With reports about Islam in the news each day, and the need for global Gospel proclamation as critical as ever, Christians need to learn how to engage Islam theologically and strategically, professors Ayman S. Ibrahim and John Klaassen of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said in recent presentations.
Ibrahim, who grew up in Egypt, described Islam as a faith with multiple sacred texts. Although the Quran is the center of Muslim didactic literature, the Hadith (a collection of Muhammad’s sayings) and the Sira (a biography of Muhammad) also are important. Christians can gain a great deal of respect from Muslims with whom they interact by showing awareness of the Quran and the Sira because it demonstrates they care about understanding their religious system, he said.
While believers evangelizing Muslims can illustrate points from the Quran, they should not spend significant time there, Ibrahim said. They should use the Quran to prove to Muslims that their sacred text assumes the reliability of the Bible, but then move from the Quran to the Bible as soon as possible, he said. The Sermon on the Mount is particularly helpful, he said, since it challenges some of the pillars of Islam, requiring heart transformation more than good deeds.
“If you asked me what Muslims need the most,” Ibrahim said, “I would tell you: hope. And there is no hope apart from the Gospel.”
When engaging Muslims, Christians should be aware that no one form of the religion is practiced by all, he said. Instead of thinking of a single “Islam,” Christians should think of the religion’s worldwide representation as various “Islams.” Each person a believer encounters will be different and should be treated as an individual.
Christians, meanwhile, should employ a critical-theological understanding of Islam, which thoughtfully engages Islam but does not apologize for its grounding in a theological worldview, Ibrahim said.
“We need to think critically, we need to go deeper in understanding Islam, but we cannot avoid our theology,” he said. “If you move to study Islam without strong theology, your missiology will be corrupt. Your theology determines your missiology — your understanding of mission.”
Klaassen said Islam, which is built on five pillars of constant religious observance, comprises an absolute worldview system. The pillars — the creed (shahada), prayer (salat), giving alms (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj) — require careful attention and include strict parameters. Prayer must occur five times a day, starting at sunrise, and must involve extensive ceremonial washing. Muslims pray in Arabic, Klaassen said, even though most Muslims do not know the language and simply recite sections of the Quran without understanding.
The culture of Islam is significantly different than that of the United States, Klaassen said. It is driven by an honor-shame dynamic more than the guilt-innocence dynamic of the West. Those sharing the Gospel with Muslims should be aware of these cultural markers, making it clear that when Jesus died on the cross, He took the shame of sinners upon Himself but did not lose His honor, Klaassen said.
Because of the significant effect of shame on Muslim cultures, converting from Islam is extremely damaging socially, Klaassen said. The religion entails a worldview that requires absolute commitment.
“You cannot convert out of Islam,” he said. “To convert out of Islam is to shame your family — it is to reject everything you have ever known and everything you have ever heard.”
Believers engaging with Muslims need to break the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, between preaching the Gospel and living among Muslims, Klaassen said. For believers called to full-time overseas missions, they will need to learn a professional skill which allows them to fit into Muslim communities.
“Especially for our brothers and sisters who go overseas and work, it’s important that we do things that affect the community,” Klaassen said. “When we just come in and put Gospel on top, then often it’s not seen in a favorable light.” (Baptist Press story, 8-22-16)