Middle East Resources

A Tribute to Raymond Lull

A Pioneer Missionary to Isla

Bassam Michael Madany

24 November 2020

From my earliest days, I became interested in missions. My father’s library had several books, in English and in Arabic relating stories of men and women who had left their homes in Europe and America and spent their lives in the Far East, India, the Middle East and Africa. I had not heard of Raymond Lull until my early twenties. Reading the account of his life written by Dr. Samuel Zwemer, left a lasting impact on my life and on my radio ministry to the Arabic-speaking world from 1958 to 1994.

Raymond Lull was born on the Island of Majorca, Spain, in 1235. He belonged to a rich family. He led a very worldly life until his conversion in his late forties. For the last part of his life, he was involved in intense Christian missionary work among Muslims in North Africa. The following paragraph is from Dr. Zwemer’s Biography of Raymond Lull. 

'There is no more heroic figure in the history of Christendom than that of Raymond Lull the first and perhaps the greatest Missionary to Muslims. He was years ahead of his time; a great thinker as well as doer, establishing missionary colleges to carry the Gospel to Muslims, while personally obeying Christ's command to 'Go' himself. Heaven enlightened Lull to know the love of God and to do the Will of God as no other of his generation. From a powerful vision of Christ's unrequited Love at the time of the bloody Crusades, Lull began his own crusade of love. Lull's motto was, He who loves not lives not; he who lives by the Life cannot die.” 

During Lull’s lifetime, Spain was partially occupied by the Arab Muslims. Following the conquest of North Africa, the Arab-Muslim armies crossed the narrow strait separating North Africa from Spain in 710 AD and pushed northward until they entered France in 732, exactly one hundred years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad! Their advance was stopped at the Battle of Tours, near Poitiers, by Charles Martel.

Back in Spain, the Vandals had retreated to the northern parts of the country. Eventually, when the Arab rule weakened, due to the civil wars that broke among them, the Reconquista (Reconquest of the county) began in earnest and was accomplished in 1492. This places the life and missionary work of Raymond Lull, during the weakened and diminishing presence of the Arab Muslim rule in Spain.

“Lull’s chief concern after his conversion was that all men everywhere should become Christians. He visited Rome, urging several Popes to establish schools for preparing missionaries. He convinced the Church Council at Vienne (France) in 1311, to establish missionary colleges in various parts of Europe. He lectured in major cities and encouraged the learning of the Arabic language in order to preach the Gospel to the Arabs of Al-Andalus (the Arabic name of Spain)

“In 1276 Lull founded the College of Miramar in Majorca, which trained men in the study of Arabic and prepared missionaries for service in Islamic lands. He made repeated missionary trips to these lands and also continued writing. Altogether, he wrote some 150 or 200 works in Latin, Arabic, and Catalan on such diverse subjects as theology, philosophy, logic, and poetry. Most of them were apologies for the faith and indicate not only his primary desire to convert the infidel but also his attempt to make philosophy subordinate to theology in order to obtain that goal. https://biography.yourdictionary.com/raymond-lull

“On one of his missionary journeys in North Africa, he was held in prison for over six months. All manner of attempts were made to persuade him to convert to Islam. Instead, he was successful in winning a small number of converts, among whom he later secretly labored for almost a year!

“Raymond Lull visited the city of Tunis three times, in an effort to win converts. One of his methods was to walk down the street preaching in a loud voice, shouting the fallacies of the Muslim faith and the truth of Christianity. Twice he was expelled; when he returned to Tunis the third time, he was stoned to death in 1315, at the age of eighty!”

Between the 14th and the early 19th centuries, the rulers of North Africa suppressed every Christian presence that had survived sine the Islamic Futuhat of the 7th and 8th centuries. Things began to change after the French occupation of Algeria in 1848, the French Protectorate rule in Tunisia (1880s) and in Morocco (early1900s,) when Christian missionary organizations began a limited work especially among the Amazigh. 

The 20th century brought in the Gospel through radio. I had the privilege to broadcast lessons from the Bible in the direction of North Africa in 1961 over Radio Station ELWA of Monrovia, Liberia. During the 1970s, added a weekly program from Trans World Radio, using the powerful Medium Wave transmitter of Radio Monte-Carlo in Monaco. The Arabic-language ministry was strengthened by correspondence and follow-up literature.

A new phase of missions began with the Internet allowing a proclamation of the Good News by North African nationals who had crossed over to the Christian faith. A notable example is that of Brother Rachid’s ministry that consists of a weekly live call-show on both YouTube and Al-Karma satellite TV.

At this point I would like to refer to an Algerian convert Mohammed-Christoph Bilek who wrote about a phenomenon that may be considered as a resumption of the work begun around 700 years before the martyrdom of Raymond Lull. Father Bilek published, DES MUSULMANS QUI DEVIENNENT CHRÉTIENS - SIGNE DES TEMPS POUR L'EGLISE (2013)                                                                      

MUSLIMS WHO BECOME CHRISTIANS: A SIGN OF THE TIMES FOR THE CHURCH                                                                                             
The following are excerpts from a book review I Translated from French.

“Mohamed-Christophe Bilek is well-known in France for his spiritual support and enablement of Muslims who manifest an interest in Christ and in the Christian faith, especially those seeking baptism. He was impressed by the lives of saints like Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Theresa which contributed to his conversion. He married a Muslim lady who respected his choice, and after thirty years, she received Baptism!

“Bilek is the founder of the “Association for the Welcome of Inquirers;” he uses a website that enables a Muslim inquirer to get in touch with a believer ready to answer questions about the Christian faith.

“The book is the fruit of several exchanges and contacts with people in North Africa, the Middle East, and Black Africa. Most of all, Bilek shares his reflections gained from years of contacts with the Church in France. The book consists of three parts:

“The First Part deals with accounts of conversion to Jesus Christ, leading in most cases to baptism.

“The Second Part relates accounts of persons who reverted to Islam; and of those who may be labeled as “Imposters.” Also discussed are the means of conversion, such as Dreams and Visions, the Holy Scriptures, and Christian example.

“The Third Part deals with the author’s reflections based on the specific journey of each convert, as he or she, undergoes baptism, followed by struggles and persecution, leading to spiritual growth. The book ends with a consideration of God’s Plan for Muslims. The work is original, covering a number of conversion accounts, and an analysis of their testimonies.”

A lay Muslim convert offers the Christian Community the following challenges:

“How do we receive and welcome converts? What place they must be given? Are we fully aware of the difficulties they encounter, not only on account of their leaving their former way of life, but also and above all, how to find a Christian community ready to welcome them?

“Three obstacles must be surmounted by every Muslim desiring the Christian faith. They are the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Umma. Liberation from the latter, is the most difficult one, as it involves the family and the fast of Ramadan.“ Converts, considered by the Umma as apostates, must not continue to love the Muslim religion, since it was its sacred texts that hid the truth they have now confessed. The stakes remain high!

“For those of us who have come out of Islam, following Christ has consequences. Ipso facto, it requires a break with the past, with family, with community, and with past moral and spiritual certitudes. It’s much easier to remain a Muslim, believe me! There are numerous excuses for not making the rupture. It’s perilous to leave Islam, as it may cost one’s own life!

“Not only are we despised and persecuted by our blood brothers as apostates, but we also incur the wrath of Allah and the worst of his punishments. By leaving Islam, we show our whole-hearted agreement with the statement of Jesus Christ: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And whether we are baptized as Mohamed-Christophe, Maria-Aïcha, Joseph or Ali, it is quite freely that we have taken the only path that leads to the Father and the joy of knowing Him in eternal life. 

“We face a real battle. They try to silence us, we who have left Islam; they want us to remain silent, since we are the only ones who can realistically tell the full story of how Christians are being treated in Islamic lands.  Persecution and insecurity remain in place for the 50,000 Christians in Algeria. There it is, my dear Western brothers and sisters, please welcome us, and help us, having crossed over to Jesus Christ and His Church.” 

Mohammed Christophe Bilek has authored two books: “Un Algérien pas Très Catholique,” (A Not-Very Catholic Algerian) published by Éditions du Cerf, and, « Saint Augustin Raconté à Ma Fille, » (Saint Augustine As Told to my Daughter) published by Éditions Qabel.