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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
SOME POINTS FOR EVANGELISM AMONG THE MUSLIMS
M. S. Thirumalai
- Remember that Islam is an international religion. So, any effort to
evangelize the Muslims should not focus only upon the Arab Center, or
be guided by what is happening in it.
- Approaches, which will be flexible and varied to suit the changing
conditions of various Islamic nations, are required.
- Each Islamic nation has its own history and perspectives on Islamicization.
Compare and contrast Indonesia with India, compare and contrast Indonesia
with Saudi Arabia, or any nation in the Arab Center.
- There are hundreds of smaller communities which are nominally Muslim,
and which are in the fringes of Islam in many nations outside of the
- I would strongly urge reaching the Center from the fringes, even as
there is a need to continually monitor the goings on in the Center.
It is also necessary to look at Islamic adherents from their sectarian
affiliations. For example, the Ismailis would need a different approach
from the one we would be tempted to use in the case of the Sunnis of
- I am not suggesting a straightforward distribution of approaches in
terms of sects. What I am suggesting is that within every nation or
region, a careful analysis of the sensitivity to the Gospel in terms
of the sects within Islam may be made.
- Look at the Muslim Profile from different angles:
- Family as the most crucial unit of evangelism among the Muslims.
- Rural vs. Urban.
- The individual in the urban setting.
- Male vs. Female.
- Educated vs. Uneducated.
- Adult vs. Child; the Old vs. young.
- Professional classes.
- Minority vs. Majority status of Muslims in a nation.
- Social and economic class structure.
- Felt and Projected Needs basis.
- The Flow of Communication Patterns: Peer Group Interaction, Model
Setters, and Transactions among various groups...
- The Flow of Communication Patterns: The modalities and instruments
- Countering the problem of strong pre-conceptions, and consequent inadequate
information about Christianity and prejudice - This may not be the first
step; but the evangelist will be called upon to face the problem whatever
method he/she adopts. Inadequate information and consequent prejudice
are common everywhere in every religion, but Islam presents the added
difficulty because of early childhood Islamic socialization processes
and consequent persistent misunderstanding of Christ.
- A diligent pursuit of understanding Islamic concepts is necessary.
In my opinion, the emergence and progress of Islamic dogma can be compared
with the emergence and progress of new religions in the past. Try to
understand and separate the processes and steps Islam has adopted -
a blend of the Jewish and Christian thought, but certainly a distinct
- Also distinguish clearly the folk bases of Islam from its formal dogmatic
bases. Note that both are interlinked since the beginning of Islam.
The complementing relationship between the Qur'an and the Hadith, veneration
of the saints, etc. can be identified in Catholicism and in the folk
religious practices of Christians in the region.
- Note however that all this information is for your own knowledge.
This may not help you bring souls to the Kingdom of God.Conversion of
hearts is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We need to solely depend
upon the workings of the Holy Spirit.
- Nationalism continues to be a great stumbling block for the evangelism
of the Muslim. While this indeed is a stumbling block provided by all
non-Christian religions, the nationalism of the Muslim is of a different
kind: it is based on the dictat found in the Qur'an. Centuries of animosity
and strife between the Christian Arab nations have added to the problem.
Various Approaches and Prescriptions.
JENS CHRISTENSEN, BISHOP AT MARDAN, PAKISTAN
- Every missionary and every writer discussing the methods of evangelism
among the Muslims demand that we gain a good knowledge of the history
and facts of Islam. Thus Jens Christensen (The Practical Approaches
to Muslims, 1977) suggests that "every national Christian and every
foreign missionary needs to study the history and facts of Islam. Without
a good general knowledge of the religion of the Muslims, you will get
nowhere with them."
- Christensen (1977): In thinking about what means may be employed,
your thinking will all be wrong unless your starting point is the fact
that God is the Doer, the Subject, and it is He who uses the Means.
He knows the Means and would choose what He thinks best.
- In your practical approach to the Muslim you are God's means of approach.
You are the shock-trooper, who with the sword of the Spirit must throw
- "Many people think that in handing out small tracts with a few Bible
verses, without any intention of follow up, they have been evangelizing
the Muslim. Nothing could be farther from truth." p. 26.
- Avoid condescension: The European-American attitude of condescension
usually originates in a feeling of cultural, educational and technical
superiority. The attitude of condescension in the Christian Pakistani
often springs from a feeling of religious superiority, for he has accepted
the true religion, the eternal truth.
- Criticism, controversy, and adaptation : Criticizing and finding
fault with the system gets you nowhere; and praise of the system is, to put it bluntly,
rather childish. In the past, hard-hitting controversy was the approved
method of trying to reach the Muslims. This has not borne much fruit.
While controversy could not and should not be avoided, we should be
careful about not creating and helping bitterness to grow. "Your convert
will seldom be the strong, independent type of Christian. He will want
to know and get comfort and strength from the fact that the Christian
faith has its champions."
- The question of adaptation: Hyper-orthodox maintain that the
purity of our message depends more or less upon our using the very words
and phraseology of Scripture including liturgies, etc. Another school
opposes the above and suggests reduction of Christianity to its pure
essence. Note that if you give a person something to drink it has to
be cupped. Secondly Christianity is from above, and hence will always
- Avoid fatalism and idealism. Avoid day-to-day politics. You are already
a "dangerous politician" - preaching the gospel.
- Proclamation. The Muslim is only pleased with the wonder-working
Jesus, as long as you allow him to isolate the miracles from the entire
person of Jesus. But you simply cannot allow him to do that for your
message is specific.
- There are some Muslims who love to talk about spirituality. If you
begin comparing notes on spiritual experiences instead of proclaiming
the definite facts you are deserting your job. You are an unfaithful
- After every encounter with a Muslim you will review the whole talk
in detail to see if you really were true to that specific proclamation
you have to make; and if not, you will want to know just where and how
and why you were sidetracked.
- Truth is intolerant, and consequently if your witnessing and proclamation
are true they can be no compromise with relative truth. Therefore, according
to the temper of your hearers, and the circumstances of your environment,
you will either be ridiculed, scorned, hated, persecuted or put to death.
In the face of such persecution you have to be tolerant, understanding
and even sympathetic.
- "Frequently adopted unchristian attitudes": Permeation attitude and
character building attitude.
- Individual conversions or mass movements? Many a missionary among
Muslims prays for and yearns after a mass movement in his area. Indonesia
and Malaya are probably the only two areas in the world where there
has been any group movement from Islam to Christianity.
- We should seriously question the attempts to use instruments such
as good works, or philanthropic institutions to convert Muslims. God
himself is the subject in evangelization and the only instrument He
uses is the evangelist himself.
- The approach to Islam which too easily tries to find common ground
in religious terms is to be avoided.
MARTIN GOLDSMITH, MISSIONARY FROM ENGLAND, ON HOW TO WITNESS TO THE MUSLIMS
- A quiet testimony of life plus the occasional word of witness.
- Christian girls should go to traditional Muslim countries only if
they are willing to adapt to a culture where women are by no means equal
- Get to know the Muslim. Look for any possibility to make personal
contact with them.
- Love your neighbor. Cultural sensitivity is a sign of genuine love.
- Invite them to church, when Muslims begin to relax with us and feel
- Give your personal testimony.
- Heated theological argument never helps. It drives a person into the
shell of his convictions.
- Introduce them to literature - Bible. Martin Goldsmith recommends
beginning with Genesis and Proverbs, then preferably Luke and the book
of Acts. Christian biographies in particular are very useful.
- Dialogue or Proclamation?
- Not a monologue. Monologue is lacking in humility.
- Dialogue as reverent, tactful, tender and sensitive (Cragg in
Sandals at the Mosque).
- Muslims are not for dialogue, because they are too confident of
- Through the existing churches. Working through existing churches and
working directly among Muslims are not mutually exclusive approaches.
- Groups or Individuals?
- Parabolic Preaching. We should declare the glories of the Christian
message in clear and definite terms to those who are open to the work
of the Spirit and are hungry for spiritual life. But for those who are
spiritually resistant we should speak in parables.
- In many cultures, story-telling is a respected art and it is helpful
for the Christian witness to gain a reputation as a good story-teller.
- Pictorial or abstract? In many cultures today we need to move away
from teaching only through abstract concepts and begin to use vivid
stories as a didactic means. The story should not be just an illustration
which is subordinate tot the actual point. The story is in itself the
- Logical or Tangential?
PHIL PARSHALL AND HIS SIX SPANS TO A BRIDGE TO THE MUSLIM
- Dialogue. The end of dialogue must be conversion to the truth, not just accommodation and appeasement.
- Understanding. It is not necessary to strike out against objectionable doctrine in one's first encounter with a Muslim whom you are seeking to win to Christ. Avoid offensive remarks about Islam.
- Love. A campaign of Christian love and service.
- Patience. Do not forget that by and large the Christian
teachers in Islam have been called to be sowers. But sowing is not a
- Faith. Those who are engaged in Muslim work over
a period of years are prone to slip into the rut of "presence evangelism."
We must maintain a living, vibrant faith in the God of the impossible.
Some Conclusions of Phil Parshall
- The most effective way to overcome Muslim resistance to central doctrines
like the Trinity and the Cross is not through argument, but rather by
a humble walk before God that communicates genuine love and concern
for the Muslim.
- The importance of family relationships and societal unity.
- The missionary may wish his adopted country had a more democratic form of government, but he must avoid such involvements that would in any way jeopardize or compromise his Christian ministry.
- Christianity must take on the local cultural flavor of the country in which
it is found.
- The missionary must reaffirm constantly by his actions and attitudes that he has come as a servant, not as a lord. Identification must not be considered just a lofty goal, but in some measure at least, it must be an attainment.
- The temptation to quit or to seek other more productive ministries must be resisted.
SOME HISTORIC CONVERSIONS AMONG THE MUSLIMS
- Through the pioneering work of G.G. Pfander from 1854 to 1858 in Peshawar,
Pakistan. " Pfander was warned of the danger of preaching in public
in a city where there so many ... Muslims. He decided to disregard these
warnings....he continued to walk through the streets with his Bible
in his hand and to proclaim to all who would listen the glories of the
Christian faith. Haji Yahya Bakir, who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca,
as a result of a dream decided that he was called to follow Christ.
Having heard of Pfander, he set out to seek him, and eventually ran
him to earth in Peshawar. After a suitable period of probation and instruction,
he was baptized (January 1856); a few days later he was found covered
in blood at the foot of the garden of the mission house."
- Abdul Masih (1765-1827) His diary shows that both Corrie, the first bishop
of Madras, and Masih, following the usual practice of missionaries in
those days, approached for the most part those of superior station,
while not excluding those of inferior caste, believing that as those
of higher status were won for Christ the Gospel would from them percolate
through to those who stood lower according to the Indian reckoning of
- Pfander had often been engaged in controversy with Muslim leaders
in Agra. As long as the debate followed the usual lines of Islamic scholasticism,
Pfander, with his wide acquaintance with Persian and Arabic writings,
was well able to hold his own in discussion with them... Both sides
naturally claimed victory in the debate; an impartial verdict can hardly
be reached. As Pfander foresaw, the encounter tended rather to inflame
differences than to promote understanding. Yet on an occasion one of
the assistant champions on the Muslim side became a devout and consistent
- William Carey and his colleagues did not fail, when challenged, to point out to their hearers what they judged to be the weaknesses and imperfections of Hinduism and Islam; but they desired scrupulous avoidance of everything that could cause legitimate offense. And yet an incident took place which went against their teaching. "A Muslim munshi, a recent convert, had been asked to prepare a Persian version of a Bengali booklet comprising a short account of the life of the Prophet. This had been taken almost wholly from the dissertation prefatory to Sale's translation of the Qur'an (1734), a most respectable authority. The munshi, with the zeal of a convert, had introduced into the text new material not in the original, including a reference to the prophet as a tyrant and other remarks which could not but be offensive to Muslim readers. Only 300 copies had been sent out, and there was no sign of any public uproar; but valuable ammunition had been placed in the hands of the anti-missionary party."
We are currently witness to strong protests by the Muslims when they are misrepresented or when the Prophet Muhammad is portrayed contrary to the belief of the Muslims. I believe that we need to respect the sentiments of Muslims in this regard and communicate the gospel in the least offensive way possible. A delicate balance, but by God's grace this can be achieved.
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M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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