Alan’s monthly letter for July 2014
Sometimes people are puzzled. They think, Shouldn’t we teach Christians about Christianity? Why are you teaching them about Islam and taking them to mosques? That’s a good question.
The short answer is that a mosque experience entails essential training that rarely occurs amongst Christians. I call it “training” because it prepares believers to engage in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). I believe it’s essential because Christians need to know and understand the people they are called to reach. Since 38,000 Muslims die each day and enter eternity without Christ, it is critical to mobilize Christians to reach them.
But doesn’t teaching Christians about Islamic theology and taking them to mosques encourage them to become Muslim? Not at all. In fact, the opposite is true. Let me explain.
Last month, I partnered with Impact 360 Institute outside of Atlanta to train Christian students for a Muslim immersion experience. I began the training by role-playing a Muslim. I picked up a Qur’an, took on a Muslim name (Sayyid), and began arguing for the Islamic faith. Why? To give students a taste of what to expect from a real Muslim at the mosque, but in a safe environment. That way they were prepared and more comfortable when they arrived.
During the role-play, students tried to respond to my (Sayyid’s) arguments against Christianity and convince me of their own religious beliefs. Many tried, and most failed. The benefit of that experience, though, is that it produced in them a hunger to learn from the lecture that followed.
After the role-play, I taught them the basics of Islamic theology, including the religious obligations of Muslims and tactics to respond to the challenges I leveled during the role-play. I also emphasized the need for conversational kindness. This gave them some basic tools to engage Muslims.
Once I finished the classroom training, it was time for field work. We went to Al-Farooq Masjid, the largest mosque in Georgia. It’s a massive 46,000 square-foot worship center that can house 1,100 Muslims in its main prayer hall. Before entering the mosque, everyone took off their shoes and the female students donned headscarves to accommodate Islamic guidelines.
One of the leaders gave us a tour of the facility and then we got to sit alongside hundreds of Muslims during their service. We listened to a short “sermon” and then watched every Muslim face towards Mecca, kneel, and bow multiple times. As we heard the sounds of Muslim prayers and Qur’anic recitation, we sensed an effable, yet palpable, spiritual darkness.
After the service, two Muslim leaders ushered us upstairs and taught us about Islam. The students immediately recognized the content and arguments presented. They weren’t caught off guard because they heard it during my training. Instead, they asked questions and gently challenged the Muslim presenters. Our entire time at the mosque was interesting, instructive, and cordial. After leaving, I debriefed the students and answered questions that arose during our visit.
Few Christians ever experience an encounter like this. But it has tremendous benefits. First, it teaches Christians about Islam and Muslims. This is an essential first step for an ambassador. The more you know about the faith, customs, and culture of those you are speaking with, the more you can carefully craft your message and foster an amiable connection at the same time.
Second, it prepares Christians for the Great Commission. Once an ambassador has studied the people they’re trying to reach, the next step is to engage them with the message (specifically, God’s offer of reconciliation as stated in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). This immersive experience ignites a Christian’s desire to fulfill their duty to proclaim the truth. At the same time, they come away equipped with the tools to engage the largest unreached people group on the planet.
Third, it demystifies Islam and Muslims. Many Christians are ignorant about Muslims and, consequently, suspicious of them and what occurs behind the closed doors of a mosque. By bringing them inside and letting them interact and observe everything that happens there, it removes the shroud of mystery behind their religion. This opens the door for compassion and a Christ-like view of Muslims.
In fact, just before beginning the mosque tour, we noticed a Muslim woman (we could tell she was Muslim because she was also wearing a headscarf) staring at our group of Christian students. I know many believers feel a sense of trepidation about talking to Muslim women, feeling unsure about the appropriateness of engaging them. To our surprise, she approached some of our female students and politely asked for permission to come with us on the tour. Our students warmly welcomed her and they chatted together during our visit. She was extremely friendly and kind. But it took coming to a mosque, where Muslims congregate, to overcome the ill-at-ease feeling that many believers experience.
Fourth, it builds Muslim-Christian relations the right way. Many times, Christians try to build bridges with Muslims by finding theological common ground. Too often, however, this turns into mere appeasement, compromise, or syncretism. Peace between Muslims and Christians shouldn’t be pursued by bringing Islam and Christianity closer together, but by bringing Muslims and Christians closer together. There is no reason why devotees of different religions can’t have radically different theologies and yet still be great friends. The mosque experience is a step towards this healthier approach.
Fifth, it motivates believers to learn Christian theology. That’s because Islam isn’t just another religion—it’s the anti-Christian religion. Its doctrines are diametrically opposed to the Trinity, the incarnation, Christ’s death, His resurrection, and the atonement. When Christians talk to Muslims, they find themselves needing to defend their own convictions, prompting them to study their own faith with more vigor.
Finally, the mosque experience builds confidence in believers. Once you’ve role-played a conversation with a Muslim, studied the Islamic religion, learned how to respond to their objections, toured a mosque, watched their service, listened to Muslim teachers, and engaged them in conversation, you walk away with confidence to share your faith with Muslims. You’re ready to participate in the Great Commission in a new way. That’s the power of this experience.
In reality, what I’m doing would not seem strange to Peter, Paul, or even Jesus. They routinely put themselves in foreign territory to proclaim the message of reconciliation. That message, after all, is for all non-believers—those who have not yet accepted God’s offer for a pardon. Not only have Muslims not accepted this offer, they vigorously reject it. In fact, in the time it took to read this article, 79 Muslims entered eternity without accepting that pardon. This will happen again in the next three minutes. And in the next three minutes. And so on.
You can see what’s at stake. This isn’t a side issue. It’s not inconsequential. This is the issue. This is of enormous consequence. This is about the Gospel, the purpose of Jesus’ life. That’s why I take Christians to mosques.