In the meantime a series of Crusades were conducted from A.D. 1095 to 1291, making the Christian mission to Muslims immeasurably more difficult.
Islam has dominated the Middle East for the last 12 centuries, threatening Europe during much of that time. Today it extends from the Atlantic to the Philippines. In Africa, south of the Sahara, it is currently making tremendous advances, far outstripping Christian expansion.
Islam in America
There are between 1.8 million (David Barrett’s estimate) and 4.6 million (Islamic Society of North America’s estimate) Muslims in this country. Most put the figure at between 3 and 4 million.
This is a “denomination” larger than either the Assemblies of God or the Episcopal Church in the United States. In the next thirty years Muslims will outnumber Jews to become the second-largest religion in our country.
Muslims have come to the U.S. in several migratory waves.
While there is no unified Islamic movement in America, there is an increasing effort to evangelize to the Muslim faith in our country. Saudi Arabia is leading the way in funding projects to promote Islam around the world.
Note also the growth of Black Muslims in the U.S., a movement which rejects Christianity as racist. This crusade began in 1931 among the Blacks in Harlem. One of the early leaders, Malcolm X, preached a gospel of black superiority; his heir, Elijah Muhammad, attempted to move the Black Muslims toward orthodox Islam. This movement is known today as The Nation of Islam, and comprises one-quarter to one-half of the total Muslim population in America.
Relation to Christianity
How do Muslims relate to the Christian faith? Because Islam began in the Middle East subsequent to Christianity, it has always had some reference to Christianity. Islam’s holy book, the Koran, maintains this reference to Christianity, speaking specifically of Jesus and the Christian religion.
However, Islam is completely independent of Christianity in faith and philosophy. There is almost no direct quotation in the Koran from either Testament. All we know for certain is that Muhammad was aware of Jews and Christians and knew something of their history. Tragically, the “Christianity” Muhammad encountered was heretical, and gave him an erroneous picture of Christ and his followers.
Muhammad claimed to be a biological heir of Abraham through Ishmael. Through this tie Muhammad saw himself as the establisher of the true religion of the one God in Arabia. He claimed that the religion Abraham bequeathed to the Arabs became corrupt. He claimed to receive direct revelation from God identical in content with the original revelations to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and thus claimed to be in direct succession with the Old and New Testament prophets.
Muslims have historically tolerated Christians and Jews as “people of the Book” in that they have a revelation related, though inferior, to that of Muslims. Nevertheless, various regulations are imposed on Christians in Muslim lands. One of the most difficult is the law against a Christian’s converting a Muslim, accompanied by an absolute prohibition against the Muslim’s accepting Christianity.
In addition, recent persecution of Christians has made tensions much greater between the two faiths. For instance, Saudi Arabia threatens to punish any Muslim who converts to Christianity with beheading.
Begin with common ground:
We both believe in one God, and see Jesus as holy. Muslims believe that they worship the God of Abraham and Jesus. They deny the divinity of Christ and thus do not worship our Lord. But we share belief that there is one God of the universe.
We both emphasize personal morality. The difference is that Christians have a relationship with God based on his grace, while Muslims believe they must earn Allah’s acceptance. No Muslim can be sure that he or she will go to heaven. In Christ we have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life with God.
Understand Islam’s view of Jesus:
Islam denies the divinity of Christ. Muhammad proclaimed that there is no God but God; thus Jesus cannot be divine. He was God’s messenger, not his Son.
Islam denies the crucifixion. When the Jewish leaders approached Jesus with the intent of crucifying him, God took him up to heaven to deliver him out of their hands; then he cast the likeness of Jesus on someone else, who was crucified by mistake in his place.
Islam ignores the sin nature which requires atonement, and therefore the need for Jesus’ death for us.
Islam holds that Jesus was one of God’s prophets. There were 313 messengers sent from God to man; of these, 25 must be remembered by every Muslim. Jesus is one of these. However, Muhammad is the last of all the prophets, and there will be no other.
Understand Islam’s view of the Koran:
The Muslim believes that the Koran has exited from all eternity with God in the Arabic language. In every particular it is the utterance of God himself, with no human element at all. The Koran is seen in purely verbal, propositional terms. Additionally, the Koran does not reveal Allah to us, but only his will. He remains hidden from all men.
Christianity has always seen the Bible as God’s self-revelation of himself to us, mediated through the instrumentality of human personality. Christ, not the Scriptures, is the central focus of our faith (cf. John 20:30-31).
Emphasize the difference between grace vs. works:
While the Muslim believes that Allah can be merciful, he also accepts that he is responsible for his own salvation by faith and works. He does not believe that he can know his final destiny before his judgment before Allah.
Christianity offers grace, full pardon for sin, and salvation today.
Prove God’s love in yours:
Pray for Muslims, by name if possible.
Build relationships based on unconditional friendship. Look for ways to affirm and include them.
Seek opportunities to share what the living Lord Jesus has done in your life.