Introduction and Overview
This [post] examines Islamic attempts at missions and evangelism targeted specifically at those who practice Christianity. This examination looks at the Muslim reaction to Christian evangelism, the subsequent employment of similar evangelistic tactics as Christians, and the effective results the employment of those tactics are having in converting Christians to the Islamic faith. It also briefly touches on the difference of spreading a religion verses spreading a political or social way of life.
Islamic View of Christian Evangelism
Evangelism, propagating the Gospel message, and missionary endeavors are a central responsibility of the Christian faith. In the pursuit of evangelism and missionary labors, Christians are often concocting various ways to reach every culture, people group, and religious affiliation. Those affiliated with Islam seem to have a negative response to Christian evangelism and Christian missions.
In his work Arabic Antimissionary Treatises: A Select Annotated Bibliography H.J. Sharkey summarizes a number of pieces written by Muslims as a reaction to Christian missions. The reaction of these Muslims to Christian missions is quite telling. One author “…traces Christian evangelism to the military failures of the original Crusader wars, and argues that Christian missionaries are neo-Crusaders bent on destroying Islam and conquering the world.” (104). Some Muslims, then, perceive missionary work as an extension of the Crusades. An attempt by Christians to take over the world.
Another work cited by Sharkey “asserts that Christian missions in the modern Middle East led ‘the most recent attempt to besiege Islam on its own ground’ and that these new Crusaders remain a threat to Muslims globally. He, therefore, begins his study with a call to action: ‘Brothers of Islam, wake up!’” (106). In other words, there are some in the Islamic religion who are seeing missionary work as a call to war. It may not be the same kind of war as the Crusades, but these authors see Christian missions and evangelism, at the very least, as a war of propagation.
This Islamic reaction toward Christian missions isn’t just about religion, however. Sharkey cites one author who “…argues that missionaries were the most destructive agents of Western imperialism. They planted doubts about Islam, contributed to spiritual weakness or cultural alienation, and paved the way for Westernization—that is, they influenced Muslims for the worse, even if they did not convert them outright” (105). The concern here is not just one of conversion to a different religion, but that Christians are spreading more than the Gospel. They are paving the way for a new culture.
The reaction, then, is not just one of religious affiliation, but one of national treason. Another author, recognizing this distinction “suggests… that one should distinguish between Christianity (masihiyya), the religion of Jesus, and Crusaderism (salibiyya), the ideology of Christian missionaries and Western imperialists” (104). While some Muslims may see the difference between Christianity and Crusaderism, many others will not.
Islamic View of Evangelizing Christians
It is interesting that while Muslims seem to react negatively toward the evangelistic and missionary approaches of Western Christians, some have little hesitation in employing those very same tactics. In Ahmed Deedat and the Form of Islamic Evangelism, Larkin examines the evangelistic tactics of Ahmed Deedat. While some Muslims lament Christians planting doubts in the hearts and minds of Muslims, “Deedat became an enormously popular figure across the Muslim world, known for using the Bible in order to attack the legitimacy of Christianity. Defining his specialty as ‘comparative religion,’ Deedat borrowed from biblical hermeneutics and secular criticism to attack the idea that the Bible is a work of revelation” (101, 2008).
Larkin explains that Deedat used many of the evangelistic tactics of the Western Christians using pamphlets, tracts, conferences, and video to spread doubt about the Bible in the same way Christians spread doubt about Islam in their missionary work. “Deedat is particularly brilliant at using revised and retranslated versions of the Bible to point out the textual differences and in quoting sections of the Bible that describe the same event using different facts. His aim is to undermine its status as the literal word of God” (109, 2008).
With the Bible as his target, Deedat tries to destroy the Christian foundation first, before ever using the Qu’ran to explain or defend Islam. Larkin describes Deedat’s approach as “an unusual one, drawing on the mastery of Christian rather than Muslim texts and his skill at English rather than Arabic” (106, 2008).
Deedat’s approach isn’t the only evangelistic method that Muslims are praising and employing. In the spring 2009 edition of “The Middle East Quarterly,” Uriya Shavit and Frederic Wiesenbach analyzed a number of “Muslim Strategies to Convert Western Christians.” One of the evangelistic approaches employed, according to Shavit and Wiesenbach, was immigration for proselytization. “Islamic scholars found that to ban or ignore mass Muslim migration would only alienate immigrants. Instead, they focused on strengthening the immigrants’ Muslim identity while using them in the service of Islam. They called upon Muslim immigrants to consider themselves part of a global Muslim nation; to legitimize their presence in non-Muslim lands by acting as ideal Muslims; to build Muslim institutions such as mosques and charity organizations; to serve the political interests of Muslims worldwide; and to proselytize” (2009).
What is interesting about this particular approach is that while Muslims perceive Christian Missions as more than the spread of religion, some of them are intentionally employing immigration not merely to spread a religion, but to spread their culture. Whether this is perceived as a reaction to Christian missions and the spread of Western Imperialism, or just a part of spreading Islam is difficult to determine. One thing is certain, some Muslims are specifically going beyond spreading the Islamic religious beliefs to trying to push a cultural and political worldview on other nations.
“The call on Muslim immigrants to Islamize Westerners finds resonance in some works by Western Muslims. Muhammad al-Qadi al-‘Umrani is a Sunni Muslim living in the Netherlands, who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation at King Muhammad I University in Morocco on migration. He invokes the conversion of ‘a considerable number of Westerners’ to Islam as one positive result of migration and contends that migration for the purposes of commerce and da’wa has been proven throughout history to be a constructive contribution to the spread of Islam” (2009). Da’wa is the word used for revival.
Along with Deedat’s evangelistic approaches, and immigration as a means to evangelize, Muslims are also employing technology; specifically the internet. “Islamic Internet sites promote conversion in several ways: basic introductions to Islam; basic information for non-Muslims who wish to convert; news celebrating Islam as the world’s and the West’s fastest growing religion; and guides instructing Muslims in the West on how to bring others to Islam” (2009). One of the keys to using the internet, beyond simply describing the faith of Islam, is the sharing of conversion stories of Christians who have converted to Islam.
Evangelized Christians Converting to Islam
As Muslims employ these various methods of evangelism and missionary work, one naturally wonders how effective these methodologies are. “While the data do[es] not suggest a massive wave of new believers, there are enough to matter. In Germany, statisticians estimated that several thousand Christians convert to Islam every year. In Spain, the number of converts reached around 20,000 in 2006, and in the United Kingdom, perhaps 14,000 had converted by 2006. In the United States, perhaps 20,000 to 25,000 people a year convert to Islam” (2009).
What is surprising, in one sense, is that after the attacks on the World Trade Centers conversion to Islam actually increased in the United States of America.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the September 11 attacks actually led many in the U.S. to begin searching out the facts about Islam. “Several narrators describe the 9/11 attacks as awaking their curiosity about Islam, which led them to embrace the religion. An anonymous female narrator… wrote… that, after 9/11, she wanted to examine whether Islam was really about killing and hatred. She Googled with an open mind the words Islam and Qur’an. It so happened that her search came at a time when, at seventeen years of age, she had began to question her Roman Catholic faith. Two years later, she moved to another city where she met Muslims at the university she was attending; they gave her books and DVDs about their faith. Joining her new friends in the mosque, she felt at home as she never had in church. That experience, she said, completed her journey to the true religion” (2009).
That woman’s experience is not unique when it comes to conversion stories of Christians converting to Islam. Ibrahim Khalil Ahmed describes his conversion from Christianity to Islam in his article “Why I Embraced Islam?” in The Islamic Bulletin. He describes being a Christian who taught against the false teaching of Islam. However as he set out to disprove Islam he “…decided to read the Quran and understand its meanings…to add more proofs against Islam. The result was, however, exactly the reverse. My position began to shake and I started to feel an internal strong struggle and I discovered the falsehood of everything I had studied and preached to the people” (1992).
Ibrhaim’s story is quite convincing. In fact, it reads little different than many Christian stories of conversion. He began reading the Quran and came to a verse that changed his life. “I felt a deep comfort that night and when I returned home I spent the whole night all by myself in my library reading the Quran. My wife inquired from me about the reason of my sitting up all night and I pleaded from her to leave me alone. I stopped for a long time thinking and meditating on the verse; ‘Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, verily thou wouldst have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah’” (1992).
These stories of conversion should tip Christians off to some of the errors they may be making as they practice their own religion. Being aware of the weaknesses that are arising in many self-professed Christians should lead to those weaknesses being addressed in the church to guard against the Islamic approach to evangelism. Wiesnbach and Shayit, for example, discovered some common themes as they reviewed some eighty conversion stories of Christians who claimed to convert to Islam. “A connecting thread for many narratives on conversion… is the concept of reversion: the idea that everyone is born in a natural state of Islam—a state of submission to the will of God—which is corrupted by family and society and that rather than converting away from something, coming to accept Islam is reverting to that original human state. The way to Islam is thus depicted as natural, almost obvious, rather than rebellious or exotic.”
This approach to Islam is suggesting that much of what passes for Christianity is actually just western social indoctrination. Many Christians, having been led to faith through their families, can relate to the notion of their religion being more of a social construct than a personal decision. It is interesting that “…all narrators describe practicing Christianity in their early life as a result of their social background, rather than from a self-made spiritual choice. Asserting the concept that every person is born a Muslim and only society corrupts him serves to rationalize the conversion process. The former relation to Christianity is depicted as having more to do with culture, tradition, and society than with true personal faith.”
Although Muslims seem to reject the Christian approach to missions and evangelism, they have no reservation in employing the same tactics. In their employment of various evangelistic methods some Muslims go beyond religious proselytizing to perusing political and social domination. While they consider Christian missions work a sort of neo-Crusade, their own approach in some cases could be rightly considered a counter Crusade or simply a Crusade in and of itself. The result of their missions’ work has been minor, but notable. Christians are converting to Islam, and it behooves those who practice Christianity to examine the testimonies of Islamic converts from Christianity to determine what, if anything, could be done differently to provide a better defense against these Islamic attempts at evangelism.
Larkin, B. (2008). Ahmed Deedat and the Form of Islamic Evangelism. Social Text, 26(3), 101- 121. doi:10.1215/01642472-2008-006. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 22, 2013).
Sharkey, H. J. (2004). Arabic Antimissionary Treatises:A Select Annotated Bibliography. International Bulletin Of Missionary Research, 28(3), 104-106. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 22, 2013).
Khalil Ahmad, A. I. (September, 1992). Why I Embraced Islam?. The Islamic Bulletin, Issue 9. Retrieved from http://www.islamicbulletin.org/newsletters/issue_9/embraced.aspx
Shavit, U., & Wiesenbach, F. (Spring, 2009). Muslim Strategis to Convert Western Christians. The Middle East Quarterly, 16(2). Retrieved from http://www.meforum.org/2104/muslim-strategies-to-convert-western-christians