression of wisdom in the writings of those who assess Islam and the subject of Christian witness to Muslims and believe in giving credit where it is due. Perhaps it would be wise to say at the outset, nonetheless, that the quotation of any author with approval should not be taken as a sign that I side with the author's general position on Islam and the subject of Christian evangelism among Muslims. My own position in this respect is, I do believe, abundantly clear ex facie the general contents of these two volumes.
Once again the date of each book in the bibliography is the date of the edition I have consulted. Where the date of original publication differs, and is known to me, this follows in brackets in each case.
We are aware that the paperback editions of this volume and its companion are not strictly suitable for study purposes. We have no objection to the re-binding of these editions in hard cover to make them more durable and serviceable.
Let me again say that this book has been written chiefly for Christians in the West who come into contact with Muslims, either through direct evangelistic efforts or through casual personal contacts. I have deliberately refrained from dealing with subjects like contextualisation and other issues which, so it seems to me, are not strictly relevant to the situation in the West where we have minority Muslim communities living among predominantly Christian majorities. Apart from the occasional reference to such subjects, I have endeavoured to keep away from them and confine myself to the issue which is immediately at hand, namely the evangelism of the Westernised Muslims in our midst.
A special word of thanks to those who have "laboured side by side with me in the Gospel" (Philippians 4.3) over many years, whose presence and fellowship have contributed substantially towards the knowledge I have gained by experience in this field, much of which I trust has been reproduced in the pages of this book. An ounce of experience is worth a pound of knowledge, the true proverb says, and this is especially so in the field of Muslim evangelism. This is one of the reasons why I have refrained from prescribing point-by-point methods of witnessing to Muslims, for each man's effectiveness will depend largely on his own experiences as he becomes more and more involved in reaching Muslims with the Gospel.
I trust that this book will be a useful contribution towards the whole subject of Christian witness among Muslims, especially those who are now resident in the West, and that it will in some measure equip those who labour among them for the task. There are many who believe this is God's day for the Muslims and, as more and more of them come out to confess the faith of Christ, let us be encouraged to persevere in our witness and fulfil the commission of Jesus to take the Gospel to all nations and seek to make disciples of them.
4th June 1987
The Christian Witness to the Muslim: Table of Contents
Answering Islam Home Page