The Zwemer Center can be traced back to “the Muslim Research Institute” of the US Center for World Mission, Pasadena, CA in September 1977. It was founded to undertake the concentrated research needed to finally open the Muslim world to the Gospel.
The following year, a “Muslim Evangelization” conference in 1978 was held at Colorado Springs, that co-opted the Board of the Muslim Research Institute. It added several members to it and commissioned them to develop an institute to serve the missionary community. The community they had in mind was yet a fledgling community of missionaries to Muslims. The Institute was to undertake much-needed research to discover who our Muslim neighbors (local and global) are, what they believe and practice, and then explore and experiment with new initiatives to present them with the Gospel.
Reaching back into history to find a suitable name, the Board chose the name of Samuel Zwemer. He was the greatest missionary America had ever sent to the Muslim world and earned the title “Apostle to Islam.” Zwemer lived and traveled in North Africa and the Middle East, mobilized students for missions, founded and edited the academic journal “Moslem World,” taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, and wrote about 50 books about Muslims and the religion of Islam. He also wrote tracts in Arabic for evangelistic purposes.
A Lasting Legacy of Samuel and Amy Zwemer in Bahrain
Despite winning only a handful of converts, Samuel Zwemer was the greatest missionary the United States has ever sent to the Muslim world. Of him, the historian Kenneth Latourette said, “No one is more deserving of the title, ‘Apostle to Islam.’” He was a gifted evangelist, a prolific author, a compelling speaker, and a dedicated professor—never deviating from this message: Muslims need Jesus, and Christians need to reach them.
The Muslim World (TMW) is one of the leading academic journals covering Islam worldwide. Strange it would call its own history “bigoted”.
It was founded in 1911 by Samuel Zwemer, a founding father of Protestant missions in engagement with the oft-rival monotheistic faith. Now published by Hartford Seminary, like much of the Protestant mainline its original evangelistic fervor has faded. Still I was startled to read the concluding sentence of an informative historical biography TMW published in commemoration of their 100th edition:
“A century later, TMW has successfully broken ranks with religious provincialism and bigotry, and lives up to the present motto of the Seminary “exploring differences and deepening faith.””¹
Is this a fair account of all but TMW’s most recent scholarship…
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.