Middle East Resources

Common Features in the Pilgrimage of Muslims From Islam to Christianity

By Bassam Michael Madany
2 August 2018

Introduction

The discipline of theology does not play an important role in Islam. For example, the Islamic doctrine of God consists in the simple creed La Ilah illa Allah, (there is no God, but Allah.) This may seem wise in its simplicity but is actually problematic for any inquiring mind. It proclaims the existence of one God but reveals very little about him.  Allah is described negatively. He is “Bila Shabah,” i.e. he cannot be likened to anyone, or anything. Should a Muslim persist in his or her quest to know Allah, he is faced with a second negative, “Bila Kayf,” i.e. don’t ask why! 

In Islam what constitutes the being of God, apart from the two negatives of their basic belief system, is either remote or unknowable. In the Christian faith, God is known and loved for his attributes. No creature can know God exhaustively, but He has made himself known in both nature and in his Word, the Bible. Certain attributes of God are incommunicable, such as His omnipotence, omniscience, ubiquity, and aseity (self-existence;) other attributes are communicable, such as mercy, love, goodness, justice, righteousness, and wisdom. 

There is nothing in the Islamic doctrine of man that approximates the Biblical teaching about Adam being created in the image and after the likeness of God. [i]

Throughout Islamic cultural history, it wasn’t Kalam (theology) that flourished but Jurisprudence, known as Fiqh. It assumed a primary role due to Islam’s ethical system. This system centered around what is Halal (permitted) and what is Haram (not permitted.) By the ninth century, Sunni Islam had developed its system to encompass Four Schools for the Interpretation of the Shariah that guided the Mufti (Jurist) in the promulgation of a Fatwa. [ii]

Three major theological subjects were debated by Arab-Muslim intellectuals, known as the Mu’tazilites. They lived in Baghdad and Basra, during the 8th – 10th centuries AD. They were preoccupied with the nature of the Qur’an, Predestination & Free will, and Allah’s Promises & Threats. 

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

“First, the Mu’tazilites stressed the absolute unity or oneness (tawhid) of God. From this it was logically concluded that the Qur’an could not be technically considered the word of God (the orthodox view), as God has no separable parts, and so (the Qur’an) had to be created, and was not coeternal with God. Under the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’moon, this doctrine of the created Qurʾān was proclaimed (827) as the state dogma This position was abandoned in 849. 

“The Mu’tazilites stressed the justice ‘Adl of God as their second principle. While the orthodox were concerned with the awful will of God to which everyone must submit himself without question, the Mu’tazilites posited that God desires only the best for man, but through free will, man chooses between good and evil, and thus becomes ultimately responsible for his actions. So, in the third doctrine, the threat and the promise (al-waʿd wa al-waʿīd), or Paradise and Hell, God’s justice becomes a matter of logical necessity: God must reward the good (as promised) and must punish the evil (as threatened).”
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mutazilah

The Common Features in the Pilgrimage of Muslims to the Christian Faith

With this short summary of the background of a Muslim’s belief system and cultural identity in mind, we turn to the common features that have characterized the pilgrimage of Muslims who have crossed over to the Christian faith. While Islam does not possess a Biblical doctrine of man, it does not follow that a Muslim lacks ontologically, the image of God imprinted on his psyche, even though it has been marred by sin. This explains why no Muslim can be satisfied for long, with the Via Negativa, the negative descriptions of God. [iii] This fact represents an important point of contact with those Muslims who become disillusioned with their religious heritage. It is corroborated by the testimonies of Muslim men and women, whose quest for truth, peace, and forgiveness, led them to faith in Jesus Christ. 

The following are some samples of testimonies heard on Brother Rachid’s weekly televised programs, which are archived on YouTube.
http://v1.brotherrachid.com/en-us/

Muhammad’s Journey

“Muhammad, a Lebanese Sunni Muslim, began watching several of Brother Rachid’s shows, that eventually led him to the Christian Faith. He discovered that Christianity didn’t proclaim a hidden deity, highly exalted above mankind, as Islam did. The God revealed in the Holy Bible, was both transcendent and immanent. The Trinity wasn’t ‘Tri-theism,’ as Muslims claimed, but affirmed both the Oneness of God in Three Persons. 

“What finally convinced him to adopt the Christian faith was his reading of the First Chapter of the Gospel according to John. Wow! The Logos who had existed from all eternity, who was with God, and through Him all things were created; the Eternal Word became flesh, assuming our human nature. He did that, to atone for our sins! The young Lebanese found the Truth; for the first time in his life; and experienced peace. It was the tenth of March 2016. He began attending church services in Beirut, took instructions in the Christian faith, and was baptized on June 2016. He was no longer to be called Muhammad; he chose Mark, the name of the second Evangelist.”
http://v1.brotherrachid.com/en-us/VideoPlayer/VideoId/1319/531

Sister Naomi’s Journey

“I grew up in Iraq, in a Muslim family of nine children; five sons, and four daughters. From my earliest days, I developed an inquisitive mind. Mother used to read for us from the Qur’an. She liked to tell us about the events of ‘Ashura when Imam Hussein and his company were massacred at Karbala, Iraq, (680 AD). The accounts of the conflicts of the early years of Islam about the Caliphate bothered me very much! As you know, three of the first four Caliphs were assassinated! As a girl, I faced more problems in our society. Reading the Qur’an increased my questions.

“Why should a man be allowed to marry four wives? And why can he so easily divorce his wife, or even beat her? Whenever I sought for answers, I got no convincing responses.  When I would ask Sheikhs to explain a difficult question, the answer was always the same, “Allah A’lam,” Allah knows best!  

“In matters of worship, I reasoned, if Allah was everywhere, why should I have to face Mecca in my five daily prayers? My older brother had converted to Christianity; he wanted to help but I resisted, I clung to my Islamic faith.

“After moving to Europe, I couldn’t deny the difference between European and Islamic societies. In the West, people helped one another. It isn’t so in our Muslim societies. All that perplexed me! I noticed genuine love between Christians; they spoke the truth; without exaggeration! And yet, I regarded Christians as Kuffar (Infidels,) so when I put some questions to them, my purpose was to fight them, since they believed Allah was three beings. But throughout all that time, there was an awful emptiness in my soul.

“I’ve often cried out to Allah, please help me find the Truth. When I would ask Christians about the subject, they referred to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Another of his saying was, you shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. I fretted about the status of Muslim women; their lot was worse off than women in the rest of the world. There was nothing fair in polygamy; no man can equally treat his wives; he’ll always have his favorite! Divorce has always been a threat and a nightmare for a Muslim wife. Add to add, the Qur’an allows a husband to beat his wife if she disobeys his whims.”
http://v1.brotherrachid.com/en-us/

Going from the Middle East to North Africa we learn about the New Christians, the term used for those who convert from Islam. The online Moroccan daily Hespress, described how Moroccan Christians “Celebrated Christmas in a Cautious Manner,” on the 26th of December 2016.
www.hespress.com

“In Casablanca, tens of Moroccan who have embraced the Christian faith, were meeting secretly at a house church to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, according to the Christian religion. It was four in the afternoon, when celebrants began arriving, from Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, and Marrakech. Worshippers sat at tables that were decked with flowers and candles. Copies of the Bible and Christmas hymns were available. The meeting was officially begun with a season of prayers by ‘believers’ who praised the Lord for his many blessings; followed with supplications for the spread of peace throughout the world. Another person offered a prayer for forgiveness, and for the safety of the country. 

“With the prayers over, a tall young man stood up, he had a rather dark skin; his accent revealed that he was an Amazigh, (a descendent of the original inhabitants of North Africa.) He held a copy of the Bible in his hand, and began extolling the virtues of Jesus Christ, and the wonderful things He had brought to mankind. He ended by exhorting the worshippers to spread love and compassion among mankind.

“Three young men stood up accompanied by a young lady to lead the congregation in the singing of Gospel hymns. This gave impetus to some members to offer supplications in colloquial Arabic: ‘O precious Jesus, hasten the day when our land would praise thy name! O Most High God bless Morocco, thy church implores Thee to have mercy on our country, and keep evil from it, and shower thy blessings on its people.’   

“The experiences of converts are varied; their persistence in their faith is anchored in the belief that “God Is Love.’ This is based on the Gospel’s teaching about God’s love for mankind. 

“As R. put it: ‘I was converted 12 years ago; I grew up in a practicing Muslim family, but there were certain things didn’t sit well with me, such as discrimination between rich and poor. For some time, I led a life of uncertainty. A critical point was reached with the rise of Irhab (Terrorism.) How could God command the killing of people!? That led me to the study of religions; finally, I chose Christianity whose God is Love. 

“The story of forty-eight-year old H. F.  is quite different. At present, he sells fruits in an area of Casablanca. Back in 1994, he was an active member of an Islamist organization in Morocco. At one point, he was contemplating going to Afghanistan for Jihad against the Russian invaders. ‘I changed my mind about that plan; but continued to perform my duties by doing the Five Daily Prayers until 2004. By chance, I met some converts to Christianity; I put some questions to them about their faith. Months later, I met other Christians who were meeting at a café. I put further questions to them. Their responses brought me to faith in this heavenly religion. In August 2008, I was baptized, received forgiveness of sins, and began a new life.’”

Summarizing the Common factors that played a role in the conversion of Muslims

The first is the belief in the existence of objective Truth. Islam claims that God’s previous Revelations to the Jews and the Christians, had been corrupted. God chose Muhammad as the recipient of the final authentic revelation, which is accessed through the reading of the Arabic text of the Qur’an. When Muslims become disillusioned in Islam, and search for the truth elsewhere, many find it in Christianity.   

A second feature of Islam is the belief in the incomprehensibility of the Divine. Allah is “bila shabah.”  It means, “Allah cannot be likened to anyone.” Allah is the wholly Other; or supremely transcendent; His attributes are incommunicable. In Islam, there is no reference to a personal God. A Muslim cannot know God, he can only know the will or the Shariah of Allah. As Muslims long for an intimate fellowship with his Creator, several come to know the God who can be addressed as Abana (Our Father.) 

Another feature of Islam, as in all legalistic religions, is that human beings cannot be sure of their eternal status. To enter Paradise, a Muslim’s “Good Works” must outweigh his “Bad Works,” but the result must await the Judgment Day. Assurance of salvation belongs only to those who are martyred “In the Pathway of Allah.”  Only those who have taken part in Jihad, can be sure of possessing the joys of the Islamic Paradise.

When a Muslim discovers that the Jihadist Utopia had been a mirage, he turns away from his dreams, and becomes either a Mulhid (atheist), or a covert to Jesus Christ, as Brother Rachid did, and many others who are now at peace with God and assured of their eternal security.

However, the factors illustrated in the above examples of Muslims who converted to Christianity do not tell the whole story. Ultimately, salvation is a gift of God freely bestowed on those who believe in Jesus Christ. It is beautifully stated by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Church in Ephesus. 

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 2: 1 – 10 (ESV)

God accomplishes His saving purposes through the preaching of the Gospel.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. First Corinthians 1:21-25 (ESV)   

It is my hope that by reflecting on our subject, we become encouraged in our endeavor to bring the saving message of the Gospel to the followers of Islam. As I listen every Thursday evening to Brother Rachid’s programs, and hear the testimony of the converts, I praise our Loving Heavenly Father for the growing numbers of Arabic-speaking Muslims who tell the story of their pilgrimage, and the factors that brought them into the Kingdom of God. 

Furthermore, my joy is strengthened by the vision of the future given by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostle John, at the end of the First Century AD.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  Revelation 19: 6 – 9 (ESV)

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. Revelation 22: 20, 21 (ESV)


[i] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1: 26, 27 (ESV)

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9: 6 (ESV)

[ii] The Hanafi School founded by Abu Hanifah (699-767)

The Maliki School rose in the Hejaz, the Western coastal province of Saudi Arabia.

The Shafi’i School was founded by Abas ibn Uthman ibn Shafi’i.  He was born in Gaza, Palestine in 767 AD and died in Egypt in 820 AD. 

The Hanbali School was founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Hanbal was born in Baghdad in 780 AD and died in the same city in 855. He was involved in the controversy regarding the Qur’an during the Caliphate of Al-Ma’moon. His denial of the “createdness” of the Qur’an, resulted in his imprisonment. This matter is known in Islamic history as Mihnat al-Qur’an (the Ordeal of the Qur’an) His school is mirrored in the work of ibn Taymiyyah (d.1327). Imam Hanbal’s views impacted the career of Muhammad Ibn Abdel-Wahhab (d.1792), the father of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.

[iii] A philosophical approach to theology which asserts that no finite concepts or attributes can be adequately used of God, but only negative terms.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/via_negativa