Engaging with Muslims

Formerly a missionary to Arabs, John Klaassen now teaches at Boyce College in Louisville. In “Engaging with Muslims,” Klaassen shares insights on befriending and helping Muslims understand and accept the Gospel.

Klaassen warns never to disparage Muhammad or Islam. Realize that Muslims defend Islamic doctrinal contradictions by saying that only their Arabic original revelations are authoritative and later revelations abrogate or supersede earlier ones.

Reaching Muslims is time and relationship intensive. Expect lots of mutual home visitation. Few Muslims in the West have ever entered a non-Muslim home. Invite Arabs three times to show them that you’re sincere.

Muslims are typically very hospitable. Accept their invitations to visit and eat what they serve. Leave some food to avoid shaming them for preparing too little. Pass food and eat with your right hand. (Left hands are for bathroom functions.) Give them a little memento, like flowers, nuts, candy or a baby gift.

Ask about their religion, culture, country and food. Display patience, love and kindness. Watch and emulate them, such as removing shoes when entering their home. Never point the sole of your foot toward anyone because this is perceived as an insult. Serve visitors simple food (avoid pasta initially), especially halal meat from a Muslim butcher.

Cultural customs differ over personal space. Muslims typically value physical proximity as in holding hands with people of the same gender and sitting close together.

Muslim women are accustomed to their female relatives’ constant presence, and upon immigrating, might be lonely and open to new friends. Christian women can invite them to accompany them in their activities, such as running errands, shopping and housework.

Build relationships by helping Muslims fit into American life: dealing with yards, homes, cars, insurance, schools and medical care. Teach them English.

Families reach families. Evangelize adults, not children, who will still hear and absorb truths. Upon entering a room with Muslim men, men should shake hands with everyone. Women should similarly greet all women. Only shake hands with the other gender if they initiate.

Americans tend to have an individual, guilt-based culture—do what is right to avoid punishment and gain rewards. But Muslims have a family, shame-based culture—maintain external honor and avoid public shame.

Scripture speaks powerfully to shame-based cultures: the fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3); the Israelites’ liberation from slavery (Exodus 1-14); our spiritual liberation (Romans 8). Explain that our sin dishonors God and shames us before His holiness—to our doom at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Receiving God’s free gift of honor and right standing with Him requires Christ’s blood sacrifice.

The Isalmic Eid al-Adha holiday, which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Isaac in Genesis 22; Ishmael in the Quran), provides a wonderful intro to explain Christ’s substitutionary atonement in our place as the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:29). After laying much groundwork, you can cover His death and resurrection, which Islam denies.

Most Muslim prayers are fixed, ritual obligations to impersonal Allah. We should explain that our prayers are from love for God and others, express our personal thoughts and desires, not from fear, and that our loving Father longs to give us good gifts.

If you pray in a Muslim’s presence, he will misunderstand if you bow and close your eyes. Rather with open eyes and hands at chest height with palms up, cupped together, pray for him. Closing “in Jesus’ name” helps introduce that He’s not only a prophet, which Muslims believe, but the incarnation of God, which Islam denies.

Ask, “What do you believe is necessary to honor God with your life?” Then share and show what you believe. You’ll challenge their view of a Christian. Muslims are more open to discuss God than most Americans are. Avoid persecution of Muslims who are seeking the Truth by not identifying them to other Muslims.

Klaassen’s keys to evangelism are: prayer, your personal presence, proclamation (personal testimony, Bible stories) and persuasion. God promises, “‘My word … will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’” (Isaiah 55:11).

Richard Penn has been a member of Southeast Christian Church since 2011. He and his Filipina wife, Edith, help a local Filipino Baptist church.