Thursday, June 23, 2011

How can Christians witness effectively to Muslims?

            
Post 29:-- 

This post is my answer to the  last of the series of questions put to me by the editors of Christian Courier.  The previous one is in Post 27.  After this, we will have to move onto new territory.  If you have any subjects you’d like to see discussed, feel free to contact me either in the Comment section or via email to my   boerjf@hotmail.com

 Muslim Attitude to Christian Witness
Muslims are often offended and insulted when they hear Christians talk of witnessing to Muslims or mission to Muslims. Do they not have the ultimate religion? The perfect religion and the final Prophet?  That being the case, why should anyone consider missions to Muslims?  I ask my Muslim readers to think it through a bit more.  You are most likely living in a multi-religious community that embraces religions of all stripes.  You may think about your religion as the only absolutely true religion, but chances are great that your Hindu or Christian neighbour thinks the same of his/hers.  If you have the right to be absolutistic, so do the others and, in fact, they do, especially the secularists among them.  And while you claim the right to missionize your neighbour, your neighbour claims the same right.  Theologically, that is before God, they may not have that right, but politically you have to allow them that right in a multi-religious pluralistic setting.  I allow you to witness to me, but I also demand the right to witness to you.  The idealistic way is for both of us to do that not merely with an attitude of mere tolerance, but with mutual respect and appreciation, in an atmosphere of sharing rather than declaring.  Today our post constitutes advice to Christians how they can best share with you.  I invite you to tell me how you would like them to witness to you and why.

Look for the Best, not the Worst
As last week, a story of Nigerian wisdom to begin with, this time Christian.  Pastor Ezekiel Nyajo, a young pastor when I arrived in Nigeria in 1966, knew how to keep his audience spellbound, including me. His first call was to the CRC of Ibi, a Muslim town on the Benue River in Taraba State.. He enthusiastically began an evangelistic campaign in which he soon learnt a few important basics. One that he shared with me and I never forgot:  If you wish to evangelize people from another religion, discover the best things and the strengths of that religion and build on or relate to them, not on its worst and weakest aspects.  I want all you readers to remember that maxim when you approach Muslims.  Absolutely true and absolutely necessary to adhere to.   

Absolutism vs Openness
Secondly, you must be aware that most Muslims have from their earliest childhood on been indoctrinated to believe in the absolute superiority of their religion vis a vis all others, including Christianity.  Now that may have been true of my generation of Reformed Christians as well, but I sense that a certain degree of humility, true or false,  has crept into the hearts and minds of my generation and that is advancing among subsequent generations growing up in and living with the realities of multi-culturalism and multi-religion.  We tend not to be quite so absolutist about other religions anymore. Without necessarily having thought through the issues arising from such humility, we are slowly sliding into greater openness to them.  

 This, you must know, is not the case with Muslims, not even with non-practicing cultural Muslims. It is not a hopeless situation, but it seldom happens in response to direct evangelistic witness. They will hardly give you a chance; they will preach at you without stopping. It is not the way to go.

Some Recommendations
If your church wishes to engage in evangelism to Muslims, I recommend two simultaneous approaches, both communal and individual.  If possible, let your church involve a spiritually sensitive ex-Muslim who knows Islam well, continues to adhere to much of their culture and has retained his respect and love for Muslims.  Let him be your front runner. and resource person to whom you come for advice.  There may come a time you can invite a group of Muslims for a church or restaurant dinner and be prepared to have it reciprocated. As to Muslims in your neighbourhood, seek them out, get to know them, invite them into your social life, including your home.  Attend some of his/her events in order to get closer, show interest and, eventually have him attend some of yours.  Do not talk religion all the time, but have general conversations on a variety of topics.

(2) Befriend Muslims in your community and develop an active and trusting social relationship with them. Demonstrate your Christian way of life and answer any question they may pose, but do not overtly evangelize or witness to them. Feel free to ask them questions in a respectful way. This may encourage them to ask questions as well.  Go to a movie together, a meaningful movie. Play chess. Do a picnic. Invite them into your house for a breakfast or dinner. Whatever fits their social life. Remember, often women to women works best and men to men.  Keep asking your front runner for information and advice. 

Muslims Converting through Dreams
Throughout the Muslim world, thousands of Muslims have come to Christ through dreams that are remarkably similar. A white-robed figure tends to appear to them who identifies Himself as Christ and invites them to follow Him.  This is often the result of having heard about Christ through some channel—radio, TV, a book, a conversation that could have been with you.  You just sow the seed and leave the harvest to Him. Pray, but don’t worry about it.  He has His own ways. 

Mission and International Politics and Economics
There is also the global situation that has filled Muslims with mistrust and, often, hatred towards the West and its Christians. We must be aware of the imperialistic way in which the West has treated the Muslim world.  The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as mere continuations of a long imperialist tradition that sought to exploit them and impose secularism on them. Some writers, even in the CC, apparently want to ignore or deny the true impact of that history. However, we must acknowledge it not only, but also do all we can to transform our national governments and corporations into peaceful and just directions that are more in conformity with the way of Christ.  Christians must be seen and heard by Muslims to be doing so.  At least, if we are interested in correcting the image of Christ that Muslims everywhere have.  To Muslims, politics and economics are tools of mission. The Christian dualistic separation of these two is an unbelievably na├»ve and, pardon the expression, stupid approach.  You want to improve the image of Christ in the Muslim world? Then work hard at reforming/transforming our international politics and economics.  There is a great need for Christians to so contribute to the international politics and economics of their own nations quite apart from witnessing concerns.  It is simply the right thing to do.  Failure to do so will surely confirm the general  Muslim suspicion that Westerners are out to destroy and undermine Islam.  Witness and mission must go together with politics and economics on a global scale.  Their separation leads to trivializing the Gospel and our witness. Witness is no child’s play!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Muslim in You (3)


Post 28—

Back in Posts 17 (Dec. 12, 2010) and 18 (Dec. 18, 2010), I wrote on this subject but interrupted it with other subjects.  Sounds like I am full of interruptions, doesn’t it?  But I did promise I would come back to it.  This is the day and the post.  You do well to go back to those earlier ones to refresh your memory.  In addition, the subject is directly related to Post 27, the one preceding this one, where I ask and provide a sketchy answer to the question what Christians can learn from Islam.

More Muslim Contributions to World Culture
In addition to the aspects of Muslim culture and religion already treated in those previous posts, there are a number of other significant contributions and accomplishments with which Islam has blest both Christianity and Western culture.  In Post 17, I refer to Stephen Glain’s Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants, in which he has a chapter on Syria that, chaotic as it is today and far behind in modern development, was at one time a major centre of international culture and economics.  I return to the same pages, this time with a few more specifics. 

Science and Culture
Syria’s capital, Damascus, was known as the “Queen of Cities” and the “Garden of the World” during its heyday. In the 8th century A.D.—yes, I continue using this term, since no one has explained satisfactorily to me what is so common about the CE--, Damascus was the centre of “the largest empire the world had yet known and more prosperous than ancient Rome,” wrote Glain.  “The world’s most accomplished scientists, physicians, artists and musicians came to Damascus” to enjoy the patronage of the Caliph, he went on.  “Astrologers measured the…movements of the stars,” while “poets and preachers celebrated the virtue of romantic love.” (Of course, given the shaky state of Western monogamous marriages based on this mythical romantic love, it is legitimate to ask whether this has any virtue at all.) It is even claimed that “Medieval Arabs pioneered the theory of blood circulation,” a millennium before “the royal physicians of Victorian Britain.”  This is where the seeds of many modern sciences and disciplines sprouted.

Still on Glain, Iraqis also helped to pass on, spread and further developed various cultural and scientific products they borrowed from Persia, India, Greek and others.  Syrian glass products and Samarkand paper were carried by their ships all over the known world while the emerging Muslim bourgeoisie popularized chess from India and polo from Persia and thus helped internationalize these pastimes by breaking them free from their original cultures.  As Glain records it, though not without ambiguity, the Iraqis adopted an “arithmetical system” from India and used it “to pioneer algebra.  The counting system—today’s Arabic numerals—would be re-exported to Europe in the thirteenth century by an Italian. Leonardo Fibonacci, who studied in North Africa under a Muslim teacher.”
Universities
J. Dudley Woodberry, in his Foreword to Encountering the World of Islam, an anthology edited by Keith E. Swartley, tells us how the early Muslim universities in Cairo created charitable endowments that would pay professors’ salaries. These endowments developed into “endowed chairs” that eventually became the model for such chairs in international academia and supported much academic learning over the centuries, not the least in the West.  (For an interesting description of life and classroom a century ago at the  famous and ancient Cairo Al-Azhar University, one of the universities referred to above, you can read Abraham Kuyper’s account of it in our joint e-book, A Kuyper & J. Boer--Faith, Science, Miracles, Islam: Four Kuyperian Essays. Go to www.lulu.com and search for A. Kuyper & J. Boer.  Or go to www.ccel.org and search for A. Kuyper: The Mystery of Islam.)
Arousing Your Curiosity
I believe you get the point even, though I have not by any means exhausted the subject.  Why do I emphasize this Western Muslim heritage?  Why would a Christian like me engage in this?  You’ll just have to keep your curiosity in check for a while, but in due time I will explain. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

What Christians Can Learn from Islam

Post 27 

Offer of Free Lecture
Today we deal with question no. 5 in my Christian Courier series.  Once again, I apologize for the interruption.  Life sometimes becomes too hectic for me to cope.  I take on too many responsibilities or obligations and then find I need to temporarily change course.  This time around it was a trip to Ibadan, Nigeria, where I was invited to deliver an annual lecture to Christians about sharia.  My title was “Re-tooling Our Approach to Sharia: A Wholistic and Pluralistic Perspective.”  Readers interested in that issue may contact me at < boerjf@hotmail.com > to request an electronic copy.  If you do forward this request, please be sure to mention this blog post and tell me what province or state and what country you are from.

Islam's Reminding Function
So, what can Christians learn from Muslims?  Many things, actually.  If you have read my earlier post “The Muslim Within You,” you have already become aware of how, far back in history, the Western world adopted various major ideas and institutions from the Muslim world.  Today my concern is not something that took place way back there in history but what is taking place or could take place today in your own life.  

Years ago, in Nigeria, I met a Muslim biking along the long driveway leading to our mission compound. I greeted him in the local style and he stopped to chat in the Hausa language. In the course of the conversation, I told him about my plans for the next day.  I was going to do this and that, I confidently announced.   He was silent for a moment, cocked his head slightly and then asked, “Allah fa?”  “What about God?”  Does He not figure in your plans? 

I felt deeply embarrassed.  Here was a Muslim for whom I was paid to bring the Gospel and he brought the Gospel to me!  I was brought up in a culture where the term “Deo volente,” Latin for “God willing,” laced daily conversation.  Immigrating to Canada where that term is rarely used, I had dropped it somewhere along the line.  And, now, here was this Muslim reminding me of a neglected component of my own inherited worldview and language. 

Presence of God
That seemingly insignificant interchange has stuck with me ever since.  “Allah fa?”  Yes, indeed, what of God in our ordinary daily lives?  His name interlaces most Muslim conversations, not, as in the West, as barbaric profanity, but as an expression of our dependence on Him in everything. Of course, deep down I knew that God is there all the time, but the secular culture in which I grew up on Vancouver Island made me careless and drop the lingo—and with it blunted the edge of this spiritual awareness. It was still there, but marginalized, so that this Muslim gentleman was offended. He reminded me. 

A major function Muslims can play for Western Christians is that of reminder.  We have been so deeply influenced by the pervasive secularism around us that much of our Christian sensitivities have been blunted and Christian standards marginalized, if not plain forgotten, or, worse perhaps, actually rejected as outmoded or politically incorrect. Politically incorrect they most assuredly are, but outmoded? We know the Name of Jesus is holy and needs to be revered, but when He is insulted in public life by sheer derision or outright exclusion, we shrug our shoulders. Muslims cannot tolerate such carelessness and infidelity. A few years ago the Anglican Church in the UK was silent when someone publicly insulted Christ, but the Muslim community stood up and denounced the insult.  After all, Jesus is seen as a Muslim Prophet second only to Muhammad.  When someone is perceived as insulting Muhammad, even non-practicing Muslims can get on their high horse and cause riots.  But Christians just shrug their shoulders in indifference as if it were an inconsequential matter. 

Pioneer Reformed Challenges to Secularism
The generation that founded the Christian Courier, the semi-monthly that originally published this series, was deeply offended by Canada’s secularism and challenged it by establishing Christ-honouring alternative social institutions. They took their issues to the highest courts of the land and achieved some remarkable victories.  Half a century later, the structures they built still exist not only, but are fully Canadian, flourishing and effective institutions. Today, only half a century later, most of their descendants know little of and care less for those issues.  Some of them are now run by Canadians from other Christian traditions that became excited by the broad vision of these early Reformed pioneers.

Muslim Challenge to Reformed and Other Christians
Muslims continually challenge this secularism and remind us of God across all of life.  They have their prayer times and little stops them from performing them.  Certainly not shame or embarrassment.  Neither are they embarrassed about being identified as Muslims and, thus, religious.  In fact, they are proud to be Muslim.  We may sneer at some of their female fashions, but who sees Christ in us with our fashions?  Where has modesty gone?  Women, without any apology on my part to those concerned with the politically correct, do you realize how many of you befudge the reputation of Christ among Muslims with your fashions?  Muslims remind us of modesty not only but of the general need for morals, both private and public.  Of course, men who casually ascend Christ’s pulpits in torn jeans and flip-flops similarly downgrade His holy Name by their lack of respect, another concept we have almost forgotten (Unless it is a conscious decision to identify with a population where such dress is standard.). While many Christians have largely succumbed to the secular demand for separation of religion from both politics, government and the market place in general, Muslims boldly march into the market place with religion up front, even with Muslim banks. In contrast, we deride such banks that uphold moral standards that go beyond the financial bottom line.  When Muslims speak mission, they do not talk merely of church planting; they actively claim the entire world for God.  To the descendants of those early pioneers I ask, “Does this sound familiar to you?  Are you reminded of some things from your background?  Might you even experience some slight twangs of conscience?”

Muslims serve to remind us of the need to re-install God in our daily lives at every level. I should put it differently, for God does not need to be re-installed, for He is there and everywhere, whether we are conscious of Him or not.  He needs to be re-installed in our consciousness. Islam reminds us of that.
We Reformed ought to respect them for it, observe them, listen to them and be reminded once again of our roots.  Perhaps we can even cooperate with them at selected fronts.