Glenda Mathes, reporter for Christian Renewal magazine
P O Box 777
Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0
Christian Renewal's Glenda Mathes spoke with Rev. Bassam Madany; former Arabic Broadcast Minister of the Back to God Hour, whose pioneering work in Arabic language radio missions emphasizes the Word of God in ministering to Muslims. Rev. Madany has written a popular guide for missions to Muslims entitled, The Bible and Islam. He is a sought-after lecturer and a widely published author of articles dealing with the Christian perspective on Islam.
CR: Rev. Madany, would you please tell us a bit about your background?
Rev. Madany: I was born in the province of Antioch, Syria, in the town of Seleucia which is the port mentioned in Acts 13:4 at the beginning of Paul's first missionary journey. I received my early education in British and French schools in the Middle East and came to the United States in 1950 to study at Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I graduated in May of 1953 and became a missionary in Syria until direct missionary activity was no longer permitted there. In 1955, I immigrated to Canada and later studied at Calvin Seminary.
CR: Was it after receiving your degree at Calvin that you became the Arabic Broadcast Minister for the Back to God Hour?
Madany: Yes, I served as Back to God Hour's Arabic Broadcast Minister for 36 years, from 1958 until my retirement in 1994.
CR: I understand that you also taught at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois during this time?
Madany: I taught Middle East history approximately every other year for about 25 years at Trinity. I also taught a course on Islamics for several years at Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I teach Interim courses about every other year at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. This year, however, I will be teaching a course entitled, "Mission to Muslims in the 21st Century" at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. The course is open to the public and will be held on Tuesday evenings for 12 weeks, from February 4 through April 22.
CR: What key concepts do you hope those attending this course will learn?
Madany: I will spend some time discussing contemporary issues, but the course will primarily emphasize that we are living in a new era of missions – that there has been a dispersion of Muslims and we now have mission fields in North America and Europe. The way of doing missions that began in 1792 with the work of William Carey, during the colonial era, was no longer viable after about 1950 when many nations became independent and there was a resurgence of major world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and especially Islam.
CR: What do you see as the changes necessary in this new era of missions?
Madany: Many mission enterprises are still doing things as if we are not living in a new age. The secular concept of "postmodernism" should alert us to the need for modification in mission strategy. The changes that have occurred in the last 50 years are almost as important as those that occurred when the Reformation was beginning. A whole new world was emerging and the Reformers benefited from some of those changes. Consider that John Calvin's sermons were translated and printed in London during his lifetime. Instead of learning to benefit from change, our energies have been sapped by the fight against liberalism. We need to learn to adjust our methodology. We must understand the unique role of the Bible in missions to Muslims. The Muslim believer has no concept of personal sin and the need for a Savior. For him, sin is something superficial that can be erased through his own acts. We must open up the Scriptures and clearly present the biblical Christ in response to the mythical Christ of the Qur’an. The Muslim needs to see that Christ did not come merely to teach and to heal, but to redeem His people from their sins. When we have succeeded, by the grace of God, in showing a Muslim that he needs a Savior and that God has sent Jesus the Messiah to be this Savior, then the traditional difficulties with such doctrines as the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus Christ tend to disappear. I have a high sense of the importance of preaching as the major means of grace, and rely heavily upon God's promises in Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God," and in I Corinthians 1:21, "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."
CR: How is Islam different from the other major world religions that have reemerged during the last fifty years?
Madany: Islam, unlike pre-Christian world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, is more than just a religion. These other religions deal largely with natural man's quest for God. Islam is the only major religion to come into existence after Christianity and it specifically denies all the fundamental aspects of Christianity. The major error that most people fall into when considering Islam is to think of it as just a religion. Islam is not just a religion and has never been just a religion. It is religion, politics, and culture in one entity. It is an imperialistic religion with imperialistic designs. The word "Islam" means, "surrender to the will of Allah" and Islam has spread primarily through the sword.
CR: What is your response to those who speak about Islam as "a peaceful religion"?
Madany: People who speak of Islam as a peaceful religion are either trying to use that kind of term in service of political correctness or are completely ignorant of both the history and the teachings of Islam. Examples are recent PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) documentaries such as "Islam: Empire of Faith" and "Muhammad: Legacy of the Prophet." The "Legacy of the Prophet" was broadcast just a week before Christmas and was absolutely the worst piece of propaganda that I've ever seen. The people producing these documentaries are blindly spreading deception. They reinterpret "jihad" to mean a contest within one's own soul – something equivalent to the spiritual concept of our growth in sanctification – but in reality "jihad" means "holy war." The common people don't buy that, but a whole slew of experts such as professors at big name universities are peddling a politically correct, inaccurate view of Islam. The political correctness is awful on both sides of the Atlantic.
CR: If Islam is so imperialistic, why is it becoming known as the "fastest-growing" religion?
Madany: One needs to understand the character of the growth of Islam. It is growing quickly biologically and demographically, but not by actual conversions. For instance, the population of Iran has doubled in just 20 years. That's phenomenal growth, and we see this type of growth repeated in many Islamic countries. Islam is growing through the population growth of Islamic countries. And there are now 55 Islamic countries in our world.
CR: What is your view regarding a possible war with Iraq and how it might affect the mission effort to Muslims?
Madany: One must first realize that since the end of colonialism, mission work among Muslims has come to an end. A few missionary ventures are tolerated in some countries, but only because the people of that country benefit from the missionaries' works of mercy. On the whole, direct mission work has come to an end. That is the reason I became involved in radio missions, because I could no longer be a conventional missionary. Regarding a war with Iraq, I believe the mistake was made when our government didn't finish the job in the Gulf War. As a teenager, I was involved in World War II and I well remember that everyone believed in unconditional surrender. Saddam Hussein is just as evil as Hitler or Mussolini. I believe the Gulf War resolution was shortsighted. These half solutions of wars since World War II have never paid off. Look at what a big headache we now have with North Korea. The possible reconstruction of Iraq would be much more difficult than the reconstruction of Germany or Japan, which were well-defined countries. Iraq is an artificial country that was put together by the British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Before its creation that area was historically known as Mesopotamia.
CR: What are your expectations for the future with regard to Islam?
Madany: If we look at Muslim nations today, we see that geography and demography play huge roles in their current states. Most Muslim nations lack proper water resources, and as I mentioned earlier, the populations of most Muslim nations are growing at a phenomenal rate. In addition to these problems, the Muslim world suffers from the hegemony of authoritarian and oppressive regimes. The Islamic future faces problems of gigantic proportions. The governments of the Western world should challenge the leaders of Muslim nations to work out a genuine and peaceful co-existence. Muslim leaders and intellectuals must be willing to jettison the exclusivist political baggage of their tradition. They must be reminded of the disastrous consequences of allowing the radicals to terrorize the rest of the world. I fear we may face a turbulent future. The Islamic threat is far more serious than the threat from Communism that lasted 70 years. Our future may be very dark unless the radicals are tamed and Islamic modernizers take control. I hope that the Islamic world would somehow experience a radical change in the direction of democracy and true freedom for its teeming millions. As a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, I live in the light of the Christian hope as expounded in Romans 8. I wait patiently for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the manifestation of the final phase of the Kingdom of God.
CR: Don't you and your wife have a website that offers many resources regarding the Christian response to Islam?
Madany: Yes, since our retirement my wife, Shirley, and I have developed our Middle East Resources (MER) ministry. It keeps us very busy; Shirley is my right hand. The updated version of my book, The Bible and Islam, is available on our website as well as many other articles dealing with the general topic of Christian missions. We have posted an extensive bibliography of recommended reading for those interested in learning more about Islam. You can find the site at