by George Braswell
Four Ways of Reaching Out To Muslims
Christians can best reach out to Muslims through education, understanding, relationships, and communication. One needs to be familiar with the basic beliefs and practices of Islam found in the Qur’an and the sayings and traditions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. To know the origins and expansion of the religion is helpful. An understanding of various sectarian movements within Islam that delineate differences among Muslims will give the Christian helpful hints that all Muslims are not alike. To be proactive in seeking relationships with Muslims around a social occasion will provide opportunities to break down stereotypes. And to learn verbal and non-verbal skills in communication will be a positive approach in meeting and engaging in conversations with Muslims.
Knowledge of Islam
Christians need to know that the Qur’an, the holy book for Muslims, and the life of their prophet, Muhammad, provide the “straight path” for this life and the next. If one is a Muslim, he or she has no choice but to obey the requirements set forth. One must believe in one God, Allah, his angels, his prophets, his scriptures, and a day of judgment. One must engage in the practices of a confession, of financial giving, of five daily prayers, of an annual monthly fast, of a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, and of jihad.
Having some basic knowledge of Islam, for example, Christians may differentiate their own beliefs in monotheism, angels, and scriptures from those of Muslims. An example is that in the Qur’an the name of Jesus is mentioned some 99 times. One may know that Muslims must believe that Jesus is called a messiah, the spirit and word of Allah, a prophet and one who heals the sick and raises the dead. However, Muslims must also believe that Jesus is not the Son of God and that the Trinity is a corrupt teaching of Christians, and that the crucifixion of Jesus never occurred.
Therefore Christians are wise to have basic information about what Muslims believe and to be able to clarify their own beliefs in comparison to those of Muslims. One must know that many Muslims do not know the Arabic language and cannot read the Qur’an in it, and often do not know what it says about Jesus. Many rely on their clergy’s teachings and sermons who may not tell them about the 99 mentions of Jesus.
Although there is much uniformity in the beliefs and practices of the 1.6 billion Muslims, there are significant differences both culturally and politically. Christians should know that Sunni Muslims and Shiah Muslims distrust one another and sometimes fight one another over their interpretations of the caliphate versus the imammate. Sufi Muslims stress a love ethic. Nation of Islam Muslims are viewed as an eclectic movement in Islam. Therefore it is appropriate for Christians to understand that Muslims come from different backgrounds and vary in knowledge of their religion. Such knowledge helps avoid stereotyping.
To know that Muslims may have different understandings of Jesus and Christians based on the Qur’an or sayings they have heard or from their experiences with Christians may give one a good beginning in relationship-building and communication.
Relationships and Communication with Muslims
There are millions of Muslims in the United States and many are our religious neighbors who worship in their nearby mosques. They are our physicians, professors, merchants, and their children attend schools with ours. Thus, we develop relationships with them on both formal and informal levels.
We can invite them to social occasions and meals. Many Muslims desire friendships with their neighbors. They relish being hospitable.
We need to be sensitive to gender roles and their customs. They do not eat pork. Often Muslim men do not shake hands with females. They want their holy book and prophet to be respected and not demeaned.
They are willing to learn from others. Christians may initiate a conversation about Jesus by letting a Muslim know that the Qur’an contains some knowledge of Jesus. That is a good place to start as the Qur’an describes Jesus as a prophet who heals and raises people from the dead. Then one may share one’s beliefs and experiences concerning Jesus the Savior.
For further help on communicating the Christian faith to Muslims, please see chapter 7 (“Sitting at Table with Muslims”) and page 131 (“Nine Essentials of Outreach to Muslims”) in my book What You Need To Know about Islam and Muslims.
For the first two posts in this series, see What Are the Core Beliefs of Islam? and Why Are Relations Between Muslims and the West So Strained?
George W. Braswell, Jr. (D.D., D.Min., Ph.D.) and his wife, Joan, served in Iran as the first appointed missionaries of the SBC from 1967-74. He had an appointment to teach world religions on the Faculty of Islamic Theology of the University of Teheran, a graduate school of 600 students studying for master and doctoral degrees. Braswell was the only Christian on a faculty of 35 mullahs and aspiring ayatollahs. He retired from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as Distinguished Professor of Missions and World Religions in 2004 after serving from 1974-2004. Presently he is Senior Professor of World Religions and Founding Director of the World Religions and Global Cultures Center of Campbell University Divinity School. He has taken several thousand students and church members into world religion communities for conversations with their leadership. He holds degrees from Wake Forest University, Yale University Divinity School, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Braswells have four children and three grandchildren.
For additional helpful resources on Islam, see Dr. Braswell’s books with B&H Publishing:
Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics, and Power
Photo: “La madrasa et la mosquée Tilla Kari du Registan (Samarcande, Ouzbékistan) (5630693152)” by dalbera from Paris, France – La madrasa et la mosquée Tilla Kari du Registan (Samarcande, Ouzbékistan)Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.