Muslims comprise over 23% of the earth’s population. If current trends continue, it is estimated that by the year 2050 the number of Muslims worldwide will nearly equal that of professing Christians.1 If “Christian” is defined biblically, they surpassed our numbers long ago.
Islamic resistance to Christianity has been around for centuries, while tensions have significantly increased in recent decades, especially since September 2001. Islamic governments and militant jihadists have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Lord’s church to carry out the Great Commission in several places around the globe. There are about thirty-eight countries that are either wholly or predominately Islamic.
If we cannot go to the Muslim world, perhaps God is bringing the Muslim world to us. Multiplied thousands are migrating to countries that allow greater religious freedoms. The majority of Muslims (80%) live outside the Middle East, with approximately 60 million refugees worldwide displaced from their homes. The largest concentration of people of Arab descent outside the Middle East is Dearborn, Michigan (home of the largest Mosque in America). The religion of Islam has approximately 3.3 million adherents in the United States (about 1% of the U.S. population). What are Christ followers to make of all this? “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35b).2
A Reasoned Perspective
Most Muslims are not fanatical extremists. Contrary to popular opinion, not every Muslim is a member of a terrorist organization or sympathetic to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and ISIS. Our newsfeeds and news reports are dominated by images and stories of these radical movements, and it is tempting to throw every Muslim into the same pot. But is this fair? Is it reasonable? The fact of the matter is, more Muslims have suffered at the hands of these extremists than non-Muslims.
When the bulk of our information comes from second- or third-hand sources, chances are the perspective is skewed. Rather than presuming to know what all Muslims are like, here’s a novel idea. Let’s actually get to know our Muslim neighbors. We might be surprised at how friendly, hospitable, and open they are. Yes, there are bad people in the world. Yes, Islamic terrorists are bad people. But not every Muslim is an Islamic terrorist.
Many Muslims are disillusioned with their religion. Refugees and defectors from radical Islamic groups are reportedly disgusted by the brutal injustices carried out in the name of Allah.3 Meriting divine favor with good works is burdensome. Ritual prayers, five times a day, are compulsory and must be recited in the Arabic language, even though 4/5 of Muslims do not speak Arabic. The God of the Qur’an is a God of wrath and cold indifference. Assurance is not possible in this life because it questions God’s sovereignty.4 Understandably, a number of Muslims are yearning for something more.
All Muslims need the gospel. They comprise one of the largest unreached groups in the world today. The gospel is still for all, and our Muslim neighbors are lost in sin, separated from God, and shackled in ignorance, delusion, and hopelessness. We have the answer to their dilemma (Rom. 1:16), and the love of Christ compels us to do something about it (2 Cor. 5:15).
Where do we start?
Reaching Muslims with the gospel requires more than winning an argument. Most of them have only a superficial understanding of their religion, with varying degrees of commitment (just like a number professing Christians!). Moreover, each Muslim is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all evangelistic procedure. In fact, there are many disagreements among Muslims themselves on any number of issues.
Since attacking the Islamic religion is generally unfruitful, the following fourfold approach is recommended as a more effective strategy:
o Attitude – view Muslims as God sees them, as precious souls made in his image. We have to overcome ignorance, prejudice, and fear. A good place to start is to observe the golden rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them …” (Matt. 7:12). As a Christian, I don’t appreciate being lumped together with the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, prosperity-gospel televangelists, or pedophile priests. We shouldn’t assume that every Muslim is a Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or hates democracy and western civilization and wants to kill us. But even if this were so, what does Jesus say about responding to our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48)? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your brother.
o Knowledge – learn about the Islamic faith, and the best source of information is a Muslim. It is fairly easy to point out the inconsistencies of their religion by citing cherry-picked verses from the Qur’an without a clear understanding of the context. But consider how effective this is when others do the same with our faith and our Bible.
o Relationship – this is something of great value to most Muslims. We will be very ineffective in our outreach until we get to know our non-Christian neighbors. An environment of courtesy and mutual respect is so much more conducive to reasoning together. We can’t effectively teach Jesus without manifesting him.
o Engagement – we must not shy away from religious discussion and Bible study. Start with commonalities, then address differences. Christians and Muslims alike believe in the existence of the Almighty Creator. We are all devout theists, opposed to atheistic naturalism that currently pervades our society. We both accept the divine inspiration of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels, providing a standard of authority on which we can agree.5 We share a very high regard for Jesus Christ, acknowledging him as the Messiah, born of the virgin Mary, having performed miracles, and having ascended into heaven with the promise to return.
The gospel then takes us further into the presence and redemption of God where we encounter fundamental differences – to be addressed in the next post.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion is attributable not only to conversions, but also to fertility rates and youth populations. See “The Future of World Religions,” Pew Research Center (2 April 2015), <Link>.
2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
3 See Hamza Hendawi, “Islamic State’s double standards,” Associated Press (18 Jan. 2016), <Link>; Matthew Hall, “‘Liars, Hypocrites’,” The Sunday Morning Herald (12 March 2016), <Link>. Wissam Al-Aethawi, a former Iraqi soldier and engineer who grew up in Baghdad, was disillusioned by a religion that taught hate. He purchased a Bible, learned the truth, and obeyed the gospel. He now works with Arab immigrants in the USA, using the NT to teach them English. Read his story here <Link>.
4 Imad Shehadeh, “Allah and the Trinity,” a lecture presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (16 Nov. 2016), San Antonio, TX.
5 A number of Muslims I have encountered have a high regard for the entire Old Testament. For a helpful defense of these sacred writings in discussions with Muslims, see Earl D. Edwards, “One Approach to Evangelizing Muslims,” ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΑ 2 (2014): 29–42. See also Rod Rutherford, “Jesus or Mohammed?” Fulton County Gospel News 37:2 (Feb. 2003): 3-4; and “Confronting the Rising Threat of Islam,” The Spiritual Sword 48:2 (Jan. 2017): 16-19.
*This material was originally developed for the 2017 Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies Lectureship.
Related Posts: Reaching Muslims (Part 2)