The Contemporary contexts of Christian Mission to Muslim communities and individuals are varied, complex and challenging. In their self-understanding, their relations with people of other faiths, particularly Christian’s Muslim attitudes have changed dramatically. There is much greater knowledge of Christian Mission activity directed at Muslims, much deeper suspicion of such activity and more active and wide spread efforts to address it. On the other hand the pathology of many Muslim societies today has led to the growth of individual Muslims exploring the Christian faith, leading to a surprising significant number finding their spiritual hunger satisfied in Christ.
The availability of communication channels in the middle of large scale state control and surveillance even in the most “closed” Islamic contexts enables spiritually hungry individuals to find ways to connect with Gospel bearing people and institutions Increasing number of individuals are coming to Christ. Many are not baptized and do not belong to a worshipping community but continue as quiet, often “secret” followers of Christ
Meanwhile, the hostility towards Christians, Christian Communities and Churches continues to grow in Muslim majority nations. In contexts where Muslims are a minority the situation is different but is strongly influenced by models, attitudes and actions against Christians in Muslim majority nations. This is promoted by funding and Muslim mission activity from such wealthy Muslim majority states.
From my experience of living and ministering in India and the UK I offer the following reflections where Islam is an active and often aggressive minority. I focus on areas that are critical to Church and Islam relations and important in shaping the way the Church relates in mission to Islamic Communities and individuals.
I continue to affirm that the heart of Christian mission is the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, inviting people to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior and committing to follow him.
Understanding of Nation and Citizenship
The tendency for Muslims in non-Muslim majority states is to create their own Nation within the larger Nation, a state within the State. This drive has grown significantly in countries that have become free democracies in the past 50 years.
In spite of carving out a Muslim majority state from Independent India in 1947, a vast number of Muslims had to remain in India- a Hindu majority and secular pluralist state.
In the past three decades I have seen a continual pressure for Muslims to create their own laws and institutions and live within their own societies. Secular India could not resist the pressure and this gave impetus to the growth of Hindu nationalist parties. These parties have pushed back the Muslim drive for a very separate identity and even governance. In the UK it is evident that the secular state will not be able to withstand a similar pressure by UK Muslims. They will want to live in a separate Muslim nation within Britain
I believe this will also happen in East Africa in case it is not already happening
I suggest the Church needs to have a clear view of its understanding of a modern democratic state. It must have a clear view of its understanding of Citizenship.
The rhetoric of Christian Nation will be matched by the Rhetoric of Islamic nation and such positions produce great conflict and instability in democracies.
Are Christians and Muslims in nation equal citizens? What does this equality consist of? The Church must facilitate an understanding that all moderate religious people can accept and promote it vigorously and work to delegitimize other extreme views Muslim or even Christian.
The Church must monitor Muslim minority activity to resist attempts that try to create a nation within a nation. Attempts to make Sharia the main legal system for Muslims and developing so called Muslim parliaments must be resisted.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Religion is at the heart of any democracy. The Indian Constitution privileged this freedom at its Constituent assembly in 1948.Religious Freedom included the freedom to practice and propagate ones faith. Since that time both Hindu and Islamic fundamentalists have acted to limit this religious freedom significantly.
The first target was Conversion from your traditional faith. Acts were enacted to monitor Christian mission activity particularly to prevent conversions. Any one converting to another faith had to get a magistrates permission to do so and convince the court that he/she is doing this with no pressure or inducement from others. The mission organization similarly had to justify any such activity. Conversions to Hinduism were encouraged as return to ones ancestral faith.
Muslims have vociferously supported these laws and will likely promote them everywhere
The second approach is the enactment of “blasphemy” and Religious Offense laws mainly directed at Christian Mission. Mission activity that suggests that one faith is unique and Salvation is only in one belief system is seen as insulting and causing offense to the religious sentiments and faith of other religions. It is described as blasphemous that is disrespecting the sacredness of another religion. If religions are sacred they must not be challenged or questioned in any way, as challenge of the scared is offense and even blasphemy.
This is increasingly used by Muslims to deter and even stop evangelism in the UK. Evangelism is seen as vilification, and abuse of another faith.
Such a threat looms large in democracies that are committed rightly to protecting vulnerable minorities. Islamic minorities use this commitment of democracies to attack Christian mission.
Churches must promote a proper understanding of Religious Freedom in their nations. They must be at the forefront for creating movements of religious freedom and coopt moderate Muslims and members of other faiths into such movements. They must never take religious freedom for granted and must be ever vigilant
The basis of true religious freedom is a biblical view of personhood and this is the bedrock of modern human rights and Religious Freedom. The church must promote this vigorously.
Islam has contended with modernity a western movement that came out of the Enlightenment and was modified by the Reformation for more than three hundred years. Some would suggest much of what is happening in Islam can best be explained by its struggles with western modernity
Modernity encourages diversity, plurality, choice and freedoms. Some of Islam sees the benefit of these for a modern society but wants to Islamize those ideas. Unfortunately and Islamic view of diversity and plurality is quite unattractive and fails to convince a modern educated person. When it comes to freedom and choice the situation is even more difficult.
Some scholars despair that a modern Islam is not possible and the Muslim fundamentalist rejects all modernity and seeks to impose traditional codes in every area.
Christians must be sympathetic to these struggles in Islam. The Arab Spring encouraged young Muslims to believe in a modernized democratic Islamic society. Their dreams imploded quickly as they were quite naïve about the struggles of Islam with modernity.
I am convinced that non-western Christianity has a key role in helping Islam here. They will not accept any thing from the west as they see rightly that western modernity is an ethical disaster.
African Christianity has in my view a key role to play in facilitating Islam’s engagement with modernity. It must share its own struggles to be Christian, African and modern. For me this is a key evangelistic opportunity especially with Muslim young adults
There is much more to share about what I have learnt about engaging practically with Muslim communities to share the Gospel. But that will be in another paper.
The incessant conflicts inside Islam and the heavy burden of the law and the rigidity of the system makes it difficult to experience the Mercy of Allah that Islam preaches. The Sufi movement is also becoming quite legalistic in many areas and the average Muslim’s spiritual hunger rarely gets satisfied. Where Islam is a minority and where there is a flourishing Christian witness there is at least an option for the Muslim to consider the Christian option. We must create opportunities and spaces for such seekers to consider the claims of Christ and help them with the misinformation and prejudice that has been imparted to them about Christ and the Christian faith