Sunday, March 01, 2015

Reaching Out to Muslims

The Virgin Mary and Jesus,
old Persian miniature. Date: unknown.
In Islam, they are called Maryam and Isa.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the bloody history between Christianity and Islam. Much of this was spawned by recent remarks made by Barack Obama at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, in which the president echoed the popular, but false, narrative that Medieval Christians attempted to spread their faith by the sword. Nothing could be further from the truth actually, and there are many historians who have set the record straight. In summary, the crusades were a defensive military action, like the reconquista of Iberia, to retake some Christian lands that were forcibly taken by Muslim conquest. Forced conversion was not permitted by the Catholic Church, so if any of that business went on, it was against the instructions of Rome. The president of the United States needs a history lesson.

Today we live in a time of great fear and uncertainty, especially in regard to Islam. The savage brutality of the ISIS caliphate in the Middle East is a daily reminder of how bad things can get under militant Islamic rule. The growing number of Muslims in Europe has left many with the concern that the cradle of Christian civilisation will soon become an Islamic state. Many Americans are starting to worry about the number of Muslims now entering the United States. What does the future hold? Are we approaching the end of Western Christianity as we know it? Is the Catholic Church soon going to find itself in the same situation as Eastern Orthodox churches in the Middle East, under the thumb of Islamic rule? Will Western civilisation soon find itself in a fight for its life against the rise of Islam in Europe and North America?

While many of the warning signs on the horizon look very ominous, there is something going on beneath the surface that has the potential to change our entire outlook. Yes, Muslims are coming West, but at the same time, Muslims are converting to Christianity in unprecedented numbers. As far back as fifteen years ago, on December 12, 2000, Al-Jeezera published an interview with Sheikh Ahmad Al-Qataani, who served as an Islamic scholar in Libya and director of a training centre for imams, in which he said the following: "In Africa alone, every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity, 16,000 every day, six million a year." This is an astonishing quote. Yet it's not just Africa that is seeing conversions. One news source in Britain stated that as many as 15 percent of all Muslim immigrants to Europe convert to Christianity. While there seems to be no scientific way to verify these numbers, at least none that I can ascertain, even if they're only half true, it tells a remarkable story. Islam is not a monolith, nor is it an iron curtain. In fact, it would appear that many Muslims are more than willing to convert to Christianity, and it is in fact only fear of breaking Shariah Law in Muslim countries that prevents more Muslims from converting.

The Christian West has a problem, to be sure, and much of it centres around what Pope Pius IX called the heresy of Modernism. Today, this translates into militant secularism seen especially in government institutions and public schools, as well as the media and popular culture. It also translates into what many have called "liberal Christianity" as manifested in British and North American Anglicanism, many mainline Protestant denominations, and a number of Catholic dioceses across the Old and the New World. These two expressions of Modernism, both secular and religious, have led to an explosion of immorality across the West. It is this immorality that acts as gasoline poured onto the flames of anti-Western sentiments in the Islamic world. In spite of this, however, more Muslims come West, and while the majority of them obviously retain their Islamic beliefs and culture, a fairly large percent are willing to embrace the cross and convert to Christianity. This is the untold story that is omitted from secular news media, and often ignored by our own religious leaders.

I believe the time of fear is over. It is time for Christians to understand what is really going on. In spite of being besieged on every side by our own culture in the West, Christianity is advancing in Africa and Asia. This has some Muslims in Africa and Asia worried, and among those who are worried, there is a small segment willing to resort to violence to prevent Christianity's spread. We know these groups as ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq. We also know them as Boko Haram in Africa. The barbaric savagery of these groups against native Christians, particularly in Africa, is the direct result of the victory of the Gospel in these regions, reaching deep into traditionally Muslim territory and making new followers of Jesus Christ.

Simultaneously however, Muslims reaching into Europe and North America are encountering a weakened Christianity, without nearly the zeal and joy of that seen in Africa, but still Muslims are converting in fairly large numbers.

I believe the time has come for Christians to understand the awesome power that we really have in the Gospel to reach out to Muslims and give them hope were previously none existed.

To do this properly, Christians need to first understand our own religion, and live it vigorously. Here in the West, Muslim immigrants will be drawn to holiness among Christian men, and humility among Christian women. They will not be drawn to Christians who look and sound exactly like the militant secular and hedonist world around us. What will attract them is a Christianity that stands in opposition to the militant secularism and hedonism of the Modernist West. Traditional Christian liturgy and devotions will be most attractive to Muslims. The feminine practice of wearing the chapel veil and modest clothing will become a curiosity to Muslim women who often look at Western women as immodest and prideful. The masculine practice of being both a gentle and strong husband and father will attract Muslim men, who often see Western men as weak and feminine. Masculine priest saying mass, with boys serving at the altar, and the beautiful voices of women and girls chanting in choir; these will capture a Muslim's attention. When they see Christians living the values of Christianity in their daily lives, this will only seal the deal, so to speak.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ sells itself. It doesn't need any help from us. It only needs our willingness to live it out in our own lives. In two-thousands years of Christian history, people have been converting to Christianity en masse: Pagans, Gnostics, Muslims, Animists and Spiritists. While these large conversion events have been punctuated by the work of great evangelists here and there, the vast majority of these converts simply came into the Church because there was something attractive to them about Christian life. The greatest evangelists of all time have been none other than average Christians, without charisma or education, who simply lived the Christian life with passion and to the best of their ability.

You see much of evangelism involves apologetics, and much of apologetics involves breaking down stereotypes, propaganda and false impressions. One doesn't need to be a trained evangelist or an apologist to do this. One simply needs to live the Christian life. You see, a certain caricature of Christianity has been painted in the Islamic world for centuries. Breaking that false image is difficult in Muslim nations, where Christianity is nearly outlawed, or at the very least repressed. Here in the West, however, we Christians are free to project ourselves any way we like. The only problem is, we haven't been doing that. Instead we've been focused inward, reinventing ourselves to be less offensive to the Modernist world. When in reality, we should have been doubling-down on our historic Christian identity and values. Had we done that, I think the statistic of Muslims converting to Christianity in the West would be much higher. It's certainly not too late though. In fact, the game has only just begun.

To do this, Christians will need to abandon Modernism and get over their fear of Islam. The average Christian probably couldn't tell you what Muslims actually believe or how that relates to Christianity. So what is Islam from a traditional Christian perspective? Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-749) described the Islamic religion as the "forerunner to Antichrist". Now this is important. He didn't actually call it the Antichrist, but rather the "forerunner" to Antichrist. There is a difference. Why did he say this? He said this because Islam operates on the principle that Jesus Christ is not God, and this is one of the heresies that the prophesied Antichrist will promote. He also said that Mohammed came about his religion by conversing with Jews, Christians, and an Arian monk. Indeed, any cursory study of Islam will reveal a strong Arian link. Unlike Arius however, Mohammed understood that the Arian heresy, which teaches that Jesus Christ is not God (the Second Person of the Trinity), could not survive within a traditional Christian framework any more, especially after the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. Indeed, many have tried that, including for example the Jehovah's Witnesses today, and every time it has failed. He understood that to keep the Arian heresy alive, a new canon of Scripture must be written that is apart from anything the Christian Church could recognise or control. So the Koran was born, and with it the religion of Islam.

Now Muslims believe in Jesus of Nazareth. They believe he was a prophet, and the "messiah" to the Jews (not necessarily anyone else). They also believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and many Muslims hold Mary in very high regard. Likewise, many Muslims have some false ideas about Christianity. Probably the biggest one is that Christians worship three gods. This is because they fail to understand the concept of the Trinity, and to compound matters, some believe the three gods Christians worship are the Father, the Son and the Virgin Mary. Christians will need to understand their own faith well enough to dispel this myth when they encounter Muslim friends in casual conversation, because that you see, is how Christians will win back the Western world. The future of Western Christianity lies waiting in the mosques of Europe and North America. Many of today's Western Muslims will be tomorrow's Western Christians. In many ways, evangelising a Muslim is not too much different than evangelising a Jehovah's Witness, or a member of some other pseudo-Christian group that disavows the Trinity. Actually, it's probably a lot easier. What many Christians will be surprised to learn is that when they really get down into a deep conversation with Muslims about religion, they'll discover that Muslims have many of the same misconceptions about Christianity that Fundamentalists often have about Catholicism. So the basic methods of engagement are very similar, and the learning curve is almost the same.

Now I'm not talking about targeting anyone for conversion. There is no need for that. As I said, the Gospel sells itself. People become Christian because they find something attractive about traditional Christianity, and something attractive about people who live according to the Christian faith. It's not just true with Muslims and people from other religions. It's also true with Christians who have fallen away from the faith. For example; I know a woman who was raised Catholic but had never received a good education and example in the faith. In high school she fell away from Catholicism, and in college she was introduced to Islam. She had been studying it for some time and she already considered herself a Muslim. Then just weeks away from making it official, she met a devout and traditional Catholic man. Within a very short time, she was won back over to the Catholic Christian faith by his basic knowledge and example. He was no trained evangelist or apologist. He just knew his Catholic faith well, and lived it passionately. They are now married and have just recently baptised their first Catholic child. This is what I'm talking about. When we know our faith intimately, and live it passionately, people will be drawn to us. Not only will Muslims be drawn to us, but fallen away Christians too, and people of other religions, or no religion at all.

To reach out to Muslims, Christians in the West need only do three things. One, know the Christian faith intimately. Two, live the Christian faith passionately. Three, befriend Muslims. Yes, it really is that simple. There is no need to take apologetic courses on how to reach Muslims, or even have a detailed understanding of Islam. A cursory understanding of Islam will suffice, what matters more is that Christians understand and live their own faith. Beyond that, Christians only need befriend Muslims and be good Christian neighbours. Eventually, as Muslims get to know you, some of them will ask questions. That's where knowing your own faith comes in handy. You want to be able to answer those questions when they ask. Some Christians might ask: "But what if my Muslim friends try to convert me?" To which I can only say that is the most ideal situation, because it will undoubtedly generate a lot of questions on their part. These are questions that can be answered very effectively, if the Christian knows his own faith intimately and lives it passionately. History testifies that when put on a level playing field, without fear of the sword, the Gospel of Jesus Christ wins every time. You see, Western Christians have to remember that Muslims who live in the West are generally more open-minded than their religious counterparts in the East. That's one reason why they are over here to begin with. Keep this in mind, because these people are more likely to listen to a Christian, if that Christian can make a good case for his faith and backs it with a lifestyle that illustrates it. Reaching out to Muslims is not difficult, especially for those of us who live in countries with religious freedom. We need not target them or do anything special. We only need to know and live our Christian faith, and then be willing to befriend them. Once stereotypes are broken down, invitations can be made, such as inviting them to your church. If they're not interested, then invite them to get together with some of your other devout Christian friends. Exposure to as many good Christians as possible will help Muslims see that Christians are not what they first believed them to be. As a result, a certain percentage will convert. That is guaranteed. However, even those who don't convert will at least become more friendly toward Christianity and accepting of Christian culture. That's a good thing all around.

This article first appeared in Forward in Christ magazine.

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