Have you ever talked with a Muslim? I can tell you how it probably went. Why? Virtually every conversation with a Muslim comes down to one issue: authority. No matter what you say about Jesus and the Gospel, you’ll likely get the same Muslim response: “I can’t trust what you’re telling me because the Bible has been corrupted.”
This is not only the most common objection you’ll hear from a Muslim, but it’s also the most significant. That’s because the essentials of your message to a Muslim—Jesus and the Gospel—are all found in the Bible (at least in Matthew through John). If the Muslim rejects that source of authority from the get-go, then you’ll have a hard time making any headway.
I wrote about this point (and how to respond to the objection) in my book The Ambassador’s Guide to Islam. Having been to a lot of mosques and talked to a lot of Muslims, I want to offer three examples that demonstrate how authority is the key issue.
Several years ago, I took a group of Christian students to King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California. One of the Muslim leaders, named Ahmed, sat us down in a conference room and attempted to persuade us that Christians were misled and Islam is true. He argued the Bible was corrupted and, as proof, cited a passage of Scripture that he claimed contradicted scientific findings. One of the seasoned apologists that was with us responded by demonstrating that Ahmed was misunderstanding the genre (or literary style) of the biblical passage. My friend even cited scholars who explained the proper interpretation of the verses in question.
Ahmed didn’t buy it. He had to choose between believing a Christian or believing the Qur’an. Given those options, the Muslim will always choose the Qur’an. That’s his authority.
I was at another mosque with Christian students when a Muslim scholar began arguing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ didn’t occur. This is a common Muslim belief that stems from the Qur’an. Several of the Christian students responded with historical and biblical arguments. The Muslim scholar shrugged them off: “You’re quoting historical data from fallible human beings. You’re also quoting a Bible that is corrupted.” He wasn’t the least bit persuaded by our biblical or historical claims. Why would he believe humans above Allah’s divine revelation? It was a no-brainer.
There was another occasion when I invited a Muslim from a local mosque to tell his “testimony” about becoming a follower of Islam. A group of Christians listened respectfully while our Muslim friend began with the usual narrative: the Bible is corrupt and unreliable and we need the Qur’an to clarify God’s message. Once again, Christians lobbed their standard responses in defense of the Bible’s reliability. The Muslim, however, wasn’t fazed at all. Man’s wisdom, he said, can’t trump Allah’s word.
Fortunately, some of these Christians remembered my training. They began to ask effective questions. They began to cite passages in the Qur’an that taught the Bible was the uncorrupted word of God. All of sudden, the Muslim’s posture changed. He knew if the Qur’an said something, he must believe it. So, he retreated with a standard Muslim defense: “Well, I’m not sure what those verses mean. We’re reading them in English, but the Qur’an was written in Arabic so we can’t be sure about the interpretation.”
You can see the dilemma he faced. He can’t ignore the Qur’an because that’s his highest authority. But if he accepts the Qur’an’s claim that the Bible is trustworthy, he can no longer dismiss the Gospel message.
Notice the difference between these two approaches. In the first two examples, the Christians framed the discussion as a choice between the Qur’an and a secular scholar or Christian. Given this option, the Muslim will always side with the Qur’an. In the third example, however, the Christians framed the discussion as a choice between the Qur’an and the Muslim. This pits the Muslim against his own authority, forcing him to accept what the Qur’an says or not be a faithful Muslim. That’s why it worked. It leveraged the Muslim’s commitment to his own authority to our advantage.
The main benefit, though, is that it resolves the question of authority. That’s what the Muslim cares about. If you can show they have good reason to trust the Bible as an authority, then it becomes a lot easier to tell them about Christ and the Gospel.