When sharing my faith with a Muslim, I’ve found it helpful to evaluate why he is devoted to Islam. Three considerations are important.
First, he could be moved by the standards of Islam—the doctrine, theology or teaching. Most Christians seem to assume that the "standards" alone are the reason a person embraces any belief system. In my experience, the other two considerations have greater weight.
Second, he could be devoted to Islam because of his situation—a need for cultural identity, feelings of alienation, etc. The Muslim community projects itself as a brotherhood with affirmation and solidarity.
Third, he could practice Islam because of his own motivations and goals—e.g., the desire for godliness. Often, a person realizes that he has been alienated from God and consequently seeks to achieve God's favor. Perhaps he wants to purge himself of false values such as materialism or self-centeredness. Therefore, he might see Islam, with its disciplined, rigorous approach to life as the means to satisfy his desire for righteousness.
Instead of simply confronting a Muslim, pitting my doctrine against his, I seek to draw him out through conversation. I’ve met many Muslims whose personal goals and motivations were essentially biblical. In such cases, I’ve learned to be sympathetic and supportive. As a result, I’ve seen barriers come down. Only after establishing such camaraderie will a discussion concerning the means of achieving their goals become meaningful. This is when the Gospel really becomes “good news.”
I find American converts to Islam particularly interesting. Often, they were raised in the church and have devout Christian mothers who pray for them constantly. While they have a rational Islamic veneer, they tend to have an intuitive Christian outlook. If we learn to relate to such Muslim converts wisely on a rational basis, God’s Word will resonate with that intuitive core. Often this will affect an American Muslim convert in more ways than he is willing to admit.
The Islamic community is roughly equivalent to the Jewish community in the first century. Our approach to Muslims, therefore, must be similar to the apostle Paul’s approach to his Jewish brothers. In acknowledging that non-believing Jews “have a zeal of God but not based on knowledge” (Rom. 10:2), Paul is saying, “Though they outwardly have the right goals and motivations, they have adopted the wrong means for achieving those goals and satisfying those motivations.”
I have talked to dozens of Muslims who have, in the final analysis, admitted they can do nothing to earn God’s favor—their only hope of salvation is in God alone. Is not this the basis of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?
God promises His Word will not return void (Isa. 55:11). If we simply plant the seed and water it, God will “give the increase.” We often find ourselves oriented toward instant salvations and instant decisions. However, it doesn’t work that way with Muslims. It takes time, patience, and most of all, love. Meanwhile, God is faithful.
If you sense God’s calling to minister to Muslims, here are some practical suggestions:
- Be yourself
- Try to understand Islamic doctrine from the perspective of Islam. Study the history of Islam’s development, especially in America.
- Be a good listener. Don’t evaluate a Muslim only on the basis of his doctrine. Examine the other factors which fire his devotion to Islam.
- When his motivations and goals are biblical, affirm them. When they are not, lovingly challenge them. Try to use words according to his definitions, not yours.
- When dealing with a Muslim’s doctrine, do not use the occasion to show how much you know about his faith. Instead, deal with him on the basis of what he expresses to you about his beliefs. You’ll find he cannot be consistent with the doctrines he holds.
- It’s always important to draw him out by asking questions in the genuine spirit of wanting to be informed. Give him a chance to express himself, and make sure he knows you understand what he’s saying. Ask him, “Is this what you mean?” Then try to summarize his point.
- Do not be bowled over by his arguments. Stand firm, with poise and confidence. If you are familiar with his theology, you can tell when he begins to feel the pinch. Usually, he will begin to repeat himself or make up his theology on the spot. Don’t take advantage of his vulnerability by lording it over him. Rather, seek to communicate subtly but clearly that you are aware of his tenuous position. The very fact that you do not pulverize him will communicate more about the validity of the Christian faith than if you had devastated him with your rational arguments.
- Do not use a King James Bible. According to the teachings of some Muslim sects, King James himself translated this version and corrupted it.
- Never use a Bible in which you have made any marks. To a Muslim, this indicates a disrespect for the Word of God.
- Avoid all pictures of God, Jesus or any biblical characters. This looks like idolatry to a Muslim.
- Never use the word “Trinity.” Because of the Muslim’s teaching, this word often connotes the worship of three gods and will bog you down with issues of polytheism. From Scripture, we know that God’s oneness of being is never diminished by His tri-personhood. There are many ways to express the Trinity concept, for example “Godhead.”
- In dealing with Muslims, remove all offenses you can—except the Cross.
Most of all, never forget the power of love. For against love, there is no defense, Islamic or otherwise.