Vivienne Stacey discusses how Muslims will often have questions regarding Christian rituals, festivals, and rites of passage because these are meaningful events in Islamic theology. These practices can be great opportunities to communicate the Gospel as both Muslims and Christians value both beliefs and practices. There can be an overlap between Islamic and Christian practices. In addition, Islamic rituals, festivals, and rites of passage often include Muslim women. This episode addresses Muhammad’s night journey, his birthday, and the remembrance of the martyrdom of Hussein and Ali .

These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.


Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on communicating the Gospel through Muslim festivals (Pt.2):

So we’ll continue, with our subject of communicating through festivals, communicating the good news through festivals and rites of passage, and remembering our obligation, as it were, as human beings, quite apart from being Christians and Muslims, to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn will weep with those that mourn or weep. We’ll look at a a smaller festival next and that’s the festival which, is about is lilat al Miraj. Miraj means ascension and commemorates this festival the night of Mohammed’s ascension into heaven. It might have been a kind of mystical experience that he had. He might have gone to heaven and come back again, as some Muslims think.


There are 2 views about this. 1, that it was a kind of mystical experience and it didn’t physically happen. The other, that it physically happened. And at your leisure you could read up you could read Sura 53 1 to 18 and Surah 81 19 to 25. Muhammad’s vision is mentioned. But the night journey, the reference to it is in Surah 17 verse 1. So I’d like to hear that. Would someone read Surah 17 verse 1? This is about his mysterious journey, his ascension into heaven, whether it happens or whether he had a vision as it were. Thank you.


Glory be he who carried his servant by night from the inviolable place of worship to the far distant place of worship. The neighborhood whereof we have blessed, that we might show him of our tokens. Lo, he, only he, is the hearer, the seer. Thank you. So there’s a transfer of Mohammed, it seems.


This is the mysterious night journey, and it is celebrated. If there’s ever sometimes over a festival, a minor festival, or even a major one, something comes up, and your friend asks you something, something to bear in mind would be John 3 verses, 14, 13, and 14. John 3 13 and 14. Would somebody please read it? 


And no one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, even the son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up. Okay. So no one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. We’re not especially going to explain, perhaps, to a Muslim whether we think Muhammad actually physically ascended or whether it was a a dream or something else. But we could say that there is not anyone who ascended into heaven, there’s no record in the bible of anyone else except for the prophet Jesus, except for Jesus, who descended from heaven and then ascended to heaven.


So the key verse here is verse 13, no one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the son of man. So here’s, here’s someone who came from heaven and went back to heaven. Muhammad went up to heaven and came back if if if this was a real experience or happening. We don’t have to analyze it for them. They can analyze that.


We want to direct thinking to the person of Jesus who came from heaven and went back to heaven. And there are other passages that we could use, like in John 13. He he was in heaven and, as a clear statement at the beginning of John chapter 13. Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus in verse 3, Jesus knowing that the father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to god, rose and so on.


He’s he washed his disciples’ feet. But, the whole idea of, a man, son of man, ascending and descending, descending and ascending. This may come up, but, just you have to think through some of these things ahead of time. It helps, and god will guide you in interacting over the subject of feasts. Then there’s edel malad Eid ul Ma’ad or Eid ul Ma’ad.


The birthday of Mohammed increasingly celebrated as we saw when we studied Muhammad veneration. It’s also linked in to funerals because the popular idea is that on his 63rd birthday, Mohammed died. And this is celebrated in the 12th day of the 3rd month. In your folder, you probably have got a a handout, a page about the Muslim calendar. Good if you, study that.


It’s good to have a few clues about the Muslim calendar. They are there are lunar months and, the day starts at 6 o’clock in, the new day starts 6 o’clock in the evening. You it won’t often make a kind of make you confused invitations for meals, but if you’d you could run into a problem if you didn’t remember that the dating and the day would be from 6 o’clock in the evening. So you might think you’re being invited for thirst for for Wednesday evening, but it could be you you might think it’s there may be a confusion here because of which evening are you. You if you’re if you’re given the date, it will cover not the same evening if you see what I mean.


You work it out but 6 o’clock in the evening this is the beginning of the day it’s the, slight, the Jewish way of calculating. And then in in the way with a reckon days is the same, 3 days. 3 days. So you might Jesus died on a Friday and he rose on the Sunday morning and those are 3 days. We may not do a calculation of days even the same way.


So look at the calendar and get to know the names of the months. Some of them are well more well known than others. If you’re gonna be in the Muslim world you’ll find that the daily newspapers have two dates on them. And it will show Muslim dating and dating according to the Christian calendar. I would say that, one of the things that we can share most when we’re talking with Muslims about the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday and maybe we’re thinking about Jesus as well and they’re questioning us.


We can remember, to stress sometimes his suffering because like one of my Indian friends, you may meet somebody like her who takes the praise that you give to Jesus and puts it on Muhammad. So sometimes we want anyway to say something about the suffering of Jesus, may not maybe not about his death, may but about his suffering, but maybe about his death as well. And I’d like to remind you, as I have several times, that the Quran does not totally deny the death of Christ because it admits that the Jews intended to kill him. And it, implies that Jesus was ready to die. There’s no count that he wasn’t.


What the Quran denies that he’s that he actually died as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Then many Muslims celebrate the night of record. The night of record. That’s, very obvious. I, you’ll see candles and lights burning all night.


If you look out of your balcony or window and say one of the main Muslim cities of the East, you’ll see lights all around one way or another, and in the mosque as well. Because on this night, god registers all the actions which men are to perform in the coming year and records the deaths and births births and deaths. It’s the night of record. And some many Muslims stay up all night praying and and reading the Quran. Well perhaps the next day, I don’t suggest that we join in it, but, but the next day, your neighbor may have something to say about the night of record.


Shabeh Barat, as it’s called in Persian, the night of record. We can mention that, yes, we believe in a record, God’s record. Revelation 21 verse 27. Yes? But there shall be no means enter anything that defiles or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the lamb’s book of life.


That’s right. So there is a book that God keeps, It’s the Lamb’s book of life. It’s not so different from it’s a record, certainly. It’s the night of record. Well, there is a book, and here it’s mentioned. In Psalm 116, verse 15 about yes. Thank you. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Yes. God notes. He keeps a record. He notes deaths. And, births? Well, there’s a verse in Ephesians that we are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.


For believers this is so. Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. So that’s a pre birth record. Lots of Muslims have a real fear of death. Lots of lots of people, not perhaps we do, the fear of death. And they go to the mosque to beg for mercy. Hebrews 2 verse 15, who all their life seemed to have this fear of death. That’s the implication of Hebrews 2 15, isn’t it? They are in the bondage of the fear of death. As Christians, we are not in the bondage of the fear of death. We may have occasional fears about death, but we know that in Christ we are, safe. So there can be interchange on this. And our Muslim woman friends will be very much in bondage. They are in bondage to the fear of divorce. They are in bondage to the fear of illness.


They are in bondage to the fear of jinn and evil spirits. They are in bondage to the fear of death. And sometimes the night of record is the day is the night that, the next day can be talked about, and there can be some light shown thrown thrown on these things. The month of Maharam, one of the 12 months. 12?


Yes. Is the month when shears commemorate every year the martyrdom of Ali, the 4th caliph, and the death of his sons, Hassan and Hussain. The lamentations and commemorations take place during the 1st days of the month, 1st 10 days of the month. Have any of you seen this? Have you seen Maharam Processions? Yeah. What did you see? Yes. Well I saw men, in kind of a parade form, beating drums and then slashing themselves with knives. Slashing themselves in with knives.


So were they walking or they’re sitting or what were they doing? They were, So actually, it seemed like at one point they started to dance, but, Yes. They might have done. Is it a procession? Yeah. Was it a procession? And then they had crepe paper crepe paper no? I don’t know. They did. I mean, this is an indie They did. Yeah. Well, they had later on, they had crepe paper paper objects. They were very beautiful. Uh-huh. And they threw them and and destroyed them in, a lake. Right. No one explained this. Where was that? Which North India? So in North India, 10% of the population well, 10% of the Maharam, this kind of, it’s not it’s a commemoration of the death of these martyrs.


They’ve given the status of martyrs. It’s the nearest that we come in Islam to vicarious suffering. Muslims, Shia Muslims tend to identify with the suffering of Ali and his sons, with the suffering of these so called these martyrs. And it’s the nearest, The whole it’s possibly a reason why quite a number of, Shia have Shia people have come to faith because they are more able to understand vicarious suffering than the average Sunni Muslim. This factor to consider.


They’ll understand more clearly when you talk about the suffering of Christ. Shia Islam is a Islam, it’s a minority line, if you like, within Islam. 10% of the world’s Muslims are Shia, and most of the others are Sunni. So Sunni Muslim, they are in majority, so they’re more triumphalistic. But Sunni, Shia Muslim are a a majority in their own household, the household of Islam.


And, they have a minority kind of feeling about things. They are the a people who are suffering or oppressed, they feel. And sometimes there’ll be divide between Sunni and Shia is very great. I remember, once in Pakistan in the northern areas, I was asking about a certain area. And a Sunni was talking about a Shia and about Shias, as if they weren’t Muslims. And that’s the there is a very great divide sometimes. But my main point here is look at the idea of vicarious suffering. And, if you’re talking to a shear, you will find less reaction when you talk about the vicarious suffering of Christ, not in those theological terms, but as Christ identifying, with us and bearing our sin and so on. In Iran, Shia will be the Shias are 90%. Can you, just define for me the difference between the two Muslim groups?


Like, what makes the Sunni Muslim and what? Yes. I don’t quite understand the difference. Yes. Well, briefly, the sun is follow the they are the original and they follow the law and the first 4 caliphs after, Muhammad and the 4th.


The 4th caliph was Ali and it’s there that the split came because partly there’s a political emphasis line in this. It’s over leadership, but there were other, religious points, and there was a battle fought in Kerbula at 6:8 80 or 681. That’s Karbala. Karbala is in Iraq and Ali and his sons lost this battle. Karbala is for the Shia Muslim, the holiest one of the holiest places, in the world.


The Shias even have slightly different Quran. They’ve got a few verses added in the Quran. Some of it is blessing on the family of Ali and, if you I’ve been to a one shrine, complex where they they sold bracelets which had the names of Muhammad and, had the name of Fatima. It had Ali, but then it had Hussein. And, so that would be Shia because Muslims generally and Sunnis would not go in for this.


They’re more like the sort of orthodox traditional line is the Sunni and the Shia tend to be more charismatic in a sense following a leader. And so you find that Shia Islam splits up a lot. So in Shia Islam, you’ve got, you know, a leader comes, a charismatic kind of leader, and somehow they split, and you get subsects, Ismailis and Aghokhanis and Khojaz and a few more. Plenty. And, so it’s not only a subset, but a sub subset.


So if you’re trying to think of the main families of the Christian church well they’re more like orthodox because they’ve been there from Sunni is more like orthodox, been there from the start, and I would say the comparison would then be Shia is more like Protestant. And just the Protestants, tend to focus on leaders who lead people off into different kinds, you know. There’s a Wesley and a Luther and a so on. I I don’t want to I’m just giving you the idea. And theologically well the the this they have they are following a different line because the Shia considered that the legitimate successors of Mohammed came through Ali Hussain and Hassan and Hussain and then so they had a an idea on the caliphate which was or who was caliph?


Khalifa is the word really. Khalifa. We get the word caliph from it. They follow a different line and divide up into the subsects. The interaction between Sunni and Shia, they have separate mosques, they have separate burial grounds.


It’d be very interesting. I was thinking last night in Colombia. If there are 3 mosques in this city, there must be, some there must be a sheer gathering somewhere. I don’t know. And then the There must be a graveyard.


I was thinking of graveyards because I was preparing to talk to you later about, death and burial. So in this city there must be Muslim graveyards. Possibly, there’s there are 2 because if there are any Shia Muslims here, they probably won’t want to be buried in a Sunni one. I could give you a sheet which would give you some other differences between Sunni and Shia but you need to pay attention to this because it’s wise that you do because and presumably in some other studies you will. If any of you bought my books submitting to God you’ll see a chart of the different, sheer sex and sub sects and there will be a brief explanation of of Shia Muslims.


Sometimes, Shia have asked me, whom do you follow? You see they’re more less sort of according to the theology as it were, and more according to the leader. So they’re asking me, who do you follow? I don’t know if they knew us Christian or Muslim or what. But I remember when I was traveling once, I was asked this question, so I say I follow the Lord Jesus Christ.


In fact, this has become part of my rather standard sometimes standard answers if I’m asked by a customs official in a Muslim town or as I’m flying out of the country, are you are you Muslim? Here am I dressed like a Pakistani, my head covered with a bible and a Quran in my hand luggage? Say, are you Muslim? I say, I worship 1 God. That’s starters. And, I don’t say that. I worship 1 God, and I follow the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s alright for a Sunni or a Shia. But the Shia, who do you follow? And, you can talk quite a bit about the one you follow.


You don’t have to go into saying he’s the son of God to start with. He is the light of the world. A sheer of quite in very sort of more mystical in a sense. And so illumination, noor, and light, they like this idea. So Jesus, the light of the world. And you can go on. With a Shia you would get another point in before the official would say, oh, you’re Christian. With them, Sony, it will only go free in my experience. I worship one God. I follow the Lord Jesus Christ and he is the light of the world.


I’m sure that with Shear, you go 1 or 2 more. Better than saying straight off I’m a Christian and having that ends it, he then consolidates, or she, and there, consolidates her idea or his idea of, what he thinks or she thinks Muslims are, Christians alike. See, there’s a stereotype in the Muslim mind sometimes, as we have stereotypes about Muslims. They have them about us. So, we if we are asked are you Christian and you say yes, then it’s just confirmed a stereotype.


But if you’re asked and you say, I am this, I am that, and I am that, well, at least they got to think about those things. And it’s a real question that bugs people. I believe in 1 God. 2 hours of argument about, or discussion on the unity of God. It doesn’t count, I think, nearly so much as the creed or statement, I believe in 1 God.


So, festivals, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn, is coming alongside fellow human beings, fellow women, and and Muslims, Christian and Muslim.