Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Making God Known in the Muslim World (Nov-Dec 2001)

Filed under: — @ 12:11 pm and

Missionary in Pakistan

Name withheld to protect missionary

Viewing the masses of bearded men, in rimless hats, streaming by our house on their way to the mosque for Friday prayers, the idea of needing to make God known in this Muslim city might seem somewhat silly. After all, He is everywhere in this culture…

Towering, literally, just behind our house, is the minaret from the local Shiite mosque. An even larger Sunni mosque is just across the road, and a cricket field, where local children passionately pursue their ‘take-me-out-to-the-ball-game’ obsession (in the form it has taken in most places outside the U.S.).

Five times a day, the clarion call to prayer sings out from across that field, riding on the waves of loud-speakers, washing over every ear in meticulous Arabic, and repeatedly re-affirming Allaaaaaahu Akbar! God is great!’ Five times a day, the cricket field empties, out of respect for the prayers about to commence.

God isn’t only known here; in some ways, He rules.

Yet, as I watch the streams of people and I listen to the call, I find myself (as a Christian) feeling called to prayer as well. Ours is a city of 14 million souls, 97% of whom are Muslim. They know very well that God is great, unbending, powerful, sovereign, majestic.

But will they ever get the chance, in all their lives, to learn that God is love ?

Will they ever know God in His fullness ‘as both grace and truth, holy and loving’ not only commanding obedience, but sending His Son to embody it and His Spirit to empower it?

The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Islam knows God, but not in His fullness ‘not as He is revealed to us through Christ.

Suddenly, the need of making God known in this city, does not seem so silly. And in such a place, surely the good news I have to share will sound very good, indeed.

Or does it?

A CHRISTIAN WORLD, THROUGH MUSLIM EYES

 

‘Why do Christians hate their parents?’ This was the question asked to me by our Muslim landlord, while sitting at our table for dinner one night. He saw the numerous pictures we have on our wall of family parents, siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents!

His question was not intended as insulting, or directed at us, personally; in fact, our conversation had revealed to him that we were obvious exceptions to the rule assumed in his question. He asked it because of TV and movies he had seen depicting rebellious and snarling youth, and showing elders in health-care facilities, rather than being cared for at home. In his mind, this is disrespectful, shameful, and incomprehensible behavior Christian behavior.

‘You are a good man, and your wife is an honorable woman. I see why you are here. You feel much better here, than in America, yes? And it is much better for you here if, Inshallah [God willing], you will have daughters!’ My kind and well-intentioned neighbor shared these enigmatic words with me. Why should I feel better having my daughters in the Muslim world? And why is it seemingly so surprising that I am a good man, and my wife is an honorable woman?

Think of recent movies you’ve seen, or many prime-time TV shows. In how many of them might you see a young woman, on her own, scantily dressed (sometimes even by Western standards, but certainly by non-Western ones), in a bar or some other less-than-honorable situation. She goes home with a man who is not her husband (perhaps, whom she has just met), and they sleep together. Later, as she gets out of bed and puts some sort of a top back on, what is hanging around her neck? A beautiful, gold cross.

Politics and societal morality are not separated from religion in the Islamic world as it is in ours. Thus, our movie stars, pop artists, and even our Presidents, are not just perceived as Western or American they are perceived as Christian.

‘I think you are oppressed. I am respected and valued in my family.’ That statement came from a prominent Muslim women’s group leader, veil in-tact, in response to a question from a Western/female journalist, about the oppression of women in Muslim countries. Sound like a strange response?

I have heard more than one Muslim woman chuckle at the idea that she is stifled or oppressed in her family and culture. Certainly, not all Muslim women share such sentiment, but perhaps you will be shocked to learn that many women hidden behind veils from day-to-day count themselves as blessed, not having to live by Western standards.

It is hard to argue, when I consider: most American women feel pressured to run a home, raise children, and a have a career, simultaneously (and are often made to feel deficient, dowdy, or weak, if they do not). In addition, they are pervasively portrayed as sex-objects, and bombarded with impossible-to-maintain standards of physical appearance, through every media outlet available.

My own six and seven-year-old nieces (both, skinny as string beans) just had a crying fit last summer because they thought the new clothes their mother bought for them made them look fat(!)

Who is it, again, who is oppressing their women?

That is the question many people in the Muslim world (male and female) are very genuinely asking of the Western world.

A world where the parents are expected to obey their children (instead of vice-versa!), the elderly fend for themselves, personal and family honor is non-existent, and your daughters sleep around with whomever they like (conveniently aborting any unfortunate consequences). The Christian world.

CARRYING OUR CROSS, AND CROSSING THE ROAD

Regardless of how you may feel about all that was stated above, I hope the primary point is still clear: It is not only their culture we have to get past in order to make Christ known to Muslims it is our own.

Part of the cross we bear as Western/American Christians, is not only the burden to reach out to Muslims with the gospel of Christ, but also the cultural baggage unfortunately attached to His good name by Western culture. How do we do it?

There is one place I know in Asia (perhaps, there are many others) where, on one side of a road, there is a large, white, spired church a leftover from the colonial period. It is situated in a compound, surrounded by four thick walls. On the wall facing the road, by the gate, is a quotation from Scripture: ‘For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son’ John 3:16 for many, the essence of the gospel.

Just adjacent, but on the opposite side of the road from the church, is a mosque. It is also surrounded by walls, and also has a quotation written by the gate, which is referred to by many Muslim scholars as the ‘essence’ of the Quran: ‘He is God, He is One!’ He begets not, nor was He begotten.

This scene epitomizes how it has it been between Muslims and Christians for well over a thousand years. We remain separate, safe within the walls of our compounds content to scrawl slogans, lob theological grenades, make assumptions, and stare sternly at one another from across the road. This must change.

No matter how many times, or in how many forms, we are able to quote John 3:16 to Muslims, it will mean very little to them until we have made the sacrifices necessary to start to be John 1:14-18:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God, but the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

That is Jesus’ model for redeeming the besmirched and misunderstood name of the Father, and how He best ‘made Him known’ (v.18) to a lost, and only partially informed world. It is the model we are called to in Phillipians 2:5-11, as we are encouraged to take on the same self-sacrificial ‘attitude’ of Christ, living out the nature of God in the form of a humble servant.

Are we willing to come out from our compounds, cross the road, knock on our neighbor’s gate, and invite ourselves in? Dare we to do whatever it takes, so that we can be the Word made flesh, not misinterpreted and misrepresented from a distance, but dwelling among them? Are we willing to share life on their terms, taking on the nature of a servant, learning how to live and communicate God’s fullness in grace and truth as it has come to us through Jesus Christ?

If we are, it is my experience that we will find knees who will bow, and tongues who will confess (even in Arabic) that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.

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