Squaring Off with Muslims in Prison

Alan's monthly letter for March 2011

Dear Friend,

Word spread among the Muslim prisoners that I was going to teach on Islam. So, as the 60 Christians filed into the prison chapel, Muslims followed them in. They had their Qur’an in one hand and my handout in the other. I knew the following hour would end up very different from the times I had spoken on Islam in churches. I just didn’t realize in what way it would be different.

My presentation was directed squarely at the most common Muslim challenge: The Bible has been corrupted. Instead of offering the usual – and expected – defense for the reliability of the Bible from secular sources, I presented a Qur’anic defense for the reliability of the Bible. I showed how the Qur’an teaches that the Bible is not only the Word of God, but is reliable and uncorrupted.

What transpired after my presentation was amazing. It’s strictly prohibited to bring in a video camera into the prison yard, but it would have been worth getting arrested to record the expression on these Muslims’ faces and the dialogue that ensued. Figuratively slack-jawed, the Muslims had no choice but to concede my entire argument. “I have to…umm…completely agree with what you’re saying,” said one Muslim. “Yeah, I guess the Qur’an does say that the biblical text is reliable,” said another.

Some Muslims resisted the conclusion, but then other Muslims spoke up and defended my view. Why? Because the Qur’an is the highest authority in Islam. So Muslims can’t argue with what it says. That’s the wisdom of this tactic. I leverage the Qur’an’s authority to Muslims to persuade them of my point (a similar tactic that the apostle Paul used in Acts 17).

But I wasn’t there just to score a theological point or show off my skills to the Christians, I was there to train (although persuading Muslims to consider the Bible’s truths is valuable in itself). I was there as a representative of Christ, an ambassador, and also needed to build bridges.

So during the break, I sat down with the Muslims who were still poised to argue. When they began to launch into another serious challenge, I decided to lighten things up by making a few jokes. We all began to laugh, and the 15-minute break turned into a time of light-hearted conversation and fun. Most importantly, we connected. They got to experience me as a fellow human being and not as an enemy who is out to trash their faith. We parted on amicable terms and they said they looked forward to my return in May.

After spending the day with one group of inmates, the following day I taught the same material to a different prison yard. But the result was the same. The Muslims came and responded in the same fashion – conceding my argument in front of the Christian believers. Not only was the weekend a powerful opportunity for evangelism, it was also a valuable time of training for the believers who live (some in the same prison cells) with these Muslims.

I’ve written about the tactic I used with the Muslims in prison in The Ambassador’s Guide to Islam. I was able to leave a copy of that booklet in each prison yard’s library before leaving. With the Holy Spirit’s help, our brothers in prison will be able to use that training to reach the Muslims with the truth found only in the Word of God, the Bible.

This training event, including my visit, was possible because of your financial gifts that support my work. Thank you. I’m certain our brothers at Centinela State Prison thank you too.

Spreading the good news,

Alan Shlemon

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Alan Shlemon