PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. (BP) — Nabeel’s life used to be all about showing others he was “an ambassador for Islam.” The grandson of Muslim missionaries, Nabeel loved to argue in defense of his religion. And then he unexpectedly befriended a Christian who helped lead him to faith in Jesus.
Nabeel shared his story during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s evangelism conference at Pleasant Garden (N.C.) Baptist Church. The conference theme was “Culture Reach: Understanding, Loving and Relating to Muslims.”
Also among the speakers were various Christian leaders, educators and mission workers, including Zane Pratt, Mike Licona, Alex McFarland and Fred Luter.
“When I became a believer,” Nabeel recounted at the Feb. 25 conference, “I had to give up a lot — my family, my friends, the direction I was going in life.
“And when you have to stand in the face of that, you’re not going to give up your faith on a whim…. It means something to you.”
For a Muslim, “your religion is part of your identity,” Nabeel added. “To leave Islam is to not just leave what you have believed, but to leave all of the people you know.”
Nabeel continues to pray for his family and hopes they will one day put their trust in Jesus.
“Our job is to share the love of Christ — period,” he said. “That’s our calling. Individually in our lives we should portray unadulterated, unabashed love for every Muslim we come across.”
Zane Pratt, who worked with the International Mission Board in central Asia for about 20 years, acknowledged the reality of persecution of Christians in many parts of the world. But, he noted, there are many misconceptions about Islam.
Among them: All Muslims — or at least most — are terrorists, which is “simply is not true,” said Pratt, now dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “The Muslims we have known, who constitute the vast majority of Muslims, are not violent people. They are warm and friendly. I believe they are wrong [about Jesus] but they are not terrorists.”
When he and his family moved back to the United States, Pratt described the transition as “incredibly disappointing.”
“Nobody came over to help us when we moved into our house,” he said. “I can guarantee you every time we moved into a house anywhere in the Muslim world all our neighbors came and helped.”
Other common misconceptions include the idea that the words “Arab” and “Muslim” mean the same thing, and that the word “Allah” comes from the “moon goddess.”
Both are untrue, Pratt said.
The word “Arab” refers to people group and language. While most Arabs adhere to the Islamic religion, many do not, he said. The majority of Muslims live outside the Arabian world, and the largest population of Muslims can be found in Indonesia. Other heavily Muslim populated areas include Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
And the word “Allah,” Pratt said, is simply the Arabic word for “god.”
“‘Allah’ is related to the Hebrew word for God that you find in the Old Testament,” he said. “[It] is the word that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews used for God before Muhammad was ever born.”
When speaking English, Pratt said he avoids referring to God as “Allah” because in English the word is tied directly to Islam.
“[But] if I’m speaking a Middle Eastern language,” he said, “it’s just the word that means ‘god,’ and that is the word I use because that’s all it means.”
Pratt added that Christians still must “import” biblical content into whatever word they use.
“You need to assume that people don’t understand what you mean,” Pratt said. “You need to explain yourself very carefully.”
Both Mike Licona and Alex McFarland spoke on the importance of Christians clearly articulating what they believe and why they believe it.
“Sometimes we want to drive the point home by saying, ‘What I’m telling you is true because it works for me. Let me give you my testimony,'” said Licona, associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University. “And that works in a lot of cases with people whose Gospel language is testimony and experience.
“But there are other people who say, ‘I don’t care about your experience…. I want the facts.”
Licona said Christians can begin faith-related discussions with Muslims by pointing to the Quran, where Jesus is referred to as Isa.
Most Muslims acknowledge Jesus as a “good prophet” who was virgin-born and performed many miracles, Licona said, but they also believe the Bible has been corrupted and they do not believe Jesus is God.
By learning what the Quran says about Jesus, comparing that with eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels and with what most historians say about Jesus’ death and the resurrection, Licona said a Christian can make a solid case for Jesus to Muslims.
“I call it the Catch-22 moment for Muslims,” Licona said.
The key to remember, Licona said, is that Christians can do better than “quot[ing] a couple Bible verses and walk[ing] away.”
Christians today live in the “golden age of apologetics,” said McFarland, an author, speaker, occasional Fox News guest and director of the Center for Apologetics and Christian Worldview at North Greenville University in South Carolina.
“We’ve had 50 years of C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell,” McFarland said. “There’s no reason that every one of our churches shouldn’t be equipping people to present, explain and defend the faith.”
“What we have is opportunity,” McFarland said, “because we’ve got the one message of hope in a world that, with little reflection, concludes there is no hope….
“We’ve got to remember that our mission is that every succeeding generation know about salvation and about the Gospel,” he said. “I will submit to you that we’ve forgotten our mission.”
Ultimately, every person needs Jesus no matter who they are, said Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
“You can receive the Gospel no matter your culture, no matter your language, no matter your race, no matter your ethnicity,” Luter said. “You can receive the Gospel.
“The only thing God is concerned about,” Luter said, “is the color of the blood because the blood is what makes us whole. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the North Carolina State Baptist Convention, where this story first appeared.