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Southwestern adds full professor for its Islamic studies program


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–As Islam continues rapidly to gain a foothold in the United States, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary continues to respond, this time by appointing a full professor for its Islamic studies program, the only program of its kind among Southern Baptist educational institutions.
“Islam is no longer limited to the Middle East; it is in our own backyard and our pastors and laypeople are not equipped to deal with it,” said Samuel Shahid, who was named a full professor of missions March 10. Shahid has taught Islamic courses as an adjunct professor at Southwestern since 1988.
His appointment will enhance the program’s ability to help equip Christians to reach Muslims for Christ, to create an awareness of the impact of Islam in the West, to provide a better understanding of Islamic religion and cultures, and to help churches meet the needs of converted Muslims.
“Dr. Shahid is considered by many to be one of the foremost scholars on Islam,” Southwestern President Ken Hemphill said.
A key understanding Shahid hopes to communicate is for Christians to see the diversity within the Muslim community.
“Muslims differ. There are sub-sects. Some are regarded as cults of Islam. We cannot generalize and say all are terrorists. Most are people who would like to live peacefully,” he said.
These differences require that Christians have a good understanding of Islam if they want to minister effectively, Shahid said.
“There is no one method for evangelizing Muslims. I try to give a foundation and encourage the students to be flexible to develop their own approach,” he said.
While he sees different methods for reaching Muslims, he does have one underlying principle: “We were commanded to preach — not debate or argue. It is up to the people to accept or reject Christ. We can’t change people. That is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility.”
One of Shahid’s goals is to see the program develop into an Islamic study center that would be a place to conduct research, write and publish quality material for churches and monitor changes in Islam with the goal of helping Christians make appropriate adjustments to their approaches to Muslims.
Courses cover the Islamic religion, culture and history, folk Islam and the Arabic language. He has proposed courses on Islamic philosophy, the Koran and contemporary approaches to reaching Muslims.
Although Shahid carries the bulk of the teaching load at this time, he said other faculty at Southwestern are qualified to teach courses in the program. He also would like to see adjunct professors brought to campus to teach some of the courses.
Shahid’s interest in Islam grew from his interest in the Arabic literature, culture and language. The son of a pastor, Shahid spent much of his life in Lebanon, earning a bachelor of arts and a master of arts in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from American University in Beirut in the 1960s. He later attended the University of Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in 1982.
“Step by step, the Lord used my interests. In 1988, he made it clear that I needed to help churches reach Muslims,” Shahid said.
Three months after the initial call, Shahid said yes to the Lord and began Good News for the Crescent World, an Arlington, Texas-based organization dedicated to reaching Muslims for Christ. He still serves as the president and executive director.
As churches become more aware of the impact of Islam in the United States, Shahid sees continued affirmation that he is doing what God wants.
“There is no doubt about it. The demand from churches for education and consultation is growing as they realize Muslims are here. The movement has grown much faster than most churches expected,” he said.