Peaceful Martyr: The Life and Mission of Francis of Assisi
At the mention of the name Francis of Assisi, images of a peaceful, eccentric, medieval monk who loved to talk to animals may come to mind. But he was also a Christ-loving, innovative missionary to Muslims during the Crusades. Here’s how that matters for missions today.
Perhaps my loneliness was intensified that first year because I felt as though I was being treated like a trophy. I was a token Muslim who’d become Christian and all that went along with an externally imposed status. There were labels, such as MBB (Muslim background believer), as if my identity was still wrapped up in Islam, and felt like there was no exit–not from Muslims–but by Christians. I didn’t want to be…
This battle between fear and love was clearly demonstrated in several experiences when I visited churches wearing a headscarf. An older gentleman at the first church visited, who was a greeter at the church, was not able to recover from his fear after seeing a woman wearing a hijab approaching the church. As a result, he blatantly ignored me, which came across as very unloving. In this instance, fear drove out love. On the other hand, at the second church visited, a woman was hesitant at first and kept her distance. She was uncertain as to how to react, but eventually she made the decision to allow love to triumph over fear. Although she initially sat at a distance from me, she eventually moved down to sit directly beside me, engaged her in conversation, and hugged me before leaving. In this case, love drove out fear. In another scenario, I walked into a large lobby and was clearly confused as to which direction to go for the service. At least three greeters and volunteers stood around and watched me, clearly lost. Evidently the volunteers were scared or unsure of what to do, so they did not help, and instead let the me wander around. In contrast, at the fourth church visited, I was once again lost, but this time a greeter overcame fear and helped. He personally gave me a tour of the entire church so I would know how to find my way around. Lastly, at the first church, when instructed to greet those nearby, a woman half-turned toward the me, but upon seeing the the hijab she hesitated and almost turned back around. Fortunately, she managed to overcome fear and made the decision to greet the me despite her initial uncertainty.
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “Gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created the world. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), and other prophets known in the Old Testament. To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible and known as Allah by Muslims would create a formidable barrier to communicating biblical truth.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. Certainly, this requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ. We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews.