August 2, 2004
What does the future hold for relations between Christianity and Islam? That is uncertain, but one thing is clear: both religions have a message and a mandate. Christianity has a mandate to go into all the world and to preach the gospel, a gospel of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Islam has a mandate to practice jihad and to bring the non-Muslim world under the rule of Allah and the injunctions of the Quoran.
(George W. Braswell, Jr.)
How do we know what the religion of Islam, professed by more than a billion people, really stands for? On the one hand, Muslim leaders in the western democracies assure us that Islam is a religion of peace, and they quote from the Koran to back up this claim. They are assisted in this effort by such sanitized documentaries shown on American television as Islam: Empire of Faith and Legacy of the prophet Muhammad.
Even President Bush insists that Islam is a religion of peace. But does he really know this? Or is he being diplomatic not to arouse the wrath of American Muslims?
Is 9/11 a Precursor?
On the other hand, September 11, 2001, confronted us with a very different face of this religion. After all, the perpetrators of that spectacular crime left no doubt that they were motivated by their belief that they were obeying Allah and earning a special place in heaven for their martyrdom. They were following the order given in the name of Allah by Osama bin Laden in 1998 when he called on all Muslims to kill Americans and Jews wherever they could.
What evil forces lurk behind Al Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, and similar terrorist organizations now causing great stress and widespread fear of coming disasters? How can we live together in one world with our differences? What will it take to avert the dreadful events of which 9/11 may be an ominous precursor? Are we inevitably drifting into a clash of civilizations that will smash whatever good modern culture has produced?
These are the kind of existential questions that crowd in on us when we reflect on the current world stage. There is obviously no unity within the West about the nature of the threat we face or about the way we should defend ourselves. Many are baffled by the depth of conviction of the radical followers of Islam (Islamists) who hold to the idea of Jihad, that is, holy warfare.
Who better to enlighten us than someone who was born into the Arab world, speaks the language, and knows its history. Bassam Madany is well suited to be our guide in finding our way through the thorny questions we face.
He is a Christian minister who spent most of his working life preaching the good news of the gospel to the Arab world. Born in the province of Antioch, Syria, he received his early education in British and French schools. In 1950 he immigrated to the United States where he studied for the ministry. He served as the Back to God Hour Arabic broadcast minister from 1958 till his retirement in 1994. He also taught a number of courses in Middle East history. He and his wife Shirley now live in retirement near Chicago, where they operate a busy Internet information centre focused on the Middle East and the religion of Islam.
The Bible and Islam
The Rev. Madany has written extensively about his 36-year ministry to the Muslim world. This position gave him the opportunity to interact with tens of thousands of listeners who responded to his radio broadcasts. I want to draw attention to two of his publications.
The Bible and Islam: Sharing Gods Word With a Muslim* was first published in 1979. Its most recent printing with a new concluding chapter was published in 2003. It is an excellent introduction to the core teachings of Islam as well as a refresher course in Christianity. Here in the authors own words is the thrust of this study:
It is equally my conviction that a formal adherence to the Bible as the Word of God, does not equip a person to be a missionary to Muslims. We need to grasp the purpose of the Word. In this book you will find a special emphasis on the redemptive character of the gospel. Biblical revelation finds its focus in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Islam makes it doubly necessary to emphasize and re-emphasize that the Messiah did not come merely to teach and to heal, but to redeem his people from their sins.
Muslims are taught that man is not really sinful in the biblical sense of the word, and thus needs no redemption. It is extremely important therefore that we keep on emphasizing this biblical teaching that the Messiah came from God specifically to deal with the awful imperialism of sin.
The first chapter sets out the heart of Christian ministry as that is summarized in St. Pauls epistle to the Romans. Madany insists that St. Pauls teaching about human sinfulness, salvation by grace through Christs death and resurrection, and the call to repentance and faith is what also must be presented to the Muslims.
Gospel Versus Koran
At the same time he stresses the need for understanding what has made Islam such a prominent force in the world today. He explains what are the tenets of the Islamic faith that provide Muslims with a strong built-in aversion to the Christian gospel.
For example, though the Koran pays considerable attention to Jesus, it considers him to be inferior to Muhammad because the latter received the final, uncorrupted, eternally existent revelation from Allah, which supersedes all previous revelations. Muslims do not believe that Jesus suffered and died on the cross.
Further, Muslims consider the belief that Jesus is the Son of God blasphemous. They think that this would mean that God is not one but is divided, and that would make him less than complete and perfect - and therefore less than divine.
Another core teaching of Islam that is fundamentally at odds with biblical religion is the belief that salvation is not a gift of Gods grace, but can be obtained by obeying all the commands for right living. That includes a strict regimen of prayer, alms giving, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and sacrificing ones life for the advancement of Islam. Redemption is possible by obtaining the right knowledge and living according to all the commands of the Koran and the Hadith (the collected sayings of Muhammad).
The Koranic insistence that every aspect of life must come under the direct rule of Islamic law is at the heart of the conflict between Islam and the Christian idea of freedom. Madany writes: Islam is more than religion, and has always maintained an exclusivist political worldview. It has no room for non-Muslim entities (i.e., states) to freely exist within the context of the Household of Islam.
Where such laws (sharia) are put into effect there is no freedom of religion, nor freedom of any other kind. In fact, where sharia law rules, it is a crime punishable by death to convert to another religion. Invariably, such regimes strictly prescribe the place of women to one of servitude.
Madany shows that during its 1400 years of existence internal divisions have rocked Islam, leading to the existence of divergent streams of thought. The author provides fascinating details of the conflict between these factions, often fought with deadly ferocity. He describes this as a fierce battle between moderates, who are willing to co-exist and interact with the world outside Islam, and Utopian Muslims whose vision is to re-create a world Islamic order
A Panoramic Perspective
The second publication prepared by Bassam and Shirley Madany is a collection of articles (some in the form of book reviews) available on CD, Occasional Papers on Islam No. 1*.
These 33 articles explore all the significant issues related to the meeting of the Muslim and Western world. Here are some of the topics dealt with in this collection: American Muslims, Islam is more than a religion, Islam and war, Jesus in the Koran, Muslims and Christians in dialogue, the attraction of Islam, the world After 11 September 2001, the complex nature of Middle Eastern relations.
These two publications provide a panoramic view of one of the most pressing issues of our time. The authors have managed to pull together a great many strands of a very complex reality. You will get acquainted with outstanding Muslim teachers who pleaded for moderation and goodwill toward the non-Muslim world - and sometimes paid for it with their lives. You will learn of some of the most dedicated and able Christian missionaries to the Muslim world. Al of this is interspersed with personal experiences of the two authors.
In short, these two publications will serve to give the readers an excellent overview of what for many has become an incomprehensible jumble of religious conflict and political turmoil.
What makes these publications especially valuable is that they are written with a deep commitment to biblical truth and a profound love for the Arab people. At the same time these authors have no illusions about the dangers inherent in radical Islam. This is how Bassam Madany puts it:
as a Christian of Middle Eastern roots. I do hope, perhaps, I should say, I wish that the Islamic world would somehow experience a radical change in the direction of democracy and true freedom for its teeming millions. If not, the forecast remains for a very turbulent future. But as a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, I live in the light of the Christian hope as expounded by Saint Paul.
*Bassam and Shirley Madany have developed their Middle East Resources (MER) ministry: www.levant.info. They can also be reached by e-mail at MER@levant.info. Copies of The Bible and Islam, 2003, are available for US$7. Occasional Papers on Islam No 1, 2004, is available on CD at a cost of $3.50.
Their mailing address is: 106 East 162nd Place, South Holland, IL, USA, 60473 2172.