By Ashley Woodworth and Theresa Clark
How much do Christians really know and understand about Muslims and Islam?
Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana, has sought to break down the barrier of ignorance that surrounds the Islamic faith by bringing known Muslim experts Fred Plastow and Jay Smith to speak to students and the community and to teach courses on the importance of understanding this rapidly-growing religion.
“Ignorance of one-fifth of the world’s population (Muslim) that influences the world is no longer an option for a nation or community that values correct information to guide their lives,” declares Plastow, who taught a course entitled “Understanding Islam” at Grace last year. “There is a great amount of opinion, speculation, false information, and misunderstanding concerning Islam…[and] knowing where to find correct information requires a discerning and critical approach, ” he says.
According to Smith, who spoke at Grace this past September, the Muslim population has grown from 800 million in 1981 to 1.6 billion today, making Islam the fastest-growing religion in the world.
But it is not Islam’s growth that has Smith most concerned. Instead, it is the lack of missionaries to the Muslim world. In fact, there are only 3-4,000 missionaries working with Muslims, according to Smith, who has worked with Muslims for 22 years.
“What’s tragic is that these missionaries who go into the Muslim world stay only three years,” says Smith. “That’s the average.”
He continues, “If this is the fastest-growing religion, then why are we sending so few [missionaries]?”
Look Within Our Own Communities
Yet American Christians need to keep in mind that they do not have to go overseas to encounter Islam. Instead, they should look within their own communities for Muslims to impact.
“A growing Muslim population in the US [is] estimated [to be] between 2 to 3 million,” states Plastow, a Grace graduate who has worked with Muslims for 30 years. “Muslims in our country provide a great opportunity to reach out to the unreached.”
How can Christians effectively reach Muslims for Christ?
Both Plastow and Smith challenge believers to develop relationships with Muslims.
“As in any evangelism and faith-sharing, relationships are important,” says Plastow. “In fact all ministry is relational.”
“Extending friendship to Muslims is important because many are immigrant newcomers to our land,” continues Plastow. “Many who come need help in things that are common to us. Getting papers for driver’s license[s], registering children for schools, finding the best places to shop and other things needed to live in a new area provide opportunities to offer a helping hand.”
In addition, Smith says that through relationships, Christians can build bridges and find out the questions that Muslims have for them regarding Christianity.
“Get to know them. Find out where they are itching so that you know where to scratch,” he counsels.
Study the Texts
Along with forming relationships, Smith and Plastow believe that Christians should extensively study the Islamic texts, especially the Qur’an and the Hadith.
“These two sources (the Qur’an and the Hadith) form the integral part of a Muslim’s daily life and are the resources of meditation governing his spiritual outlook,” explains Plastow.
By having a clear understanding of these texts, Christians will be better prepared to answer questions Muslims may ask. Believers should also continue to study their own Bible so that they remain knowledgeable of their own faith. As Smith puts it, “If I’m going to speak about Jesus Christ, I’d better be able to support it with Scripture.”
Perhaps the most important thing for Christians to remember is not to be afraid of confronting Muslims about their faith. As both Plastow and Smith point out, Muslims love talking about their beliefs.
“Unlike most Americans, Muslims are ready to talk about their faith,” explains Plastow. “Ask questions about their faith and be ready to share boldly, but cordially, your faith in Christ.”
Smith agrees, saying, “You do not have to dangle a carrot in front of them to get them to talk about God. They love to talk about God.”
When witnessing to Muslims, Christians should not shy away from confrontation. In Middle Eastern culture, people learn through debate-style conversations.
“They don’t see it as conflict,” says Smith. “They see it as an exchange of ideas.”
But even more than that, Smith points out that if Christians truly want to follow Christ, they are going to have to endure confrontation. “The Bible is confrontational, and the gospel is confrontational, especially to a Muslim.”
Don’t Be Crippled by Fear
In today’s world, many Christians find it hard to take a stand for their faith, especially in the face of possible rejection or persecution. Yet Smith believes fear should not cripple Christians into failing to fulfill Christ’s call for evangelism.
“He’s going to give us courage, He’s going to give us our mouths, and He’s going to bring people into our sphere of influence who need to know the gospel.”
When witnessing, Smith offers a simple formula: “Be quick, concise, and comprehensive.”
Plastow also advises, “Aim the message to the heart and soul and avoid unfruitful arguments. Allow the Spirit to work in Muslims’ hearts to discover who Jesus is.”
In fifteen years, Islam, not Christianity, will be the largest religion in the world, according to these experts. For Christians, the time to proclaim Christ is now. Perhaps Smith’s challenge to believers sums it up best:
“Who’s going to stop this religion? Who is going to bring these delightful people home? We’re the ones.”
As a 1974 graduate of Grace College, Fred Plastow has been a missionary to the Muslims for more than 30 years. He and his wife Delores are ambassadors for Avant Ministries, a worldwide outreach and church-planting ministry. Their ministry includes church seminars on Islam. For more information, or to request a seminar for your church, contact the Plastows at firstname.lastname@example.org. Avant Ministries’ website is www.avmi.org.
Jay Smith is known as one of the world’s leading authorities on Islam. He has worked with Muslims for 22 years and has participated in numerous debates regarding Islam, including one with the prime minister of Pakistan. He is currently working on his doctorate in London, and holds weekly debates at the famed Speaker’s Corner. For more information concerning Islam and Christianity, Smith recommends www.debate.org.uk and www.answering-islam.org.
Ashley Woodworth and Theresa Clark, both Grace College journalism majors, served as editorial interns with FGBC World this year.