Question #2: Your idea that Muslims can follow Jesus and somehow stay Muslim has always confused me. Can you explain what this means in clear laymen’s terms?
This is a big one. And a cornerstone of what we believed God has called us to be a part of…seeing Arab Muslims love and follow Jesus and stay within their context.
First of all, I’m not a Universalist. The scriptures are clear that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the one and only way to life here on earth and forever. All ways do not lead to God. Only Jesus does.
Let me try several ways to describe what I mean when I say “Muslims following Jesus,” because it is complex.
- Being “Muslim” is almost like being “American.” It’s an identity. It is a religion as well, of course, but so many Muslims are not religious at all – they are simply born Muslim. It’s sort of like being “Christian” just because you were born into a Southern Baptist family in Texas – or a Catholic family in Spain. So don’t misinterpret what the word “Muslim” means.
- When it does come to the religious aspects of “being Muslim” like practicing the Five Pillars of Islam – praying five times a day, fasting, giving, the Haj, and saying the Shehadeh – it’s a bit more complicated. First of all, at least three of these are things we’d believe in as well (prayer, fasting and giving). The other two are more problematic. Going to Mecca at least once and saying “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the (final) messenger/prophet of God” and believing that the Qur’an is God’s inspired and final word and that Muhammad is the Prophet who ultimately represents God, are also issues that have to be overcome. So there is an aspect of “Muslimness” that is contrary to the teachings of scriptures and hinders Muslims from being able to see and follow Christ.
- “Following” is a vague word. Crowds followed Jesus but did not necessarily “believe in him” in the sense of trusting Him as the one and only way. So it may be a gradation – the initial “following” out of curiosity. Then a following like some of Jesus’ disciples who also didn’t necessarily believe until the end. And finally, there is a “following” that leads to life. It includes loving Jesus. Believing/trusting in him. And seeing him as the resurrected Lord and Savior. This, of course, is what we’re hoping for…
What we don’t want to see is our Muslim friends announcing (or thinking) that they have “become Christians” which will be interpreted by their family and community as joining a Western, Capitalistic, Democratic political movement that is against all the foundations of what this Muslim person grew up with. If they “become Christian” they will be kicked out and possibly killed. But not for their faith in Jesus, but because, in a sense, they will be seen as having “joined the enemy.”
If Muslims are to be salt and light in their own communities we can’t keep losing them to the West. The recent debacle of “The Son of Hamas” who “converted to Christianity” and then had to move to America is a good example. He is now a wanted man. Not because of his faith, but because he betrayed his family and people.
There is another way – Muslims who love, believe and follow the biblically revealed Jesus Christ – and who stay in their communities as “Muslims” can be salt and light to their own people in a culturally relevant way. This is powerful and it is the wave of the future in the Islamic world. I believe this is what God is doing and we should join him in it.