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Christianity and Islam: Bridging Two Worlds
By Glover Shipp

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Sharing Christianity with Muslims

By Glover Shipp

This chapter is perhaps the most needed but difficult to achieve of all of the material in this book. It is needed because Islam is militantly evangelistic. It is growing rapidly throughout the world. And it is needed because more than 1 billion Muslims in the world either do not know Christ or refuse to confess Him as Lord.

It is difficult because we know so little of their worldview or religious/political philosophy. We know so little about how to share our faith with them. And at the heart of the matter, we fear contact with them.

These barriers can be overcome, however. They are being overcome to a small extent in such places as Malawi, Indonesia, northern Ghana, and to a lesser extent in Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Albania, and other Muslim countries.

It is my hope that at least some suggestions for approaching Muslims and sharing Christ with them will come out of this chapter.

Direct Confrontation and Discussion

This is the most aggressive of the approaches and is fraught with danger, because its smacks of a debative mentality. Yet it can be used judiciously. Dr. Jack Evans, president of Southwestern Christian College, Terrell, Texas, has conducted two debates, one with a Muslim scholar and the other with a Black Muslim leader. In an analysis of the first debate, his opponent, Jamal Badawi, was overwhelmed by the careful preparation Evans had made (The Christian Chronicle, July 1966, p.1). Following the second debate his opponent, Jeremiah Muhammad, left the Black Muslim faith and embraced Christianity (The Christian Chronicle, September 1997).

Other debates on Islam have been held in recent years, among these some between Islamic leaders and former leaders who have converted to Christ. One of these was a debate conducted by Michael Nazir-Ali (recorded in Frontiers in Muslim-Christian Encounter, Oxford: Regnum Books, 1987). Another was Christian-Muslim Dialogue, published by the Kingdom of Saudi Aabia (Maramar, 1984).

Geisler and Saleeb have several chapters devoted to the defense of Christianity and a Christian response to Islam (1993:205-286). These can be applied to each of the distinctive Islamic doctrines.

For any kind of meaningful dialogue with a Muslim, we must know the Islamic faith well. Errors in understanding or word usage will make our discussion hopeless.

Hospitality and Friendship

As has already been pointed out, hospitality and friendship are essential to any relationship with Muslims. They have the idea that Westerners, and especially Americans, are superficial in their friendships and not particularly willing to open their hearts, homes, and kitchens to foreigners. Conversation is vital to them. Kershaw (1971:3) suggests that we may not agree with what they say, and may even argue, but we should not feel compelled to win every argument. "In the Arab world," he says, "disagreements are often a way friendships are tested" (ibid.).

In extending hospitality we must be careful to offer only food and drink that is acceptable to our guest. We must also be discreet, Kershaw says, in our male-female relationships in our guest's presence (Kershaw 1971:23). Among most Muslims, friendships are formed between those of the same sex. They misinterpret the openness of American women, thinking that it means a possible intimate relationship with them.

Another way in which to show hospitality is to invite a Muslim friend to events in which you are involved and especially, Christian events. Demonstrate in a group setting vital Christian faith and practice. Those present can draw out the Muslim with sincere questions and share with him or her what Jesus means in their lives.
Aid in Times of Need or Distress

In northern Ghana American Christians have opened many Islamic areas to the gospel by drilling wells for villages that had no safe and dependable water supply. This is something that Muslim leaders there had never done. It so impressed the villagers that they listened to what the drillers had to say about Christ.

Dropping food, blankets, and medicines to refugees in Afghanistan is meant to indicate that our battle with terrorists and their supporters is not be construed as hatred for Muslims in general. It isn't yet known how this will play out. Is it enough to counterbalance the military strikes? Are warlords confiscating much of this, preferring to confiscate it than to see it placed in the hands of starving people?

Of course, aid should never be extended with strings attached. Loving care offered in a time of great need can have an impact on others that may cause them to seek a reason for this kindness.

The Contextualized Use of Honor

In his dissertation, A Contextualized Theology of Honor, Evertt W. Huffard presents a case for using the Biblical concepts of kabod, doxa, and time, all expressions understandable to Muslims as a means of successful dialogue with them (Huffard 1985:iv).

Kabod is a Hebrew word meaning honor, both in the physical and ethical realms. Its physical characteristics can be expressed in such terms as greatness, respect, praise, power, fear and worship. Related concepts are loyalty, blamelessness, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, and a good name-all indications of a correct community relationship.

The Greek word doxa means glory and the Greek word time means inner worth or social approval. When the Torah was translated into Greek, notes Huffard, "kabod inherited a split personality between doxa and time" (Huffard 1985:228). As used by the early church, doxa took on such meanings as opinion, the Christian tradition, reputation, a name for God, the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, praise, worship, honor given to God, honor of men, final reward, popularity, and a desire for fame.

In applying these terms to dialogue with Muslims, Huffard argues that what God has done through Christ is for His doxa. Christians are to share the redemptive message because God's honor is at stake. Peter indicates this when he says that God's call to all humanity is based on His divine glory or doxa (2 Peter 1:3).

Paul defended his going to Gentiles with the message of Christ by arguing that God's honor required it (Romans 9:22-23). It is God's honor and glory that is revealed in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In a structured society, as are Muslim communities, it is essential to maintain God's honor, which Islamic peoples can appreciate. The argument can then be made successfully that God, who can do all things He wishes to do, in the manner in which He chooses to do them, chose to show to mankind His doxa in sending Himself, in the person of His Son Christ, to die for our sins.

Huffard affirms that "a theology of honor [is] a necessity in reconciling Muslims to God through Christ. With a theology of honor we create new models for communication cross-culturally (Huffard 1985:283). Incidentally, it might also strengthen our rationale for evangelism, since God's honor is at stake. God's will for humanity was not imposed through a unilateral book. He met us in Christ, a person as well as a manifestation of God, and through Him, we were able to know God and be reconciled to Him (John 8:48-55; 10:30; 14:8-14; Romans 5:10).

Utilizing Muslim Practices in a Christian Context

Not only must we present a theology that penetrates Muslim mental barriers, but we must also utilize what we can, as Christians, of Islamic practices. Whoa! What do we mean by that? Just this: We need to contextualize our message-put it into Muslim clothing, so to speak--in order that it will not appear to be so very foreign to them. The story of the Peace Child (Richardson 1976) portrays the results that happened when the message of Christ was presented in a manner with which a New Guinea tribe could identify. Cragg states this point in clear terms:
Is it possible to familiarize the Muslim with the truth that to become a Christian is not a mere shift of communities, that it does not rob Muslim society . . . of a potential servant and the local community . . . of a loving son? How can we demonstrate that to become a Christian is to remain responsible in some sense for "Muslim" citizenship? . . . . What, then, can be done to encourage in Islam the truth that becoming a Christian is not ceasing to belong with Muslim need, Muslim thought and Muslim kin? (Cragg 195:348).

Understanding Islamic Worldviews

In order to avoid such pitfalls as that above, we must come to understand the basic worldview that ties Muslims together worldwide and also the particular worldview of different Islamic peoples.

By way of review, worldview is defined as the collective assumptions, values, and allegiances that for the core of a person's or group's way of perceiving how everything in the world functions, a people's way of looking at reality (Kearney 1984:41). Our worldview is at the center of all of our understandings, culture, attitudes, and habits.

Basic Islamic worldview assumptions include that of an all-powerful God, Allah, who arbitrarily laid down rules and practices to follow. Although merciful, He is not necessarily all that loving or forgiving. Salvation consists of living up to a strict code and doing all of the right things in the right way. Allah is one only, so there can be no manifestations of Him in any form, such as Jesus. Muhammad must be honored above all men as Allah's final and greatest messenger and apostle. The Qur'an is Allah's final revelation to mankind. No other religion can be tolerated, because they are all pagan. Family and community solidarity are all-important and are based on a common Islamic faith.

Now, with this set of assumptions, it is not surprising that Muslims value highly the Qur'an, Muhammad, the Ahadith, the Five Pillars of the Faith, and community solidarity. Their allegiance is focused on all of these principles above. Any threat or perceived threat against any of these is considered extremely dangerous and must be destroyed at all costs.

There is much that is commendable in all of this. Who among us Christians could not learn from Muslims about more dedication to prayer, a more submissive life, more dedication to our beliefs? Who could not profit from fasting? Who could not give more generously to alleviate the needs of others? Who could not learn to honor and worship God more intensely? Who could not learn more about zeal for His cause? If we understand thoroughly Islamic worldview, we will be better prepared to use it for drawing Muslims to Christ.


Cragg, Kenneth. The Call of the Minaret. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

Huffard, Evertt W. Thematic Dissonance in the Muslim-Christian Encounter: A Contextualized Theology of Honor. Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1985.

Kearney, Michael. World View. Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp Publishers, Inc., 1984.

Kershaw, R. Max. How to Share the Good News with your Muslim Friend. Colorado Springs: International Students, Inc., 1978.

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