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Raymond Lull the Pioneer Missionary to Islam A Tribute

May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany

Raymond Lull the Pioneer Missionary to Islam A Tribute

Bassam Michael Madany
18 January 2023

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound.  II Timothy 2:8,9 (ESV)

The Arabic text is from the Smith-VanDyke translation of the Bible
8اُذْكُرْ يَسُوعَ الْمَسِيحَ الْمُقَامَ مِنَ الأَمْوَاتِ، مِنْ نَسْلِ دَاوُدَ بِحَسَبِ إِنْجِيلِي، 9الَّذِي فِيهِ أَحْتَمِلُ
الْمَشَقَّاتِ حَتَّى الْقُيُودَكَمُذْنِبٍ. لكِنَّ كَلِمَةَ اللهِ لاَ تُقَيَّدُ

From my earliest days, I became interested in missions. My father’s library in our home in Latakia, Syria 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 in obedience to the Great Commission.

I had not heard of Raymond Lull until my early twenties when a British Missionary lent me a book by Dr. Samuel Zwemer on the life and ministry of this Spanish missionary scholar. 

Raymond Lull (known in Spain as Ramon Llull) 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 this pioneer missionary to Islam.

“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 since the beginning of the 8th century. His missionary labors took place during the weakened and diminishing presence of the Arab Muslim rule in Spain.

Continuing the excerpts from Dr. Zwemer’s Biography of Raymond Lull:

“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 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 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 to obtain that goal. 

“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, 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!”

My purpose in writing this article is not primarily to give an account of the work of the first Western missionary to Islam. Rather to explain that his biography dispelled a notion I had about the impossibility of engaging in missions among Muslims. During my early years, Western Protestants and Catholics used educational institutions as missionary methods. I was educated in these schools. Some of my fellow students were Muslims; when it came to religious courses, they were exempt from taking them! I don’t recall any conversion to the Christian faith from Muslim students, during my entire educational experience from 1934 to 1945.

Furthermore, I was fascinated with stories of missions in China, Korea, India, and sub-Saharan Africa. Those were the places to engage in the proclamation of the Good News and succeed in founding Christian churches!

I had the call to the ministry of the Gospel in 1948. I enrolled at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1950. At the seminary library I read Dr. Zwemer’s “The Cross Above the Crescent: The Validity, Necessity, and Urgency of Missions to Moslems” I wrote a letter of thanks to Dr. Zwemer care of Zondervan Publishing House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I received a wonderful response from him who at the time was living at his daughter’s home in Alexandria, Virginia. He encouraged me in my theological studies.

As I reflect on those events of 70-80 years ago, it was my initial contact with Samuel Zwemer’s books, and later his correspondence, that were used by our Lord to direct my general interest in mission work, to a specific calling of bringing the Gospel to the Arab World.

After graduation and marriage in 1953, I served for two years as Bible teacher at a Protestant missionary school in Latakia, Syria. As conditions for missions worsened, I immigrated to Canada, laboring in church work with the Canadian Bible Society.

In 1956, I began an Arabic literature ministry and published by first book, THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY BIBLE. While taking a year of theological studies at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, (1957-1958) a copy of this book came to the attention of the Secretary of the Sudan Interior Mission in this city. He approached me about the possibility of broadcasting the Gospel in Arabic on ELWA, the missionary radio station of the SIM, in Monrovia, Liberia. That began my thirty-six-year life work of reaching the Arab world from Morocco to Iraq, 1958 to 1994 During the 1970s, I began a weekly program on 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 in the 21st century, 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.

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