ISLAM AND CHRISTIANS: A Guide for Free Methodists by A.H. Mathias Zahniser

by A. H. Mathias Zahniser, Scholar-in-Residence, Greenville College

“We Muslims have to believe in Jesus; so why don’t you Christians accept Muhammad?” Ahmad, my guide at the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, Indiana, USA, asked me this question with visible hurt and expectation. The Qur’an requires all Muslims to believe in Jesus and other biblical prophets such as Abraham and Moses. Yet Christianity makes no provision for the Arabian prophet who founded the Muslim faith. More and more Free Methodists will find themselves addressed by this question because the number and confidence of Muslims is growing in all parts of the world.

Understanding Islam

How would you have answered Ahmad? I hope this chapter will help with a reply. I begin with Muhammad then look at the Muslim Jesus. After looking at Islam in the light of its view of Jesus and Muhammad, I formulate a brief answer to Ahmad’s question. Finally, I suggest ways Free Methodist Christians can relate winsomely to Muslim family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Who was Muhammad?

One night in the year 610 A.D., according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, a camel caravan leader from the Arabian city of Mecca, went to a cave to meditate and pray. He had done this on many other nights; but this night changed his life. Muslims call it the night of power because on it Muhammad first heard a voice saying to him, “Recite!” After hesitation and struggle he opened his mouth and words began to come—not his own words, but, according to Muslim belief, the very words of God through him. Until his death in A.D. 632, he would recite what he heard. Sometimes it would come as a message to be preached, at other times as a word of encouragement; sometimes he heard and repeated a solution to a problem, at other times he received a resolution for a dispute.

After his prophetic call, Muhammad proclaimed a message of monotheism in the west Arabian city of Mecca. He chanted inspired messages in the voice of God that preached surrender to the will of the one God, Allah. He urged his people to flee the flames of Hell awaiting those who associated other deities with the one true God or acted unjustly, trusting in themselves and in their gods. After twelve years of rejection of Muhammad by his own people—especially their leaders—and their persecution of his followers, he and his followers fled Mecca secretly in A.D. 622 to the city of Yathrib. With the help of sympathetic citizens of that city, he set up a community under the guidance of God in that city which became known as medinat an-nabi, “the city of the Prophet,” and finally just al-medina, “The City.”

At Medina, the Prophet became a political, military, and community leader. Here his revelations extended the message of monotheism, justice, and the final judgment to include guidance for the new community of faith in most areas of its life (Zahniser 1991: 32-33).

For example, when the Prophet was about 63 years old, and his favorite wife Aishah was a teenager, she came under suspicion of adultery. She had been with a caravan on a desert journey. When her party made a rest stop, Aishah went behind a dune to relieve herself. In the process the string of her necklace broke. Before she could recover all her lost beads, the caravan had gone on without her. To her great good fortune, however, a warrior about her own age came along on horseback. He very discreetly had Aishah ride on his horse which he led on foot. After their arrival in camp, however, rumors spread that they had been involved in sexual misconduct. When it came time for the Prophet to deal with the truth or falsehood of the rumor, he received a message from the all-knowing God that Aishah and the warrior who found her were innocent.

Muhammad was a prophet who guided his community by what he and they believed to be the word of God. After his death in 632, the Muslims collected the guidance Muhammad received into a book called the Qur’an. About three-fourths the length of the New Testament, it represents for all Muslims the absolute word of God. Most Muslims believe that Muhammad, illiterate, and unskilled in oral composition, could not have authored a literary masterpiece like the Qur’an. It came to them as the word of God, delivered through God’s Prophet. Although some western scholars have challenged the historicity of this Muslim view of the historical Muhammad, most of them find it rings true in general, if not in every detail. In this paper, however, I am not concerned with evaluating Islam’s scripture and tradition, but with understanding what Muslims believe and practice. For Christians, what the Qur’an says about Jesus offers a good place to start.

The Qur’an’s Jesus

The Qur’an urges Muslims to believe in Jesus (Q 2:136, 2:285). And the Qur’an tells Muslims that Jesus was the Messiah (Q 3:45), a word from God (Q 3:45), and the son of the Virgin Mary (Q 3:47). Jesus spoke from the cradle, healed the blind, and the leper, raised the dead, and made a clay bird fly (Q 3:49). According to the Qur’an, Jesus was not the son of God (Q 5:75), he was not divine (Q 5:116- 118), and he did not die for the sins of the world (Q 4:157). In other words, the Qur’an presents Jesus as a prophet like Muhammad.

As a Muslim, Ahmad must believe in the Jesus of the Qur’an—not in the Jesus of the New Testament.

Jesus, the Qur’an, and Muhammad

By comparing Jesus and Muhammad, Ahmad made the same mistake many Christians make. Ironically, understanding both Islam and Christianity requires comparing Jesus to the Qur’an and comparing Muhammad to the New Testament.

Once in presenting this comparison to a Muslim I made an important discovery. I had said, “We Christians believe that in the person of Jesus, God has revealed himself to the world. Am I right in saying that you Muslims believe that God has revealed himself to the world in the Qur’an?” To my surprise he said, “No. God has not revealed himself to the world; he, himself, cannot be known; in the Qur’an he reveals his will to the world.” I was right about comparing the Qur’an to Jesus; but learned that the Qur’an, according to Muslim belief, reveals only God’s will, not God’s essential nature.

Accordingly, the Qur’an is the word of God sent down through Muhammad to guide humans so they can obey God (Q 14:4, 82; 17:88; 19:64; 54:17, etc.). According to the New Testament, Jesus is God’s revelation, the word sent down from Heaven to transform humans so they can know God. For Muslims Muhammad provides an example of how to live under the guidance of God. His words and example interpret the Qur’an. Just as, by the words of the Bible, Christians interpret God’s self-revelation in Jesus. The Old Testament gives the necessary background to understand the meaning of God’s gift of his son. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus and shows how God’s Spirit built a community of faith around the revelation and transformation in his Son.

The following chart summarizes an accurate comparison between Islam and Christianity.




Revelation: Commentary: Purpose: Human Purpose: God

Rebirth and Eternal Life Obedience, Worship, and Friendship

Guidance and Eternal Life Obedience and Worship

Ahmad feels hurt when Christians do not accept Muhammad because he believes that Muhammad and Jesus compare with each other. They do not. Jesus revealed the Father. Muhammad received guidance about how humans should believe and act. So what do Muslims believe and what duties must they perform? I would tell Ahmad that he doesn’t believe in the Jesus of the Gospel and invite him to study the Gospels with me and volunteer to study the Qur’an with him. In the Qur’an I would learn about the essential beliefs of Islam.

Essential Muslim Beliefs (Zahniser 1991:34-35)

1. God: Allah (in Arabic), the almighty creator, is merciful, forgiving, and just. No god or god-like being other than God exists. God, who controls everything, hears the prayers of his creatures and will come to their aid. He gives guidance to his creatures and they must obey. God rewards those who obey him and punishes those who do not.

2. Angels: Humans represent only one kind of intelligent being God created. God also created a category of creatures very much like humans called jinn and angels who act as God’s agents. God created humans from clay and jinn from fire, giving both types free will. Angels were created from light and obey God instinctively. They protect humans, keep God’s records, administer God’s punishment, and deliver God’s messages. On the judgment day God will judge all humans on their individual their merits.

3. Books: God gives guidance through books revealed to prophets. God gave the Torah to Moses, the Psalms to David, and the Gospel to Jesus. Jews and Christians, though “People of the Book,” allowed their books to become corrupted, rendering them no longer reliable. Finally, God gave the Qur’an to Muhammad for the whole of humankind. God revealed the Qur’an in perfect, infallible Arabic. While its meaning can be translated into other languages, the Qur’anic word of God can only be fully heard in its Arabic form. When translated, it is no longer the Qur’an.

4. Prophets: Throughout history and to all peoples God sent prophets to guide them to the right path. Among them were prophets familiar to Jews and Christians: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. All these prophets proclaimed a message like the message Muhammad proclaimed. Muhammad’s message was the final message and he the final prophet because Muhammad’s message suffices for all human situations, and remains to this day accurate and uncorrupted. Muslims believe that Muhammad’s deeds and sayings have been faithfully transmitted and preserved, providing additional guidance for all people. Many Muslims believe these traditions need to be examined critically.

5. Final Judgment: Muslims believe in a Day of Judgment, bodily resurrection of the just and unjust, and Heaven and Hell. God permits Satan, a fallen angel or possibly a fallen jinn, to tempt people, making life a testing period for humans. How they respond to testing will affect their eternal destiny. While Muslims cannot have the assurance before death of a place in Heaven, they place their hope in the mercy and compassion of God as well as in their own best intentions and efforts to believe and to act in obedience to God and his prophet.

6. Divine Decrees: Everything that happens takes place only if God wills. Nothing takes place randomly or by chance. Because human beings do not know what God has planned for them, they need to do their best to do what is right; but when they have done their best, they should accept the results as the will of God. One’s eternal destiny remains hidden in the will of God. I would also discover essential Muslim practices in general, especially if guided by a Muslim friend, much many details are rooted in Muslim tradition.

Essential Muslim Duties (Zahniser 1991: 35-36).
Muslim guidance, based on the Qur’an, the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, and the universal practice of the Muslim community, extends to almost everything a Muslim does from day to day. But Five Pillars of religious duty represent the foundation for the whole Muslim way of life.

1. Declaration of Faith: A Muslim must sincerely believe and say the Word of Witness: “I bear witness: there is no god but God (Allah); and Muhammad is the apostle of God.” Anyone who makes this profession of faith is a Muslim.

2. Prayer: Muslims offer formal prayer to God at five prescribed times each day: daybreak, noon, afternoon, sundown, and after dark. The words and bodily postures of the prayers are prescribed, but worshippers have some choice of verses from the Qur’an for recitation. A devout Muslim who prays as directed will recite the first chapter (surah) of the Qur’an either aloud or silently 17 times a day.

3. Fasting: During Ramadan, the month of Muhammad’s first receiving of the Qur’an, Muslims fast from daybreak to nightfall. During the hours of the fast they must abstain from all food, drink, smoking, and sexual contact. The Muslim lunar year is not adjusted to the solar year and consequently falls eleven days short of the Christian year. Ramadan, consequently, over time occurs in all seasons of the year. During the summer when the days are long fasting requires heroic endurance.

4. Giving for the Poor: Muslims purify all their possessions by giving a percentage of them every year to the community treasury for distribution to the poor. While the percentage differs for some possessions, the portion generally amounts to two-and-a-half percent of a person’s accumulated wealth at the end of the year. Muslims also give additional alms voluntarily to help the needy and to spread the message.

5. Pilgrimage: Islam requires all Muslims to make a prescribed pilgrim journey to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetimes, if possible. The Pilgrimage takes place in the first third of the twelfth month of the Muslim year. On the climactic ninth day of the month the Muslims stand on the mountain of Arafat and listen to the reenactment of the last sermon preached by the Prophet not long before his death. The next day, Muslims on pilgrimage along with Muslims around the world observe a feast which like many of the rites of the Pilgrimage relate to the life of Abraham.

The Five Pillars of Islam work together to provide Muslims with a strong sense of community and a way of life connected with God’s will and the Prophet’s example. Now that Muhammad has come and the Qur’an revealed through him remains with the community, no further guidance is necessary.

Muslims believe that Jesus was one of the many prophets whom God sent to Israel. As a prophet of the past, he did God’s will and guided his own people, and he will come again in the future. But Muslims do not accept or believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, the living savior of the world who was sent by the Father and is present in the Spirit. As a matter of fact they do not believe that Adam’s disobedience resulted in a sinful state for all his descendents because he repented and God forgave him.

So how do we answer Ahmad’s painful question?

A Christian Response to Muhammad

Christians can certainly respect Muhammad. He may very well have been a sincere person. He may have honestly thought that the words he heard and recited were from God. Criticizing Muhammad will not be helpful for relating in friendship with Muslims. But we can gently and openly confess that to accept him as the final prophet in a long series of prophets of which one was Jesus requires denying the reliability of the Christian scriptural record of God’s self-revelation in Messiah Jesus. It renders suspect the tradition and experience of the Christian church. It further questions the historical conclusion that the growth and spread of the Christian faith cannot be reasonably accounted for without the resurrection of Jesus. Islam has no place for either the crucifixion or resurrection of Jesus.

Ahmad’s belief in Jesus, the Qur’an’s prophet of the past, provides a bridge for the Christ of the Gospels. Free Methodists can join him in studying both the Qur’an and the Bible. A devout Muslim who prays and fasts, may Ahmad like the Roman centurion, Cornelius, find in the living Jesus the way to friendship with God (Acts 10:1-48).

We have looked at the main features of Islam which unite Muslims; but understanding Islam requires an awareness that important differences show up among them as well.

Varieties of Muslims (Zahniser 2010: 8-9)

Free Methodists need to recognize that Muslims themselves exhibit a considerable variety of types. In fact, Muslims themselves insist on making a distinction between “Islam” and “Muslims.” Islam for them means the way the religion should be believed and practiced. Muslim refers to the way believers of all varieties actually believe and live it. Muslims will agree that most Muslims fall short in many ways; but they will not be comfortable criticizing Islam.

A brief glance at the variety of ways Muslims practice Islam will reveal that the Muslims who destroyed the World Trade Center, badly damaged the Pentagon, and took their own lives along with those of thousands of others represent just one way of being Muslim—a way the vast majority of Muslims denounce as not Islam at all. As the actions themselves directly contradict the Qur’an’s teachings (Afsaruddin 2008: xii-xx and throughout the book).

Birth Muslims

Muslims can be simply birth Muslims. Malays, the dominant ethnic group in Malaysia, for example, cannot separate their Muslim identity from their Malay identity. Malay Muslims when asked about a Christian Malay, will immediately think of a Chinese citizen of Malaysia. Birth Muslims represent the fastest growing Muslim type. The vast majority of birth Muslims shun global plots and acts of violence. Birth Muslims flourish under conditions of peace. They may be nominal Muslims, practicing Muslims, or fervent Muslims; but the vast majority of them were horrified by the violent slaughter on 9/11/2001.

Religious Muslims

Another population of Muslims could be labeled religious Muslims because of their focus on intentional observance of the Five Pillars of Islam, dealt with above. This type of Muslim is increasing as observant Islam becomes more popular. The Tablighi movement illustrates this major type of Muslim. Tablighis eschew violence and leave political agendas to others. Their mission includes travel to the various Muslim communities near and far to stir up fellow believers to practice the Five Pillars and to do good works. I know a Tablighi leader of a mosque who regularly attends a spiritual retreat in India because he finds that “the Muslims there show an interest in spirituality rather than politics.”

Folk Muslims

Folk Muslims are Muslims who practice folk traditions along with the Five Pillars and other features of mainstream Muslim practice. They focus on vital life issues such as finding a job, obtaining a spouse, having children, and healing sickness. Some Muslims, especially religious Muslims and modernist Muslims, would deny that many folk Muslim practices are truly Islamic because they fall outside the bounds of mainstream Islam. Some of these practices include spirit possession, saint veneration, faith healing, and veneration of ancestors. Folk Muslims normally renounce terrorism.

Modernist Muslims

Another group of Muslims can be termed modernist Muslims because they espouse a perspective compatible with contemporary visions of human rights and democratic governance Asma Afsaruddin of Indiana University has published a history of early Islam from a modernist Muslim point of view (2008). The instigators of the Arab spring were largely modernist or progressive Muslims, joined by all the other types of Muslims. A modernist group of Muslims have formed the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, D. C. ( They believe strongly in democratic government and have assisted with the Arab spring.

Birth Muslims, religious Muslims, folk Muslims, and modernist Muslims either eschew violence as a means of achieving their political objectives or they are focused on entirely other concerns, though most would support a “just war.”

Praxis fundamentalists

Two more Muslim types advocate basing modern government on early Muslim models and documents. Praxis fundamentalists strongly support Islam as a fully integrated religion, a way of life, and a type of state under the sole rule of God. They appeal to Muhammad, his companions, and the four Caliphs who led the Muslim movement after Muhammad’s death. They might resort to violence to protect their country from invasion or to resist occupation. They would not, however, resort to terrorism and means prohibited by Muslim just war theory. Most members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt fit this model. It remains to be seen how their takeover of the Egyptian Arab spring will play out.


Neo-fundamentalists, however, draw from these early ancestors too, but eclectically and in accordance with their own ideology and utopian agenda. They are militant in their orientation and inclined toward immediate action, even resorting to violent means prohibited by Islamic law, such as suicide missions and the killing of innocent non-combatants. Neo-fundamentalists consider all current regimes, both Muslim and non-Muslim, apostate and work toward a global Islamic empire requiring obedience to the medieval “divine law” (shari’ah) under a modern Muslim Caliph.

In the minds of many Americans—post 9/11—neo-fundamentalist Muslims have painted the whole Muslim religion with their violent brush. Al-Qaeda represents their movement. This loose organization of essentially independent cells includes the mostly Egyptian and Saudi Arabian men who masterminded and carried out the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The currently influential Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) represents an example of this movement. As a very small minority of the global Muslim community, they make a big impact because of their violent attacks aimed at all infidels—Muslim infidels and non-Muslim infidels. They have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.

One characteristic of Islam as a whole needs attention because it has a bearing on which Muslim type prevails in the global arena. Islam lacks an equivalent of the Christian church at the collective or denominational level. Christian churches, whether massive global denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, or smaller global movements such as the Free Methodist Church, have denominational authorities who express the faith and practice of their movements. In this way Christian churches generally require adherence to standards of faith and life for continued existence under their banners. Muslims have no church in this sense; they have mosques as places of prayer, but no church. The nearest equivalent is the modern Muslim nation state. Muslim movements organize around leaders who rely on their charisma, piety, propaganda, and organizational skills to attract others.

In light of this common reality among the varieties of Muslims, Free Methodists should be interested in encouraging and dialoguing with moderate Muslims and others who have no ideological need to foster violent programs, globally or locally. Free Methodists, especially in democratic countries such as the United States, Canada, and others, should encourage their governments to follow policies that maximize the influence of modernist, democratically oriented, Muslims. They should vote for leaders who support such policies. It is important for birth Muslims, folk Muslims, and religious Muslims to be oriented toward peaceful solutions to their need for a better life.

Furthermore, as Christian individuals and communities of faith, we should make friendships with Muslims, especially those who identify themselves as modernists, and encourage their participation with us in civic activities. They must know that we do not consider them the enemy just because they go to a mosque or wear a head scarf. Christians can at least make clear to Muslim friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that neo-fundamentalist violence will not define Islam for us.

This kind of response makes even more sense when we realize that Islam does not have a central administrative body that ultimately decides what Islamic practice should be. The leaders and groups with the most respect, charisma, and authority will attract the most followers. Policies should be based on the realization of this feature of Islam.

But of highest importance is sharing with Muslims the person of Jesus as portrayed in the Bible. Friendship, hospitality, and good will greatly support this endeavor.

Befriending Muslims

When we take Muslims to church, invite them into our lives, and share with them the gospel, we give the Holy Spirit more to work with in drawing them to Jesus. We can learn this through Ismail’s tears, Emily’s students, Pamela’s hospitality, and a Fuller report.

Ismail’s tears

In my first year of graduate school, I met Ismail, an Iraqi Muslim studying at a university near my home. We both attended meetings of international and domestic students gathered in the home of a Christian professor. Among the international students Ismail stood out. He was particularly cheerful and interested in everything going on. When I was asked to preach at the Free Methodist Church where I was the part-time youth pastor, I invited Ismail to go along with me. I shaped my sermon so as not to offend what I supposed were his Muslim sentiments and included some gospel that I thought would attract his attention particularly.

After the service as I was shaking hands with departing worshippers, I noticed Ismail surrounded by other worshippers. He was beaming. Ismail got back to the car before I did. When I opened the driver- side door, I saw him already seated in the passenger seat weeping.” Ismail,” I asked, “what’s wrong?”

“O, Yahya,” he blurted out, “it’s so wonderful to be among people who love God.” He called me Yahya because my nick name, Matt, in Arabic means “he died.” It slowly came out that he had come to America from Iraq, hoping to talk about God to American Christians. He had not found many who wanted to talk about God—in spite of our student group I suppose. It was not my sermon but the worshipping community of faith that moved him to tears. While I knew him, he did not accept Jesus as savior and lord, but I would be very surprised if he were not by now—probably in his 70s—following Jesus. Just inviting a Muslim friend to church can result in a blessing, a deepening friendship, and the joy of Lord (Zahniser 2002: 148-49).

Emily’s students

Dr. Emily A. Hager, reports the following interaction with her Muslim students in the English language class she while a doctoral student and at the University of Missouri Saint Louis. She remembers the interaction, including it in her doctoral dissertation, now five years later. All names have been changed for the participants’ protection.

One night, one of my students, Mana, said to me, “Teacher, how do you make small talk with your neighbors?” After I told her about talking to them about weather, sports, kids, bringing over cookies, and other such general topics, she said that she had taken cookies to her neighbors, and they slammed the door in her face. I was stunned. . . . I asked the others in the class what they would do in that situation. That’s when I discovered that she wasn’t alone in her story. Alima told of visiting a bank in Milwaukee in her Hijab and being accosted by a man behind her, saying, “I hate you because my son is fighting over in your country and our boys are dying.” He’d assumed she was Iraqi when nothing was further from the truth; she and her family were Palestinians and had fled from another scene of violence. Tibah, who was Iraqi, had even more frightening stories: being spit on, neighbors taking their kids inside when hers came outside to play, and further isolation (Hager 2012b).

Is it any wonder that Emily chose for her dissertation to study the narratives of Muslim women adjusting to their post 9/11 American experiences. As you will see below, Pamela also models the kind of neighbor Emily’s students wanted. Here is what Emily, a committed Christian, says about her approach to her students and other Muslims.

I have found that the best way to really reach out to Muslim friends is to study and seek to understand the Qur’an. . . .I’ve found that many Muslims I know have read the bible and understand it/read it more than many Christians (talk about providing some conviction!) The more I read the bible, the Qur’an and some Hadith [traditions of Muhammad], the more prepared I feel to talk about Jesus and the saving grace he provides. I also make it a point (I guess somewhat like Paul advocated) to never drink alcohol, eat pork, or be alone in a room with a Muslim man when in the company of Muslim friends, to respect their traditions and beliefs. I also ask a lot of questions about their beliefs and talk simply openly and honestly about my beliefs and practices. . . . I think the important steps are to 1) remember that true friendship requires not only sharing your own faith but really listening to Muslims about what they believe; 2) read more from the Qur’an or trusted Qur’anic scholars (like John Esposito 1998) so as not to create a ‘straw man’ argument or misunderstanding about what [Muslim] . . . friends really believe; and 3) know what . . . . [you, yourself] believe . . . and live this to the best of [your] . . . abilities (Hager 2012a).

Emily’s experience should encourage Free Methodists to read the Qur’an and to avoid actions that might make Muslims less comfortable in talking with Christians about deep and important issues. We turn now to Pamela’s hospitality, another truly Christian response to Muslim neighbors.

Pamela’s hospitality

“Be kind . . . to the neighbor” commands the Qur’an (Q 4:36). “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus insists (Matthew 19:19). Fourteen-year-old Shirin and her two brothers had a neighbor who followed Jesus and the Qur’an on this challenge. Shirin’s father was an Iranian Muslim whose work for Iran Air involved lengthy times away from the family’s Seattle home. Shirin’s mother, a Roman Catholic, was often lonely and uncertain about the future of her marriage. Because of her husband’s work, she had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean a dozen times with her three children. Pamela, a vital neighborhood Christian, made friends with Shirin’s family and especially with her mother. Pamela spent a lot of time with her, listened to her worry about her weight and appearance; she even went to Weight Watchers with her. Together they plotted a revival of her marriage to be put in place when her husband would return from his long stay in Iran. By the time Shirin’s father returned, fleeing the 1979 Iranian revolution with no job, his wife was feeling sick and weak. In spite of extensive care, she died of leukemia three months after her first trip to the hospital.

Shirin’s father was devastated. In a short time he had lost his wife, his job, and was alienated from his country of origin. Shirin narrates how neighbor Pamela responded.

Pamela quickly organized family and neighbors to make funeral arrangements and provide temporary child care for my brother and me. She had often talked with my mother about the need to turn to Christ during a time of great need. Now she focused her efforts on my brothers and me. She cared for us, along with her own three children, with supernatural love. She fed us at her home, transported us to athletic events and on our paper routes, and, when our father returned to Iran to salvage his assets and look for a new wife, Pamela and her husband let us move in with them (Taber 2004: 21).

Is it any wonder that Shirin, now a Christian, has authored a book, Muslims Next Door: Uncovering Myths and Creating Friendships, a valuable read for anyone who wants to know Muslims and introduce them to the Jesus of the Gospels? She frankly explodes such myths as “Muslims and Christians have nothing in common spiritually”; “all Muslims hate the West”; and “all Muslims are radical fundamentalists.” She knows, and instructs her reader, about creating friendships by entertaining, forging alliances, relating in the work place, and making friends on campus. Both Pamela and Emily model some of the characteristics that attracted Muslims to Christ, according to Fuller report. Free Methodists will be encouraged to express the love of God and to model the character of Jesus in friendship and neighborliness with Muslims.

A Fuller report (Woodberry and Shubin. 2001: 28-33)
J. Dudley Woodberry and Russell G. Shubin of Fuller Theological Seminary in California have

published the findings of a survey of six hundred Muslim background believers in the Jesus of the Gospels. This survey conducted during the last decade of the twentieth century supplies evidence supporting a positive approach to Muslims, using the Christian scriptures as the focus for common study. Christians may also volunteer for a study of the Qur’an with Muslims in a mode of friendship and honesty, knowing that the Holy Spirit works among Muslims too. Woodberry and Shubin came up with seven themes that answer the question—not why Muslim-background believers should come to Christ—but why Muslim-background believers “say they were drawn to Christ.”

1. Assurance of salvation: For example, “A Javanese man said simply, ‘After I received Jesus, I had confidence concerning the end of my life.’”

2. The character of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels, especially his “refusal to retaliate when maltreated.” For example, An Egyptian, when asked what Christian teaching attracted him particularly to Christianity, replied, “the crucified Messiah.”

3. The power of the Bible, especially the Gospels: For example, a Lebanese Muslim-background believer pointed to the Sermon on the Mount; and a North African believer “was touched by Christ’s love for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast. Another man was attracted by these qualities in Christ’s followers.” The character of God as portrayed in the Bible was also a major attraction.

4. The gift of a dream has motivated many to take the difficult step of becoming a follower of Jesus. Most of these dreams were of two types. Preparatory dreams such as the appearance of Christ himself confirming themes from conversations the believer had been having. For example, an Algerian woman overheard her Muslim grandmother dreaming, for she said in her sleep, “Jesus is not dead. I want to tell you he is here.” Empowering dreams gave believers strength to endure difficulty. For example, a believer imprisoned for his faith in Jesus dreamed that a massive crowd of Jesus’ followers were marching through the streets of his city openly proclaiming their faith.

5. Other supernatural encounters were instrumental in drawing many to Jesus. For example, while reading Luke 3 where God says, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased,” an Egyptian was visited by a mighty wind accompanied by a voice saying, “I am Jesus Christ whom you hate. I am the Lord whom you are looking for.”

6. “By far the reason found most compelling for the greatest number of Muslims who have come to Christ,” concluded Woodberry and Shubin, “is the power of love.” This was crucial for nearly half of Muslims who came to Christ, according to the survey. This love was of two types. The first, the authors call “love by example.” “The example of love demonstrated by believers.” The second, “the witness of scripture testifying of a God of love.” One man said, “God loves me just as I am.” Another recorded, “God loves all people”; another expanded a bit, God’s love extends to “all people of all races, including enemies.”

7. Ten percent of the 600 subjects surveyed said that a relationship with God was the major attraction influencing their conversion. One man was astonished that “God could be a friend and a father.” Another celebrated “being adopted as God’s son and the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.”

In summary we can generalize by concluding that several principles should guide and under-gird our relationship with Muslims: understanding them and their religion accurately and fairly; modeling through neighborliness and friendship the attractive love taught in scripture and exemplified by Jesus; proceeding gently and prayerfully in the confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in them and in us.

Works Cited

Afsaruddin, Asma. 2008
The First Muslims: History and Memory. Oxford, UK: Oneworld.

Esposito, John. 1998
Islam: the Straight Path. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hager, Emily Anastasia. 2012a
Personal communications. July 1 and 5.

Hager, Emily Anastasia. 2012b
Narrative Identities of American Muslim Women in the Midwest (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Missouri,-St. Louis, St. Louis.

Taber, Shirin. 2004
Muslims Next Door: Uncovering Myths and Creating Friendships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Woodberry, J. Dudley and Russell G. Shubin. 2001
Why I Chose Jesus. Mission Frontiers. March, 28-33.

Zahniser, A. H. Mathias. 1991
Islam: Where God is Great. In Stephen M. Miller, ed., MisGuiding Lights? Kansas City, Missouri, 31-38.


Zahniser, A. H. Mathias. 2002
Christian Witness in a Marketplace of Cultured Alternatives. Missiology: An International Journal. 30/2. April.

Zahniser, A. H. Mathias. 2010
Understanding Islam: A Closer Look and a Wider Perspective. The Record: For Alumni and Friends of Greenville College. Spring, 8-9.