Can you trust your Muslim neighbor during this month of Ramadan (and beyond), when they show kindness to you? How should you respond if they invite you to an iftar (the breaking of the fast at the end of each day) this month?
The argument goes that we cannot trust in the good faith of any Muslim among us, since Islam permits them to dissimulate their real intentions at their leisure. This belief is held particularly by those nonMuslims convinced that Islam has the intention eventually to conquer the world. But is the fear factor triggered by such understandings justified?
Islamic traditions about Jesus are one indication of how much Muslims respect Jesus. When Muhammad took over Mecca in AD 630, he cleansed the Ka’aba of idols, and destroyed all icons except the Virgin Mary and her son. Those he covered with his coat. Another tradition says that in all humanity only Jesus and his mother were not touched by Satan at birth. Muslims say they honor Jesus more than Christians who claim he was crucified by the hands of cruel men. They reject the cross for these reasons: theologically it need not happen; morally it should not happen; historically it did not happen. As someone succinctly put it: “Without the cross, there is no Christianity, and with the cross there is no Islam.” This article suggests that by building on what is known of Christ in the Qur’an, Christians can lead Muslims to consider God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Jesus had to die and Easter is God’s vindication. We have a message of hope for Muslim friends.
Missionaries among Muslims often testify that the most effective apologetic the Christian worker has is the power of the simple gospel, rooted in Old Testament prophecies. Thus, when Jesus faced the cross, he appealed to Scripture. In talking to Muslims, Christians must stress that the cross was not a mistake, or a defeat, but the redemptive act of Almighty God, planned before the world began (Gen. 3:15; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Mt. 1:21).
Prior to the cross, Jesus said to his mystified disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled . . . They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Lk. 18:31-33). In witness, Christ must never be left in Galilee, when he set his face toward Jerusalem. Only there “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:6). We must not join those who say, “Come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). After his passion, Jesus asked a penetrating question of two disciples on the way to Emmaus: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). This is the same question we must ask Muslims. Later, in order to convince some in the “upper room” who doubted, Scripture says he showed them his hands and his feet (Lk. 24:40).
In conclusion, Christians have much in common with Muslims, but in the end, we must focus on the message of Easter. Samuel Zwemer’s comment bears repeating, that the Qur’an leaves the door open for dialog, and that a loving but bold presentation of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of Jesus will not alienate the Muslim heart. We can make much of titles and miracles that describe the person and work of Jesus in the sources of Islam, but must move on to terms, like “Light of the World,” “Bread of Life,” and “Resurrection and the Life.” We must stress that through his death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and triumphed over the last enemy, death (I Cor. 15; Heb. 2:5-18). The cross is central to the Gospel (I Cor. 1:23; 15:3-4). In the Qur’an, Jesus is embryonic and mysterious, but Muslims can be encouraged to seek Christ above and beyond their own book: “We made her [Mary] and her son a sign for all peoples” (21:91). I will never forget a Pakistani Muslim villager who gave three reasons why he thought Jesus was greater than Muhammad: “Your Prophet was a Prophet from birth, ours became one at age 40; your Prophet did miracles, ours did none; your Prophet is alive, ours is dead.”
Too often I hear questions posed that imbed what might be unhelpful assumptions:
What does the Qur’an say about sin, free will, the nature of believers and unbelievers, etc.?
What is the basic psychology of the Muslim mind?
According to the Qur’an, should Muslims kill Christians?
What was the character of Muhammad?
What laws actually make up Shari’ah?
As a philosopher, I immediately begin to consider whether questions such as these assume as fact what may not be fact. For example…
Is there a single discernible position within the Qur’an about sin, free will, the nature of believers and unbelievers, etc.?
Is there a single discernible Muslim mind such that accurate generalizations about it can be reliably described?
Is there a single unarguable decontextualized position within the Qur’an about whether Muslims can justifiably kill Christians?
Was Muhammad a flat, consistent character or was he, what in literature would be called a round character, namely, a multidimensional character with growing trends and contradictions in various situations and in differing times?
Is there a monolithic, agreed upon authoritative voice among Muslims about what laws constitute Shari’ah, or are there multiple voices that have similarities and differences.