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A discussion on Muslims, Islam and Christianity

Editor’s note: In light of current events, three Arab believers in Jesus Christ, all living in the United States, were asked to share their understanding of the Islamic faith. Yousef has a Palestinian-Christian background, David has an Arab-Muslim heritage, and George comes from an Arab Orthodox family. This discussion is not designed to answer political questions, nor is it an official Assemblies of God position. The primary goal is to assist the church in communicating the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims in a loving and effective manner. Moderator Stephen Tourville is director of Intercultural Ministries for U.S. Assemblies of God Home Missions.

Tourville: Is Islam a peaceful religion? And if Islam is warlike, why are Muslims often peaceful?

Yousef: Most Muslims would not support the killing of innocent people. They would say, "Allah of the Holy Quran never advocated killing. The World Trade Center destruction was the work of misguided individuals at the fringes of society. Real Islam is sanctified from violence. We denounce all violence. Islam means submission. Islam means tolerance."

But is this true? Does Islam really preach peace? Muslims who have committed crimes, such as the events of September 11, think otherwise. They believe what they do is jihad (holy war). They believe true Muslims are obligated to do this. They would cite references from the Quran such as the following:

Fighting is prescribed upon you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you (2:216).

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them (9:5).

Fight those who believe not in Allah, nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah [tax] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued (9:29).

Some Muslim theologians have appealed to their Doctrine of Abrogation in understanding these verses. They would say that the peaceful verses have been abrogated by the sword verse (Quran 9:5).

Muslims may be perceived as peaceful because many Muslims emphasize those aspects of their religion that promote peace. Yet, they cannot deny the fact that Islam as a religion embraces jihad.

George: In my opinion, Islam is not a religion of peace because both Islamic theology (the interpretation of the Quran) and history defy it. Some Muslims do not practice jihad and appear to be peaceful. But many who don’t physically participate in it would still believe it is right and good.

Tourville: Why are Muslims often seen as peaceful?

Yousef: Many of them have escaped oppression and persecution in their home countries and have come to the United States to better their lives. While in their home countries they may have been liberal in their practice of Islam and did not know what the Quran really teaches. When fundamentalist Islam controls a country it changes the people. "Peaceful Islam" quotes the Quran chapter 2:256, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." Or, Quran 5:82, "Nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say ‘We are Christians.’" To a Muslim, peace comes and is maintained when people submit to the rule of Allah and obey his apostle, Muhammad.

Tourville: How political is Islam?

George: Islam is not a religion in the way most people think of religion. It is a legal system, a form of government. You cannot separate the religion from the politics in Muslim-majority countries.

Tourville: What is the Islamic view of Jesus?

George: Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet. They believe in His virgin birth, but deny His deity. They deny the Crucifixion, but believe Jesus is returning.

David: Jesus is seen as a great prophet.

Yousef: Jesus is mentioned 93 times in the Quran. Muslims believe that He performed many miracles, and that He was a great prophet. However, Muslims fail to honor Jesus by not believing in His divinity, death or resurrection. When Jesus returns to earth, they believe He will tell Christians it was wrong to worship Him.

Tourville: Do Muslims view Jesus Christ spiritually or from a purely human point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16)?

Yousef: According to Islamic teaching, Jesus was only human, but He was one of the great prophets. He, however, was not as great as Muhammad because it was Muhammad who received the final and complete revelation from Allah for man.

Tourville: Are men like Osama bin Laden terrorists or fundamentalists? Why do fundamentalist Muslims dislike or despise America?

David: First, let us explain what a fundamentalist Muslim is. A fundamentalist Muslim believes in the basic or fundamental teachings of Islam, as brought forth in the Quran and the Hadith (traditions).

Osama bin Laden is more than just a fundamentalist; he is a radical terrorist. In fact, many fundamentalists have turned against him.

George: Yes, he is a terrorist. Fundamentalists dislike America because they see it as the purveyor of most of the moral filth that goes out to the rest of the world. Furthermore, America’s foreign policy, specifically our unqualified support of Israel, deepens the dislike they have for this country.

Tourville: Why do some people believe that Muslims take a superior attitude toward non-Muslims?

George: A Muslim believes that Islam is the correct and perfect religion and that Islam must conquer and rule those of ignorance and disobedience.

David: Muslims see themselves as holding up a high standard of morality. Thus, they believe they have a greater respect for God. They see the rest of the world as needing Allah.

Tourville: How have religious minorities been treated under the rule of Islamic authorities?

Yousef: In the Middle Ages, Islamic governments were more tolerant of Jews and Christians than Christian governments were of Jews and Muslims. Today, however, many Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith at the hands of Muslims.

George: In some moderate Middle Eastern countries, the government allows churches for Arab Christians. However, many Muslim governments would say they practice religious freedom, but it isn’t the kind of freedom we would describe. Remember that "once a Muslim, always a Muslim" is the rule. The Law of Apostasy prevents any Muslim from changing his religion. You can convert and become a Muslim, but you cannot "unconvert" without dire consequences.

Tourville: Does the history of Islam reveal growth by the sword?

George: Yes.

Yousef: During the first 100 years as a religion, Islam was involved in constant fighting. Today, people in Egypt, for example, convert to Islam just to survive. Muslims are given better grades and better jobs. In one country, Christians are being kidnapped and forced to convert to and fight for Islam.

Tourville: Is lying in order to spread Islam acceptable?

Yousef: The Islamic concept of lying is different than that taught in the Bible. For some Muslims, it is acceptable to lie to save face, to prevent hurting someone’s feelings or to keep out of trouble. Religious leaders will give a fatwa (a law) to justify the lie. Some Muslims in America are told that it is all right to lie to the government because America is not an Islamic nation. However, if America were an Islamic nation it would not be right to lie to the government.

Tourville: What is Islam’s vision for America?

George: America is a mission field from a Muslim perspective. Islamic countries are pouring millions of dollars into this country. They are building mosques, creating self-improvement programs and sending Islamic professors to local universities in order to influence this country toward Islam.

Yousef: Ayatollah Khomeini was quoted as saying that Islam would be focused on invading the West in this century. Muslims believe their religion should be universal and that it is the solution to the world’s problems. They "owe it to the world" to somehow bring America into the House of Islam.

Tourville: Why is Islam growing so rapidly?

David: Besides the high birthrate among Muslims, Islam is growing rapidly because of the commitment of Muslims to spread their faith throughout the world. They believe Muhammad came to bring Islam to the whole world, not just one specific people group. Because of this, they strive to reach all non-Muslims, from society’s lowest to its highest. It is their duty to do this. Witnessing is a part of their everyday lives. They get involved in a community, build a mosque, teach people how to read and write, if necessary, and teach them about Islam. They also contribute to the community by developing companies that provide jobs for townspeople.

Islam is growing rapidly because it is simple to become a Muslim. One only has to believe in one God and that Muhammad is his prophet. Further, good works are done so as to help you earn your way to heaven. This appeals to those who prefer to change the outward things in their lives, but not necessarily the inward, as Jesus directs us to do.

Tourville: What is an appropriate response of the church to Islam?

David: Love, acceptance and forgiveness. No one is ever won to Christ by being attacked or condemned. In John 3:17 it says that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved. We must realize Muslims are people that Jesus died for, even before they accept Him as Savior. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and we must too if we are to follow Him.

Yousef: We need to recognize that many sincere people practice the religion of Islam. It is important to separate in our minds the religion of Islam and the Muslim who practices it. Islam is an anti-Christ religion in the sense that it denies His deity. We need to speak out boldly [regarding our uncompromising position on Christ], but at the same time convey the love of Jesus to Muslims.

Years ago Egyptian President Sadat made a comment that he loved Jesus and believed in Jesus. After hearing his statement, American preachers expressed to us that President Sadat was a Christian. What they did not understand was President Sadat’s mistaken concept of Jesus.

It is a critical time not only in America, but in our churches as well. When Muslim leaders are being invited to stand in Christian pulpits and tell the body of Christ that we all serve the same God, we have allowed deception to come into our churches. Before 9/11, many Muslims were calling Christians polytheists.

We need to ask Jehovah God to give us His eyes and heart, and love for Muslim people. They are people walking in darkness. It is time for our lights to shine and for us to once again be the salt of the earth.

George: Yes, we must love them, establish relationships with them, understand their religion and pray for them. Then, with wisdom we will be able to witness Christ’s love for them in God’s time.

Tourville: How can we reach Muslims for Christ? What mistakes are made in evangelistic endeavors to reach Muslims?

Yousef: We have shared our culture more than the real Jesus. We have also been easily intimidated because Muslims tend to be very vocal in their discussions.

David: We must begin to show the truth in love to Muslims. We must show them by the way we live — our godly example — that we walk with the Lord. We must build true friendships with Muslims. We need to intercede for them, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to show them Jesus as the Messiah. We need to pray for them when they are sick. Many Muslims do not believe that God performs miracles of healing anymore. It can be a life-changing experience when Christians pray for them and God touches them. Most importantly, we must share our testimony — telling them what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. This is something that they cannot refute.

Let us not forget that at the same time we are trying to reach them for Christ, they are trying to reach us for Islam. Many Muslims are zealous in their commitment to God, praying five times a day and sharing their faith. They are truly the greatest challenge to Christianity in the world today.

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