Middle East Resources

Missions to Muslims in the Twenty-First Century 

Bassam Michael Madany 

23 November 2020

 

As the first two decades of the Twenty-First Century draw to a close, Christian Missions must remain anchored on the Word of God and a realistic description of our times. Between 1800 and 1950, the West reflected the impact of the Christian worldview. The mission fields in Asia and Africa were within the colonial empires of Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Not so today. The West is secularized, and the European empires are a thing of the past.  

The post-World War II era ushered in a new Diaspora with millions from the former colonies now living in the Western world that requires a re-examination of missionary strategies. Millions of Muslims from the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, have settled in North America and in Europe. They use the freedoms of the host countries not only to practice their faith, but they engage in proselytizing within the host countries. 

Unlike Europeans, North Americans have had little experience with Islam and Muslims. The first American encounter with Muslims occurred soon after independence. The pirates of Tripoli terrorized maritime trade in the Mediterranean, which led U.S. Navy to deal with them. Another American experience in Muslim lands took place when missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, the Congregational Churches, and the Reformed Church in America, began their missionary work in the Middle East, during the 19th century, lasting until the 1950s. 

Conducting Christian missions within newly independent states became extremely difficult in the Levant. I experienced that personally, when Mission schools In Syria faced restrictions on teaching Bible courses to their students. Eventually, foreign schools were nationalized, ending the main missionary activity dating back to the early years of the 19th century. 

An important phenomenon at the dawn of the New Millennium has been the revival of the major world religions. In an article entitled, “Pluralism and the Otherness of Word Religions,” Prof. S. Mark Heim of Andover Newton Theological School, remarked that the representatives of world religions, such as Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, remain attached to their belief in the validity and uniqueness of their particular religious tradition, and are unwilling to accept certain conditions made by Western pluralist theologians.i

Traditional Islam divides the world into two camps: Daru'l Islam and Daru'l Harb, i.e., the household of Islam and the household of war. Within Islamic countries, the Shari’a is supreme and is enforced through the arm of the state. Nowadays, Radical Muslims, enjoying the freedoms of the Western pluralistic societies, are working hard to create conditions that would allow Muslims to live as if they were still residing within an Islamic land. This was explained in an article published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research of October 1993.

The noted West African scholar, Lamin Sanneh wrote, “Can a House Divided Stand? Reflections on Christian-Muslim Encounter in the West.”  Dr. Sanneh, a convert from Islam and a Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, commented in his article on the inevitable confrontation between the “pluralistic tradition of the West” and the demands of Muslim immigrants for implementing practices which stem from their theocratic view of the state.  

"It would be wrong for Westerners to think that they can preserve religious toleration by conceding the extreme Muslim case for territoriality, because a house constructed on that foundation would have no room in it for the very pluralistic principle that has made the West hospitable to Muslims and others in the first place. The fact that these religious groups have grown and thrived in the West at a time when religious minorities established in Islamic societies have continued to suffer civil disabilities shows how uneven are the two traditions. We risk perpetuating such a split-level structure in our relationship, including the risk to the survival of our great public institutions, unless we take moral responsibility for the heritage of the West, including tolerance for religion. Such tolerance for religion cannot rest on the arguments of public utility but rather on the firm religious rock of the absolute moral law with which our Creator and Judge has fashioned us. 

"In view of growing signs of Muslim pressure for religious territoriality, often expressed in terms of Shari’ah and political power, and in view of the utter inadequacy of the sterile utilitarian ethic of the secular national state, Westerners must recover responsibility for the Gospel as public truth and must reconstitute by it the original foundations on which the modern West has built its ample view of the world.” 

Coming from a tradition which considers religion as involving all areas of life, and having witnessed the moral collapse of Western societies, it is understandable that Muslims offer their faith as a remedy to the deplorable spiritual conditions within the host countries. Their boldness stems from their deep conviction that the West is rapidly entering the twilight of its civilization and that only Islam has the answer. 

From across the Atlantic, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich, contributed an article that referred to the zeal of Muslim minorities in the West to engage in missionary activities. It was published in the December 1994 issue of FIRST THINGS under the title: 

“Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future.ii ”   

"If Western freedom in fact means no more than individual license, others do well to try to defend their communities and spiritual values against the encroachment of Western secularism. Beyond the defensive mode, Islamic missions in Western societies express a strong sense of missionary vocation aimed at liberating Western nations from the materialism and immorality associated with secularism. These Muslims view Christians as having failed in the task of the moral transformation and reconstruction of society. Such criticism is a serious challenge to traditional Christianity and to Western culture. A culture devoid of spiritual and moral values is not equipped to meet that challenge and is bound for disintegration and decay." 

Christians should realize that the credibility of their missionary endeavors, at home within a pluralistic society, and overseas, depends on their distancing themselves from the norms and the lifestyles of the secular societies that surround them; otherwise, no Muslim will consider seriously what Christianity has to offer.  

Returning to Professor Pannenberg's article: "And so, while we can envision a great resurgence of Christianity and Western culture in the third millennium, such a future is by no means certain. Western societies may ignore their need to recover the strength of their religious roots. They may continue headlong on a secularist course, unaware of its certain and dismal outcome. The end of Western culture, however, would not spell the end of Christianity. The Christian religion is not dependent upon the culture to which it gave birth. As it has in the past, the Church can survive and flourish in the context of other cultures. 

"The further secularism advances the more urgent it is that Christian faith and Christian life be seen in sharp contrast to the secularist culture. It is quite possible that in the early part of the third millennium only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, on the one hand, and evangelical Protestantism, on the other, will survive as ecclesial communities. What used to be called the Protestant mainline churches are in acute danger of disappearing. I expect they will disappear if they continue neither to resist the spirit of a progressively secularist culture nor to try to transform it. There is no alternative to the Church. The further the secularist dominance of the general culture advances, the more clearly the Church, in clear distinction from that culture, emerges as the reference point of Christian existence."

We must now consider the implications of the new developments that have taken place in the Arab Muslim world, for Missions to Muslims. They are of three types. 

First, Arab Muslims who left Islam and engage in polemics through print and online publications. A prominent one is the German-Egyptian Hamed Abdel-Samad. iii

Second, Reformists Muslims. A prominent example is Ahmad Saad Zayed. He lectures in Egypt and elsewhere on the reconciliation of Islam with Modernity.
Zayed deplores the huge civilisational gap separating the Arab world from the renaissance in both East and West. The Arab world is behind the rest of the world culturally and intellectually.
https://thearabweekly.com/what-does-it-take-enlightenment-take-arab-world

Third, Muslims who crossed over to the Christian faith and engage in Missions to Muslims.                                                                                    
Brother Rachid is a Moroccan former Muslim and convert to Christianity whose father is an Imam. He is a Christian apologist and critic of Islam and hosts a weekly live call-in show on Al Karma TV https://brotherrachid.com/

The developments mentioned above manifest a totally new situation in the Arab Muslim world and an unprecedented opportunity in Missions to Muslims. Nationals are calling upon Muslims to face their age-long problems and to re-examine their antiquated view of Islam as “valid for all time and in all places.” Chanting the slogan, “Al-Islam Hua Al-Hal” (Islam is the Solution) has not solved any of their mounting problems. Often, Abdel-Samad pleads with Muslims to “get out of the Box” that had kept them in ignorance and backwardness and join the rest of mankind! 
 

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i https://www.firstthings.com/article/1992/08/pluralism-and-the-otherness-of-world-religions 

In denying that Christian faith can be taken as the norm for judging other traditions, pluralistic theologies have at the same time tended to presume that the norms they have accepted to judge Christianity in the modern West can be taken as universal standards for reconstructing all faiths. They intend to affirm the various faiths in the strongest way… once they have been assimilated to these terms.

ii  https://www.firstthings.com/article/1994/12/christianity-and-the-westambiguous-past-uncertain-future

iii Reflections on my interview with Hamed Abdel-Samad
Hamed Abdel-Samad is an Egyptian Ex-Muslim. He is fluent in Arabic (his mother tongue) and French, English and German. Most of the excuses used to dismiss Ex-Muslims don’t work on him. He speaks Arabic. He grew up in a Muslim country. He memorized the Quran, the holy book of Islam in its entirety. He is also the son of an imam. He was even a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. To read the rest of the Interview go to https://abdullahsameer.medium.com/reflections-on-my-interview-with-hamed-abdel-samad-22e9573a0c5f