Responding With Outreach
While the power and necessity of prayer is indisputable, there is also another dimension to our response that is also absolutely necessary. We must also reach out to Muslims with the consummate Christian message of good news. It is a message of freedom to those who have been held captive by the false Islamic gospel of fear. It is a message of love and acceptance to those who have never really known what it feels like to be accepted and fully loved by God. It is the message that says, God loves you this much. And here’s how He proved it forever… We must never take the gospel message for granted. We must never underestimate its power. Indeed, "It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)
How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
The purpose of this chapter is not to discuss methods of outreach to Muslims, but rather the spirit in which God desires us to reach out to Muslims in order that not only they, but also we, might be transformed. Nevertheless, I want make just a few comments regarding outreach to Muslims. There are of course two primary ways that Christians can reach out to Muslims; at home or abroad. While most Christians might assume that there are already plenty of missionaries who are laboring away among Muslim peoples, consider this statistic: Only two percent of the Protestant Missionary force is reaching out to the Muslims of the world who make up practically half of the non-Christian world population. 1 That’s astounding, and much could be said about this. But while the majority of those who read this book may never actually move themselves and their families overseas to become missionaries to Muslims in foreign lands, that does not mean however, that outreach to Muslims is not possible. Today, with several million Muslims living in America, America is part of the Islamic world. The same can be said of any number of western countries. Most Muslims have moved to America from countries where you or I could be imprisoned or even killed for sharing the Gospel message with them. But here they are in America – the land of the free – and most Christians ignore their presence. Has there ever been a time when Jesus’ words rang more true?
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Luke 10:2
If you are a follower of Jesus then I encourage you to meditate on Jesus’ words when he told us all to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." To what degree are you personally being obedient to this commandment?
Perhaps you are thinking that outreach to Muslims is impossible. Perhaps after reading this book you are even more afraid of Muslims than you previously were. Let’s talk about those feelings.
A Muslim Just Like Me
After reading this book, you may be surprised to find out that I actually love Muslims. And if you are someone who has been embraced by the love of God in Christ, then you should too. One of my biggest fears in writing this book was that it would foster a negative reaction in people toward Muslims. Of course the natural reaction after reading so much negative information is probably to shrink back from Muslims in fear. But when faced with such fear, the Lord does not want us to retreat, but rather to boldly shine forth His love to those in the darkness, despite our fears. Let me declare very loudly: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) In other words, Muslims are not the enemy! This book is not about Muslims – It is about Islam. It’s about the spiritual forces and deceptive doctrines that hold people captive. Despite the fact that I’ve argued that Muslims are essentially following an "antichrist" religion, I want to make it clear that as followers of Christ we need to see in every Muslim, never an enemy, but rather always someone who is created in the image of God – just like us.
As a matter of fact, this is perhaps one of the issues that takes many westerners by surprise when they begin to get to know real Muslims. Instead of discovering small-minded, angry people, many are taken aback to discover that most Muslims are indeed just like anybody else. I have met many very warm, very kind and very intelligent Muslims. And the reason that they seem just like us is because they are just like us. The majority of Muslims that you meet are people who sincerely desire to live a good life before God and do what pleases Him. So this is how we should view most Muslims: As genuine God seekers.
Finding The Ocean In Every Drop
Jalal al Din al Rumi was one of Islam’s greatest mystics. He practiced a mystical form of Islam known as Sufiism. Rumi often spoke of God as "the Beloved" or "the Friend." Sufis’ such as Rumi also placed far more emphasis on Jesus as their model for life than other Muslims. One cannot read many of Rumi’s writings without feeling as though he was very close to being a Christian. There is at least one quote of Rumi’s that I have truly come to appreciate. Rumi said, "One day I was going along looking to see in people the shining of the Friend, so I would recognize the Ocean in a drop." Rumi attempted to see God in all of His creation, and particularly in every one of His creatures. Maybe you say that we cannot find any goodness and light in the religion of the Antichrist. But believe it or not, you can. And here’s the reason: Islam is made of Muslims. And Muslims are people who are created in the image of God. And many of them are genuine God seekers. As such, even in Islam there are things that Christians can learn from. And if this is so of a dead end, antichrist religious system, then how much more in its followers who are each one God’s creatures! While the natural tendency of our hearts might be to shrink back from fear, instead the Lord desires us to approach Muslims with an attitude of confidence and humility that sees not an "other," but rather another of God’s creatures. This attitude of humility, of boldness and of confidence is what God desires for His people throughout time but particularly in the last-days. He desires us to be overcomers.
An overcomer is someone who does not allow fear to overcome him or her but rather overcomes fear with love. An overcomer does not allow hatred to overcome him or her but rather overcomes hatred with reconciliation. There was one man who reached out in just such a spirit to Muslims. He did so in the midst of one of the darkest periods of Christian history. The relationship between Islam and Christianity was at this time perhaps comparable to the atmosphere today. It was during the third Great crusade that Francis of Assisi decided to go and preach the Gospel to the Muslims. It is the spirit that Francis walked in that is a powerful model for Christ-likeness in Christian outreach to Muslims today.
In 1219 Francis of Assissi and twelve of his brothers traveled with the crusader army to the front lines in the war between the Crusaders and the Muslim Saracens of Sultan Al- Kaamil in Egypt.2 Francis and his friends set up camp within the crusader camp as the army prepared to lay siege to the port city of Damietta. Francis preached the gospel among the crusaders and many of those who were impacted by Francis’ message laid down their arms and joined the Franciscan order. Francis’ approach was never to discriminate when preaching the gospel. He preached to the "Christian" Crusaders and the Muslim Saracens alike. Francis followed Jesus directly into the camp of the Sultan, the leader of the Muslim armies. Among the Christians, Sultan Al- Kaamil was viewed as a brute beast. But Francis found a man who was kind, sincere, very open and a genuine God-seeker.
Francis and his close friend Illuminato walked directly into the camp of the "enemy." Francis was immediately captured and initially abused by the Muslim soldiers. Francis demanded that he be taken to the Sultan in order to preach the gospel to him. Francis’ request was approved. Francis greeted the Sultan with a greeting of’ "God give you peace." Ironically this greeting was one that Francis himself had devised which also happened to correlate wonderfully with the standard greeting used by Muslims: As-salamu Alaikum (peace be upon you).
Christine Mallouhi in her wonderful book, Waging Peace on Islam, walks through the various stories and legends that surround this meeting between Francis and Kaamil. While there are differing accounts, there are some things that we can know for sure about this meeting. We know that Francis was well received by the Sultan. Most traditions support that Kaamil was so taken aback by Francis that he invited him to stay for a prolonged period with the Muslims. The record also shows that Francis accepted this invitation. We even know that the Sultan gave written permission to Francis and his men to freely preach the Gospel in Muslim lands.
But what exactly happened to the two men as a result of their meeting? Based on interviews with brother Illuminato, the Sultan was quoted as saying to Francis, "I believe your faith is good and true" and upon parting ways, he asked Francis to pray that he would be able to find the correct path. Whether or not the Sultan was converted is in question, but even the Muslim accounts mention that Kaamil was indeed a changed man after his encounter with Francis. But here’s the interesting part and a lesson for us as well. Francis was also changed. Francis was so impacted by the Muslims, that upon returning home to Europe he adapted some elements of Muslim practice into his religious life. For instance in accordance with the Muslim call to prayer five times a day, Francis declared to the superiors of the Franciscan Order that they were to, "Announce and preach to all the people… tell them about the glory that is due to Him, so that at every hour when bells are rung, praise and honor may be offered to Almighty God by everyone all over the world." It is also said that Francis began bowing down with his head to the ground as the Muslims do when praying. He wrote to the general Chapter: "At the sound of His name you should fall to the ground and adore Him with fear and reverence. Give hearing with all your ears and obey the Son of God. This is the very reason he has sent you all over the world, so that by word and deed you might bear witness to His message and convince everyone that there is no other Almighty God besides Him." This last part of course, is very similar to the Muslim credo, "There is no god but God (Allah)."
So in the final assessment, we learn that both the Sultan and Francis were changed as a result of their meeting. The reason for this is that in every encounter, Francis did not look to merely convert "the other" but his own self as well. Francis did not see the greatest enemy in others, but rather in his own "self."
The purpose of pointing out this story of Francis is that today, as then, we live in a time when Christian/Muslim tensions, misunderstandings and fears are strong. How much more will such feelings reach their full peak in the last-days? Francis is a wonderful model for us as he reached out to Muslims. He came to Muslims in confidence, without fear, yet humble, teachable and in an absolute spirit of peace. Francis did not go to the antichrist/infidel enemy with a spirit of prejudice, but rather simply to a people who needed Jesus. Likewise Francis did not go to defend the Gospel, but to die for it. We will discuss this issue in the next chapter.
While the primary purpose of outreach is of course to offer the message of salvation and life abundant to our Muslim brothers and sisters, there are also some very powerful benefits that we receive as well when reaching out to Muslims. Regardless of how mature of a believer you are, anyone who enters into deep religious dialogue with Muslims will be challenged. You see, most Muslims spend a lot of time training themselves to argue with Christians. Eventually, you will find your core beliefs being challenged. The good news however, is that through challenges comes a strengthening. My personal encounters with Muslims have caused immense growth in terms of my personal revelation and understanding of my own faith. I have never meditated more on the wonders of the incarnation, the trinity or the cross as I have during the periods that I am engaged with Muslims who vehemently oppose all of these doctrines. Is it at all surprising then that many of those who have reached out to Muslims have walked in a powerful revelation of the very issues that Islam denies? A wonderful example is Samuel Zwemer. Zwemer was a forerunner in ministry to Muslims, who lived through the turn of the last century. One of Zwemer’s books, The Glory of the Cross is a classic that should read by every Christian. Its title says it all – as a result of his encounter with Muslims, Zwemer walked in a deeper revelation of the glory of the cross. And thus it will be with us as well. As we approach Muslims, the purpose is not only to introduce him or her to the real Jesus in order that he or she can be "converted," but equally in order that we ourselves might find ourselves in an ongoing and continual state of "conversion" and transformation as well.
- Bruce A. Mcdowell & Anees Zaka, Muslims and Christians at the Table, (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey) p.26
- Christine A. Mallouhi, Waging Peace On Islam, (Dowers Grove, Intervarsity, 2000), pp. 263-287. Note from the author: I highly recommend this book!
© 2009 – 2011, Matt. All rights reserved.