The Christian-Muslim Cutting-Edge

Great conflicts come and go but one, which has endured for nearly fourteen centuries, appears destined to remain until the end. It is the classic battle – a universal one which outlives every generation. It is the struggle between Islam and Christianity for the souls of all who live on earth. Although mostly unrecognised, it is probably the supreme contest – one which tackles the greatest of issues, namely the very purpose of human existence and its ultimate destiny. Each has its own figurehead who is claimed to be God’s final messenger to all mankind – Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world or Muhammad the universal Prophet to the nations. Each has its own mission – the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth or the establishment of an ummah (community) which covers the globe. Each, likewise, has its own conviction of its ultimate triumph over all the philosophies, religions and powers that have challenged human allegiance. It is only natural that they should come into conflict.

This book tackles the cutting-edge between Islam and Christianity, in particular the arguments Muslims employ in discussion or debate with Christians to establish the pre-eminence of Islam by rigorously refuting the authenticity of the Christian scriptures and its fundamental doctrines. Any Christian who engages Muslims in conversation will soon find that they are equipped with an armoury of objections which they will interject into the conversation to undermine the Gospel message and distract the Christian by placing him firmly on the defensive.

Islam’s Onslaught against Christianity

The challenge goes back to the time of Muhammad himself. The Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, has numerous polemical passages confronting Christian beliefs, not only opposing them but proposing rational arguments to disprove them. In the early centuries of Islam Muslim scholars wrote numerous disputations challenging the integrity of the Bible (Ibn Hazm), the doctrine of the Trinity (Abu Isa al-Warraq), the social structure of Christian Society (Al-Jahiz) while also arguing forcefully that Muhammad is foretold in both the Old and New Testaments (Ali Tabari). Modern times have seen polemical material mass-produced for distribution throughout the world, in particular the booklets of Ahmed Deedat, a Muslim propagandist from my own country, South Africa.

Christians have been equally confrontational at times, powerfully calling the credentials of Muhammad’s prophethood into question and producing numerous evidences against the assertion that the Qur’an is the Word of God. In both cases the thrust has often been strongly partial and imbalanced. The finest ideals of the adherent’s faith are often set in contrast to the worst excesses of the other’s in practice without the debater apparently being aware of the unfairness of his method. For example, the Christian may argue forcefully that women are treated very poorly in parts of the Muslim world in contrast with the Biblical teaching that they are entitled to enjoy equality in a monogamous marriage (Ephesians 5:28-33) without taking the prevalence of divorce and immorality in traditional Christian societies in the Western world into account. Likewise a Muslim will teach that Islam is the religion of perfect peace while ignoring the numerous conflicts in the Muslim world and the bombings of embassies, aircraft, trade centres and the like in the name of Islam. Muslims will also claim that the universal unity of the Muslim world compares favourably with the numerous divisions in Christian churches while ignoring the vast numbers of conflicting sects in Islam and the fact that Islamic unity is really a uniformity of worship only based on the strictly prescribed nature of Muslim prayers, fasting, ablutions and the Hajj pilgrimage.

In this book my aim is to deal mainly with Muslim arguments against Christianity, providing Christians with effective answers to their contentions. I have had the privilege of engaging in discussion with thousands of Muslims in South Africa over twenty-five years and must have heard just about every objection that they could possibly raise to the Christian faith and its scriptures. I have also perused all the Muslim booklets listed in the Bibliography at the end of this book. I can, with genuine conviction, say that I have never heard a Muslim argument that cannot be legitimately and adequately answered. The arguments listed in the following chapters are those most commonly put forward by Muslims in personal conversation and are presented in an objection/answer form to give Christians firsthand examples of how to counter them.

Muslim Attitudes which Frustrate Christians

What I have often discovered in lively debate with Muslims is certain attitudes on their part that are calculated to hinder profitable discussion. At best Christians and Muslims should argue their positions with a common goal to discover God’s ultimate truths. What often happens, however, is that Muslims seek only to frustrate Christian witness, putting forward their arguments as a smokescreen rather than as a platform for healthy interaction. Objections are regularly stated without any opportunity being given for a Christian reply. For example, I have often heard questions such as "How can God have a Son when he has no wife?", "If Christ died for your sins, does this mean you can sin as much as you like?", etc., as if the objection itself proved the point and was the last word on the subject. The Muslim often does not want to hear a reply, let alone an effective refutation!

Very few Muslims have a real understanding of Christianity as is abundantly evidenced in the booklets they produce against it. Christians are accused of believing in three gods, the New Testament is presumed to be a changed version of the Old Testament which is assumed to be the original scripture, while the deity of Jesus Christ is discounted on physical grounds, it being alleged that God cannot have a Son without a wife even though the Qur’an itself, in Surah 19:20-21, teaches that by God’s power and decree Mary could have a son even though she had no husband!

Christians need to show much patience when reasoning with Muslims in such cases. Another source of frustration is the inclination on the part of many Muslims to freely assail the authenticity of the Bible or basic Christian beliefs while at the same time becoming highly offended when the tables are turned on the Qur’an and Islam. Yet again Christians need to be tolerant and remain focused in such cases, not resorting to a similar approach in return. Other Muslims will argue purely to find fault with no desire to hear reasonable answers. I have often had encounters where Muslims have boldly proclaimed an objection against a tenet of our faith which I have taken time to effectively answer. Often the answer cannot be given as briefly or emphatically as the argument is proclaimed. Nevertheless, even though the Muslim has made no effort to counter the explanation, he will at a later date triumphantly repeat the same argument as if no refutation had ever been given. Patience and perseverance are necessary in such cases! Prejudices are not easily removed.

Muslim Arguments Need to be Answered

Some might say, "Why argue at all?" – why not just exchange our different beliefs in a spirit of mutual understanding and leave the issues between our faiths alone? There are a number of reasons why Christians, if they are to be true to their faith and themselves, must be willing to answer Muslim objections and counter their arguments.

Firstly, if you cannot defend your faith, the Muslim will conclude that you may be fervent in your beliefs but cannot justify them. Your unwillingness to tackle the cutting-edges will persuade the Muslim that your religion is actually indefensible. Secondly, when you can not only state what you believe but can also effectively say why, the Muslim will be more inclined to listen to you, knowing you have personally tested the credibility of your beliefs and can convincingly defend them. Thirdly, when Muslims do become Christian believers, they invariably want to know right away what the evidences are for the faith they now profess, especially as they may well be challenged by Muslims to revert to Islam and will need to be well-trained to resist such pressures. The Apostle Peter stated very plainly that Christians must be ready to face the challenges put to them and also finely stated the spirit in which they should respond:

Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:15-16

The Apostle Paul never shirked the duty to substantiate what he believed with adequate proofs. While in the company of contentious Jews who thrived on controversy, he would "argue with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead" (Acts 17:2). He was not interested in a mere exchange of religious views, hoping his Gospel message would prove attractive enough merely by its presentation. He knew he had to be able to accredit everything he said if his detractors were to take him seriously. On another occasion he said "We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5), proving himself to be a man who had mastered his subject and fully confident in his ability to endorse the truth of what he believed.

In Muslim evangelism it is essential that the Christian be able to counter the objections and arguments Muslims readily produce. In the next section we shall consider the spirit in which the Christian should respond.

The Christian Response: Right Methods and Approaches

The chapters of this book give examples of effective ways of answering the commonest Muslim arguments against the Bible and its teaching. It is essential that the content of these examples be sound and convincing. Nonetheless this book would be seriously incomplete if some attention was not given to the manner in which the Christian should conduct himself while in discussion with Muslims. The spirit of our approach is as important in making a genuine impact on Muslims as the substance of our arguments.

Examples of Wrong Approaches and Attitudes

There are many ways in which Christians damage their witness to Muslims of which three will be considered here.

1.   The Spirit of Triumphalism

Many years ago I attended a public meeting in Durban, South Africa, where up to two thousand Christians and Muslims were waiting for the local City Hall to open its doors. Entrance had been delayed and the crowd simply stood outside in silence. Dr Anis Shorrosh, a Palestinian Christian, had advertised the meeting as a rebuff to Ahmed Deedat, the local Muslim champion of anti-Christian polemics, having challenged him publicly to have the courage to share the platform with him. The atmosphere outside the hall, understandably, was tense. Suddenly one of the local Christian pastors shouted to one of his friends, "let’s sing a few songs to the Lord". They began by boldly singing the chorus Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered which was soon followed up triumphantly with In the name of Jesus we have the victory, in the name of Jesus demons will have to flee.

Unfortunately the "demons" did not flee – they fought back. And they won! A Muslim soon interrupted the singing with a bold chant of Allahu Akbar! In no time one thousand Muslims roared to the incessant chant of Allahu Akbar! (Allah is Most Great) which was soon followed up with La ilaha illullah! (There is no God but Allah) in great unison and purpose until the Christian chorus-singing was thoroughly drowned out and silenced. A Christian bystander nervously asked me "What are they singing?" (this was still in the heyday of Islamic revolutionism and frenzied fundamentalism) to which I replied "Calm down, they are merely chanting that God alone is Great".

It is easy to boldly sing such choruses in the comfort of Christian fellowships when no one else is listening. Triumphalism is a common feature of many contemporary forms of Christian worship. It has no place, however, in the frontline of Christian-Muslim interaction. We are called to be a humble people speaking in a spirit of love to all we meet. It has well been said that our aim is to win Muslims to Christ, not to win a battle for Christianity.

Christians must avoid the temptation to try to lord their faith over Muslims. Likewise we need to resist the inclination to try to prove points simply to win a debate. The hearer himself is our major point of concern. All we say and the spirit in which we do it must be geared to win the confidence, hearing and goodwill of our opposite number. Our approach should be that which is enjoined in this passage:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. Colossians 4:6

In various seminars I have repeatedly urged Christians to memorise the following proverb – if necessary to write it out one thousand times until it sinks in:

I-S-L-A-M   stands for   I Shall Love All Muslims!

I have heard it said that Christians must hate Islam but love the Muslim. May I suggest it would be more appropriate to love all Muslims and to strive to understand Islam. The more you learn about the Muslim faith, the more you will learn to respect it (I speak from personal experience) and the more Muslims will respect you and be willing to listen to you. When Christians show that they have gone to much trouble to find out sincerely what Muslims believe and to become acquainted with the Qur’an and the Islamic heritage, Muslims invariably respond by becoming more inclined to enter into serious discussion rather than sheer debate and argument. We need to earn the right to be heard.

2.   The Inclination to Demonise and Misrepresent Islam

Many Christian writers and public speakers have assailed Islam by ignoring its actual history and basic teachings while projecting false assumptions instead which are much easier to vilify and condemn. Some years ago in my own country, South Africa, a public campaign was launched by certain Christian leaders against the Muslim halaal symbol which appears on the wrappings of margarine, poultry and other products in local supermarkets. It was claimed that this was a sign which indicated that the product had been offered as a sacrifice to the Muslim idol, Allah, and that Christians should not eat such products as Paul forbade the eating of foods sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10:19-22.

Other recent Christian publications have claimed that Allah was the "moon-god" of the pagan Arabs prior to Islam and that the god of the Muslims is, in effect, really only a cult-god. Once you classify Allah in Islam as a false god or idol it becomes that much easier to attack Muslim beliefs. In discussion with Muslims such falsehoods must be avoided. Allah is the universal Arabic name for the only Supreme Being of the whole universe and is freely used by Arabic speaking Christians and Jews as well as Muslims. Likewise the halaal symbol is purely an indication that the product is "loosed" from any restrictions and may freely be eaten. In a way it means the exact opposite of what some Christians have alleged (the contrary word haraam is used in Islam to describe foods set apart for non-consumption such as swine-flesh) and certainly never indicates that the food has been offered in any kind of sacrifice.

Another popular Christian fallacy being widely promoted (and unfortunately believed) these days is that Islam was originally a Catholic conspiracy to eliminate Jews and Christians who refused to bow to the Vatican’s authority. Muhammad was supposedly deceived by an ingenious plot whereby his wife Khatija, said to be a Catholic spy, motivated him to become a great leader to execute the Vatican’s designs and purposes. Unfortunately, as Islam became strong with Vatican financial support, it rebelled and took its own way through history. This story is not only fanciful in the extreme, defying all the extensive historical records of Muhammad’s life and Islam’s beginnings, but has been promoted by one Dr Alberto Rivera purely on hearsay from a Jesuit cardinal known as Augustine Bea in secret briefings said to have taken place within the Vatican. Even though it is based on pure falsehood, large numbers of Christians (who often know little else about Islam) fervently believe it and bring it up in discussion with Muslims.

In promoting error you can only drive Muslims further from the truth. Christians need to strive at all times to be truthful in their witness and objective in their perspectives. Be true to the Word of God, to the credible records of history, and avoid trying to gain an advantage over Islam by pursuing false charges against it.

3.   Negative and Militant Attitudes towards Muslims

About a thousand years ago the world saw the beginning of a new Christian approach to Islam which was to dominate the Middle East for three centuries. The Crusades, up to fourteen in all, were launched from Western Europe against the Muslim world in an attempt to wrest much of it for Catholic Christianity, in particular the holy sites in Jerusalem, so that Christian pilgrimages could freely take place and so that a dominant Christian presence and power might be maintained in the region. Many paintings survive of battles between Christians and Muslims, the Christian soldiers invariably holding a sword in one hand and a shield with a painted cross on it in the other.

The Christians were undoubtedly the aggressors and the Muslim world endured a series of wars, conflicts and campaigns that can only be described as an exercise in Christian jihad. The First Crusade, promoted by Pope Urban II, was surprisingly successful for, even though the Christian armies were small, they caught the Muslims unawares and, under leaders such as Godfrey de Bouillon, conquered many cities including Jerusalem, ruthlessly putting Jews and Muslims to the sword until their blood flowed in the streets. Later crusades were neither as successful nor as brutal as the initial ventures but they left a legacy of Christian-Muslim hostility that endures to this day.

Modern Christian militancy against Islam takes a less violent form but is still prevalent. "We are at war with Islam" is a rallying call I have personally heard Christians declare and it leads to a negativity towards Muslims which they can easily sense. As our Saviour is described as the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) such an approach hardly seems appropriate. Should our mission not rather be seen as a peace campaign? Instead of harping on embassy bombings, international hijackings, incidents such as the downing of an American airline over Lockerbie in Scotland and the like which cultivate a negative sentiment towards Muslims, we should surely rather develop an attitude of goodwill and love towards them. Likewise we should be willing to give ourselves sacrificially in witness and service just as Jesus Christ did for us when he did not count our faults against us but willingly gave his own life to bring us back to God. Only when we are willing to love Muslims irrespective of who they are or what they might have done will we be truly able to manifest the love of Jesus towards them and fulfil the fundamental purpose of our witness – to draw them to his grace and salvation.

Important Principles in our Approach to Muslims

At a more practical level let us have a look at certain principles of witness we should endeavour to express while either witnessing to Muslims or engaging in argument with them.

1.   Fairness, Patience and Gentleness

You no doubt are familiar with the saying "Keep your head even while all around are losing theirs". Muslims often, in argument with Christians, deliberately harass and challenge with the main purpose of rattling the Christian until he loses his temper or becomes angry and offended. This to them is a sign that they have won the day and that the Christian’s response is a proof that he cannot answer their objections. It is essential to maintain composure all the time and, even if you find Muslims frustrating and annoying, to keep up a spirit of quiet goodwill and reasoned conversation.

Likewise do not be surprised or deflated when they attack the very core of your message. Muslims are trained in anti-Christian arguments. Picture the fervent evangelist knocking on a Muslim door for the first time. When the Muslim opens he declares "I have come to tell you the glorious news of God’s Son Jesus Christ who died for you that you might be forgiven and go to heaven". He might well expect the hearer to respond "Why, this is the most wonderful thing I have ever heard in my life. Where can I be baptised?" If so, he is likely to be sorely disappointed. He is far more likely to be confronted with this sort of response: "God has no partners! Where did he get a Son from? Who was God’s wife? How could he let his Son die anyway? Have you got sons? Would you just stand by watching while criminals murdered them? You want us to believe God did nothing to save his own Son? What sort of a Father is that? Anyway, no one can die for your sins – every soul bears the burden of its own guilt. If Christ died for you, does this not give you the right now to sin as you like seeing you are already forgiven?"

Muslims readily reduce Christian witness to a level of debate, conflict and argument. This cannot be avoided. Christians at such times will need to reason fairly with them, endeavouring to provide solid answers to their arguments, and do so in a spirit of gentleness and patience.

2.   Avoid Quarrelling and Disputations

While accepting that it is essential to answer Muslim arguments, it needs also to be said that you should never let what started out as a healthy witness degenerate into nothing more than quarrelling and controversy. The Apostle Paul says:

Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:23-25

Misconceptions must be gently but effectively removed wherever possible. A patient but well-reasoned answer may not immediately appear to have had an effect where the Muslim is either promoting his own triumphalism or is heated and aggressive and will not freely listen to you, but in the long term the impact will inevitably be more profound. When the atmosphere has quietened and the dust is no longer flying around your confident and assured response will be remembered. Whatever you do, do not be the one who first provokes arguments and disputes.

3.   Be Serious About your Faith

Witnessing to God’s grace in Jesus Christ is one of the most important and serious things you can ever do in your life. In conversation with Muslims avoid flippancy and irreverence. Let the Muslim know, especially if he argues with you in a spirit of ridicule or casualness, that you take your faith very seriously and wish to discuss any points he may raise in that spirit.

Even in normal Christian witness it is important to maintain a right spirit and seriousness about your message. After all, you want him to be serious about it too. Just recently, after a solid witness to a Muslim on all the greatest points of our Christian faith, I discovered on leaving his home that he supported the same English football team as me – Manchester United. As all good Muslims in South Africa support United (the rest back Liverpool and Arsenal) I immediately took the conversation to the team, knowing from experience that a shared interest is often a door to a Muslim’s heart and interest in you. On this occasion, however, I discovered I had made a far greater impact than I had thought and he quickly changed the subject back to my message again. "My mother is a Christian and converted from Islam some years ago. She has a peace I genuinely want. I was really moved by your message and will keenly read your literature". I knew immediately that I had to leave him right there and promised to see him again soon. At such times the seriousness of our ministry to turn people to the knowledge of Jesus has to prevail. We must never lose it.

4.   Be Biblical in your Responses

I cannot emphasise this point strongly enough. When discussing the Trinity, for example, it is often tempting to reason theologically and doctrinally, trying to explain how God can be three persons in one being. I have often found that, after a while, I am as confused as the Muslim about this profound subject! There is so much of it that I do not understand and, quite frankly, do not think we are meant to understand. At other times Christians try to use illustrations to explain the doctrine, such as H20 which is a single substance but can be steam, water or ice. Or the egg illustration is used (yolk, white and shell in one egg). Muslims will hardly understand the Trinity through such reasonings. In the section on The Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this book I have shown how a Biblical presentation of the role of the three persons is without doubt the most powerful means of dealing with this subject while at the same time allowing you to resume the initiative and get back to genuine witnessing. The Bible itself says:

For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Know your Bible. The more you can master the Word of God, the more effective you will become in your discussions with Muslims. It is our finest handbook and is the means the Holy Spirit uses above all others to stir the hearer to respond to the Christian message. There is a power in the Word and very often, while finding myself on the defensive while trying to explain things in human terms, I have found that new authority comes once the Bible is quoted and again made the source of my witness. Often nothing needs to be proved – the Bible only needs to be quoted properly and it will make its own impact on the objector. Naturally, when the attack is on its own teaching and contents, human reasoning is needed, but by keeping your response Biblical the greatest influence is likely to be obtained.

Try to avoid being rational or theological with Muslims. You cannot reason people into the kingdom of God – they need to respond to a message of God’s grace and forgiveness from their hearts and that requires not just an assent to the truth but a repentance and conviction deep within. And the Bible is the best tool for achieving this end. Do what you can to get Muslims to read it!

5.   Use Objections as an Opportunity for Witness

This is my last point but most certainly not the least. It will appear constantly in this book. Do what you can to use the Muslim’s arguments to strengthen your witness to them. It helps to get you back to where you really want to be – challenging the Muslim to respond to your message and the claims of Christ on his soul. Let’s go back to an argument I have already mentioned, let’s expand it a bit, and see how it can be turned around into an opportunity to emphasise the Gospel message.

The Muslim says "How can God let his Son die? We only regard Jesus Christ as a prophet and yet we honour him and God by believing that God delivered him from the cross. Yet you claim he was God’s Son but teach that God did nothing while they crucified him. How can you expect us to believe this?" The argument is usually sincere – the Muslim genuinely believes its logic, especially as sons are treasured in Muslim families throughout the world.

One Muslim took it further with me. "How many sons have you got?" he asked me. I responded "two". "Well" he responded, "if you saw a group of thugs attacking just one of them and could see they were going to kill him, would you not go to his rescue? Do you not love your son?" As soon as you fall into the trap and simply answer "yes", the Muslim closes the argument – that is precisely what a good heavenly Father would have done for his Son.

I responded "Let me strengthen your argument further before I answer it. What if you saw me walking down the road with a knife in my own hand and my son in the other, intending to kill him myself. Would that not be far worse?" He agreed (and fell into my trap!). I continued "Then how can you believe that Abraham was such a great prophet and father when that is precisely what he did. He prepared one day to kill his own son according to the Qur’an (Surah 37:102-103). God told Moses ‘You shall not kill’ (Exodus 20:13) – How can you think well of Abraham when he was prepared to do this to his very own son?"

He emphatically replied (and I am quoting him!): "You do not understand. That was different! (my emphasis). It was a test of his love for God. If a man will give his son for God, he’ll give anything for him!" The door was open for a more effective witness than any normal presentation of the Gospel message would have achieved. "Exactly", I replied, "and that is precisely what we are saying about God. He did not stand by watching, he willingly gave his Son for us to save us from our sins. It was the greatest proof of his love that he likewise could have given. John 3:16!"

I continued "God spared the son of Abraham but he did not spare his own Son. God showed, in commanding Abraham to give the best proof of his love for God by sacrificing his son, just what he was going to do by giving the greatest manifestation of his love for us. Christians know that in the cross God has done the very best he could for us. Does Islam have anything to compare with this? Has Allah ever matched Abraham’s supreme example of sacrificial love?"

What started as a Muslim offensive against the Gospel ended as a more purposeful witness than I could possibly have given had he never raised his arguments. Use Muslim arguments to strengthen your witness. Take the Muslim away from objections and disputes as far as you can and bring the discussion back to where it should be – evangelistic witness.

In conclusion I can only again emphasise that it is just as important to take care how you approach Muslims as what you actually say. Be sure that all you do and say is done in a spirit of genuine love for them.

John Gilchrist.
Benoni, South Africa.

20th March 1999

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