The Table Podcast

Encountering Islam

In this episode, Dr. Darrell L. Bock and Fouad Masri discuss Islam, focusing on basic doctrines and points of connection for discussing Jesus with Muslims.

Masri’s background in Islam
Common misconceptions about Islam
Diversity in Islam
The five pillars of Islam
The meaning of Islam
Christian and Muslim conceptions of God
What are the attractions of the Muslim faith?
How does the gospel speak into a Muslim space?
Discussing Jesus with a Muslim
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I am Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today is another world religion. Today we are focusing on Islam. And my distinguished guest is Fouad Masri, who is president of the Crescent Project. Fouad, welcome to The Table.
Fouad Masri
Thank you, Dr. Bock. Great to be with you.
Darrell Bock
It’s a real pleasure. And we’re going to just dive right in. Because there is a ton to cover in trying to introduce Islam and only having 46 minutes to do it in.

So let me start off first, Fouad, tell us a little bit about your background and how you are able to help us appreciate and interact with what Islam is.

Fouad Masri
Yes, thank you. My father is Lebanese and my mom is Syrian. And I was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. My grandfather got saved in Toledo, Ohio, and he brought the gospel to our family. So during the Lebanese War I doubted the existence of god, whether Jesus is true. But God used the same war to draw me closer to Himself. I became a believer and I started sharing the gospel with my classmates, my neighbors. Been sharing the gospel since 1979. Our ministry has tools and outreach materials to Muslims. And we have seen Muslims follow Christ, get baptized, and now serving with us. We have Muslim background Christians who are on staff with us. So we praise the Lord for that.

We found out that many times when we talk to Christians about Islam, there are a couple of misconceptions in that. Our ministry has been very helpful not only in the U.S. but now we have staff in Europe and the Middle East to rally the church, to cross the street and share the good news with Muslims in their neighborhood.

Darrell Bock
That’s terrific. You actually have formal training in Islamic studies; am I right about that?
Fouad Masri
Yes. I have a master’s degree in Islamic studies and I’ve read the Quran in Arabic 20 times, now 21 times. And I’ve written on Islam and how to witness the Muslims. And I am working on a new book, a comparison between the Quran and the bible to help not only Christians, but also Muslims to see the difference between the two books.
Darrell Bock
And is it a newsletter that you circulate through the web? Am I right about that, that you have out of your organization?
Fouad Masri
Yeah, Crescent Project does multiple activities. We have web training – it’s called Bridges. And then we have a DVD study called Bridges Study. About 26,000 people have gone through the study. And then we have a two-day conference and a one-week conference. And we rally the church, number one, to pray. We believe that Jesus’ words, when he says in Matthew 9, ask the lord of the harvest. So we are asking Christians to pray for Muslims Friday at noon. And we send an email called Call to Prayer. And that email is to challenge the church, to challenge believers to look at the news and then look beyond the news. Not only see what CNN and Fox News and whatever you hear on the web. We want people who love Jesus to see beyond the news and see that Chris is working and we have a role as believers to share the gospel, to shine the light. Jesus says you are the light in the darkness. So we want to shine the light to our Muslim friends, neighbors, colleagues, refugees. So this is what we do. We ask people to pray with us and we send an email on a regular basis.
Darrell Bock
Okay, let me transition now actually to talking about Islam. And you said there are a couple of misconceptions that people have about Islam that they often approach you about. I think rather than going through the question I had, I think I want to start with that one. What are a couple of the common misconceptions that people have about Islam that they need to really understand in order to even begin the conversation?
Fouad Masri
That’s a very good point, especially as believers, especially if our listeners are believers and born and raised in North America. We have a tendency to think that all Muslims are Arabs. And that is not the case. Today there is 1.5 billion Muslims. Most Muslims today are not Arabs. They could be Indonesian or Persian. Iranians are Persian; they’re not Arab. It’s an insult to call an Iranian an Arab. It insults them. Or they are Turkish. If you call a Turkish man an Arab man, that’s very insulting. It’s a derogatory term. And vice versa. If you call an Arab a Turk or Kurds or Persian, that’s a very bad term in our culture. We are very proud and racist in our view of culture.

So for us as North American believers, we need to know not every Arab we meet is necessarily a Muslim. There are many Arabs who are Christian. They are still a minority, but there are. There are 15 million Coptic Christians in Egypt. There are at least two million Christians in Lebanon between evangelical, orthodox, and Catholic. So just because you meet an Arab person does not mean they’re automatically a Muslim. However, most Muslims today are not Arab, which adds to the problem. Because the Quran, the book of Islam, is written in Arabic. So majority of Muslims today who are not Arab do not even understand what they are reading. They might be reciting it, maybe they know some words. But sadly today most Muslims do not know what they are reading if – if they read the Quran. Eight out of ten Muslims have never read the whole Quran.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. And, man, there are layers to this. You’re making several points. One is not every Arab is a Muslim. The second is that there are actually more Asians who are Muslim than Arabs.
Fouad Masri
That’s correct.
Darrell Bock
And then the third is that there are a lot of people who are Muslim who don’t connect to what the west often thinks of as the holy book of Islam and then thinks about it in terms of the way Christians relate to the bible. And it’s not that simple in Islam either, right?
Fouad Masri
Yes. And one of the good ways to think about it, most Americans have an evangelical or protestant background. Well, the protestant reformation was about putting the language of the people into the church, bringing the bible into the language of the people. So the bible was printed in German, Dutch, other languages, English. While today the Quran must be read and recited in Arabic. And only certain people can give you religious decisions. So think of 21st century of millions of people living while we used to live under the tapestry and dark ages where everything was done in Latin, Latin was the holy language, people would go to what we call mass and leave and have no idea what was read or even the faintest idea of what was done.

So Islam becomes a religion of ritual. And the world Islam comes from the Arabic word salema. Not Salam. Salam means peace. Salema means to surrender. According to Islam, humans are slaves and they surrender to Allah, the master. So the relationship between a master and slave is a relationship of fear and obedience. The best thing you can do in Islam is to obey god. The best thing you can do in the bible is to be a friend of Jesus. Jesus says I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what the master is doing. I call you friend. So there is a different understanding. Islam brings the fear, the shame, it gives you details, Islam details for you. Everything from how to wash your hands, how to do prayer, to do salat, to how to have sex with your wife. The gospel is different. It doesn’t give you rules; the gospel gives you principle. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t tell you how to do it, because it’s a principle. I can do it in many ways, multiple ways. I can love my neighbor from cutting his lawn to inviting him to a meal. So Jesus says do unto others what you want to do unto you. Jesus says love your enemies. Do not repay evil with evil, but you repay evil with good. So suddenly our concepts are totally different.

Here’s a religion that says follow Jesus. The ultimate thing I can do in my life is to worship Jesus, to follow him, to have a relationship with him, to know that I can call abba father when I pray. To vice versa, to praying a specific prayer. You can only say the seven versus in the beginning of the Quran when you pray. There are ten sentences that you can pray. You cannot talk to God at the level that you can talk to Him in the bible. He is not your heavenly father; he is your master.

So many times that’s what keeps Muslims in the Islamic faith is they have this fear and afraid from God’s punishing them. And also they have this fear of shaming their culture. It becomes infused. Their religion is infused with the culture.

So I meet people from Afghanistan. I tell them, “Are you Muslim?”

They say, “Yeah.”

I say, “Why?”

“Because, well, I’m Afghan.” You know? It’s like they have never studied the Quran or compared it to another religion. They are must Muslim by birth. They are just Muslim because they are Afghan. And that’s so sad because it’s the 21st century and still there are governments today it’s illegal to have a bible in their country and it’s illegal if you change religion. You will be executed. I mean, it’s a disgrace that today in the 21st century somebody can die for choosing a different religion. And that is embarrassing to the whole planet. How can we even accept that, that people don’t even have a choice? What a shame that people don’t have a choice of choosing their religion. We can choose our Starbucks coffee, we can get a latte, I can go pick a different car. But in many Muslim countries I cannot even choose what book to read.

Darrell Bock
Okay, let me back up. Because I think you’ve gotten a little ahead of us here. And let me ask the question this way. Many people who are used to Christianity are used to it, at least if you’re thinking about evangelical Christianity, you’re thinking about it being a religion of the book, that is built around the bible and an attempt to follow the bible, that kind of thing.

So the holy book, if I can say it this way, operates at the center of the faith. At least when it operates the way it should, that’s an important part of the way Christianity demonstrates itself and works.

In Islam it’s not that simple. It’s not just the matter of the way of reading the Quran and following the Quran. Because you’ve got different sects of Islam. You’ve got the whole jurisprudence that comes along, how the Quran is operated. You’ve got Hādīs that are in operation that are interpreting the Quran, that kind of thing. So talk a little bit about that, that when you meet a Muslim, it’s not a monolithic thing that you’re encountering. Even though there are certain parts of Islam that Muslims share across all those groupings.

Fouad Masri
Yes, thank you. Mohammed, when he started, according to Islam – everything I’m sharing now, that’s according to Islam. Historical findings now are even doubting the story. But the story is that Mohammed was an orphan in Mecca. He was raised as a pagan. And then later when he was 40 an angel appeared to him and told him that he is a prophet. So he taught the Arabs the worship of one god.

Due to persecution, he ran away to another city, which we call Medina. And he started attacking the pagans. Basically he won that war in 630 A.D. He destroyed the idols in the Kaaba and kept the pilgrimage of the Kaaba

Now, there is a crisis in Islam. In Islam Allah speaks to Gabriel, according to Islam, the Angel. And Angel Gabriel speaks to Mohammed and Mohammed leads the people. So Mohammed died in 632 A.D. According to the hadith traditions, Mohammed died being poisoned. So we have a struggle right now with Muslims. If Allah speaks to Gabriel and Gabriel speaks to Mohammed, Mohammed is dead; what do we do? So there was a big split in Islam who will become the successor of Mohammed. In Arabic it’s halifa sallah rasul or khalifah. So that fight, his first cousin, Ali said I should be the one succeeding. Others disagreed. Those who disagreed with Ali became what we call Sunni, using the word sunnat al-nabi. Means the way of the prophet, the calf of the prophet Mohammed. Those who followed Ali were called shiat ali, means the followers. So these two branches had a huge fight. And the Shia lost the fight multiple times. Most Muslims today are Sunnis. So these are the two big umbrellas, Sunni and Shia, over the fight of who can lead the Muslim nation.

And it’s really important that the attacks of September 11th most Americans think it has to do something with politics. Its roots are in the abolishment of the caliphate in 1923. Regardless of that, it’s very important to understand that as a Muslim who interprets for you the Quran. Then you have different denominations. So you have the big two umbrellas, Sunni and Shia. But under them there are different sects and partitions because you need someone to reinterpret the Quran. And the word jurisprudence is number one to look at the Quran, basically some Arabic grammar, sentence structure. Then look at the hadith. The hadith is traditions on the life of Mohammed. And then they add what scholars decide.

So give you an example. Can I marry a girl age ten? In the United States that’s illegal. There is what we call an age of majority. But according to Islam, you can marry a girl as young as six. Because one, the Quran says you can marry as many woman – he says marry as many you want. And then he says four only at a time. Then Mohammed himself married Aisha at age six. Because of the jurisprudence he says okay, as an imam I can give permission to men in my community to marry women age six, eight, nine, ten, 11.

So one of the crises we have in the Middle East is child brides. And it’s all over the Middle East. It’s not happening only in one country. And many times the legal system does not stop it. And sadly this is all uncovered because I guess in America somebody used their Twitter account and now we’re busy. But that’s another cup of tea.

Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Fouad Masri
But the idea is these are the issues we are dealing with. When you look at Islam – and they’re not all the same. If could be Sunni branch, Shia branch. But under those two umbrellas are different sects. So you have the Alawites are from the Shia branch. You have the Wahabis are from the Sunni branch. And then you have cults. We have the Hameedias, the Bahabis. And these are considered branches or cults of these religious denominations.

So it’s what important what you’re saying, Dr. Bock, is that when you meet a Muslim, it’s easy to put them all in one box. And we shouldn’t. We need to know that they come from different backgrounds.

Darrell Bock
And they also approach their interaction with culture in different ways as a result. So some of them are hostile and some of them are less-than-hostile, if I can say it that way. They will engage. That’s also important to know, isn’t it?
Fouad Masri
Yes. Many times it depends how engaged Islam in the culture. So give you an example. Albanian Muslims, Bosnians, their Islam is very – it’s like a veneer. It’s something that they do. Maybe they fast Ramadan. They don’t know Islam, they can’t read the Quran in Arabic.

Compare that to somebody from Saudi Arabia where the women cannot drive, the women cannot leave anywhere without permission and have a male escort with her all the time to make sure she is safe.

So that’s why it’s very important to understand when they come to America what is their view of the United States. Now, I would like to share with our audience that today we are seeing more openness by Muslims to the gospel. And many Muslims today are more interested to know about American culture and our faith because it’s not accessible. And many Saudi students when they come to America, their number-one thing they want to do, they want to visit a church. Because there are no church buildings in Saudi Arabia. It’s illegal to even build a church or have a bible or even a bible store, book store with bibles. So many Saudis are interested to know. Maybe they don’t want to become Christian, but they are interested. And what a great opportunity that we can talk to a student about Christ.

Darrell Bock
Okay. So let’s transition and try and help people understand a little more about Islam. And I think the place I want to start is you often hear about the five pillars of worship, just to give a feel for this. And I kind of want to go through these somewhat quickly but one at a time so that people get a sense of the range of what this covers.

The first is the confession of faith. That is there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet, which is kind of the theological core of Islam. And I take it formed a little bit in reaction to Christianity, but an affirmation of monotheism at the same time.

Fouad Masri
Yeah, you can say that. And it’s important to know that once they say that, does not mean they are all the same faith. Because they could use that to say they are from a Muslim umbrella, but they could be Shia or Sunni using that.

The other thing is lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh becomes magical statement. They whisper it in the ears of children when they are born, if they are entering place or if they are afraid of demonic activity, they will use that. So it’s important to understand that Islam is more of a ritualistic religion rather than a logical religion. So we use these things in a ritualistic form. When you enter the mosque, when you start prayer, when there is a birth, when there is a death, if you’re in a place that you’re scared, you say that.

Darrell Bock
Okay. And then the second is prayer, which is five times a day. I’ve been in Muslim countries where everything stops in the middle of the day as people pull out their mats and pray. So prayer is an important part and is one of these five pillars, right?
Fouad Masri
Yes, absolutely. Salat is not really prayer in the biblical sense. Salat is basically a ritual. You have to wash your hands in a specific way. Then all the openings of your face and then you have to wash your feet. After that, you can do Salat. If you don’t do the wudu, it doesn’t count. The second thing is you are not talking to god; you are reciting the first seven versus. And when you end, you look to your right and say As-salāmu ʿalaykum, which means peace upon and you. And to your left you say As-salāmu ʿalaykum. Even if you are alone, you do this. So you ask Muslims who are you greeting? You are alone doing Salat. And they say I am greeting the angel on the right who keeps track of my good works and the angel on the left who keeps track of my bad works. Basically the Islamic prayer is showing god that you did it just correct. If you skip one, you can make it up. You can even add another kneeling, another rackie because according to Mohammed adding an extra one helps you on judgement day.

So it’s very important when Muslims say oh, we pray five times a day. Well, no. you have a ritualistic activity five times a day. I pray all day. Yes. I pray, I’m calling to God. So it’s important the English language there is not sufficient. Because the word prayer they are talking about is a ritualistic activity.

Now, the Sufi branch of Islam claims that you can do that and then add your own dua. Dua means appeal. So it was influenced by Rumi and others. But Islamic prayer as instituted by Mohammed from the beginning, you do not any of your words. God is not interested. These are not holy words. Use only the Quranic verses. And you must do it exactly. Even they say that the water should go between your fingers. It’s very important. It has to go between or else you’ve done it wrong. You have to redo it again. And wudu happen, after that you cannot touch a Christian, a Jewish person, a pagan, or a woman. Because a woman might defile you as a man, or walk on the street and get splashed by like when cars drive by. Maybe that water has some defiled water and that will defile you. So it’s very important to do the Wuḍū right before you’re going to do prayer. That’s why in the mosques there’s bathrooms where they have these sheaths with a tap. So you do the Wuḍū and immediately you can be holy enough to pray. While Jesus says you are holy because He makes us holy.

Darrell Bock
Well, you talked about the confession of faith. We had talked about what I called prayer, but actually is more of a ritualistic five times a day address of a set piece, a liturgy if you will.

There are three other pillars to this, and then I’ll let you go through them one at a time. There is the fasting, especially during Ramadan. There are alms, the call to serve the poor, and then there is the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those make up the other three of the five pillars.

So let’s pick up with the idea of fasting in Islam.

Fouad Masri
Yes, thank you. In Islam many times you hear them say Islam is an easy religion because you have to believe in five things and you must do five things. You must believe in god, in his angles, in his prophets and his books, and judgement day, which is very important. And the five things that we do is to do the claim the shahada or the creed, to do the salat, the ritual salat, and then the fasting, which happens during Ramadan. It’s a lunar month, so it changes with our calendar, with the solar calendar. But you cannot eat during the daytime or drink water during the daytime. You only can eat and drink at night. But that’s a month of fasting.

Then the alms. The Sunni branch of Islam says you give two-and-a-half percent of your income. The Shia tends to give five percent of their income. Now, define what is income, that’s another conversation.

But then lastly is pilgrimage. And according to Mohammed said anyone who can do pilgrimage must come to Mecca, visit Mecca in their lifetime, once in their lifetime. Now, some will do it more. If you come at another time than hajj, pilgrimage, it’s called the Umrah, which is not as much credit. You don’t get as much credit as if you go to hajj. This year we had almost two million people go to Saudi Arabia and visit Mecca and Medina and do the tawaf, which is going around the Kaaba, kissing the black stone, throwing stones at the devil, and then going to where Mohammed gave his last message.

Darrell Bock
Okay. And the Kaaba is what, just for people who wouldn’t know what that is?
Fouad Masri
Kaaba is an Arabic word meaning cube. It’s basically a square room built – historically it’s built a couple of times. It’s fallen before. But supposedly according to Islam, this was built by Abraham and he used it to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, where god provided a sheep instead of his son. And so according to Islam it’s supposed to have been from the days of Ishmael. But it’s right there. The mosque is built around this room. It’s a square room.
Darrell Bock
Okay. So we can go back and collect an idea I think you talked about in the first segment a little more, and it’s this; the name Islam you said meant – I actually have heard the translation struggle. But you used a different translation. So Islam comes from an Arabic word that means – and I’ll let you fill in the blank.
Fouad Masri
Yeah. Salama means to surrender. You submit. Islam is the religion of submission. That’s why all you have to do to become Muslim is to say the creed. Once you say the creed, lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh, once you say that in front of a Muslim, you are now a Muslim. That’s all you have to do. I was listening to an imam on YouTube two days ago and he says now once you declare to become Muslim, you come in and we tell you what Islam is. So I cannot interact with the text. I cannot tell him, well, I have a problem that Mohammed allowed four wives at a time. You can’t say it. You cannot question that. That’s what the Islam says.

I cannot say for example why Mohammed is a profit. That’s an insult. That’s a blasphemy. So doubt in Islam is a sin. You come into Islam and we tell you what is the faith.

Now, the other thing I need to make sure our listeners are aware of is that most Muslims today, did not choose Islam. They did not decide between the bible and the Quran. They didn’t know how to read them. They were told some false information. So most Muslims today believe that Christians worship three gods. Well, that’s not true. But they tell them we worship three gods. Most Muslims today believe that Christians worship Jesus as the result of a sexual union between God and Mary. That’s not true. That’s a blasphemy for us.

Most Muslims today are told that Adolf Hitler was a Christian. That’s not true. If you study any – if you go to the Middle East, they teach them that this man had a Christian faith. He did not have a Christian faith. So we have false information.

Growing up in Lebanon, we get some movies and things from Europe and America. And they will point to that as Christian ethics. When you look at Hollywood, they say, well, these movies, this is how Christian ethics is. And that is embarrassing. Because one, that is not true. Many times movies do not represent Christian ethics or biblical teaching. So it’s important to understand when you meet a Muslim is they do not know what we believe. They might not know what they believe. They might maybe know a little of it. But on top of that, they do not have any idea what we believe.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. I remember having a conversation with a Christian in Turkey who came out of a Muslim background. And he said when he was growing up, he thought every westerner was a Christian and that everything that came out of the west was Christian. And so he made that association that you just talked about, which is Well, Hollywood movies, that reflects Christian ethics. That kind of thing.

So I think the point that we’re making in all this, no matter which way we’re going, from Islam to Western listeners or to Christians, or from Christians to Muslims, is there’s a lot of misunderstanding going both ways about what their particular personal faith might actually be and what it might involve.

Fouad Masri
That is correct. And so for them the five pillars, they are looking to us; do we have our own five pillars? So I came up with five. I tell Muslims that Christians believe in one god, in one savior. His name is Jesus. One spirit that binds us together. One message, called the bible. And then one family. We all are one family. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Africa or from Europe or from China or wherever you’re from. We are all one family in Christ. John 1:12. So it’s exciting when you come at the conversation from one respect and knowing that having these five pillars you can communicate with our own five pillars.

But I love what you’re saying to our audience, Dr. Bock, here, is that we need to know not all Muslims are Arabs, not all Muslims know necessarily their religion, but all Muslims know a little bit about these pillars, these things that they should do. Whether they are doing them or not, at least then know about them and we can start a conversation knowing where they are coming from.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. Let me shift gears here and talk about – well, let me go where I was going by defining Islam. And you put it in terms of submission. One of the differences that stands out to me about Islam in contrast to Christianity at least at the doctrinal level is that Islam is about this relationship of submission. And if I can say it this way, the emphasis in Islam is on a very sovereign god, if I can say it that way. The emphasis in Christianity – Christianity has this whole covenantal dimension of how God relates to and engages with His creation, cares for it through covenant relation, et cetera. There is nothing quite that equivalent in Islam. Am I right in saying if there’s one big difference in the conception of God, perhaps the difference between the trinity and monotheism, it would be that dimension at a relational level; is that fair?
Fouad Masri
Yes, sir. Especially that god in Islam is transcendent. Sovereign, but he is also transcendent. He is unknowable. While god of the bible, especially in the prodigal son, it’s not only the waiting father, but He is the father who runs. It says in John 3:16, for God so loved that he gave. This idea that God is sovereign, God is on His throne. But His holiness demands of him the idea of a redemption. He is the redeemer. He is the God who saves. So you are correct.

So for you and I when we read scripture, we find in the bible the saying God wants us to talk to Him. He yearns for us. You find in Islam if you do not do this, there is punishment. The word hell is almost mentioned in every page of the Quran. Almost. And so Islam starts with the idea that Mohammed came as a messenger but also maveeran. Maveeran means he is telling them, hey, there is judgment day, there is hell. While for us, Christ says the son of man has come to seek and save the lost. It’s a total different understanding of who God is.

Darrell Bock
Now again, just talking about Islam again, there is a huge variety within Islam depending on which sector you are part of, how you engage, which imam you connect yourself to, et cetera. So one of the things that’s a challenge in interacting with Muslims is actually an understanding of how they understand their own Muslim faith and what they do and don’t believe.
Fouad Masri
That is correct. Yes.
Darrell Bock
And so that means that if you are engaging with someone who comes out of a Muslim background, probably the first thing you have to do is have some conversation in which you let them talk to them about what they believe and what they are committed to, et cetera, so you begin to get a clue and an inclination about what it is that draws them to the faith, how they view their spiritual relationship to God and that kind of thing.

And it strikes me that Islam’s attraction is the orderliness that it gives to life in the way it sees it and also in this sense of duty that it develops, those kinds of things.

What else makes Islam – what causes someone to be an inherent follower is it that there’s a nationalism that’s sometimes attached to it I guess. What else creates the attraction to Islam to someone who is a Muslim?

Fouad Masri
You said it correctly; most Muslim cultures are very chaotic. There’s a lot of chaos. And Islam brings order and structure for them. Islam answers questions on, well, what do I do when I eat, what do I do – you know, they say you use your right hand, not your left hand. So it’s very important that way.

But also there is this idea of shame and honor. So I don’t want to admit that the Iranian let’s say culture is wrong or I don’t want to admit that Lebanon has failed. You know? So what I want to show is I’ll start pointing out what’s wrong with other religions because I want to defend my religion. So there’s shame and honor.

Also I want to honor my family. So there is this fear somehow if I said something negative about Islam, it might shame my family. So I stay with it. Also because I am ignorant of other faith, I think oh, this faith must be the best.

So I’ll give you an example. If I believe that all people are polytheist, including the Christians, they worship three gods – God, Mary, and Jesus – why should I change? Islam is the best. It teaches one god, and that’s the right way. So you find that I don’t have a correct comparison, but still that comparison convinces me that this is the best thing.

The other thing we discover as Muslims come to the west, they don’t see believers, they don’t see practicing Christians. So it becomes a way for security for them. I’ll give you an example. If I go downtown to many major cities today in the United States, there is crime, there is drunkenness, there is drug addiction. So if I move to this country and I find myself in a neighborhood where this is happening, I think wait a second; Christianity has failed in America because people are living this way. So I will retreat back to what I was raised and thinking that is the best thing.

Now, for converts, we discover those who convert to Islam, we discovered many of them, the majority of them are in it because it’s exotic. It gives them something new, it gives them some kind of structure, ritualistic structure. It’s sad the number of people who convert to Islam without even studying the Quran or even studying the life of Mohammed. But the good news is that also those who convert to Islam also convert out and they become believers in Christ as they do their homework on scripture.

So it’s important to know when you meet a Muslim that their culture affects, their background affects their information, how much information about other religions affects that. And then Islam could be the structure that is comforting for them in a society like United States or Canada where there’s a lot of diversity, a lot of options and they feel like hey, that’s too much.

Darrell Bock
Now, you’ve suggested this already, and it’s actually been part of my experience as well, that there are many Muslims, particularly Muslims who have either been forced out of the Middle East or have chosen to come here who really in part many of them come because they have rejected or don’t want to be a part of the life that they lived formerly and they are open to thinking about Christianity.

So here I want to kind of transition from this is what a Muslim is attracted to in being a Muslim to how does the gospel speak into those attractions and how do you move people in that direction. And I think the first step is to say that because Muslims are coming from so many different places and in many cases are nominally attached to their faith, there actually is a lot of opportunity to engage with, get to know, and share your faith with Muslims. Am I right about that?

Fouad Masri
Yes, thank you. This is very important that our listeners know this. That today many Muslims are asking questions. Not only because of the attacks of September 11th, but the Arab Spring and the war in Syria and the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan. Many are asking question does God really exist? Does God care? Are there other ways to know about God than Islam?

Our team in Sicily and in Greece, when the refugees arrive, they are all saying thank you. One of our teams, the Muslim man said, “You Christians are here to take care of us. Thank you. Why? Why you do this?”

A church worked with us and did our training in Austin, Texas. Last January they were in Athens working with refugees. And the man asked a question, “Why do you call Jesus son of God?” And the pastor answered the question. The next day he came and he says, I want to take Christ as my savior. This makes sense that I can find salvation and assurance that my sins are forgiven. I don’t have to greet the angel on the right and the angel on the left.

So suddenly this man’s need was an answer to this theological question, what do you mean by son of God. The other person, his view of Christianity was maybe the enemy and discovered they were the help.

Another church in Oregon, they did the training, how to witness to Muslims. They are working with refugees. And I met this older gentleman. He is like the grandfather. When he found out I speak Arabic – he doesn’t speak Arabic – his number one question was “Would you get me an injeel,” – an Arabic new testament – “Would you get me an Arabic new testament?” I want to read the words of Jesus.

And when I asked him why, he goes, from the moment we moved to this country, the moment they welcomed us in America, the Christians are the number-one people around us.

I was in Kansas City. I was preaching in a church. I looked to my left on the second service. There are two women with the Arab garb, with the hajib. So after the service I went straight, said “As-salāmu ʿalaykum, waʿalaykumu as-salām.” I said, “Do you attend this church?”

They said, “Oh, we are students here. We were invited by our classmate and we have attended here the last year. We love coming, hearing about God and Jesus.” And it was a very wonderful conversation. Now, both ladies, they were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They did not tell me if they had become believers. I’m not sure why was their cause. But one of them asked me how can she get a bible to her family. And we gave her a way to get her a bible to her family back in Saudi.

So there is this desire many times when they see our love, when they see our light, when they see our kindness, they want to know more because they don’t know. Many Muslims, they hear about Jesus, that he was born of the Virgin Mary. Two Afghan ladies said to this American friend, they said, “We knew about Jesus coming to earth, but we didn’t know that he died and rose from the dead.” That is the core of the message; that Jesus is the savior who died and rose from the dead.

So I get excited because I have so many Muslims I talk to or testimonies of people just beginning a conversation, just beginning a conversation. “Oh, you are a Muslim? Oh, you believe in one god.” And begin that conversation. Let them share. And then let the God of Abraham lead them to the knowledge of Christ the Messiah.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. I’ve heard the same story. I have a missionary friend who is in Albania. And the story that you told about why are you here taking care of us as both a surprise and creating an openness, just showing good hospitality for lack of a better description. Opening the door to thinking about how to pursue some of these relationships. And of course the stories of students who come over here who are ministered to through organizations that seek to host them and help them acclimate to the United States, et cetera. They are loaded with testimonies of people whose experiences led them to the Lord. So there are lots of ways to do this.

We’ve just got about three-and-a-half minutes left. So let me ask you one other question. Sometimes the idea of Jesus being God is a huge hurdle for a Muslim initially because they don’t think God engages in the everyday activities of life and even the everyday products of life, if I can say it that way. I’m trying to say this gently. And so the idea that God could be human and go through the limitations of humanity is something that is offensive to a Muslim. Do you have any advice about how to have that particular conversation with a Muslim who raises that kind of an objection?

Fouad Masri
Yes, thank you. This was also an issue for the Jewish people in the days of Jesus. They picked up stones to stone our savior. And Jesus says, what good deed I am being stoned? And they said we are stoning you for blasphemy. This concept is strange. We agree with that. But it is a biblical concept.

The way we discover that it works, one, you explain to them that Jesus is the word of God. You say Jesus is the word of God. Many times they say to me, “Is Jesus God?” I say no; he is the word of God. And they say okay, we agree with that because the Quran calls Jesus Kalimatullaah, the word of God. So they don’t know what that means. Then I say is there a difference between God and His word? Well, there is no difference. This means whatever God can do, His word can do. And so it’s important. Colossians, He is the image of the unseen God. Hebrews, God who spoke through many prophets. In these last days he spoke through Jesus. So it is important to not be afraid to claim what the bible claims.

But if I want to take it on the practical level a little bit more –

Darrell Bock
We’re running out of time, so it’s got to be quick.
Fouad Masri
Yes, sir. The practical way is let them read the words of Jesus. I have an imam, Imam Hassan, was in Nebraska. At a coffee shop somebody gave him a bible. He read the words of Jesus where it says from the fruit you shall know them. He gets saved and baptized. The words of Jesus speak for who Jesus is. Many times we try to explain this with our own power. Let the word speak for itself.
Darrell Bock
That’s a great piece of advice. The other person I was talking about who is in turkey came from a Muslim background said the way I came to the Lord is someone gave me a bible and I started reading. And the more I read, the more intrigued I became. The more I realized that what I’ve been told about Jesus wasn’t what was reflected in the bible. And I came to the point where I understood that what I had been told in Islam versus what I was reading in the bible – he came to identify with what the scripture was saying and he came to the Lord. And he is now one of the few trained ministers in Turkey today. So it’s an interesting story.

Well, Fouad, I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about Islam, helping us kind of get our hands around what is a complex religion. We’ve hardly done it justice in the little time that we’ve had here, but at least we’ve gotten the conversation started. And I thank you for being with us.

Fouad Masri
Thank you.
Darrell Bock
And we thank you for being a part of The Table and hope you’ll be back again with us soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Fouad Masri
Fouad Masri was born and raised in the war zone of Beirut, Lebanon. He has minitered to Muslims since 1979. In 1993, he founded Crescent Project to nurture transformational relationships between Christians and Muslims and to rally the Church to reach out to Muslims to share the Good News of Christ. Fouad has authored 14 books including Outreach Magazine’s 2015 Cross Cultural Resource of the Year Connecting with Muslims: A Guide to Communicating Effectively. He holds a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication and an M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Islamic Studies.
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