By Roy Oksnevad
One of the sessions at the National COMMA Consultation in Orlando will deal with the spectrum of approaches to Muslims and Islam. Our theme this year is Face 2 Face with Muslims but an Eternity Apart. We will have a panel discussion on various approaches with this question in mind: Will these face-to-face encounters bring us closer together while in the end still being an eternity apart? Approaches represented include:
Exposing the dark side of Islam – Some people’s ministry is to expose the dark side of Islam and warn the West of the imminent destruction of our values. They view Islam as a threat to our American way of life, and favor limiting the numbers of Muslim migrants. They use the historical examples of early peaceful Islamic expansion into territories, but then taking control of commerce. After gaining power through sheer numbers they imposed Shari’a. Non-Muslims such as Jews and Christians were reclassified as dhimmi (protected person) with fewer rights than Muslims and a poll tax (jizya) was imposed on them. Other non-Muslims had still fewer rights. Conversion to Islam was generally easy and emancipated the new convert from all legal impairments. This is what people exposing Islam are preaching and they have found a sympathetic ear in the conservative Christian community. Intentionally or unintentionally they are perceived as painting all Muslims with this brush, but they will say that they are focused on the most dangerous element of Islam—political Islam. Does this approach have a face-to-face encounter with Muslims or just with non-Muslims who are willing to hear this message? Does this approach just leave Muslims an eternity apart?
Exposing the faulty foundation of Islam – Others exposing Islam are in a battle with Islamic foundational sources and history which they consider faulty. The Muslim community and scholars have resisted any attempt to question the historicity of Islam and its sources. Western historical scholarship is now applying contemporary historical, archaeological, and philological data which was used by liberal scholars to discredit Christianity and its sources to the Islamic sources. This is called Hagarism. In retaliation, Western scholars are being intimidated and pressured by powerful Muslim institutions not to release their findings and are having their credibility attacked. But there is a group of Christian scholars who have taken up the cause in exposing the inconsistency of Islamic history and teaching on its historical sources. These individuals have also found a sympatric ear in the conservative Christian community and those who love apologetics or polemics. Does this approach have as its root the purpose to destroy the Muslim confidence in their religion so the only one left standing will be Christianity? Will this approach drive Muslims away from any genuine face-to-face encounter, still leaving them an eternity apart?
Just preach the truth – Another approach to Muslims is to focus on evangelism. For some, they approach Muslims just as they treat any other non-Christian. The idea is that the more you know the Bible, the better you will be a witness to anyone, even Muslims. They believe that all that is necessary is to explain the truth which should become self-evident. The truth and God’s Spirit will draw people to himself. Didn’t Jesus say that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32)? Studying another religion is taking away time spent with people who are locked in a false religion. It is assumed that they are not satisfied with their religion and have not had the opportunity to hear the truth. That is the reason why they are still Muslim.
Others will study Islam and try to make the gospel as Muslim-friendly as possible. They will use as many Islamic terms as possible, thinking that if they can remove barriers to the gospel such as language, the Muslim will become a Christian. They try to follow all the social norms like the separation of the sexes, fast along with Muslims, and explain one of the Islamic festivals (Eid al-Adha) through the Christian understanding of Abraham’s sacrifice to help identify with their Muslim friend. The focus will be on sharing the gospel. Will this approach promote Muslims as projects to be conquered? Will such a focus come across as disingenuous? What other unintentional signals does this project send? Will they still remain an eternity apart though culturally close?
Can we just get along? – Interfaith dialogue is an approach that is currently viewed as the most reasonable. It assumes that the reason there is a war between Islam and the rest of the world is that they just have not met “the other.” Getting people to sit across from each other will lessen the tension and the entrenched ideas we have of each other. There are various types of dialogue depending on the group. For instance, there is dialogue that stays away from religion and looks for common ground dealing with areas of common social concern like abortion, hunger, or social justice.
Another interfaith approach is to avoid substantive dialogue with the areas that the religions disagree on but focus on each person sharing their personal experiences of their religion. So each community talks about their high and holy days. For the Christian, it would be Christmas and Easter and for the Muslim it would be Ramadan and the two festivals Eid al-Fitr (breaking of the fast) at the end of Ramadan and Eid al Adha (festival of the sacrifice, two months after Eid al-Fitr). The foundation of this methodology is creating meetings of better understanding to bring the walls of separation down. Others will use interfaith dialogue as a way of meeting Muslims so they can share the gospel later after the personal relationship is developed. Will interfaith dialogue create genuine face-to-face encounters but in the end leave the Muslim an eternity apart? Is creating mutual respect all that the Christian is required to do?
Muslims are people who have varying understanding of their religion just like everyone in the world. There are the political, mystical, peace-loving, theologically orientated, secular, and those who just don’t care. Various approaches to Muslims are necessary. In the world in which we live, it seems that we are more opinionated but have less face-to-face interaction with those with whom we disagree. What we want to accomplish at the September 16-19, 2019 National COMMA consultation at Pioneers Conference Center in Orlando, Florida is a robust dialogue with those who hold various positions and learn from each other. If you have not signed up to attend it isn’t too late. Register at https://commanetwork.com/2019-consultation/.