Monday, August 06, 2007

While Western Christians Theorize

While Western Christians Theorize, Arabic-Speaking Christians & Muslims Dialogue

Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Middle East Resources Ministry


The Internet has ushered in a new phase in the history of the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. Communications between ordinary people take place on a daily basis at a much deeper level, as may be observed from the comments of the readers of online Arabic media.

One of the liveliest Arabic sites on the Internet is As the first Arabic online daily, it began in London, England, on 21 May 2001. It has correspondents throughout the Arab world, as well as in Europe and the Americas. It publishes news and op-ed articles by Arab writers and intellectuals, and welcomes listeners’ comments.

The major difference between this new medium and the print press of the Arab world is the freedom enjoyed by all participants, both writers and respondents. No censorship inhibits the expression of various and conflicting opinions, as is the case in the print media.

On 11 June 2007, an article was posted which dealt with an ethical problem known in Arabic as Khulwa. This word describes a situation when a man and a woman, working at a government or business office, find themselves alone in a room or a cubicle. It is not my intention to comment on the specific fatwa that was issued by a professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, in which he offered a solution to the problem. My main interest lies in the comments that came almost instantly from 34 readers. Some referred to the topic of Khulwa, but the majority seized the occasion to begin a dialogue on an important religious subject prompted by the last sentence of the article in Elaph. It called for a new hermeneutic of the Islamic religious and cultural heritage.

The first response came from a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt. He began, “One thing is needed, as the Messiah told Martha, who was burdened by too many concerns.” He concluded, “We don’t need a new prophet. What we need is the one who said: ‘I am the truth, the resurrection, and the life.’”

About an hour later, another response was posted. “The Lord Jesus is the only one who gives rest. He said: ‘Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Then he pleaded with the readers; ‘Come to the king and savior and you will find rest; you don’t need a nabi, or a mufti to help you. Cry out to God and ask him: ‘save me from my bewilderments and confusions, and help me to know your person.’”

I salute the Christian reader who initiated this dialogue that was totally unrelated to the Khulwa problem. He gave a sincere and Biblical marturia (testimony) about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Two hours after these comments appeared, a Muslim responded, manifesting his indignation at the contents of the Christian testimonies: “The Glorious Qur’an honors the Messiah as a human being and as an apostle; but it contradicts the claims of divinity and sonship attributed to him, and warns those who do so, with terrible sufferings in this life, and at the End.” He then proceeded to criticize the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sins, based on the person and work of the Messiah.

A Christian responded by elucidating the role of Christ in granting forgiveness to those who trust in Him:

“Some people imagine that forgiveness happens simply with a word uttered by God, but such forgiveness would be cheap and encourages sinning. However, the forgiveness that cost much more than silver and gold, was purchased with the precious blood of a sinless lamb, is the basis for true forgiveness (I Peter 1:18-19). The Messiah came so that, anyone who believes in him may not perish, according to John 3:16.

Showing his genuine interest in the salvation of the Muslim respondent, the Christian witness went on saying:
“Have you ever met a sick person who says, ‘I won’t go to see a doctor unless I’m healed first?!’ God always takes the initiative by searching for man. God loves the sinners. ‘For while we were yet sinners, the Messiah died for us.’ (Romans 6:23) Forgiveness, in Christianity, is full and free, (References followed from John 5:24, Romans 8:1-2, and John 1:12.) No one should judge the veracity of these words, as long as he remains outside the faith.”

He ended his plea with these words:

“I have given these Biblical testimonies to show you that a man receives forgiveness as a free gift. However, it cost God the precious blood of his beloved Son to bring about our forgiveness. No one should belittle the value of the Messiah’s sacrifice on the cross.”

Three hours later, a Muslim from the UAE to responded:

“Also the Messiah, pbuh (peace be upon him), said: ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:10) At this point it must be pointed out that the Muslim misinterpreted or misunderstood our Lord’s answer to the devil. The Muslim continued looking for Scriptural proofs of the Qur’anic view of the Messiah. So he quoted Matt. 10:40: ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.’ The point he was trying to make, can only be understood if I refer to the Arabic text of the passage:‘man yaqbalukom yaqbaluni, wa’man yaqbaluni, yaqbalu al-ladhi arsalani.’ He interpreted the verb arsalani, i.e. He sent me, to mean that Jesus was simply a rasool, i.e. one who was sent. A clever argument, indeed; however he failed to realize that Christ was referring to the redemptive mission that God had sent him to accomplish.

A Christian respondent tried to convince the Muslim that according to the New Testament, Jesus never refused worship. He said: “The word ‘worship’ occurs sixty times in the New Testament; all of them have to do with worshipping Jesus, the Messiah. He accepted this worship. At other instances in the NT, when worship was directed at humans, it was always rejected, such as in Acts 10:25, in reference to Cornelius; and to the Angel in Revelation 19:10, and 22: 8-9 Other references to Jesus accepting worship are found in Luke 17:12-17 and John 20:29”

A Muslim responded by saying that the Messiah is merely “bashar” i.e. human. He then proceeded to quote from the word of Allah, who has no partners (i.e., the Qur’an) Surat al-Maida (Table) 73, and Women: 156 and al-Tawba 30 (Repentance) and ended by saying the ‘Qur’an has settled the matter. To quote from Biblical texts, is like hanging on to a spider’s web!’

In less than 30 minutes, the response came from a Copt. He began by pointing to the Qur’anic account of the miraculous birth of the Messiah referring to Surat Mariam: 21 and Surat Women: 171, as well as to other passages that relate the unique qualifications of the Messiah. He then proceeded to give a Biblical testimony about the Messiah: ‘Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God and the only mediator between God and man. He ended his words by saying: ‘I invite you to receive the Messiah.’

Another Christian joined the dialogue, and responded to the Muslim who had asserted that Jesus was merely a human being:

“We don’t deny that Jesus is human; our Christian faith teaches us that the Messiah is both God and man, and he is without sin. He is the Son of Man, as well as the Son of God. We believe that God was incarnate and came to our level as human beings, for our salvation. All the prophets from Adam to John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Incarnate God. He came to save his people from their bondage to sin, and to help them regain the state they enjoyed prior to the fall. To understand the very essence of the Christian faith, you need to read the Holy Bible.”

Another Christian responded from Beirut, saying:

“The Messiah is the beginning and the end, the way, the truth, and the life. He is the Son of God. God did call him, ‘this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ This is a mystery that is above the human mind. God sent his Son to redeem us on the cross and to save us from our sins. I plead with you dear reader, do try and understand the Christian faith. The Messiah said, ‘he who hears me has heard the Father and he who receives me, the Father will receive.’ Blessed are those who are saved; but the sinner who does not repent will be tormented in the fires of hell, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Four minutes after the above message appeared, an irate Muslim reader wrote:

“Enough your babblings!” He then quoted from Surat Al-Umran, ayah 61. It addresses a Muslim by warning him against listening to any argument that is brought forth by non-Muslims and that contradicts what had already descended, i.e. the Qur’an. He ended by a quotation from the verse that brings God’s curse upon all liars, meaning those who do not accept the teachings of the Qur’an!”

Responses followed quickly, one after another. Here is one, referring to Christ on the cross:

“He who could not save himself from the cross, how can he save others? What a person does not have, or possess, he cannot give to others. You Christians are simply dreaming; the Messiah is but a slave of Allah, and His messenger; he also needs Allah’s forgiveness. A Christian imagines he can commit the seven sins, and then go on to Paradise?!”

Another Muslim drew attention to what he called ‘minds that had stopped functioning’ by referring to the Biblical doctrine of original sin, which he considered as an absurdity.

“Earthly laws say that a person is innocent until proven guilty; however in Christianity, man is born sinful?! How could that be, when he is still like a clean page, with nothing written upon it?”

Seven minutes later, a Christian wrote:

“The Messiah taught us saying, ‘bless and don’t curse.’ So, we pray that you will be blessed and pray that the true God will open your heart to understand the truth.”

Almost thirty minutes later, an irate Muslim wrote:

“What’s going on? I feel as if I were sitting in a church! Why are we dealing with religious details, whether Christian or Islamic? You must understand that religion has to do with one’s relation with God. No need to advertise faith on the Internet; it’s sufficient to see religion reflected in one’s behavior, and with respect for the values of civilizations.”

Around 45 minutes later, a Muslim added his comments, using Biblical references to prove that the Messiah was no more than ‘abdullah, i.e. a slave of Allah:

“John said that Jesus lifted his eyes to heaven and said, this is life eternal (John 17:6) How can the Sender and the Sent-one be one, while the text refers to God and to Jesus, as the sent- one?”

A little before midnight, the final comment appeared:

“O people, all the apostles and prophets were sent by God to make Him known, in order that He may be worshipped. What are you talking about when you mention that God has three images (persons?) These are nothing but fabrications of human minds. As for the Injeel, it has been altered and changed, and many of its sections have been erased, to suit the whims of the priests who wanted to magnify their positions, and to lord it over simple people. Some of the contributors to this site aimed at convincing others of their positions, and cause them to depart from the true worship of God.”

Thus far, I have been quoting from the dialogue that began on 11 June, 2007, between Arabic-speaking Christians and Muslims. I am very thankful to the Lord that several Christians seized a golden opportunity, and gave a wonderful testimony about their faith.

As we reflect on the above quotations, we may classify them under three headings:
Scripture, the Person of Christ, and the Redemptive work of Christ.

All the Christians who participated in the dialogue manifested a strong belief in the final authority of the Bible, the Deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the work of salvation He accomplished by His death on the cross, and His resurrection. On the other hand, Muslim respondents, denied vehemently the above mentioned doctrines, and affirmed the final authority of the Qur’an, their belief that the Messiah was one of many rasools (apostles) sent by Allah to enlighten mankind; and they denied the historicity of the crucifixion.

It must be observed that neither side had a difficulty in understanding the belief of the other side. The Internet dialogue proved that both Muslims and Christians, using the same language, and living within Daru’l Islam, differed in their faith commitments, due to their different premises, or presuppositions. Thus we may conclude that real communication did take place between Christians and Muslims, regardless of the fact that the dialogue did not end in changing the minds of either side.

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