engagement is a serious business. People who want to be involved in it need to be
willing to take up the challenges that the community of one faith presents to
the other community. A genuine and meaningful engagement will necessarily lead
to witnessing to one’s faith while fully respecting the other one. Christian
partners in interfaith engagement must first consider a threefold challenge
that Jesus himself demonstrates with his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount.
Understanding this example then will enable us to address the following
threefold challenge of Islam: theological, political, and missionary.
The Threefold Challenge of Jesus to
In Mathew 7 Jesus
puts to his followers a threefold challenge that can be defined as follows.
First he demands that they take a critical look at themselves (vv. 1–5). This
includes scrupulously examining our turbulent history with Muslim peoples, our
divisions, and even our theologies. Second, Jesus advocates taking a critical
look at other faiths (vv. 15–20). Once we have accepted to see ourselves in the
mirror, we are probably better equipped to assess Islamic doctrines and claims,
without being judgmental or arrogant. Third, Jesus advises the disciples that
they not be deluded about their faith; if it doesn’t lead to obedience to God’s
will, it is useless (vv. 21–23). Evangelical Christians who rightly believe
that salvation is by God’s grace through faith often overlook those New
Testament texts that highlight the need to produce good deeds to authenticate
faith. This is one of the main points Jesus makes in the parable of the sheep
and the goats (Matt 25:31–46).
The Golden Rule
for interfaith engagement is this: “In everything do to others what you would
have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).
This means respecting Muslims as human beings and as religious people,
appreciating their monotheistic faith, studying Islam without prejudice as much
as possible, removing misunderstandings and building bridges between the two
faiths, but also acknowledging their differences, even their contradictions. It
also entails explaining the Christian faith without denigrating Islam, seeking to
commend the truth of the gospel to Muslims in a way that fully honors their
freedom of conscience, being open-minded and willing to learn from others,
staying humble and acknowledging one’s failures, and appealing to God’s mercy
for all of us—Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of any faith and of none.
The Theological Challenge: Understanding Islam
theologically with Islam involves considering Islamic teaching, the prophetic
credentials of Muhammad and the status of Islamic Scriptures. For Muslims the
core of Qur’anic teaching is found in the first sura, al-Fatiha, seen by Muslims as the greatest sura.
Muslims say this prayer seventeen times a day during their five ritual prayers.
teaching encapsulated in Al-Fatiha (Qur’an sura 1)
In the Name of
God/The Ever-Merciful, the All-Merciful/Praise be to God/The Lord of the Worlds/The
Ever-Merciful, The All-Merciful/King of the Day of Judgement./You alone we
worship/And You alone we ask for help./Guide us on the straight path,/The path
of those who enjoy Your grace,/who are not under Your wrath,/and who do not go
To be fair to
Islamic faith we need to understand it the way Muslims do, not the way we often
tend (or even desire) to see it. Are there any parts in this prayer that Christians
cannot accept? How does it compare with some of the Old Testament Psalms? As a
monotheistic faith, Islam is remarkably similar to Christianity. Christologically,
however, the two faiths are irreconcilable, as the Islamic account of Jesus Christ
makes no room for his divinity and for his historical death and resurrection.
put forward four main proofs for Muhammad’s prophethood: his miracles of which
the Qur’an is the greatest, the perfection of Islamic law, the fact that Muhammad
was foretold in the Bible, and his military achievements. These proofs are not
compelling when carefully examined from a Christian perspective, which explains
why Christians do not accept Muhammad as a prophet, let alone the greatest and
the last prophet. Having said this, Muhammad was undoubtedly a great religious,
social, and political reformer.
examine Muhammad’s career in the light of Jesus Christ’s mission. They blame
the Prophet of Islam, among other things, for his military career and his many
wives. But they forget that in the Old Testament we find many polygamous
prophets (including Patriarch Abraham and King Solomon). We also find violence
carried out by respected prophets (e.g., David conquered Jerusalem through a
holy war in 2 Samuel 5:6–10, and Elijah slaughtered four-hundred-and-fifty
false prophets in one day, 1 Kings 18:40).
The fact that
Muhammad cannot be seen as a prophet from a Christian point of view means the
Qur’an cannot be considered God’s word either. This does not imply, however,
that we have to reject the Qur’an completely. A balanced approach to the Qur’an
(see 1 Thess 5:21–22) has to take into account both the similarities and the
differences between the Qur’an’s and the Bible’s messages. There are truths in
the Qur’an, and we need to identify them and see how they relate to those in
The Political Challenge: Working with Muslims
Muslims are first
and foremost our fellow human beings. Those who live in our country are also
our fellow citizens. As fellow monotheistic believers, they are God-fearing
people as well. The parable of the Good Samaritan invites us to see them as our
neighbors and to love them as ourselves (Luke 10:25–37).
challenge should be understood in the sense that we need to work with Muslims
for the common good of the city (“polis”), of our society, for the benefit of
people of all faiths and of none. Rather than ignoring our faith identity, we
need to make the most of the commonalities between our faiths in order to
enhance cooperation. After all, we have received from our Creator a similar mandate,
and we are called to fulfill this mandate with all our fellow human beings,
including Muslims, based on our shared values.
Muslims see themselves as God’s servants whose duty and privilege is to obey
their Creator, to worship him, to acknowledge his greatness, and to bear
witness to him and to his mercy, forgiveness, justice, sovereignty, and so
forth. We have been honored by God who appointed all his human creatures as stewards
over his creation and his representatives on earth (in Arabic, caliph). Our task is to rule over and to
look after God’s creation (see Gen 1:27–30; Qur’an 2:30).
Shared Moral Values
The values that
Christians and Muslims have in common are numerous and include the following:
respect for human life from beginning to end; sexual chastity for unmarried
people; marital faithfulness for couples; family life; and solidarity with our
fellow human beings, especially the most vulnerable, including children, orphans,
the poor, widows, the elderly, travellers, strangers, the sick, disabled,
jobless, prisoners, and so on (see Qur’an 2:177; 9:60; 76:8–9).
The Missionary Challenge: Witnessing to Christ
Working hand in hand
with Muslims to further the cause of justice and peace in society and in the world
doesn’t mean ignoring the distinctives of our respective faiths. For Christians
it means bearing witness to Christ in a context where this witness is more likely
to be heard, understood, and hopefully received.
are inclined to ask questions such as, Do Muslims really need to know the
gospel? Isn’t Islam as good for Muslims as Christianity is for Christians?
Should the gospel be shared with Muslims? To the extent that the Islamic Jesus
is no more than a prophet, it is our duty and joy as Christians to make
known—as well as the right of all Muslims to have the opportunity to know—that Jesus
is much more than a prophet; he is the Savior of the world.
Christians to live up to their faith and not to shy away from the teaching of
Christ. What they do not want us to do is to share the gospel arrogantly, using
unethical means including despising and demonizing their religion, seeing them
as target for evangelism, and the like. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus Christ
appointed all his disciples to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). We may not be
gifted evangelists or preachers, and we are not all called to be missionaries.
Yet Jesus Christ wants all—not just a few—of his disciples to be involved in
mission. Ordinary but committed Christians are key to Christian mission. The
Great Commission (witnessing to Christ) must be carried out within the context
of the Great Command (loving our neighbor). Effective Christian witness needs
to be holistic. In its mission statement, World Vision, a Christian development
and relief NGO, defines Christian witness comprehensively as follows: “[We
bear] witness to Jesus Christ by life, deed, word and sign that encourage
people to respond to the Gospel.”
If (or when)
people respond positively to the gospel, they become followers of Jesus Christ.
Thus, conversion is to be seen as an expected outcome of interfaith engagement.
It is important for new converts to remain loyal to and active in their
community in order for them to witness to their family and society. They need to
remain positive in their relationships with their culture and not to offend
their people unnecessarily.
theological dialogue is an important aspect of interfaith engagement. It is
meant to gain a better biblical understanding of Islam and to make it easier
for Christians to engage in more practical ways with Muslims as fellow citizens
and God-fearing people, for the good of the wider community. “Political
engagement” represents the context that is likely to lead to spiritual sharing as
the uniqueness of Jesus Christ can be explained to Muslims starting with his
Qur’anic portrait as a stepping stone to understanding his full revelation as
disclosed in the New Testament.
Previous | Page 1 of 4 | Next
Chawkat Moucarry serves with World Vision International as the director for interfaith relations. An Arab Christian from Syria, he currently lives in the U.K.