Global Missiology English, Vol 1, No 12 (2014)

Font Size:  Small  Medium  Large

The Ethics of Silence in Witness to Muslims

Ant Greenham


Typically, criticizing Islam is unhelpful in religious discussions with Muslims. Consider the following conversation between a Muslim and a seasoned missionary in the Middle East:

Nader, persistent, asked again, “What problem do you have with Islam?” Giving in I said, “Well, for example the place where it says ‘it’s necessary and good at times to beat your wife.’” “It doesn’t say that,” Nader replied.  “Or where it says a woman is only worth half a man. She is only entitled to half the inheritance that a man is entitled to” I added. “You don’t understand. That is because a woman is married and will be provided for by her husband” he replied.

Then, walking up to the car, I decided to go for it. “Islam and every other religion besides Christianity teach that a person must work to earn forgiveness and salvation from God. Christianity teaches that no one can earn forgiveness by doing good works. Jesus came to die for the sins of man. Forgiveness and salvation from sin is a gift provided by Jesus and received by faith. That is the main problem I have with Islam . . . and any other religion.” Nader replied thoughtfully, “You’re right about that.”

Nader may or may not embrace Christ in future, but it’s worth noting the change in his responses when the conversation moves from criticism of Islam to a discussion of grace in Christ.
Adding to this anecdote, it is interesting that evidence from qualitative conversion research I conducted in 2003 points in the same direction: Rejection of Islam is not a primary factor in Muslims coming to Christ.  In fact, my findings from Israel/Palestine and Bangladesh suggest that any rejection of Islam “occurs independently, or subsequent to converts’ encounters with Jesus. Major conversion patterns . . . do not show Muslims turning to Christ because they believe Islam is wrong. Accordingly, missionaries desiring to see converts should not attack Islam but should concentrate on pointing Muslims to Jesus instead.”  Jesus, after all, is the focus of the New Testament and the gospel (i.e. the good news of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead) is the means of salvation (1 Cor 15:1-5).

While the good news of Jesus should be a Christian’s focus, a Muslim’s background cannot be ignored. Islam must be addressed in our witness to Muslims. However, in avoiding unhelpful criticism of this religion, some missionaries have encouraged Muslims to embrace Christ without relinquishing Islam. This approach may start with a version of Kevin Greeson’s well-known “camel method.”  Essentially, Greeson argues that the Qur’an’s Sura 3:42-55 points to Jesus as the Savior. He derives the acronym “camel” from the words Chosen, Announcement, Miracles, and Eternal Life, which he draws from this passage, and asserts that it indicates Jesus “is holy . . . has power over death . . . [and] knows the way to heaven.”  However, reading this passage carefully shows it comes nowhere close to presenting the Son of God who died for our sins. It has other problems too. Sura 3:47 states specifically that Jesus was created and 3:49 conveys a legendary tale (from The Gospel of Thomas the Israelite)  that Jesus brought clay birds to life. Thus we have a created-cum-legendary Jesus, whose cross and resurrection from the dead are nowhere to be seen. This is hardly the biblical Savior! Greeson concedes that the Qur’an “falls short of presenting the full gospel message,”  but it doesn’t prevent him from speaking favorably of a convert called Raja who reads his Bible, but teaches fellow Muslims about Jesus from the Qur’an.  Allowing an ongoing role for the Qur’an in new believers’ spiritual lives like this certainly suggests these individuals remain in the fold of Islam.