Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Missionary Speaks Out about Muslim Conversions to Christianity

The public debate on Islam generally takes two sides. One side dismisses Islamic extremist violence as fringe, hoping in the capacity for Muslim nations to eliminate terrorism and liberalize. Another holds Islam to be inherently violent, countered only with strong military intervention abroad and harsh immigration restrictions at home.

While pundits often talk seriously about encouraging in Muslim lands demoralized quietism, liberal democracy or hedonistic secularism, almost nobody talks about converting Muslims to Christianity.

Nobody, excepting "Abu Daoud," an Anglican missionary in Muslim lands who has written a reflection on Islam titled Apostates of Islam. (Note: PDF)

Abu Daoud draws on his years of experience in partibus infidelis to examine the appeal Christianity has for some Muslims:
The Qur’an makes the claim that it is self-validating, and when a sign was demanded of Muhammad to validate his prophetic office he explained that the Quran was his sign. But many Muslims find the Gos­pels to be equally self-validating. The authority and coherency and integrity of the teaching and preaching of Jesus testify to its divine origin and salvific validity. His acceptance of the repentant ones on the fringes of society and his antago­nism towards the self-righteous religious rulers are profoundly refreshing to many Muslims, who have long suspected that they live in such a situation, but had never received approval of such a stance. His lack of concern for political power and rejection of violence even in the case of self-defense are opposite the life-style chosen by Muhammad. Muslim believers tend to base their understanding of the Gospel much more on the Gospels than on the Pauline epistles, as is the case in much of the Reformation tradition, which can lead to some interesting situations on the mission field.

The present corruption of Islam also encourages some to explore Christianity:
Every religion-however one wants to define that word-makes certain promises. Christ promised persecution in this world, substantial redemption among those called out (the Church) from that earthly kingdom, and eternal life in the Kingdom come. Islam prom­ises, for the society that abides by God’s will (the sharii’a), prosperity, peace, justice, and political domination. That is no small promise. Some Muslims have questioned that promise: given that there are dozens of Muslim-majority coun­tries throughout the world, including many who make an explicit claim to abide by the sharii’a, how is it that these countries are generally char­acterized by (excepting oil and gas) economic inferiority, political corruption, lack of human rights, and a devastating level of governmental oppression? On a more empirical level, why is it that so many people from these countries desire to leave them for countries ruled by mushrikiin or associators-that is, those who associate another with God, namely Jesus Christ? Such questions place traditional Muslims in an un­comfortable situation since Islam and Islamdom must be considered superior to any other civili­zation or geographical locus.

According to Abu Daoud, converts are still inspired by a medium Americans often recognize only in fiction: dreams.

One Muslim realized he was dream­ing of Jesus so he consulted his local Muslim religious leader who said he was blessed for having dreamed of one of the prophets. Some dreams focus on the Bible as something that the person must read; some actualize what is perceived to be a supernatural healing of an ill­ness; one showed a man in a white robe holding a chalice and a round piece of flat bread. But other dreams feature angels or saints like Mary and John the Baptist, both of whom are known to Muslims through the Qur’an by the Arabic names Maryam and Yahya.

However, it appears unassociated Evangelical churches are best positioned to evangelize Muslim lands. The historical churches are more easily punished or have clergy too apathetic or hostile to welcome such new Christians. Abu Daoud breaks the sad news:
...the liturgically-oriented churches, and thus the majority of churches indigenous to the Middle East, do not appear to have an interest in Muslims who might convert. Such an aversion is understand­able in the Middle East, where a government can, with one fell swoop, shut down churches, clinics and schools. Additionally, one must be on the lookout for false converts seeking financial gain or a permit to emigrate, for spies, and such. This is a practical reality for these churches. Due to such difficulties, Catholic and Orthodox churches in the Middle East do not, in general, receive or invest any time in individuals inter­ested in the matters outlined above. This is, as far as this author can discern, the reason why liturgy is not present anywhere in the literature of conversions from Islam. One priest told me clearly that he had several Muslims approach him every day wanting to convert from Islam; he said that some of them were false conver­sions, but that he knew that some of them were genuine. He gestured with his hand around him towards the beautiful church that encompassed us, and lamented that the government would take all of it away if he discipled and baptized such people. Another priest explained to me that Muslims could not genuinely convert from Islam because of the satanic nature of Islam. One woman went to a Catholic priest and told him of her dream of Jesus: he wept and told her that it meant she should be a better Muslim.

That last report shows how the indifferentist "Anonymous Christian" rhetoric favored in some Catholic circles ignores, rather than recognizes, the grace of God at work among non-Christians.

Read Abu Daoud's inspiring essay in full here.

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