While it may have been the Apostle Paul who first preached the unadulterated gospel in Arabia and Damascus (Gal. 1:15–17), the following centuries witnessed the introduction of various brands of Christianity ranging from orthodoxy to a number of heretical sects.
Indeed, Eastern Christianity prior to the arrival of Muhammad—the prophet of Islam—was afflicted by internal divisions, theological disputes, and worship of saints and relics. Muhammad was exposed to unorthodox Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices already in existence in Arabia and later through his trading activities with Christians in the north.
Consequently, he drew his conclusions about Christianity from distorted sources: Jewish heterodoxy and a mixture of Christian materials from biographies of saints and martyrs as well as the Apocrypha. What is more significant is the fact that Muhammad and many generations of his followers have not had the Bible in their own language, and so they have not fully understood the message of the gospel. Instead, his colossal misunderstanding of true Christianity has been detrimental to the relationship between Islam and Christianity and has continued regrettably to our day.
In addition to these unfortunate factors, millions of Muslims are exposed to some ailing theological and spiritual teachings and practices of certain brands of churches in our day. So, it’s no wonder that Muslims look upon the Christian faith and the Word of God with suspicion. It is the task of Christians to remain true to the gospel as the Apostle Paul was, so that by God’s grace they might come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
It is not too late to correct the legacy of misunderstanding, mistrust, and antagonism between Islam and Christianity. In the book The Call of the Minaret, Kenneth Cragg reflects on the question of Jesus to His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?”:
Must not the emasculated Jesus of the Qur’an be rescued from misconception and disclosed in all His relevance . . . ? . . . Inseparable from our Christianity, is the duty so to bring others to Him who asks, that they may answer for themselves.
In other words, it is incumbent upon us to communicate to our Muslim friends the “true Truth” of God’s glorious self-revelation in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). History and allegiance to the Word of God demand that the church in our generation be committed to evangelize Muslims and to make such evangelism a priority if we are to see Muslims come to faith in Christ.
When Muhammad rejected Christ as communicated to him by early Christian heresies, he replaced Him and His gospel with an intensely legalistic system that will never transform the heart and satisfy the demands of the conscience (see Heb. 9:9–10). We can say of Muslims what Paul said of the Jews: “They have a zeal for God, but it is not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). Faithful missionaries to Muslims know for sure that only the power of the gospel can change the hearts of men and women. We need to be confident as we proclaim God’s Word. We must spread His gospel in all its power across the world and make its proclamation a priority in our evangelism to Muslims (Rom. 1:16–17).
Remember that bearing witness to Christ is not an option for the Christian and must be verbal by its very nature. The communication of the gospel to an unbeliever is the joyful participation by the Christian in what God is doing in the world. Remember these encouraging words from Jesus: “By this my Father is gloried, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1: 17). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Toward this end, here are ten suggestions for sharing the gospel with your Muslim friend.
(1) Regard your Muslim friend as an individual who is in as much need of salvation as any other human being, including you. Every nonbeliever must be seen as a divine appointment sent to us by God. While some will not respond, others will come to faith in Christ. The Word of God says, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20).
(2) Make an effort to cultivate a genuine friendship with your Muslim neighbor and learn about his or her background.
(3) Show genuine Christian love in word and deed. One of my favorite missionaries to Muslims, who was martyred for his faith, is Raymond Lull. He traveled to North Africa during the bitter days of the Crusades and understood that the only way to overcome hostile attitudes on both sides was to demonstrate the greatest Christian weapon: the love of God. He said, “He that loves not lives not, and he that lives by ‘The Life’ cannot die.” To Muslims he declared, “I come to meet the Muslims not with arms, but with words; not by force, but by reason, not in hate but in love.”
(4) Anticipate questions, inquiries, and objections to the unique teaching of the Bible. These must be explained in accordance with the teaching of the Bible. Be patient, ready to answer your Muslim friend’s objections as Christ did in His encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman (John 3–4).
(5) Don’t denigrate your Muslim friend’s faith. When Christ—the “bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16)—radiates, He will eliminate all shadows.
(6) Introduce the life, teaching, and ministry of Christ. He is highly revered and exalted in Islam. The majority of Muslim converts testify that the most influential factor in their conversion was their exposure to the true words and life of Christ.
(7) Introduce your friend to the Bible. The Word of God is the greatest tool for evangelizing Muslims. We must be encouraged by God’s promise: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
In introducing your Muslim friends to the Bible, you will have to focus on two foundational truths about Scripture. First, you will need to establish the authority of the Bible in order to dispel Muslim objections. Scripture is God’s Word. Its source is divine, and its authority is final and timeless. Second, you will need to emphasize that the Bible as a whole is one revelation with a singular goal. The overall theme of the Bible is the redemption of sinful man. The Bible is salvation history; it moves progressively, culminating in the coming of Christ. Emphasize that Christ is the central figure in both testaments. From the beginning, God promised the coming of the Messiah.
(8) If appropriate, share your personal testimony, and saturate it with the truth of Scripture. Underscore the crucial difference between being a legalistic person and being radically changed by the life, teaching, and power of Christ. Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 is a profound example of this transformation.
(9) Avoid using theological terms that are foreign to your Muslim friend. But if you must use them, try to clarify their meanings and emphasize their implications for salvation.
(10) Introduce your Muslim friend to your pastor, and invite him to worship with you. Trust the Holy Spirit to bring the lost sheep into the fold.
A recent example of a Muslim testimony brings out the crucial importance of the power of the Word of God and how it influences a Muslim’s decision to embrace the gospel. Hamran was a traditional and devout Muslim leader. While writing a sermon to be delivered in the mosque, he came across the following verse from the Qur’an: “Say, O people of the Scripture! [Jews and Christians], you will be nothing unless you uphold the Torah and the Gospel, and all that is revealed to you from your Lord” (Surah 5:68). Hamran says:
I have read this verse a hundred times, but at last God whispered to my soul that “Torah” and the “Gospel” which are mentioned in the Qur’an are the same Torah and the Gospel found in the Bible now. I had always thought that the Torah and the Gospel mentioned in the Qur’an no longer existed physically, and that their contents had been summarized in the Qur’an. I was convinced that the Torah and the Gospel, which form the Bible now were false, and that the original contents had been misarranged, forged or added to by people. However, my soul told me that the Torah/Gospel now presented in the Bible is true. My mind constantly opposed this inner voice: “No! The Torah and the Gospel in the Bible have been falsified.” My thoughts contradicted my soul and conscience, and I became uncertain and doubtful as to what was right. To make peace with my conscience, I took the problem to God. He helped me recognize the truth of the Gospel as I was reading it.
While God is bringing His lost sheep to Himself, still millions must hear the good news. According to new population projections by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, the world Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35 percent in the next twenty years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030. As ambassadors for Christ, we ought to face this increase not with fear, but with confidence in the Lord’s promises. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). I am certain that the church of Christ eventually will include millions of converted Muslims. God uses people like us to bring them home.