By Sue Careless
This year’s Mere Anglicanism conference offered multiple sessions on engaging Muslims with the Christian gospel. Meeting under the theme “The Cross and the Crescent: the Gospel and the Challenge of Islam,” the conference attracted nearly 870 participants to Charleston, South Carolina on Jan. 28-30.
Most of the speakers were born in or had served in a Muslim-majority country and spoke Arabic.
William Craig, who teaches philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, spoke on “The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity.” He said that while the two missionary religions share much common ground, they are at key points contradictory in their concept of God. “Both cannot be true, as religious relativists might hope, although logically both could be wrong,” Craig said.
Both Islam and Christianity believe there is only one God, but Islam rejects the Trinity. For a Muslim, Allah is not only incorruptible but without peer, so he cannot have a son.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, has both a Christian and a Muslim family background. He served as a bishop in Pakistan and later in England. For many years he led the Anglican Communion’s dialogue with Muslims, and is now an advocate of freedom in the Middle East.
“Can there be democracy in an Islamic state, especially since it is difficult in Islam to separate the state from religion?” the bishop asked. “Is democracy about taking power or giving up power at the ballot box?”
He said democracy could easily become “a tyranny of the majority” without a Bill of Rights to ensure equality before the law. Muslim law is based on inequality, whether between Muslim and non-Muslim or men and women.
“Secularism does not have the means to overcome militant Islam,” he said.
The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, was born into a Christian family in a Muslim neighborhood. Anis, who spoke on “Christian Witness in the Islamic World,” believes in both service to Muslims and dialogue with them: “We can’t wait for Muslims to come to church.”
In his diocese, Christian schools (in which more than 90% of the students are Muslim), hospitals, primary health care clinics, and nurseries for disabled children far outnumber the churches. The diocese also empowers women with micro-loan programs and free literacy and sewing classes.
“There is always a risk you are only presenting a social gospel, but build bridges that Jesus can walk over,” he said. “Service is not an end in itself.”
Anis participates in interfaith dialogue, which is “not about compromise but listening with love and respect and sharing with boldness.” His diocese promotes art, music, sports, and drama programs for Christian and Muslim youth to enjoy together. “We must be authentic, humble and generous as we love, serve and live among Muslims.”
In a Muslim-majority country, he said, “involving the local church, the community of believers, is crucial for the life of seekers and new believers. Otherwise, converts become fully dependent on foreign missionaries.”
An American-born Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi, discussed his life as the only son of devout and loving immigrant parents: a Pakistani father and an Indonesian mother. He grew up in a patriotic American home; his father served in the U.S. Navy and became a lieutenant commander. Qureshi was appalled to see widespread media depictions of promiscuity, cursing, drinking, drug addiction, and gambling. He assumed that Christianity was to blame.
His mother taught him to be an ambassador for Islam and he was shocked that none of his schoolmates talked about their faith, even if they went to church. He concluded that they did not really believe it or they did not care if he went to hell. During high school, only one young woman told him of her Christian faith. At college he met a classmate named David.
“David had a passion for God that I understood,” Qureshi said. “I knew he cared for me. And I knew he’d take the bullet for me.”
Their friendship lasted over four years of university as Qureshi struggled to test the reliability of the New Testament and the truthfulness of the Qur’an. Finally he prayed: God, what is true? Who are you, really? If you’re Jesus, I want to know.
He asked for a dream and was given one vision and three dreams that successively pointed him toward Christianity and Jesus.
“I met a God who loves me unconditionally as a father,” he said, but he also knew “this would be the end of my family. … I needed time to mourn.”
His parents were devastated.
The Rev. Fouad Masri, founder of the Crescent Project, was born into a Christian family in war-torn Lebanon. He advocated showing unconditional love to Muslims.
“Be compassionate and respectful,” he said. “Many have said, We came to Christ because we saw his love. Create a friendly atmosphere. Don’t argue. Don’t criticize Muslim beliefs. Find similarities in the two faiths and then use biblical bridges.
“Many Muslims are ready to talk about Jesus, but you need to take some initiative and open up the conversation. Don’t criticize Muhammad but lift up the beauty of Jesus. Don’t criticize the Qur’an; instead, offer them a New Testament.”