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Leaving the Qur’an for the Gospels

26 June 2015

THE "greatest turning of Muslims to Jesus Christ in history" is taking place across the world, the author of a new book, on tour in the UK, suggests.

A Wind in the House of Islam, by Dr David Garrison, a missionary pioneer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, documents a Muslim "movement to Christ" in more than 70 places across 29 countries. Converts, it says, now number between two and seven million.

Dr Garrison defines a "movement" as being at least 100 new churches started, or 1000 baptisms, within a 20-year period in one people group. He estimates that there have been 82 "movements" across the centuries, of which 69 began, or are continuing to unfold, in the 21st century.

He said last week that there was a "cocktail of elements" behind the trend, which is underpinned by a "tremendous amount of prayer". The elements include a "yearning for something different" arising from violence within the Muslim world; the power of the internet; and the translation of the gospel and missionary materials (including videos) into the "heart languages" of Muslim people.

Dr Garrison also points to the post-colonial context: "Today, when Muslims in Algeria consider the gospel, it doesn't mean [they think] 'I am becoming a Frenchman.'"

"We do not have to be afraid of the light of the Qur'an," Dr Garrison says. Translating the Qur'an into local languages has "backfired", he suggests. "It reveals to Muslims that there's no assurance of salvation in there, when it's so clear in the gospel." Muslims can learn about Jesus through the Qur'an, and can contrast what is said of him with what is said of the Prophet Muhammad.

Although Dr Garrison writes early on that the book is not "a triumphalist account of Christendom's victory over the Muslim world", he does use the language of "contest". "If you believe that people's eternal destiny is related to their relationship to God, obviously there's an element there in which you are saying, 'This is vitally important; it's not an insignificant or inconsequential issue.'"

In one passage he writes: "Wherever Islam has triumphed, dissent has been silenced, and conversion to the Christian faith, or any other faith for that matter, has been punished by death. Islam, as both a religion and an ideology, is a threat."

Is there a danger of demonising the faith?

"I'm a historian, and at the end of the day, the facts speak for themselves," he says. "Muslims are some of the most wonderful, kind, gracious people I have ever known.

"We are not demonising individuals. But as an ideology, Islam has been incredibly effective at doing those very things I mention in the book. . . When I talk about people's lives being threatened or being abused, I am letting them tell that story rather than imposing it upon them."

The author interviewed more than 1000 Muslims while researching the book, but says that it would be "a gross exaggeration to describe the results as 100-per-cent accurate portrayals of the 'movements'".

Among those people he interviewed was Rafiq, a Berber who wrote a musical about Jesus after his dreams were filled with Christ; and Ahmed, a Pakistani man who killed a baby when he was a member of the Taliban, but after meeting a missionary ended up converting his family to Christianity.

Western missionaries are needed "more than ever", he says; the numbers quoted in his book represent "only a fraction" of the Muslim world. Dr Garrison's book tour was funded by Hope for Muslims, Mahabba, Youth With a Mission, and Operation Mobilisation.

He does not want to offend Muslims, Dr Garrison says, but to inform and encourage them, and "perhaps awaken within them a realisation that God loves them, and [that] he is extending to them the gospel of Jesus Christ uniquely, in this day and age."

He reports that one Muslim man who read the book while in a plane in mid-air had decided to become a Christian by the time he landed.

A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison; is published by Wigtake: www.windinthehouse.org 


Critics say . . .

A FORMER director of the Christian Muslim Forum, Julian Bond, confesses to being "troubled" by the message of Dr David Garrison's book. "We should celebrate whenever someone finds a fulfilling spiritual path," he said. For Christians, this would mean rejoicing when Christians became Muslims or Hindus.

"Only rejoicing when other people become Christian is partisan, and not a good example. The longer we talk competitively, and use the language of threat, the further away we push more constructive, loving interactions."

The Diocesan Interfaith Adviser for St Albans, the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, also expresses unease: "Where I have an issue is when any single person or group or tradition claims to have the absolute truth, because God is greater than anything we can know. Salvation is in God's hands."

The Vicar of St Andrew's, Fulham Fields, in London, Canon Guy Wilkinson, a former national adviser for inter-faith relations, describes the book as "a serious attempt to survey the history and literature of this subject". He says: "Of course, from a normative Christian perspective, there is every reason to celebrate when a person voluntarily decides to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. . . Islam has much the same perspective, and devotes huge energies to dawa around the world.

"And why not? In the West, we have a core understanding that free debate and argument leading to changed minds and perspectives are at the heart of a free and flourishing society. It's what we do par excellence in politics, and in science, for example.

So, in the context of a society that is overwhelmingly Muslim, it seems to me to be not a matter of 'targeting', but of addressing individuals - who are likely to be Muslims."

Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, a reader in religious pluralism and interfaith relations at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, said that Dr Garrison's approach "seems to be rooted in the past mode of mission rejoicing to see that the 'unoccupied field' is gradually 'conquered'. The 'house of Islam' - if there is such a thing - is going through a terrible typhoon, and I am not surprised that Dr Garrison finds a soothing wind.

"As far as conversion is concerned, if one is convinced that another faith is for him or her, that person not only has the right to accept the other faith, but also to move into that faith. I believe, today, we are not simply living in a situation of plurality of religions and multiple identities, but also plurality of mission.

"To see the mission through the lens of conversion alone would be wrong."

Anjum Anwar, dialogue development officer at Blackburn Cathedral, described the book as "disturbing" and "divisive".

She said: "Thank God that Muslims have got Jesus in their lives. If we didn't, we could not possibly be Muslims."


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