By Mike Urton
This past spring I had the opportunity to take part in a Bible and Qur’an class at a local mosque. The course was sponsored by a seminary and featured a Muslim and a Christian presenter. It took place during the four weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. The sessions dealt with the topics:
- What are the Scriptures? – How the Bible and Qur’an were formed, how they are structured and what they teach.
- God and Humanity – What the Qur’an and the Bible teach about God and human beings.
- God’s Envoys – The role of prophets and Jesus in the Bible and the Qur’an.
- Success in this World, Felicity in the Next – What the Qur’an and the Bible teach about the end times.
The following six reflections were born out of my time in this course. These points are my humble contribution to help us as evangelical Christians navigate the world of interfaith dialogue.
- Stand on Christian doctrine honestly and openly in dialogue with Muslims.
This is the first point because I believe that it is the most important in having an open and honest dialogue with Muslims as evangelical Christians. Two examples from the course highlighted this idea for me. The first was when the Christian presenter made the statement, “the Bible itself does not say how the inspiration (of Scripture) took place and Christians have developed different positions on the issue. To Muslim ears this sounds like Christians do not really believe that the Bible is inspired. The good news is the class did allow for discussion, so I had the opportunity to share from 2 Peter 1:20-21 concerning what the Bible does say about the inspiration of Scripture: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The second example happened when the Christian presenter started off on a wonderful description of how God has always dealt with his people through covenants. He mentioned that the Bible is a narrative and that the whole story hangs together. This is one of the most important things for a Muslim to understand about the Bible because their Holy Book is not a narrative. However, when this presenter came to where Christ appears in the narrative of Scripture and how he completes God’s covenants, the presenter stopped and did not explain how Christ fulfills God’s plan of redemption. This, however, afforded me another occasion to read from Matthew 26:27-28: “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
- Share from the Bible as much as possible.
This point dovetails with the first one. But an interesting phenomenon to highlight here is that most Muslims respect the Bible as a Holy Book. Many of the Muslims in the class would approach me afterward and thank me for sharing from the Bible. It was an amazing opportunity to simply read from Scripture and let the Holy Spirit do his work.
- Answer questions respectfully and with confidence.
Most Muslims do not know what Christians believe. The Muslim participants in this class truly wanted to understand what the Bible teaches. Situations like this provide us with a respectful way to share biblical truth with Muslims, while at the same time standing on our beliefs with confidence.
- Provide good resources.
One of the assignments we had in the course was to compare the first Surah of the Quran, a prayer that Muslims are supposed to recite every day during their five daily prayers, with the Lord’s Prayer. At that time my pastor was preaching through a series on the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6. I was able to provide those in the class with the link to the sermons on our church’s website.
The last week of the class, which was Palm Sunday, I brought copies of The Jesus Film to give to every participant. I showed up to the class with 20 copies and left with 5. After I introduced this resource to the class and told them it was a gift for them, one Muslim man immediately tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “May I have one please?” In my experience in working with Muslims they are very touched when you remember them with a gift on holidays that are important for Christians.
- Prepare thoughtfully and ask good questions.
In the context of a course like this one we can ask questions respectfully because in part we are coming as learners. Also, here is where our Western education can serve us well in interacting with Muslims. In most Muslim countries, even in secular education, the professor is the unquestioned expert and the dispenser of knowledge. The student is simply to learn without inquiry. Here in the West we are taught to think critically and to ask questions. If we take a little time to prepare before these types of sessions, then we can respectfully and honestly ask questions. This will also serve the purpose of helping our Muslim friends to begin asking questions that they themselves have never thought to ask about their faith.
- Don’t give in to prevailing cultural notions of tolerance.
We live in a day and age where we are told that we cannot disagree or say things about our own faith that might offend others from a different religion or worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth in dialogue with Muslims. There is absolutely no need to censor ourselves wondering what might offend them.
The Muslim presenter never made an apology for Islam, or attempted to hide things he felt might be offensive to Christians. He even stated honestly that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus did not die on the cross. This is what I would expect a Muslim presenter to say when teaching honestly about Islam. He did not need to hide that Muslims believe this about the crucifixion. Likewise, we as Christians can share our doctrine openly and honestly without apology in courses like this one.
I found the interactions and the people in this course highly enjoyable. This class also emphasized for me why we need to have a seat at the interfaith dialogue table as evangelicals. As I stated earlier, these interactions provide wonderful opportunity for us to share directly from the Bible. Also, if we do not engage in these dialogues the picture that can be painted for Muslims concerning Christians is that we are confused about what we believe and do not really stand for anything. It will solidify in the minds of many Muslims that what Christians need is to come to Islam. Finally, these dialogues provide wonderful opportunities for us to meet Muslims, begin our relationship with them on a spiritual level, and continue our relationships with them beyond the classroom, which we pray will lead them to Christ.