I was on the train the other day when I heard a man chanting in Arabic. I thought he must be Muslim, so after a few minutes of building up my courage, I went and said hello. Fortunately for me, he was keen to talk. But what was I going to say to him?
The gospel according to Muhammad
Firstly, I wanted to talk to him about Jesus. When we speak to Muslim friends, we must bear in mind that they do know something about Jesus. Jesus is a major figure in Islam, and Muslims are commanded to believe in him. But what Islam teaches about Jesus is not true. Therefore, when speaking to Muslims, you don’t need to prove that Jesus exists and is important; instead, when we speak the gospel, we are challenging what Islam says about Jesus and correcting their wrong views of him.
Muhammad was in contact with many Christians, and the Qur’an records many of the discussions he had with them. Muhammad claimed that an angel explained to him what the true gospel is—namely that:
- Jesus’ mother was Miriam, daughter of Amram and sister of Moses and Aaron (Qur’an 3:35-46ff, 19:28, 7:142, 66:12).
- He was born of a virgin (3:45-47)
- He spoke from the cradle (19:29-34)
- He is not Lord, the Son of God or divine (19:35)
- No-one can be called a son of God (5:18)
- He performed miracles (3:49, 5:113ff)
- He came to give guidance (2:135-6)
- He did not die on the cross (4:157)
- He is like Adam (3:59)
- He is just a prophet (4:171)
- He taught jihad (9:111)
- He ascended to God, and is now alive (4:157)
- He cannot intercede for you; only Muhammad can (Bukhari vol. 6, book 60, no. 31)
- He is the word and spirit from God (4:171)
- He foretold the coming of Muhammad (61:6)
- He will come again to break all crosses, kill pigs and abolish the Jizya tax (i.e. he will bring the final jihad against all non-Muslims; Bukhari vol. 3, book 43, no. 6562).
Not all Muslims know every detail of Muhammad’s gospel, but most would know the basics: Jesus is not the Son of God, he did not die on the cross, and he foretold the coming of Muhammad. Muhammad’s false gospel has enough truth in it to cause mischief (cf. Gal 1:7-8; Matt 24:11).
Secondly, I wanted to talk to him about the prophets and how they point to Jesus. It is an article of faith for Muslims to believe in all of the prophets and their writings:
Say [O Muslims]: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us [Muslims] and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (Qur’an 2:136 3)
But while Muslims say they believe all of the earlier prophets, they do not read all of them. In practice, Muslims only listen to what Muhammad says about the prophets; they never read the prophets themselves. In fact, they are encouraged not to. This is a crucial point for Christians to understand and for a Muslim to realize. We need to say to Muslims, “It doesn’t look like you believe all the prophets because you only believe what Muhammad says about them. If you truly believe the prophets, then you must read them. Why are you not allowed to read the other prophets?”
The amazing and unique thing about Christianity is that we read all the prophets we say we believe in. Islam does not do this. This is why you need to explain what is in the Bible. In the Qur’an, Christians are called the ‘People of the Book’—the “People of the Gospel” (5:47) more specifically. As a result, Muslims often think our book contains just one book (and not 66) called ‘the gospel’, just as the Qur’an is one book. It is correct to call Christians ‘People of the gospel’, but it is wrong to think that our book, the Bible, only contains one book called ‘the gospel’; Christians believe all the prophets, and the Bible is the collected writings of all the prophets. I have met Muslims who were surprised to learn that the Bible had the Torah and Psalms in it; they thought that only Jewish people would be interested in these books.
Now, what Christians believe about Jesus comes from all the prophets. You may think this is obvious and not worth mentioning. However, this is the major point I stress when sharing the gospel with Muslims. If they then ask me to show that Jesus is God, I never start in the New Testament; I begin with Moses and work my way through all the prophets, explaining what I am doing. For the divinity of Jesus, I would begin in Genesis and show how God made us in his image (Gen 1:27). I would then compare this to the Qur’an, which denies this. The doctrine of the image of God provides an important ontological link between God and his creation, and is part of how we understand the divinity of Jesus (Col 1:15-20). It is taught in the Torah, the Psalms, and the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and it is fulfilled in the Gospels and the writing of the apostles. All of the prophets teach it. In contrast, the Qur’an denies it. I then say to my Muslim friend, “Why does the Qur’an deny what all the prophets teach?” I would reaffirm that I believe all the prophets, and that what I believe about Jesus comes from all the prophets. I would then beg them to believe the prophets too.
Often Muslims will say that the Bible has been changed. But I have found it is harder for them to insist that every single prophet has been changed except for the Qur’an—especially when they see how perfectly all the prophets fit together and how clear their message is.
Back to my new friend on the train. I knew I wanted to talk to him about Jesus, and I knew I wanted to talk to him about the prophets and what they say about Jesus. But before I did that, there were a few things I needed to do.
Firstly, I needed to pray for my friend and love him. Every Muslim person is the same: they need our prayer and love. If you hate Muslims, you need to repent. If you see a Muslim walking in your street and think it’s time to leave your suburb, you need to repent and love your neighbour. The gospel gives us the power to love everyone; it’s a sign of God’s love.
Secondly, I needed to view him as an individual. Every Muslim person is different: some love Islam, some hate Islam; some know about their religion, others know nothing. So assume nothing. You do not know who they are or what they believe until you have asked and listened to them. Here are some questions I usually ask (after first telling Muslims I’m a Christian):
- What does it mean for you to be a Muslim?
- Who are you? (What is your history, life experience, family, work?)
- Do you go to mosque, watch Islamic TV or have a favourite preacher?
- Would you call yourself a perfect Muslim? Do you think a person can be?
- When you die, will you go to paradise?
- Do you think people understand the Qur’an properly?
- Have you ever learned about Christianity? What do you know?
- Have you ever learned about the Bible? What do you know? Have you read it?
- Can I explain what the Bible is to you?
With my friend on the train, I only got to ask the first four questions before I had to get off. I gave him my email address. I’ve been praying that he’ll contact me soon. I would love to take him through all the prophets, explaining the death of Jesus, what it means to be a son of God and to receive the gift of the Spirit, and show him how all of these come to their fulfilment in Christ. I would bear witness to him that I read and believe all the prophets, and will not turn away from them. I hope he will too.