Mission Planning

Pushing the Boundaries: Reaching some of the 2.7m Muslim People in the UK

Pushing The Boundaries — Churches

1. The Need of the Group

There may be up to 3,000 followers of Jesus from a Muslim background in the UK. The vast majority of these are from an Iranian background. However, the majority of Muslim people1 here have a South Asian heritage and there are few followers of Jesus among them. Most urban settings will have some kind of Muslim community and many have had no experience of real Christians or have had the genuine Gospel explained to them. What a great opportunity to sow seed on new soil!

The biggest challenge is probably not the many barriers which Muslim people have to the Gospel – based on their religious and cultural values – but rather the fear many of us have of getting to know Muslim people or the worry of not knowing what to say to them.

Reaching Muslims

2. Understanding the Group

I could write about the 5 pillars of Islam or the 6 key beliefs of Muslim people or the 4 usual objections they have to the Christian faith2, but you investigate that for yourself almost anywhere. Whilst these are generally held to be self-evident by almost all Muslim people, it is far better to meet a Muslim and find out what they believe and speak the Gospel into their actual lives and context. This also helps us to break down barriers between our two communities. I probably can’t emphasise this enough – we can only properly understand this group of people by actually getting to know them, personally, in real space and time, one-to-one, in families, in groups, relationally.

That said, here are some helpful non-religious pointers which normally have a bearing on how we engage with Muslim people:

Most Muslim people have more of a community identity than an individual one: “I belong, therefore I am”. This can mean that one’s behaviour impacts the whole family or community, rather than just being something about me. Therefore, what I do can bring shame or honour not just to me, but all those connected to me. As a result, some people can be dissuaded from thinking about Christian things because of the shame it might bring on their loved ones and their surrounding community.

Therefore, we might need to think about how we witness to whole families or mosques, rather than just to individuals. We will need to think about how we provide true community for anyone who is counting the cost of leaving their Islamic community. This might seem odd or frustrating to Christians from a Western culture, but it is not so far removed from the Bible. Adam’s actions bring guilt, shame and fear on the whole of humanity. Jesus’s actions bring his people life and righteousness. The church is to be God’s gathered community, devoted to his word and one another.

3. Challenges of the Group

Current thinking among some Christians that we don’t need to witness to Muslim people at all because they are “children of Abraham too” doesn’t help. 1,400 years of bad relations with our “Abrahamic cousins” hasn’t helped us much either when thinking about witnessing to Muslim people. Culturally we are often very different, with our lifestyles being mutually misunderstood or simply condemned. This means that we can find it hard to get beyond their veiling, eating halal food, separation of sexes and terrorism. They can find it hard to get beyond our immodest clothing, eating pig, drinking wine, free mixing of men and women and the Crusades.

However, remembering that we are all made in the image of God yet fallen and therefore worthy of respect and in need of Jesus is a great way to get us over these barriers and challenges to meet Muslim people. We’ll need to pray that God moves in Muslim people so that they can overcome their barriers and not tar us with the stereotype they have of many around us.

4. Engaging with the Group

The leader of one mission agency says “the quickest way to a Muslim’s heart is with a million cups of tea”. On the one hand, that’s quite easy, isn’t it? Just drink the tea. On the other hand, it’s quite long term – we have to drink a lot of tea. It does make the point that Muslim people need many cultural and religious barriers broken down before they might be willing to hear the Gospel. Therefore, one Passion for Life event is unlikely to be the thing that most helps Muslim people turn to the Lord Jesus. As with everyone else, it probably needs to be part of a wider network of relationships and witnessing. (All that said, one Bangladeshi man recently came to faith near us in just a few weeks, so we mustn’t limit God!)

If you are not already meeting Muslim people, why not introduce yourself to the imam of the local mosque and try to put on a Meeting for Better Understanding on a mutually agreed topic. The church minister speaks for 15 minutes, the imam speaks for 15 minutes, you have a time for Q&A and then everyone has some food together. It’s not trying to be a debate where there’s a winner nor a dialogue where you all agree, but rather a forum for helping Muslim people to hear and see what we really believe. If you already know some Muslim people, why not try to do this kind of thing more informally in your home?3

Public meetings can be mixed, but it’s most sensible generally for men to witness to men and women to women. When hosting Muslim friends, it’s probably best to put the beer and bacon away. We don’t have to become a Muslim to reach Muslims, but showing some flexibility on non-essentials can go a long way to gaining a hearing with them.

5. Sharing Christ with the Group

Muslim people often know something of Jesus. They should believe that he is a prophet. We need to help them see that he more than a prophet. Simply knowing and sharing stories from the gospels, such as those which show Jesus' power over disease and demons, can be a great thing to do.

One of the reasons that Muslim people do not understand how Jesus can be God, or have to die, or that we need a Saviour is that they do not know the context into which Jesus enters the world. They do not know the Old Testament background. Therefore, just as Jesus explained himself “beginning with Moses”, one fruitful approach can be to begin in Genesis 1 and simply work through the Bible showing who God is, what sin is and how we therefore need a Saviour.

Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are impacted by fear, guilt and shame. In the West, we have tended to focus on the guilt side of this and how Jesus takes this away. This is obviously true, but for many Muslim people fear of evil and shame before others and God are often bigger issues. Therefore, when talking about what Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection, it can be more helpful to talk about how Jesus has conquered evil and taken away our shame.

Also, find a friend to do this with. Witnessing to Muslim people can often be long-term and frustrating. Witnessing alongside other believers can help us to keep going in this. It can also help them to see that we are not lone rangers and that a group identity is important to us as well. And, our love between one another will hopefully show them our Saviour and be an encouragement for them to join in our community of faith.

6. Helpful Resources about the Group

“How To” Guides

Religious and Cultural Issues

  • Beyond Beards and Burkhas, Martin Goldsmith (IVP, 2009)
  • Dear Abdullah – Eight Questions Muslim People Ask About Christianity, Robert Scott (IVP, 2011)
  • From Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier (McDougal Publishing, 2000)
  • Jesus through Asian Eyes (Evangelical Alliance, 2011)
  • Sharing the Salt, Ida Glaser & Shaylesh Raja (Scripture Union, 1999)
  • Witnessing to Western Muslims, Richard Schumack (Latimer Trust, 2011)

Further Resources

Footnotes:

Title figures from 2011 Census http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/detailed-characteristics-for-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/sty-religion.html, accessed 3rd February 2014.

1. I try to use Muslim as an adjective to describe “the people” rather than as a noun. This helps me to simply remember the rather obvious fact that they are actually people. They are people made in God’s image and therefore to be respected, like everyone else God has made. They are also fallen people and therefore need to hear about Jesus, like everyone else in the world which God loves.

2. The 5 pillars of Islamic practice are: confessing that “there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet”, praying 5 times a day, fasting during Ramadan, giving charity and going to Mecca on pilgrimage. The 6 key beliefs are: the oneness of God, there are angels, God has sent messengers/prophets, God has sent down holy books (culminating in the Qur’an), the Day of Judgement and God sovereignly decrees all that happens. The 4 commonest objections are: Jesus is not Son of God/divine, the Trinity is illogical/idolatry, Jesus didn’t die and the Bible has been corrupted.

3. More information on this particular approach is described in Anees Zaka’s book listed in the Helpful Resources section.