Pew research: While 36% of Germans on the political right give Muslims an unfavorable rating, just 15% on the left do so. The gap between left and right is also roughly 20 percentage points in France and Italy. And significant differences are found in the UK as well.

While many Americans are concerned about Islamic extremism, the new survey shows that most people think the problem with violence committed in the name of religion is people rather than with religion per se. Indeed, fully two-thirds of Americans say the bigger problem is that some violent people use religion to justify their actions(68%). However, when those who say they think religious teachings are the bigger problem are asked to specify which religions they think are problematic, Islam is the most common response offered.

Younger people and those with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely than older and less highly educated people to attribute religious violence to individuals who use religion to justify violent acts.

Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say the main problem with violence committed in the name of religion is that some religions espouse violent teachings.

Question behind the question: How much does the average American know about the teachings and worldview of Islam in its various forms?

Americans’ knowledge of Islam is minimal, a new report shows, with 30 percent saying they do not know very much about the Muslim religion and its practices and another 25 percent saying they know nothing at all. Only 9 percent of Americans say they know a great deal about Islam and about a third (35 percent) say they know something about the Muslim religion. Only 9 percent of Americans say they know a great deal about Islam and about a third (35 percent) say they know something about the Muslim religion.

In January 2013, the Saudi Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Nassir Al Barrak declared: “Electing a president or another form of leadership or council members is prohibited in Islam as it has been introduced by the enemies of Moslems.” The idea of popular elections, he said, “has been brought by the anti-Islam parties who have occupied Moslem land.”…  Tunisian author Salem Ben Ammar wrote, “To hell with democracy! Long live Islam! One hundred percent of Muslims agree with that. To say anything else is apostasy from Islam. These two competing political systems are antithetical to each other. You can’t be democratic and be a Muslim or a Muslim and be a democrat. A Jew can’t be a Nazi and a Nazi can’t be a Judeophile.


Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams on Islam

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, ambassador to France, and John Adams, ambassador to England, met with the emissary of the Islamic potentates of Tripoli to Britain, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, regarding the demands for tribute being made at the time by the so-called Barbary Pirates. Afterwards, Jefferson and Adams sent a four-page report to the Congress describing this meeting. The relevant portion of their report reads:

We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their [Muslim] pretentions to make war upon Nations who had done them no Injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their prophet, that it was written in their Qur’an, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise” (Jefferson).

Adams wrote, “The fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion is the extirpation of hatred from the human heart. It forbids the exercise of it, even towards enemies. There is no denomination of Christians, which denies or misunderstands this doctrine. All understand it alike – all acknowledge its obligations; and however imperfectly, in the purposes of Divine Providence, its efficacy has been shown in the practice of Christians, it has not been wholly inoperative upon them. Its effect has been upon the manners of nations. It has mitigated the horrors of war – it has softened the features of slavery – it has humanized the intercourse of social life. The unqualified acknowledgement of a duty does not, indeed, suffice to insure its performance. Hatred is yet a passion, but too powerful upon the hearts of Christians. Yet they cannot indulge it, except by the sacrifice of their principles, and the conscious violation of their duties. No state paper from a Christian hand, could, without trampling the precepts of its Lord and Master, have commenced by an open proclamation of hatred to any portion of the human race. The Ottoman lays it down as the foundation of his discourse…

The precept of the Quran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that [Mohammed] is the prophet of God. The vanquished may purchase their lives, by the payment of tribute. As the essential principle of [Mohammed’s] faith is the subjugation of others by the sword; it is only by force, that his false doctrines can be dispelled, and his power annihilated.The commands of the prophet may be performed alike, by fraud, or by force.

This appeal to the natural hatred of the Mussulmen towards the infidels is in just accordance with the precepts of the Quran. The document [the Quran] does not attempt to disguise it, nor even pretend that the enmity of those whom it styles the infidels, is any other than the necessary consequence of the hatred borne by the Mussulmen [Muslims] to them – the paragraph itself, is a forcible example of the contrasted character of the two religions” (Adams). Adams wrote a 135 page essay after studying Islamic teaching and the Qur’an.

Reading Isa al-Masih Into a Muslim Worldview: Christ as Key to All Life’s Story

In being a witness among any people, including Muslims, one must choose contextually appropriate concepts in the host language that facilitate journeying from where the particular person really lives, in their religious and cultural setting, towards a fuller understanding of the person and  character of God in Christ  (Romans 1:1-6,15-16; 1 Corinthians 1-2; 9:19-24).  As information and background to this article, I strongly urge readers to reference the first article of this series in an earlier issue of Connections, Altruistic Bible Reading: Rediscovering Scripture for the Sake of Others in Islam.

As you read and retell, The Man and the Serpent, taken from my personal experience of ministry in Muslim contexts, you will begin to see how this works.[1]    “Once there was man who was tired of the city-life, the buying and selling and all of its attending practices.  He was weary of the noise and dust, so he took his prayer mat and went outside, into the country-side to meditate and to pray to Allah, he was a Muslim.As he was praying he noticed a serpent crawling rapidly toward him through the sub-Saharan bush.  The serpent stopped in front of him and spoke.“Have mercy on me in the name of Allah” the serpent pleaded, “there is a man with a stick and a dog who are trying to kill me.”  “What can I do?” replied the man on the mat, “I only have this prayer mat . . . perhaps you could hide under it?”

“But the dog will smell me, better still, since I am used to crawling into holes, if you open your mouth wide, I will crawl down and hide in your stomach.  In this way the man will not see me, the dog will not smell me and you will have had mercy on me in the name of Allah!”

“But what if you don’t come out?”

“In the Name of Allah and Prophet I will come out!” affirmed the serpent.

Wanting to exercise proper hospitality, to show compassion and kindness for this serpent, the man agreed, opened his mouth and crawled down and hid in the man’s stomach.  Not a moment too soon, for the dog and man with a stick arrived, searching everywhere.  The dog followed the serpent’s scent and led the man right up to the mat.

“Have you seen a serpent come this way?” he asked the man with the serpent in his belly.

“I don’t see a serpent—do you see one here?” the man replied.

Not wanting to disturb the holy person, the hunter and dog moved on.  Now the serpent moved up inside the man, looked out through the man’s eyes and turned the man’s head this way and that . . . he liked what he had now.

“I am not coming out!” the serpent declared.

“What!  You said in the name of Allah and the Prophet that you would come out.”

“Yes,” replied the serpent, “but I only said that to deceive you. Now if you try to kill me you will kill yourself and so I am staying here.”

The man was totally distraught and knew that no one can live long with a serpent in his stomach.  The Muslim time of noon prayer approached, zuhra, and so he faced Mecca and faithfully went through his prayers.  At the end, as he sat on his mat, he asked Allah to please send a Deliverer to save him from the power of the serpent.

Later in the day he spotted a man walking toward him from the east, with garments shining like the sun and a radiant face.  The man carried a bowl of green leaves in his hands and upon approaching, told the man with the serpent in his stomach to “Eat these leaves which are for your healing and you will live!”  Having little choice and trusting the appearance of this person, he took the leaves and ate.  The serpent was killed and eliminated and the man gave thanks to Allah, saying “Alhamdulilahi!

When I inquired of my Fulbe friends about the name of the man they simply replied that he did not have name that they knew of.  Later, after reflection upon all the holy book the Muslims are encouraged to read in addition to the Quran, like the gospel of Isa (Jesus), the book of David, the book of Moses and others, I asked them if they had heard of someone who came among people as fully human, was pure and sinless, shining like the sun and had power to deliver people from the age old serpent, Shaitan.

This led to further discussion of the prophets (many of whom they recognize) and the suggestion was made that Isa (the Muslim designation for Jesus) the son of Mary had supernatural power to deliver people from evil, had conquered the age-old Serpent, was sinless and came among humans as one fully able to identify and help them against the overwhelming powers of evil and the devil. Help them in sin and temptation.

This narrative was so effective that we retold it in storied form, contextualized in song done on the traditional Fulbe guitar.  Afterward we added corresponding questions and scripture sections that illuminated the important aspects of Jesus’ life and power.  We also spoke of Jesus as kalimatuh Allah (a word from Allah) and ruuhu-lahi  (spirit of Allah).  In addition we noted characteristics of Isa bii-Maryama (Jesus the son of Mary) mentioned in the Quran such as being virgin born, without fault, able to create and give life to the dead, alive now, and coming again.  We spoke of his total submission to Allah and his willingness to suffer in love and endure all kinds of hardship (munyal).

This narrative and subsequent discussion using Fulbe culture, Quran, Scripture and theological reflection upon meanings led to transformations in the lives of some hearers—one done by word and spirit!  Other examples of story and proverb that helped us understand and contextualize a message can be found in my PhD dissertation entitled, Identity in Community Among Fulbe Muslims.

One of the most difficult concepts for any Muslim to hear is that of Jesus being called ‘’God’s Son”.   God provided an example that has proven helpful for me and I hope it will for you.

One day, after spending much over a year in the village, helping Muslims friends plant fruit trees, praying for their sick, helping in their projects, sharing food often and becoming very much a part of our neighbor’s lives there, I was told, “You are a son of Doumrou”.  I was quite amazed by this designation and inquired as to its meaning, noting I wasn’t born here nor did the village give birth to me!  My friends said, “No, this means you are one of us but with power for you now know the chief of the village and can approach him at any time—he doesn’t even demand that you remove your shoes! In fact, he gives you a place of honor in the shade in front of his house.  You are now truly a son of Doumrou.  If you want to, you can bring any of your friends here and if you walk with them hand in hand to the chief and he will receive them because they are with you (hand in hand is a sign of friendship between men in sub-Saharan Africa).

Their explanation was helpful and corresponded to the biblical witness of Jesus’ title being primarily attributed his position and to the resurrection by Allah’s power (Romans 1:4; Psalm 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22,45).  I affirmed that Jesus could take any of us into the glorious presence of Allah because He knows the way (Siriatu Mustaquim).

A Theology of the Cross

This is not the place to do an explanation of a theology of the cross but note well that a theology of the cross is a way of seeing, bringing all encounters in life, all our theological truths, to and through the cross as a worldview.   “Without the cross, there is no Christology; and there is no Christology that does not have to demonstrate its legitimization in the cross” (Martin Kahler quoted in Moltmann, The Crucified God 1993, 125). Meet Muslims openly, listen deeply to their cultural setting, love them unconditionally and bring a cross-informed Gospel, leaving the results to God.

If we want to know where to start, there is a Fulbe proverb that helps, “The one who as eaten with you knows what is inside of you!”Chew on that as we pray, “Lord Christ, may our love for Muslims be genuinely of you, clear for others, Spirit-empowered by gospel. Amen!”

[1] For those who wish a much fuller explanation I have a paper presented at the Midwest Regional Evangelical Missiological Society.