A year and a bit ago, during a Credo outreach week at UTS, a group of young Muslim men came up to the stall being run by about a dozen members of the group. Another fellow and I went over to talk to them and soon found ourselves in quite a passionate discussion with them about the corruption of biblical texts. Looking around part-way through, the other ten members of our group had scattered, leaving just the two of us. I was left with a question: Why is it that so many Christians seem terrified of speaking to Muslims, let alone evangelising them?
I think there are lots of factors tied into the answer, ranging from mainstream Australian culture's mistrust of 'foreigners' to a feeling of inadequate knowledge in the face of such zealotry. It took a Muslim friend actually engaging me in what I believe to get me to realise how little we have to fear and how much we have to gain in being bold in talking to Muslims about Jesus.
There is an abundance of material out there for those wanting to learn more about Islam and evangelism, and while some caution has to be exercised in reading and applying them, some that I found particularly helpful are a book called Ishmael, My Brother (eds. Cooper, Maxwell) which has a solid introduction to Islamic culture and some basics in interacting with Muslims and an older book called Islam and Christian Witness (Goldsmith). AFES's own Sam Green has a training course for campus groups called Engaging With Islam that is also quite good for a university context.
Here are some pointers I've picked up or been taught in the last few years of talking to my Muslim friends.
Some Pointers on Method
As with any evangelistic efforts, we talk to Muslims in complete dependence upon God. This applies not only for those we are directly talking to, but we should be dedicated to praying for Muslims all over the world. A great initiative is 30 Days Loving Muslims Through Prayer (http://www.30-days.net/) – an unwieldy title, but it would be a wonderful thing to have all AFES groups praying for Muslims to find the truth of Christ during Ramadan, one of their most holy times.
It is one of the most commonly quoted things when speaking of evangelising Muslims, but genuine love and friendship often speaks more than any number of reasoned arguments. This is true of sharing the gospel with anyone, but I think especially so for those coming out of Islam; if they do make the enormous decision to convert and follow Jesus then they often face great opposition or exclusion from their family and friends and will need all the love and support we and the church can give them. Islam is not only something Muslims learn at school or in the mosque; it is something they live. It is more than a religion; it is their culture, their identity. So for a Muslim to leave Islam is to betray his family and his people.
It is also important to emphasise being genuine in our efforts to befriend Muslims – they aren't just a pet project for us to practice new skills on, but people who we must love as Christ has loved us. We must be willing to follow Paul's example of sharing not only the gospel, but our lives as well! (1 Thess 2:8)
It is important to remember how vast Islamic culture is and the way it will have shaped Muslims you speak to. For example, it took some work to convince a Muslim friend of mine that Christians consider the Bible to be the very word of God given to us. The reason? He had seen a Christian drop his beaten-up Bible on the floor and promptly prop his feet up on it. From a culture where holy books (Qur'an or Bible) are placed on stands in the highest point of the house and treated with enormous respect such a display is almost unthinkable!
Perhaps one of the first things we should do is assess the extent of the cultural divide between us and our Muslim friends. Are they newcomers to Western culture? Or have they grown up in Australia as many in our university system have? If the former, we may need to think about reworking our evangelistic methods and adopting narrative retellings of biblical stories and expect less direct logical argument, even expect anger at our evangelistic attempts (we will be lumped into the stereotype of the immoral Westerner if we don't prove ourselves otherwise!). If the latter, perhaps we can adopt more familiar apologetics and methods of discussion.
Don't let yourself be drawn into heated arguments with your close Muslim friends. It seems to be a common practice for Muslims to raise their voices and step closer when discussing religious things with you. I think this is more a show of zeal than a threatening gesture, and it is easy to be goaded into letting our passion take over and to say things that are counter-productive. It is necessary and good to be frank and open in our disagreements, but doing things like slagging off Mohammed or the Qur'an just offends them. Combative rhetoric has characterised Christian-Muslim encounters for too long. A willingness and openness to engage in a question-and-answer dialogue seems far more successful and in line with what Scripture commands.
Read more: http://www.afes.org.au/_magazine/view?magazine=32b4812bf4e966e993e21b3ab5f421de
Talking to Muslims about Jesus
Published 17 May 2010