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By Mikel Del Rosario

Engaging with Muslims

Respectful engagement takes courage and compassion

Respectfully Engaging with Muslims

Let’s talk about respectfully engaging with Muslims. Being an ambassador for Christ means more than just defending what’s true. It also means loving people well. The more we engage with our neighbors, the more we see that religion is a core part of many people’s lives. And getting to know them means getting to know their religion. Beyond only focusing on critique or apologetics, we should also discover what makes each major religion attractive to adherents and converts.

How much do we know about Islam, the second-largest religion in the world? As part of my work with the Hendricks Center on respectfully engaging world religions, I invited Crescent Project founder Fouad Masri to talk about lessons he’s learned engaging with Muslims since 1979. In this post, I’ll share some of what I learned about what makes Islam attractive to Muslims, converts, and key points of connection Christians can use for respectful engagement.

What keeps Muslims faithful to Islam?

Before engaging with Muslims, it’s important to know that there’s a spectrum of practice and belief among Muslims in a variety of branches of Islam. So find out what your Muslim friend actually believes. Some Muslims don’t think much about the five pillars of Islam and may have never studied the teachings of Muhammad. Don’t automatically assume you know what any particular Muslim believes.

One thing that attracts people to Islam is a sense of order amidst chaos. For them, Islam answers questions like “How should I eat?” Answer: “With your right hand, not your left.” Also, many Muslim remain faithful to Islam to avoid feeling like a traitor. Your friend might agree with a point you made about the historicity of Jesus’ divine claim, crucifixion, or resurrection but they could think, “If I agree that Islam is wrong on this one, it might bring shame to my family.”

Many Christians think they understand Islam but need to do some homework to respectfully engage Muslims. Similarly, some Muslims think they understand Christian theology, but reason, “Christians are polytheists who worship three gods: God, Mary, and Jesus. Why should I believe that? Islam has to be right; There’s only one God.” Others come to America and don’t see Christians exhibit God’s love. Instead, they see crime, drunkenness, and drug addiction and think, “Christianity has failed America. I’m sticking with Islam instead of all this chaos.”

What draws converts to Islam?

While engaging with Muslims, you’ll find converts who say Islam is exotic. Many don’t connect with the contemporary worship styles they’ve seen in most evangelical churches. They’re seeking a more ancient, meditative sense of transcendence. But rather than looking into the ancient practices of historic Christianity, the ritualistic structure of Islam grabs their attention. Other converts find Islam’s structure brings them comfort in a diverse, pluralistic society.

But keep in mind, when you’re engaging with Muslims, some are seeking answers to tough questions about God. For example, many Muslims struggle with the problem of evil. They ask the same kinds of questions non-Muslims do: “Does God really exist?” “Does God care?” Some even wonder, “Are there other ways to know about God other than Islam?”

How to engage with Muslims

Masri has been engaging with Muslims for decades and he’s noticed that compassion ministries often open the door for respectful interfaith dialogue. He’s seen how Muslim refugees in Sicily, Greece, and America not only appreciate Christian ministries but directly ask, “Why are you helping us?” This gave them pause, especially since some were raised to see Christians as enemies. He says:

When they see love and kindness, they want to know more… Begin a conversation like, “Oh, you are a Muslim? Oh, you believe in one god?” Then, let them share. And then let the God of Abraham lead them to the knowledge of Christ the Messiah.

There are many ways to engage with Muslims and begin authentic relationships. But practicing hospitality is a great way to quickly create an openness to respectful, spiritual conversations. So compassion is key.

Still, pointing our Muslim friends to Jesus takes courage. Muslims reject the idea that Jesus is divine or ever claimed to be divine. How might a Christian respond to those who challenges the biblical conception of Jesus? I was surprised by Masri’s answer:

Let them read the words of Jesus. I know an imam. Somebody gave him a Bible. He read the words of Jesus: “From their fruit, you shall know them.” He got saved and baptized. The words of Jesus speak for who Jesus is. Many times, we try to explain this with our own power. Let the word speak for itself.

Interestingly, the imam linked his experience of Christian compassion ministries with Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 7:15-20: “Watch out for false prophets…You will recognize them by their fruit…a good tree is not able to bear bad fruit.” I would have never made this connection, but the Holy Spirit had already been at work in his life. While we must be prepared to defend the truth, sometimes people are one Bible verse away from finding a saving relationship with God. This is another thing to keep in mind when engaging with Muslims.

Jesus: A Point of Connection

I’ve found a great place to start when engaging with Muslims is with Jesus. Islam teaches that he is a prophet. Although many Muslims are told that the Bible’s been corrupted, the Qu’ran actually says “none can alter the words of Allah” (Surah 6:34). And Muslims seem to be commanded to accept the Christian Scriptures in Surah 29:46: “Do not argue with the People of the Scripture… Say, ‘We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you…’”

Interestingly, the Qur’an notes that Jesus performed healing miracles (Surah 3:49) but doesn’t include any narrative accounts of those healing miracles. You could ask your Muslim friend, “Do you want to see how Jesus performed healings? It’s in the Bible.” Show them Mark 2:1-12, where Jesus claimed to forgive sins in the context of a healing miracle. Here, Jesus is claiming the divine prerogative to forgive sins. Forgiving the paralytic was very different from anything Jews believed priests, prophets, or even angels could do. The scribal response show they knew that only God can forgive sins. Talk about that and you’re off and running in a conversation on the claims of Jesus.

Engage with Courage and Compassion

While some Muslims find the structure of Islam attractive, potential converts may be attracted to traditions they perceive as exotic. Still, others have spiritual questions that are not fully satisfied by Islam. Compassionate service can begin to create an openness to considering the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. Let’s ask the Lord to help us begin engaging with Muslims with both courage and compassion.


Mikel Del Rosario is a Ph.D. student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University.

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