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As many as 200 million Christians live in areas where they are a minority and there is frequent persecution, discrimination or oppression of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Around 50 million of those Christians live in Muslim-majority areas.
Islam is a growing influence in many Western countries, and it may pose one of the biggest challenges to the Church and mission in the twenty-first century. But just how do we respond to this challenge?
This article describes a five-point strategy to help you begin preparing for the challenge.
1. The Power and Priority of PrayerL~
For every Christian wishing to respond to the challenge of Islam, it is essential to remember that this is a spiritual battle, and that the most vital tool is prayer (Eph 6:12). Without prayer we cannot break the stronghold of the spiritual enemy. Therefore be careful to cover any situation where you interact with Islam in prayer.
Even if you don't have any direct contact with Islam, you can still pray and support those Christians who do.
Pray for Muslim-majority areas that are known to you, in the UK and abroad, that the Gospel may be proclaimed and many lives saved.
Pray for the Christian Church in the West, and for Christians known to you, to understand the true nature of Islam, to be taking the challenge seriously and equipping themselves through knowledge and discipleship.
Pray for any Muslims you personally know. Most Muslims who come to Christ are not won over by intellectual arguments, but by a personal encounter with Christ. This may happen by reading the New Testament, through dreams or visions of Jesus, or by witnessing the love of Christ working through their Christian friends.
Pray for those in authority in your country, that they will be wise and aware" of the nature of Islam.
Pray for the protection of individuals and communities. Although we know that Christ's Church will ultimately overcome, we still need to pray for the protection of Christian individuals and communities. In some places at some times the local church has been completely exterminated by persecution.
Pray that the Lord may protect us as Islam seeks to Islamise the world.
Pray that the Church may share the fullness of life in Christ and not be intimidated by the counter claims of Islam.
2. Get your facts straightL~
To meet any challenge you need to understand it well.
When it comes to Islam, inadequate or distorted knowledge from the mass media or from Islamic interests can be seriously misleading. Before you start to engage with Islam, make sure you have a thorough understanding of what this religion actually teaches. There are some key areas which you need to ensure you fully understand:-
~**Islamic theology; *~~*Islamic conception of God/Allah;*~~*Islamic relations with other religions.**~
In addition, you also need to know your own faith and your Bible in order to understand the difference between Islam and Christianity. At a superficial level it is easy to assume that the two faiths bear a resemblance to one another. Similar names and some terms, such as Jesus, Gabriel, heaven etc, appear in the literature of both. However, on closer examination you discover that the resemblance is only skin deep. The differences are startling. For example Islam denies the heart of the Christian faith - Jesus' divinity, atoning death and resurrection.
There are two Islamic doctrines which can lead to confusion concerning what is actually true about Islam. Taqiyya (dissimulation) is a doctrine which allows Muslims to distort or conceal the truth. Originally developed so that Shia Muslims living with persecution from Sunni Muslims could save their lives by concealing their true beliefs, the doctrine now permits Muslims to lie in certain situations, especially when communicating with non-Muslims. It is not unusual for a Muslim to say one thing to a non-Muslim and then the complete opposite when talking to Muslims:
Abrogation is a doctrine which deals with the seemingly contradictory passages within the Qur'an. Muslims believe the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad over a period of about 20 years. According to abrogation if two verses within the Qur'an contain contradictory rulings the later-revealed verse abrogates (cancels) the earlier one.
This means that there are many verses which a Muslim can quote which are actually cancelled out by later verses. To know which verses to ignore you must know the relative dates they were revealed to Muhammad. However this is not always as easy as it might seem, because the Qur'an is not arranged in chronological order.
The existence of taqiyya and abrogation has led to much confusion about Islam. Western media have tended to describe aspects of the Islamic faith as fact without explanation of these doctrines or questioning their truth. In addition some Muslims have embarked on a deliberate process of "lslamisation of knowledge', the aim being to elevate the place of Islam within every academic discipline by grounding arts and sciences in Islamic doctrine.
Some examples of Islamised knowledge are:-
~**Muslims led the field in science and medicine during the Middle Ages *~~*Napoleon Bonaparte converted to Islam*~~*Muslims founded the first hospital*~~*Muslim explorers reached America before Christopher Columbus*~~*Islam spread peacefully in the early years*~~*Islam means "peace"**~
While some of these are easy to spot as false, others have become widely believed as truth. However, there is plenty of historical evidence to counter them. Therefore it is essential that you test and be prepared to question what you have heard or read about Islam. Make sure you have a reputable source for anything which you state as a fact about Islam.
2. Sharing God's Love with MuslimsL~
The love of Christ can overcome all obstacles. Never forget that while Islam is a religion, Muslims are individuals who are beloved of God and that He wants them to know Him and His saving grace. The best way to meet the challenge of Islam is with God's love flowing from the cross, expressed through Christian compassion and grace.
The following are some areas to consider when you’re seeking to share the Gospel with Muslim friends:
Muslims do not know God as a God of love and so are drawn to Christ by the love which they see in the lives of Christians.
Share your own testimony and Christian experience
Many Muslims are powerfully touched by the personal testimony of Christians.
Little purpose is served in criticising the Islamic prophet Muhammad; this will probably create a barrier between you and your Muslim friends. Be respectful of their beliefs, without accepting them as your own. Rather than focussing on Muhammad or on Islamic teaching, attempt instead to lead the discussion to Jesus and the Bible.
Remember that all Muslims are individuals
Their attitudes to your conversation may differ if they are a nominal Muslim with little actual knowledge of Islam or if they are quite Westernised or liberal in their thinking or if they are trying to convert you to Islam.
Be aware of cultural sensitivity
Don’t wear tight fitting or revealing clothing. This can reaffirm the opinion of Muslims that Christianity is accepting immoral Western society standards.
Be careful in your interaction with the opposite sex. Only initiate conversations with those of the same sex.
Treat the Bible and Qur’an with respect. Do not place them on the floor and do not write in them.
Each situation will be different. Hopefully these guidelines will help but as with most individuals there are no firm rules. Above all remember to be gracious and loving.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” 1 Peter 3:15-16.
4. Reclaiming the CrossL~
The central doctrine of Christianity lies in the sacrificial death of Jesus.
The cross, a picture of Christ's death and resurrection, is a powerful symbol at the heart of our faith. Some Western Christians, in trying not to make an idol of the cross symbol, are falling into the trap of losing sight of the power of the cross.
Muslims certainly understand the centrality of the cross to Christians. In Islamic end-times teaching Jesus will return, as a Muslim, and will destroy all crosses.
Many Muslims when attacking Christians use the cross as a reference point or target. They will make a point of attacking crosses on buildings. In September 2006 AI-Qaeda made the following statement in Iraq: "We will destroy the cross... then all that will be accepted will be conversion or the sword (death)
In the light of this attitude, many Christians in environments of anti-Christian persecution have chosen to mark themselves with the cross, so that they are permanently identified with Christ and are not tempted to hide His presence in their lives. Publicly displaying the cross is a way for Christians, from whatever background, to identify with Christ and His suffering.
In a misplaced attempt to be respectful or placatory, many Western Christians have in effect removed the cross from the Christian faith, anxious not to offend. This type of political correctness is dangerous - we cannot afford to hide the redeeming act of Christ crucified from the world which needs to hear His message.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved It is the power of God" 1 Corinthians 1:18
5. Understanding shari'a (Islamic Law)L~
Shari’a (Islamic law) is a religious legal system created by Islamic scholars to guide Muslims how to live. Shari' a literally means “path” or “way” in Arabic. It was compiled by Islamic scholars, based on the Qur'an and also the hadith - the traditions recording Muhammad's words and deeds.
Shari'a covers all aspects of a Muslim's personal as well as devotional life, from guidance on how frequently to pray to instructions on what to eat and wear. It also covers the political, economic, legal and military aspects of an Islamic state.
There is no distinction made between secular and religious spheres. For a Muslim shari'a provides both guidelines to prevent them from sinning and also an identity marker to separate them from non-Muslims.
At the time shari'a was created Muslims held political power, and so it lacks any guidelines for Muslims living as a minority. It has many discriminatory rules relating to non-Muslims, who are treated as a conquered and subjugated people. This has been part of the problem surrounding the question “to what extent should Muslims, living in a non-Muslim country, be allowed to live by shari'a?”
Shari'a also includes many harsh punishments for certain crimes, including amputation for theft and stoning for adultery. The punishment for adult males who convert from Islam to another faith (apostasy) is death; even if they are allowed to live, they will lose their family, inheritance and everything they own.
For further study we recommend:
What is Islam*
Islam and Truth*
A Christian's Pocket Guide to Islam by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo**
Study Guide for small groups on "A Christian's Pocket Guide to Islam"**
Islam: Challenge to the Church by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo**
Stepping into the Shadows by Rosemary Sookhdeo**
* available as a download from www.theothernine.org or from (UK) 08700603900
** available by calling 01672 564 938
We would like to thank Barnabas Fund for giving permission for the following article to be reproduced here. For further information on their work amongst persecuted Christians go to www.barnabasfund.org