WHY IS IT DIFFICULT FOR A MUSLIM TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?
Table of Contents
I. Three Islamic Roadblocks to the Gospel
II. Who is Allah?
III. Islamic Thought Patterns
IV. The Power of the Clan
V. The Bad Conscience of the Convert
VI. Stepping Over to Jesus Christ
VII. The Convert in the Christian Church
VIII. Adaptation to the Christian Life
1,300 years ago Islam charged across the continental bridge of the Near East to Asia, Africa and Europe. It has become the second largest religion in the world today. This faith of Muhammad has withstood Christian missionary efforts, and we can see how the visions of an Islamic world mission are taking shape today.
This is why it is urgent for us to consider the conflicts between Islam and Christianity and the difficulties a Muslim encounters when he tries to become a Christian.
I. THREE ISLAMIC ROADBLOCKS TO THE GOSPEL
For a Muslim it is unthinkable that God has a Son who is equal to Him in power and glory. Early in his childhood, a Muslim is indoctrinated with the teaching that Christians worship three gods. Whoever tries to impart to him that 3 equals 1 will strike against a lack of understanding, which can develop into an outright hatred. He thinks that either God is one or He is three, but He can never simultaneously be three in one! The difficult concept of a triune God and the dialect Western Christians use to try to explain it can hardly be understood by his mind. Muslims have a difficult time comprehending three persons being one!
Yet, the Qur'an includes clear references to the divinity of Christ. One example is His birth by the Virgin Mary. However, according to Muhammad, Christ was created out of nothing, within Mary, through the creative word of Allah. Conversely, Christians testify that Jesus has existed in eternity before all time. He was born of the Father (not created), true God from true God, and one with the Father in essence. God became man to save us. Unfortunately churches in the Near East before and during Muhammad's time wrestled over similar issues regarding Christ's birth and essence.
Such remnants of christological quarrels are found in other places in the Qur'an. Christ is called "the Word of Allah" and "a spirit of Him." There have been many arguments in the history of Islamic theology concerning the question of whether God's Word is eternal or was finitely created. Christ, "the incarnate Word of God," is eternal, but this is a revelation Muslims must ignore for fear it is known that Jesus is far greater than Muhammad. Islam is a spirit that rejects the divinity of Christ. According to 1 John 2:22 and 4:3, this is the sign of the Antichrist.
The second Islamic roadblock to the gospel is the Muslim testimony that Christ was not crucified. Islamic criticism of the crucifixion is not directed towards the meaning or the fruits of His death, but completely denies the historical fact itself. Driven by a spirit, Muhammad said that Christ did not die on the cross but was raised alive to heaven. With this, he discards, from the Islamic world of ideas, such basic concepts as the resurrection of Jesus, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the believers regeneration, justification, salvation and sanctification. The true character of Islam is revealed in its consistent rejection of the cross. While Christians see the incarnation of Christ as the prerequisite for His substitutionary death on the cross, Muhammad denies both the incarnation and the cross.
If you tell a Muslim that the account of Jesus' death on a cross is the most attested part of the Gospel, you will quickly come against the third roadblock that separates Islam from Christianity – the understanding of revelation! Muslims believe the Bible is a holy book given by Allah. However, Muslim scholars declare that all discrepancies between the Bible and the Qur'an are proofs for the corruption of the Bibles original revelation. Islamic textual criticism is not so much concerned with which verses are corrupted or which literary sources make up the Bible. Rather, they establish the Qur'an as the only valid measure for divine truth. Consequently, whatever is not in accordance with the Qu’ran is regarded as corrupted and untrue. It is on this basis that Christ's bodily ascension into heaven without His death on a cross is proved, even though the holy Gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion is paramount. For Muslims, Christ is only a prophet who is close to God, and did not die on a cross and has no Sonship to God!
II. WHO IS ALLAH?
The three Islamic roadblocks to the gospel only represent the visible tip of the iceberg. The main problem lies invisibly deeper. It lies hidden in the concept of the divinity of Allah, which is taken to the uttermost in Islam. Allah is the entirely different one, the incomprehensible and unapproachable one. He is incredibly great and beyond the scope of intellect. He was not begotten and does not beget. None is equal to him. The birth of Jesus by Mary as the Son of God is, therefore, abhorred by Muslims as an unthinkable, sensual degradation of Allah.
The concept of God in Islam has deeply influenced all aspects of the Islamic culture. It is a spirit that binds all Muslims and hinders them from becoming Christians. According to Islamic thinking, man was not created in the image of God but more as his slave. The prostration position during prayer in Islam represents an interpretation of the word Islam. It means surrender, submission and devotion to Allah. When a Muslim thinks of prayer, he does not imagine a free conversation with God. Rather he sees himself as incorporated into a liturgy where every detail of worship is prescribed. He must throw himself into worship before Allah several times a day. This praying directs the subconscious of a Muslim more than we suspect. The understanding of Christian prayer is completely different. Here we find one of the widest gaps between the two religions.
Allah is so big that he alone determines the destiny of all men. Luck, accidents, failure, and death are often credited to Allah. Fatalism is deeply entrenched in Islam and hinders an individual’s activity and responsibility. Intellect and incentives are restrained by his perception of God. A Muslim's attitude toward life is very different from that of a Christian.
Sin in Islam is not regarded as the cause for separation from God of which man himself is guilty. Sin is regarded as a slip or a mistake that takes place because Allah created man being weak and easily tempted. Hence, Allah is indirectly responsible for the evil in the world. He arbitrarily promotes one to paradise and throws whomever he wants into hell. He is like a dictator whom everyone fears and from whom there is no escape. All the thoughts and decisions of a Muslim are utterly predestined.
As a result, the cross is unnecessary for Allah and represents an attack on his sovereignty. Allah needs no sacrifice and no mediator to reconcile the world to himself, because he forgives whomever and whenever he wants. The Islamic understanding of the sovereign dictatorship of God is the primary cause of the separation between Muslims and Christians.
This rigid idea of God has influenced all areas of Islamic culture. For many centuries men reigned over their wives and children like patriarchs and teachers ruled over their pupils. Employers often resembled slave owners just as many caliphs and sultans, who frequently exercised an unlimited, bloody power.
Those who are sick, weak or poor are reckoned as being punished by Allah. Allah, however, confirms the strong, rich, and victorious. The Christian's path of lowliness, Jesus' cross, and the boasting of Paul over his weaknesses are diametrically opposed to the spirit of Islam and make Christianity appear as an inferior religion of degenerates.
Accordingly, the thought that God is a Father and that He offered His only Son, out of love, for the corrupted world is not only strange for a Muslim, but also ridiculous, if not blasphemous! Instead the distant, mighty and great dictator-god is worshipped and feared! Every assertion of the nearness of God and His fatherly care is regarded as self-deception. In the future Islamic paradise, Allah will not be present because he always remains far from his creatures. He who says that God revealed Himself in the man, Jesus, is regarded as a liar and seducer.
III. ISLAMIC THOUGHT PATTERNS
The Qur'anic conception of God has formed a peculiar way of thinking in the Arabs. It is true that many other influences have shaped the thinking process and mentality of a Muslim, but typical Islamic thinking breaks through repeatedly.
This can be demonstrated in the understanding of inspiration. Our Christian concept of inspiration involves hearing, being anointed with the Holy Spirit, and enlightenment, which are, in spite of human weakness, united with a responsibility towards the revealed word. But the Islamic concept of inspiration is radical. Allah dictated his revelations to Muhammad word by word so that the nearly unconscious prophet spoke his sura (chapter of the Qur'an) as a powerless tool of a spirit. His prophecy is regarded as the conclusion of all revelation in which the highest wisdom and the deepest knowledge are presented to mankind. A Muslim does not have the impression that he belongs to a deficient religion, but on the contrary, he thinks that he must bless all men with his respect of God.
For a long time it was nearly forbidden, out of reverence for the revealed word, to interpret the Qur'an or to discuss the content of the suras critically. All revelations were held to be clear, understandable and final. Even today, no man can fathom or judge the words of Allah. They can only be received passively, accepted obediently, and kept faithfully, but never opened for discussion or criticized. The Qur'an is memorized completely or partially by heart without being rightly understood. This static way of thinking has influenced the learning process in modern universities and schools. Some educated Arabs carry great knowledge within them that works in their subconscious mind but is not unfolded into dynamic reasoning. Every Western teacher of the Arab world can relate his experiences that memorized knowledge in an Arab mind does not mean independent thinking. In addition, progressions of thought delivered systematically seldom trigger active reasoning or reflection.
Islam's influence on thinking was also dictated by the Traditions (al-Hadith – Islam's holy books of traditions pasted down to one another from Muhammad and his companions). No man had the right to interpret the Qur'an with his own intellect or to apply interpretation to new situations. Only Allah alone can do that. Therefore, long lists were recorded of the names of persons who handed on traditions or reports to one another – all originating from Muhammad or his original Muslim community. Muslims are to adhere to volumes of rules of conduct established in the Traditions. Thus, the existence of the Hadith is an indication that freethinking was basically eliminated in Islam and that a completely different way of thinking was created from that in the West.
In addition to this, the Qur'an was written in a kind of rhyme that is easy to memorize and catchy in the Arabic language. Sometimes for the sake of rhyme, Muhammad inserted words where they did not fit the context or he changed the syllables to secure the rhythm of the intonation. The exact content remained secondary to the sound.
Based on this poetic principle, a feeling originated in the Arabs that was built on catchy sound and poetical style but not on systematic logic. The Bible was created differently. It was not written in the form of a poem but in prose and it demands thinking, delving into, and understanding. It has been claimed that the Qur'an was written in the most beautiful language of God, while the Bible was available only in a rugged, translated Arabic after Muhammad's time. The Gospel sounds strange and profane in the ear of a Muslim, while the Qur'an stands as a shining poem unsurpassed by anything that has been written.
For these reasons it is evident that a Muslim cannot understand the Bible and does not accept it as a foundation for his world-view. He does not hear that melodic rhythm in it, and the reading process of it seldom creates in him a decision for change or reflection concerning his life.
Consequently, in evangelizing we must rethink how we present the Gospel and offer selected texts of the Bible to be memorized, so that the true words of God would fill the subconscious minds of Muslims. Christian thinking and awareness would be developed in them over time. Happy are the preachers who do not present cold, dogmatic sermons, but who bring the good news with life and Spirit. The understanding of the Gospel to Arabs does not go through the head first, but through the heart.
IV. THE POWER OF THE CLAN
Another roadblock that prevents a Muslim from becoming a Christian is his tie to his extended family. Most Arabs are not conscious of an independent self but live rooted in the “we” of their clan. This is one of the biggest differences between the East and the West.
The West has slid down the ladder of decay from the spirit of fellowship in the extended family (we) into the isolation of the individual (I), who is at the moment sinking into the nameless masses where one only does something because everyone else is doing it. The hymns of the Reformation with their collective "we" consciousness and the hymns of the enlightenment with their "I" reference show this transition clearly. Today our prosperous society is influenced by the all-unifying power of the masses. Still, this situation of disintegration in the masses hardly exists with the Arabs. For this reason, societies, clubs and hobbies are rarely to be found.
Most Arab countries are in a transition from the clan to the individual. Consciousness of self is slowly being born in the individuals through the infiltration of Western materialism. This is causing a crisis within the families. So far, only a few Arabs have stepped out of their clan. The majority still thinks in terms of fellowship as being with their father, uncles or brothers. Often a young man does not marry the girl whom he loves because his family advises him and decides who suits him best. Faith is also a matter of the clan and not the decision of the individual alone.
Therefore, when a Muslim does leave his faith, it brings great disgrace to his family, and also severs him from the “we” in which he was heavily rooted and anchored from his birth. Leaving the Muslim faith is a deeper and longer process than most of us can imagine. It can cause many converts to become solitary, leading to despair and thoughts of suicide.
Half of all the Arabs are under the age of twenty. Modern schools, universities, and movies, technology and wars are creating an irresistible upheaval in Islamic culture. In the larger Arab cities, skyscrapers are shooting up from the sand like living silos. Whole clans are finding it difficult to continue to live together because the apartments are only planned for families with two to four children. Social security is becoming necessary because the supporting capacity of the clan system is disintegrating. Many people are lonely and searching for a new spiritual home and an internal security. These changes in Islamic society are creating an opportunity to spread the Gospel like never before.
V. THE BAD CONSCIENCE OF A CONVERT
Whenever a Muslim, despite all of the hindrances, begins to come close to Christ (usually between the ages of 18 and 25 years), he is confronted with the most basic sin in Islam. Whoever set up another god beside Allah: Throw him into a severe penalty. (Sura Qaf 50:26), and those who reject faith [Islam] after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of faith, never will their repentance be accepted (Sura Al Imran 3:90).
In addition to all the pressures of dogma, logic, and family comes the voice of his own conscience restraining a Muslim from stepping over to Christ.
Islam cannot be compared with those religions in other countries in which the Gospel was unknown before evangelism, as in the South Seas or in Buddhist regions. Islam is a post-Christian religion that has heard about Christ, has consciously rejected Him as Lord and Savior, and has developed into an anti-Christian power. People in such religions have become immune to the Spirit of Christ. They have been vaccinated at an early age against the teaching of the Gospel. Another spirit holds them captive that could be described as a collective possession.
In practical terms, collective possession means that when a Muslim approaches Christ, he must decide between revelation and revelation. Dialogue is not possible, because the Qur'an asserts that Allah dictated the whole truth to Muhammad. He who consciously turns towards the Gospel, believes in Jesus Christ and unites himself to Him, does not only win a new Lord and Spirit but must also reject the former revelation as a lie. There is no bridge between the Qur´an and the Gospel in any essential dogmatic question, unless the representatives of both sides twist the truth in their writings or tolerate opposing teachings.
This breakthrough in denying the Qur'an and the acknowledgement of its ungodly source is a difficult and bitter process for the convert and cannot be forced. The power of the Holy Spirit is indispensable, leading the followers of Christ with growing faith into an ever-clearer discernment of spirits. Often Muslims who believe in Christ try to uphold both sources of revelation as truth. The result of this position is a schizophrenia that blooms mightily or a superficial faith that soon disintegrates.
VI. STEPPING OVER TO JESUS CHRIST
When a Muslim man seriously occupies himself with the Gospel, it will not remain hidden for long. At first, his family and friends will discuss the matter with him, then they will warn him and persecute him, and finally they will leave and despise him. His wife has the right to divorce him. Then the children will no longer belong to him.
Above all, his clan will begin to observe him critically. They may ask him not to bring the shame of apostasy on their name, which could have economic consequences for a young man. If he does not respond to this, they may threaten him, terminate his schooling, take away his money, and beat him. If this does not cause him to reconsider, his own family may accuse him of stealing or committing an indecent assault, which results in imprisonment. It becomes clear then that the “respectable” family separates itself from the corrupted member that has denied Allah and has become godless in every sense.
The Qur'an explicitly demands the killing of a convert (Sura al-Nisa 4:89; Sura al-Nahl 16:106). Everyone who has converted from Islam to Christianity must reckon with this danger. In the central Arab countries, this threat exists undiminished. That is why no open conversions are known there. However, In Arab countries with Western influences, a bit of tolerance has developed in accordance with the extent of Western education. In these countries, execution of the convert might not be carried out, but the parents may regard their child as dead. They could force him to emigrate and disappear from view. Yet, there is a reformation taking place in several Islamic countries that is trying to reintroduce the killing of converts. The billions of dollars generated by the oil powers fuel this reformation.
When a Muslim converts to Christianity, the inward and outward separation from parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends is bitter and deep. The convert is rarely severed from his family on peaceful terms but rather is ridiculed as accursed and despised. The “we” of his deepest roots is irreparably broken. He will feel shock, rejection and loneliness in a world that knows no compassion.
All Arab countries prohibit the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity, except Lebanon. Their constitutions demand religious freedom. This is only applicable in the sense that the Christian minority is allowed to remain Christian, and Christians may become Muslim. However, all Muslims must remain Muslim. The possibility of a conversion of a Muslim to Christianity is not provided for in the law and cannot be forced in a lawsuit against the government, as a convert from Syria once attempted. So far, there is no way for an Arab Muslim to legally change his religious affiliation unless he emigrates and accepts a new nationality. This rigid situation becomes tragic when a convert wants to marry a Christian girl. In most Arab countries, the religious sheikhs or priests are the only ones that can issue marriage licenses. If a Christian girl marries a convert, the couple is forced to appear together as Muslims before the sheikh, and the children from this marriage automatically become Muslims.
In several countries, the authorities have intervened and forbidden gatherings of converts, imprisoned the leaders, and in some instances tortured them. Death sentences have not been known in recent years, but uneducated parents have tried to kill their children out of anger and hatred when their children came to believe in Christ. According to the April 1972 edition of Al-Arabi, 70% of all Arabs cannot read or write. It is understandable then that uneducated parents fanatically hold to the memorized Qur'anic texts and traditions. In obedience to the spirit of Muhammad, they will hate their own flesh and blood. They do this to keep from dropping out of Allah's blessings and to keep their acceptance in the cultural community. Because of this, the clan is a guardian of the Qur'an and one of the main obstacles for a Muslim to become a Christian.
VII. THE CONVERT IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Not all Arabs are Muslims. In several Arab countries, Christian churches have existed since the time of the Byzantine Empire. There are between five and eight million Christians, compared to about 100 million Muslims in Arab countries. These minorities have developed their own Christian terminology. In such isolated Christian groups, Arabic is spoken, but many words differ in meaning from standard Muslim dialect. Thus, speech, custom, spirit and experience separate the Arab Christians from the Arab Muslims.
Within the last 150 years, Protestant missions have entered into these Orthodox, Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Nestorian, and Catholic areas. Their influence produced Arab-Protestant churches totaling around 100,000 members. However, in terms of hymns, clothing and behavior, they represent only a poor copy of their mother-churches in the United States, England, and Germany. They have not become Islam-oriented evangelistic churches. A deep chasm separates the Arab Christians from the Muslims. The past centuries of persecutions, oppression, distrust, and hidden fear among these Christians have hardened their hearts.
When a young Muslim leaves Islam after much inner conflict, and tears himself away from his clan, he is faced with the possibility of losing his job and being forced to flee. It is unfortunate, but if he turns in hope to an Arab Christian congregation, most of them will distance themselves from him, eye him critically, and distrust him. They may think that he is a spy or is looking for a cheap education in a mission school or maybe he wants to carry off a nice girl from their "flock" or take one of the few jobs available! Thus, he must suffer the inconceivable; he is expelled from the Islamic world and not welcomed by the Christians either. Often a convert finds himself between two worlds, losing home, work and honor.
Certainly, the negative experiences of the Arab churches with Muslims are bitter realities. Nevertheless, it is possible that 20% or more of such searchers for Christ are true believers. The very people whom these new believers imagined to be saints and children of God reject them. This sobering fact shocks them deeply.
If the churches and missions don't succeed in incorporating the newly won converts from Islam into the fellowship of Christians or help them to establish their own communities of converts, they should stop evangelizing among Muslims. Every convert needs fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters of Christ. He needs the warm nest of belonging that he lost when his Muslim family and friends discarded him. He also needs a job and a skill in accordance with his talents. A new believer in Christ does not need alms and a subsidy. He needs vocational instruction so that he can respectably earn his living and not be humiliated as a beggar. Moreover, a convert needs a believing wife, who patiently helps him to grow into the Christian world-view.
Unfortunately, the Arab Christian churches have not provided these three fundamental needs for the former Muslims. There is a lack of fellowship, jobs and life-companions. Maybe the Catholic approach in placing the newly converted into a monastery is not the worst solution! The main problem of evangelization among Arabs today is the convert's incorporation into a Christian community and fellowship. It is no longer the initial contact with a Muslim or his slow growth in the faith. We know of several Muslims that have said to each other, "It is better to outwardly remain a Muslim and in secret believe in Christ. For if your relatives expel you, the Christians will not receive you either!" Of course, there are exceptions, but the rule among most Arab Christian churches and fellowships is an unwillingness to evangelize. Therefore, he who wants to do missionary work among Muslims must first evangelize the Arab Christian churches.
VIII. ADAPTATION TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
A young convert has a long way to go before he exhibits Christian qualities on a regular basis. Likewise, Christians that have been in the faith for a long time need to continue to grow. Mature Christians should not watch newly won believers from Islam with the eyes of a policeman, but with the view of a mother who washes and nurses her small child several times a day. It takes years of patience while the subconscious of a former Muslim is filled with Christian thoughts. The old spirit must leave, and the new one must enter.
Many areas need the work of Christ in the life of a former Muslim. Our converted Muslim brother needs to develop new attitudes towards work, doing it accurately, diligently, responsibly and faithfully. His married life must adopt other moral standards and a readiness to serve his wife in the manner that Christ served the church. Money cannot be allowed to remain an idol in his subconscious as the aspiration of all his thoughts and hopes. He also needs practice in observing Sundays, in disentangling politics and religion, and in the truthfulness of his speech. Like all of us, he requires growth in sanctification so that the fruits of the Spirit of Christ ripen in him. If genuine growth and commitment to fellowship with others do not take place, then the danger is great that his faith will remain a superficial and intellectual matter and never take on reality. The other risk is that the Islamic surroundings will draw the weakened new convert back in because he never left it with his whole heart.
During the early stage of spiritual growth, there is a dangerous phase in which some believers in Christ turn back to Islam. Many of the converts idealize their faith and imagine pastors and priests to be perfect. When they discover there are flaws in these followers of Christ, they will watch them closely. They may see traces of selfishness, ambition, hard-heartedness, impatience and many other things over which they become discouraged and say, "These Christians are not any better than we are." New converts become aware of the different denominations and the principles of strange missions and experience another shock. They see that the Christians are not united, they steal "sheep" from each other, and everyone thinks that his church is holier and better than that of the other. The result is especially adverse when some super-missionary-minded groups take a new enthusiastic convert and ask him to give his testimony before large audiences or take pictures of him to display in their mission periodicals, even though he did not originate from their own evangelistic work. However, when it comes to helping him find work or a bride, the new believer quickly finds himself alone and deserted again. Because of these fleshly practices within the church, the testimony and joyfulness dies in those who left their Islamic community under persecution and suffering.
The church must teach them that mutual forgiveness is necessary in relationships with other believers. Humility and self-denial do not begin with the other person but with oneself. The path of self-denial is the only way to inner growth and the formation of the true church. This growth in faith that becomes active in love and abides in a living hope needs much time, counseling and living examples. Often a person who is captivated by the Islamic spirit only changes through sustained prayer. Christ alone can free and change a Muslim. All skills in persuasion and follow-up are of no help. Christ personally must liberate, cleanse, revive, and sustain a Muslim in love. The ability of grace alone to renew creation overcomes the power of Islam.
Now Christ accomplishes this work by engaging His witnesses for service. Especially with Islam, it is not wise words, but deeds of love and the friendly atmosphere of a home that impress a Muslim. For this reason the question of why so few Muslims become Christians is turned back to the church! We are the reason! Our little faith, our weak prayers, our deficient love, and our missing willingness for sacrifice are the reasons few Muslims turn to Christ. Rev. Iskander Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, once said, "If all Christians were Christians, there would be no more Islam today."