I Was a Misunderstood Muslim
Common Misconceptions About Islam
Article by Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Frisco TX
Christians are called to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods — at least for those of us in America and Europe. Muslims are emigrating to our cities in record numbers. Many of us don’t need to board a plane to take the gospel to the Muslim world. We only need to cross the street to our neighbor’s house.
Unfortunately, many Christians are apprehensive about engaging a relationship or even a conversation with Muslims. Some have a misperception that Muslims will not be friendly. Others are gripped with the fear of potentially offending Muslims by committing a cultural faux pas. Essentially, many are overcome by the fear of the unknown. I want to shed light on some common misconceptions that hinder Christians from reaching out to Muslims with the saving truth of Christ.
Misconceptions About Muslims
The most common misconception about Muslims is that they are all radical terrorists filled with hatred for the West — or at least they are headed in that direction. The thought is that all Muslims ultimately want to see our society destroyed and Islamic sharia law instituted throughout the land. Although there are movements of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world, the vast majority of Muslims are among the more hospitable, gracious, and friendly people you will meet.
Underlying this misunderstanding is the erroneous thinking that the more devout one gets as a Muslim, the more radical one becomes. Some think that the end of Christian devotion is to sell your possessions and give it all to the poor, while the end of Muslim devotion is to become a jihadist.
“In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods.”
Although there are terrorist organizations who have deceived their followers into believing this, the vast majority of Muslims fall into another category: the dutiful religious Muslim. The term Islam means “submission to Allah,” and Muslim means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam is primarily a works-based religion, and for most Muslims, to be devout is to give oneself wholly to follow the five pillars of faith and submit to Allah.
Misconceptions About Our Calling
Another misconception that we must acknowledge has to do with our calling and purpose as Christians. It might be better stated as a forgotten identity and mission. This came to light during the recent Syrian refugee crisis, when many American Christians primarily were thinking about border protection and safety instead of the opportunity for advancing the kingdom of God. This is not to say that safety and protection should not be on our minds at all. As a husband and father, I desire safety and peace in our country. But as an ambassador for Christ, I cannot let that desire squeeze out or nullify the greater desire to see people from all nations come to saving faith in Jesus.
In Acts 20:24, Paul states that his own life is not more valuable to him than the ministry God gave him to testify to the gospel of grace. For us today, engaging our Muslim neighbors in order to witness to the gospel is not even a matter of life and death. But it may mean sacrificing comfort. I fear that, too often, we don’t even want to get out of our comfort zones. I recently heard about a community where some were upset because an Islamic association wanted to build a cemetery in their town. Some were against the initiative because they felt it would lead to more Muslims moving to their community. Instead of celebrating an open door to engage Muslims with the gospel, they wanted to stop it.
The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our temporal comforts, or even our lives, at all costs. The goal of Christians should be instead to spend every day of our lives serving the mission of testifying to all nations.
It is also important to note that Muslims have many misconceptions about Christianity. Most Muslims don’t understand our view of the Trinity, and wrongly assume that Christians worship three Gods. The sonship of Jesus is a stumbling block for them because many mistakenly take it to mean that God had sexual relations with Mary. Muslims also view Christianity primarily through the lens of Western society. In the Muslim world, Islam is woven into every fabric of society so that the religion’s value is reflected in the culture. Therefore, some Muslims have a hard time accepting the claims of Christ because they see the vices in our society and wrongly attribute them to Christianity.
It is important to dispel all these misunderstandings, but I want to highlight one misconception in particular that shows the importance of engaging your Muslim neighbor. Many Muslims think that the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is absurd. They view it as a cheap grace. They think Christianity essentially means saying a prayer to believe in Jesus, and then living however you want because you have been forgiven. They ask, “Then why would you live for God? Why would you do anything for God?” With that question, they admit that they believe the only reason someone would live for God is fear. The motive is to earn God’s favor, or else I’m going to go to hell. But what if there’s a better way?
“The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our comfort, or even our lives, at all costs.”
The Bible is clear that grace does not lead to freedom to sin, but rather to freedom to truly live for God (Romans 6:15–18). A true Christian will produce good works, but his good works will not be a means to earning salvation. Rather, they will be a product of his salvation — or better put, evidence of his salvation. The Scripture teaches in James that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Christians do not live for God out of fear of going to hell, because we understand that our place in heaven is already secured by the blood of Christ.
While We Were Yet Sinners
Now we can see why it is so important to engage, befriend, and love our Muslim neighbors. The greatest misconception in the Muslim mind relates to the unmerited and sacrificial love of the true God. In Islam, you earn God’s favor through a life of good works, submitting to the will of Allah. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when Muslims will face a scale that weighs all their good deeds against their bad deeds. Whichever one outweighs the other will determine whether they go to heaven or hell. But Christianity teaches that God loved us and sent his Son to die for our sins while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and before we did anything good to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8–9).
This is the love that Muslims need to experience. And this is where you come in. We love Muslims by inviting them into our homes for dinner. We love Muslims by asking them how we can help them in getting assimilated to our community — for example, by helping them set up a bank account, sign up their kids for school, or whatever else it may be. Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he often wants to know that you care. When we love Muslims without seeking anything in return, especially when they expect us to ostracize them, we make Jesus visible to them and put the gospel on full display (1 John 4:7–12).
Once a Muslim
My family moved back to the States when I was 6 because of the unrest in Iran due to the revolution. Shortly after coming to America, the Iranian hostage crisis hit. A group of Americans were held hostage in Iran, and it was not easy for my family to live in Houston. Many people persecuted us because they knew my family was from Iran. I’m so thankful for one Christian lady who did not see my family as a threat, but as an opportunity to advance the gospel.
“Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he must know that you care.”
My Christian tutor loved me and met a real need in my life by teaching me the English language. She did this during a time when others threw bricks through the windows of our home or threatened to beat up my brother and me. Had any other American given me the New Testament, I would’ve thrown it away, because I didn’t trust many Americans then. But I’m thankful it came from the one who was showing me the love of Christ in her actions. Since it came from her, I held on to the New Testament that I would read years later and that would lead me to faith in Christ.
I am eternally blessed that I get to know Christ and be a part of making him known. There is no way I would be in this place if it were not for a second-grade tutor who was determined to invest in my life. I believe there are many more Muslims like me in your community. I pray that you will be obedient to Jesus as he calls you to invest in the life of a Muslim in your path for the sake of the gospel.
Afshin Ziafat (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children.