Our topic is, obviously, an exercise in Christian understanding for more effective Christian witness among Muslims. It correctly suggests that communicating the Christian faith involves the Christian in understanding not only his Christian faith but also the Islamic faith of Muslims and their understanding of Christianity. The brevity of this article compels us to assume the Christian’s adequate understanding of the content and intent of the Christian Gospel, apart from which an adequate Christian witness, at least in the Biblical sense of the term, is virtually impossible. We will therefore focus on Islam and Christianity as Muslims might view them.
Understanding Muslims’ Understanding of Islam
Simply to acknowledge the Christian contribution to the strained relations between Muslims and Christians which have existed from the beginning of Islamic history (about 600 A.D.) is a step in the right direction (here the Muslim contribution to these strained relations is beside the point). Muslims see the centuries-old Christian animosity towards Islam highlighted especially in the Crusades and the more recent centuries of imperialism. They feel that Islam is the most misunderstood of all religions. Their publications continue to lament insensitive Western portrayals and caricatures of Islam and Muslims, and plead for a fairer estimate of them in the past and present based on Islamic sources and responsible Muslim interpretations of Islamic religion and culture. Indeed it is incumbent upon all Christians who are seriously concerned with Christian witness among Muslims to understand Islam as its sources present it and as its Muslim expositors interpret it, however differing their interpretations of it may be.
To initiate Christians into a truer picture of Islam Muslims might cite from the Qur’an such verses as the following:
And verily We (God) have raised in every nation a messenger,
(proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods…(16:36)
Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered (2:136)
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets: and giveth his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere, such are the God-fearing (2:177).
From the beginning, the Muslim might comment, God has used nature and history to show mankind that He is sole sovereign of the universe, the Creator, the Merciful, the Judge. Through prophets He has guided every nation to the straight path. All the prophets have proclaimed essentially the same message (though rites and practices might vary): the message of Islam, submission to God alone. Thus, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, all the other prophets and all the people who have heeded their summons are rightly called Muslims. Prior to Muhammad the task of the prophet was confined to his particular nation. But since, at the time of Muhammad, every nation had deviated from the pure message of its prophet, God sent Muhammad as His final prophet and messenger, through whom He revealed the Qur’an, his final message, for all mankind. Since Muhammad is the final messenger, “the Seal of the Prophets (33:40)” and “a good example for him who looketh unto Allah…(33:21)”, belief in Muhammad is incorporated as the second essential element into the fundamental creed of Islam: There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger.
Basic to Islam as a religion of particular beliefs and practices is the Qur’an, God’s Word to mankind. In addition to the Qur’an most Muslims locate God’s guidance in the Hadith, the well authenticated accounts of the words and deeds of Muhammad and some of his earliest companions, and in Ijma, the consensus of the Muslim community, especially of the earlier generations of jurists within this community. These three sources provide the foundation for the shari’ah, Islam’s holy law and the perfect manifestation of God’s will for mankind. Muslims might say that it is the shari’ah which moulds Muslims into the Islamic community, Quranically speaking “the best community (ummah) that hath been raised up for mankind (3:110)”. The shari’ah is God’s law vs. all other human codes of law; God’s law, rejecting any division between the sacred and secular; God’s law, offering solutions to all the world’s problems, at least wherever it is practiced with good intention.
For Muslims, then, Islam is the corrective and the culmination of all religions: as the latest and last religion it restores to previous religions the truth which they have lost or from which they have deviated; it confirms and climaxes the truth which these religions have preserved. It is the criterion for determining the right from the wrong.
This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion Al-Islam (5:3).