‘Evangelical Responses to Islamic Revival’: A Report on the MCSCI Conference
The theme of this conference was decided upon some two years ago, in the early days of setting out the goals and activities of the MCSCI. Since then we have seen the sudden onset of ‘ISIS/Daesh’ into the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, and the migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. The responses to these events range from more Western bombing of Syria and Iraq and fear of all Muslims as potential terrorists to a welcome reception of refugees and protection of mosques from attack. The topic for our discussion could not have been more timely.
We discussed the wording of the title for the conference at great length. The MCSCI’s focus is on equipping and encouraging Christians to engage with Muslims. In this we wish to serve the Church. As such, we could well have spoken of ‘Christian responses’ in order to encompass those of all theological and confessional standing. But, we purposely chose to speak of Evangelical responses. The reasons are two-fold: one, we are Evangelicals engaged in this endeavour; two, in much of the rhetoric of today Evangelicals are often among those most caught up in the rhetoric of fear of the ‘Other’.
The term ‘Islamic revival’ encompasses a great range of issues, and was intentionally ambiguous. It includes the awakenings of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011; the coming to power of Islamist movements in places like Tunisia and Turkey; and the ‘fundamentalist’ military movements creating sectarian conflict in so many places far beyond the Arab world. It also encompasses a renewal in the sense of Muslim identity among young people in Europe. These find expression in greatly diverse ways, and violence is only one of the ways. What we are observing is a crisis in Islam, as it grapples with change within its own societies, and the challenges of how to live as a minority in non-Muslim societies; as well as with coping with the challenges of modernity and globalisation.
In the face of such an array of issues within Islam, there can be no single response by the Church, or by Christians. This conference had two objects: one was to try to grasp what is going on in the Muslim world; and for this we had invited speakers to inform us of what we cannot learn from public media. The second was to consider the range of ways Christians may express the love of Jesus to Muslims; and for this we invited people to tell us what is happening in the Church in various parts of the world.
The following is a summary of the presentations by the key-note speakers. Their full presentations can be found in audio on the website; text versions will become available as soon as possible, along with the presentations given in the seminars.
Phil LewisPhil Lewis is a sociologist of religion, recently retired from the University of Bradford, and perhaps the foremost Christian scholar on Muslims in the UK. His analysis was specific to the UK, but exemplified an approach to understanding the particulars of Muslims in any part of the West. Wherever we are it is important to understand what ‘kind’ of Muslims live among us, and what the specific issues are that they face in our societies: cultural and historical, and not simply religious. Lewis identified the socio-economic situation of Muslims in Britain, focussing on the increasingly significant role of Muslim women’s groups in trying to find ways for Muslims to navigate the changes in society at large. He recommends that Christians support the initiatives such people are taking with regard to issues such as poverty, unemployment, prisons, and single families—as well as radicalisation of youth.
Read more about Dr Lewis and his speech, "Made in Britain – the birth of the adjectival Muslim"
Martin AccadMartin Accad, Lecturer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies in Beirut, offered the perspective of an Arab Christian on the conflicts in the Middle East. He asked us in the West to be aware of the history and geopolitical situation in our attitudes and actions, because these actions do have an effect on the Church in the Middle East, often detrimental. He presented three practical implications for the Church to keep in sight in light of the current crisis:
One, the long-term implications of the refugee crisis. The active involvement of Christians with refugees will be needed for a long time beyond the initial enthusiasm of hospitality.
Two, the long-term implications of the annihilation of Christians in the Middle East. Daesh, in particular but not only, actively seeks to blot out Christianity. This comes as a direct response to Western intervention, often explicitly described as in defence of the Christians still there.
Three, the long-term implications of the place of youth in the conflicts, and their radicalisation. The Church needs to work for integration in our communities, offering an alternative and positive narrative to that of the Daesh recruiters.
Salim MunayerSalim Munayer, director of Musalaha (Arabic for ‘Reconciliation’), working for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, spoke of a ‘clash of domination’ to which the Christian response reflects our beliefs for all creation—that is, a call to a redeemed creation, and positive transformation in Christ. He challenged the Western Church’s tendency to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a ‘failure to be witness to the glory of God’, and to seek reconciliation. In agreement with Accad regarding the effect Western actions have on the Church in the Middle East, Munayer added that the way to reconciliation is inherently a political undertaking, and this cannot be escaped. He offered four challenges to the Church (not just the West)
- How do we deal with evil and violence?
- How do we deal with the breakdown of nation-states and the chaos this creates?
- What is the role of the Church towards the political powers who are responsible for the protection of their people, but do not do so?
- Will the Church accept her role in the work of creation redemption as priests to the moral worldviews both of the West and of Islam?
Michael LodahlMichael Lodahl, Professor of Theology and World Religions at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, addressed the theological implications of Christian responses to Muslims. As a theologian in the Wesleyan tradition (and the conference was held in a Nazarene college), Lodahl chose to look at the question through the lens of John Wesley’s interaction with ‘Mohametans’ and other religions. This lens presented three areas for the Church to bear in mind.
Firstly, regarding our uses of Scripture (both Christian and Muslim), we need to engage with them as a function of the faith community, and not as isolated individual interpretations.
Secondly, Lodahl considered the widely reported phenomenon of dreams as the means by which Muslims come to Christ in comparison to Wesley’s frequent comments on similar phenomena under his preaching ministry. Lodahl suggests that these phenomena cannot work alone, but must be complemented by the actions of followers of Christ to make the connection with Christ ‘flesh’ and complete.
Thirdly, Lodahl spoke of the witness of the Church to be found in the quality of our living together, as servant communities more than in doctrine or debate. That is the quality that brings people to say ‘See how they love each other.’
The conference turned in the closing sessions to the voices of practitioners.
Greg LivingstoneGreg Livingstone, founder of Frontiers, as well as Operation Mobilization, now living and serving in High Wycombe, spoke from his experience of fifty years of living and working among Muslims. He gave a global picture of the Church in the Muslim world (with reference to David Garrisons’ A Wind in the House of Islam) from a personal perspective. He encouraged us that ‘God is doing more than we think’, and lest we be triumphalist, ‘but also less than we hear’.
Gordon HicksonFittingly, in the closing session Gordon Hickson, director of Mahabba in the UK, spoke to the centrality of prayer as the Christian response to Islam. Hickson described the origins of Mahabba, which is ‘love’ in Arabic, in prayer. This prayer is not simply that Muslims become believers, but it is prayer for a tenderness of heart towards Muslims, and prayer for the Church to live out the witness to Christ.
What are the most important Evangelical responses to Islamic revival? There were two themes heard from virtually every speaker:
- The church must live its witness in every day life;
- Reach out with love to the Muslims around you, and pray in love for the Muslims in the midst of life and death crisis.