A while ago in Tower Hamlets, London, there were numerous posters on bus stops showing semi-naked women.
Some were adverts for Reebok, others for Moet and Chandon champagne and others for the film Chicago. After a few days these adverts were covered over and the following poster was stuck on top:
Muslims Against Western Values
Far from Western values being universal, concepts such as ‘freedom’, ‘secularism’ and ‘liberalism’ give rise to evils which must be extinguished. The only workable system, proven to have eradicated such evils historically and where Muslims and non-Muslims live peacefully side-by-side, with their belief, dignity, honour and life protected and all their basic needs met is a system laid down by God, that system is called Al-Khalifah.
This poster was produced by Al-Muhajiroun (formerly led by Sheikh Omar Bakri, the tabloids‘ ’Mullah of Tottenham‘). ’Al-Khalifah' is Islamic rule where all of life is dictated by Islamic Law, and telling people about Jesus Christ being Lord and turning to Him from Islam is prohibited. Many Muslims want to see this rule instigated across the world, including here in the UK. Before reading any further, imagine you were at a bus stop with this poster. How would it make you feel?
If I’m honest, this kind of poster makes me angry. How dare Muslim people criticise my country and my culture? It brings out the racist in me. It also makes me quite fearful, especially in terms of telling Muslim people about Jesus.
However, before we even begin to think about telling Muslim people about Jesus, I (and ‘we’ too, probably) need to address some of these un-Christ-like feelings in our hearts, such as those in the paragraph above.
First, we must remember that God is still sovereign and Jesus Christ is still Lord of the nations.1 I know we know this, but we should never tire of meditating on these truths, particularly when our culture is increasingly un-Christian, or when bombs are going off or when it seems as if Islam is on the rise. Isaiah 40 onwards is a great place to go for this. Stop now and spend some time meditating on this passage.
Secondly, in addition to thinking rightly about God, we need to see Muslim people rightly. Muslim people are just that: they are people. They are people like us. The Bible is quite clear that all people are made in God’s image2, and so we are all at the very least ‘accorded an astonishing dignity’.3 No one, not even Bakri is exempt from this. But all people are also fallen. No one, not even Billy Graham is the exception to this rule. The Bible is also quite clear that all people are rebels against their Creator.4 Everyone is included in and corrupted by Adam’s sinfulness.5
So, we should not demonise Muslim people. They are people made in God’s image. Nor should we forget that they, like the rest of us, are fallen and mired in sin. Bakri’s rebellion against God may be seen in violent ways, but it is just as rebellious and fallen as ours. It is just as much a part of his depraved nature as my more peaceful sins, such as lovelessness.
And thirdly, we must remember that Muslim people are also part of this sinful world which God loves, and over whom the Lord Jesus has all authority.6 Such Muslim people are our neighbours to be loved.7 Indeed, with more than 1.6 million Muslims in the UK8, that is a whole lot of neighbours for Christian people to love. Whilst some Muslim people may sometimes be our enemies, they are to be loved as well, and had good done to them by us.9 They, like all of us, are in need of receiving God’s love and forgiveness as found only in His Son Jesus Christ.10
So, let us preach all these truths to ourselves and pray that God would help us to react rightly to Muslim people, especially when we encounter such posters at the bus stop. Having begun to see our hearts changed by God’s word, how might we begin to engage with the Muslim person queuing at the bus stop with us? Here are three suggestions for us:
1. Treat the person as an individual. Ask the person what they think about this poster. Islam is not a unified whole and not all Muslims are the same. Many will dispute Al-Muhajiroun’s analysis. You may find that your fellow in the bus queue is shocked by such posters, and is fearful of any backlash they might receive. Reassure them of Christians' love for their neighbours, and even of their enemies.
2. Agree with the poster that the West has many ills, just like any culture. Affirm people’s ‘mixed-ness’ of dignity as God’s creatures and our sinful corruption. Explain that whilst our culture has Christian roots, it is not Christian and that you are often shocked by what you see around you.11
3. Ask the person if they know about Jesus the Messiah’s promise of a new creation. In the new creation all such ills and the horrors of this world will be taken away.12 Despite our best efforts, we cannot make this world perfect through laws and our own works.13 However, Jesus Christ does promise to make all things new.14 A Muslim person will know that Jesus Christ is a prophet, but we must help them to see that He is more than a prophet.15 The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a proof that He is much more, but it is also the beginning of the new creation and an assurance that it will take place.16
Some Further Ways to Build Christian Relations With Your Muslim Neighbour
Pray continuously that the Lord may provide you with some Muslim friends to whom you can show his love and compassion. Ask the Lord to show you where you might meet some, maybe on your street, at the market, at a toddler group, in a university or at work.
Invite your Muslim friend to your home and show them Christian hospitality. Try to ensure that there is no alcohol or pork around and offer them vegetarian food or just some tea and biscuits. Your Muslim guest would also probably feel more comfortable if there are no pets around.
Visit their home. In many ways this shows your Muslim friend even more honour than inviting them to your home. Take some seasonal fruits or sweets for them. Remember to take off your shoes as many Muslim families do not bring their shoes into the living room.
Dress modestly. One friend said that we should ‘dress like your granny on a winter’s day’. That may be a little tricky, but try to be covered from neck to toe.
Give them presents. Such gifts often have a greater impact, by showing our love in practice, than simply saying that we love our neighbours.
Respect elders and members of the opposite sex. Discussions with the opposite sex can be considered rude and immodest. Also, public displays of affection, even between a husband and wife are thought to be signs of immorality.
Listen attentively, showing interest in them as people.
Avoid politics. Whatever you think of democracy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the state of Israel, these things are not the gospel and often lead to Muslim people being shut off from the gospel. If possible, sympathise with them and make it clear that you do not support war and bloodshed.
Share the gospel. Telling stories of Jesus the Messiah (making much of Him as a teacher and miracle-worker), of Abraham and other heroes of faith, all the time highlighting the sinfulness of people’s hearts and our need for a Rescuer, are often easy ways to introduce people to the Bible’s teaching. On Easter Sunday, Jesus ‘begins with Moses’ in order to explain to His slow-learning disciples who He is, and beginning with the first five books of the Bible (written by Moses) is often a good place to start with Muslim people. So, why not learn some Bible stories and bring them into conversation where appropriate.
Share your testimony. Why is following Jesus the Messiah so good? What difference has He made to your life? Not fearing death marked out early Christians and should be true for us too, and this can have a big impact on Muslim people.
Build relations with a local mosque. One way of doing this is to have meetings for better understanding.17 These are not debates nor inter-faith dialogues, but genuine attempts to understand our Muslim neighbours better while also having the opportunity to explain the gospel in a gentle way. A topic is picked, such as ‘God’ or ‘Religion in Daily Life’ or ‘Family Values’, and a Christian looks at this from the Bible and a Muslim from the Qur’an with a time for questions and conversations afterwards.
Know your own faith. There are four standard objections which most Muslim people have towards the Christian faith:
1. God cannot have a son so Jesus is not the Son of God,
2. God is one so cannot be Triune,
3. Jesus did not die, and
4. (on which the first three are more or less founded) the Bible has been corrupted.
Find gracious answers and further questions, such as:
1. Jesus is not a son in a sexual sense, that would be awful. Do you understand what the Bible means when it calls Jesus the Son of God?
2. The Bible never says that God is a single person, but that His oneness is found in His uniqueness and incomparability. God is the Father, Son and Spirit, united in a loving relationship. Does the Qur’an ever deny this specific Triune God?
3. The whole Bible tells us that God must punish sin with death, and yet also throughout the whole Bible God provides the necessary sacrifice to pay this penalty. Ultimately, these sacrifices are pointing towards Jesus the Messiah’s death, who God vindicated through raising Him from the dead. Surely a-dying-rising-never-to-die-again Messiah is greater than a Messiah who did not die 2,000 years ago but will die at some point?
4. God is all powerful and so protects His word. He could not allow His revelation to be altered. Do you have any proof of when the Bible was corrupted, or who did it?
1 See, for example, Psalm 104 and Matthew 6:25-34 for the former and Daniel 7:13f and Matthew 28:18 for the latter.
2 See, for example, Genesis 1:26f, Genesis 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7 and James 3:9.
3 D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, (Leicester: Apollos: 1996), p.205.
4 See, for example, Romans 1:18-3:20.
5 See, for example, Romans 5:12-21.
6 See, for example, John 3:16 and Matthew 28:18-20.
7 Luke 10:25-37.
8 See, for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/jul/26/polls.july7
9 Luke 6:27-36.
10 Acts 4:12.
11 It is not the focus of this article to discuss how Christians might engage in society and politics, but Al-Muhajiroun’s poster may carry a rebuke for us as Christians that we are not seeking to transform our culture enough.
12 Revelation 21:1-4.
13 Peter Leithart argues that Islam is the mirror of Christendom, and one way in which it shows this is by its attempts to make “heaven on earth” through legalism. See Peter J. Leithart, ‘Islam: Mirror of Christendom’, here, here and here
14 Revelation 21:5f.
15 Colin Chapman, Cross and Crescent (Leicester: IVP, 1995), pp. 237-244 is very helpful here.
16 1 Corinthians 15:1-28.
17 This idea has seen some wonderful fruit and is based on chapter 12 of Bruce A McDowell and Anees Zaka, Muslims and Christians at the Table (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1999).