A Response to Joseph Cumming’s ‘Muslim Followers of Jesus?’
As a Muslim follower of Jesus, I would like to briefly comment on the current discussion. A Muslim follower of Jesus is someone, like me, who comes from a Muslim family and chooses to maintain his or her culture after being irretrievably transformed by the saving power of our Lord. Being born in a Muslim family automatically makes one a Muslim and part of the Muslim community. I was born a Muslim, not a Hindu nor a Christian nor a Jew. I am a part of the Muslim community even if I do not practice or believe all of it. But the day I reject it outright, I disavow myself of my family, my community and my people.
Muslim followers of Jesus are being transformed by the same Holy Spirit that transforms all followers of Jesus. We read the same Holy Bible that Christians throughout the centuries have read. Shouldn’t we believe the Holy Spirit will show us if we need to re-learn how to pray or change our forms and customs? Shouldn’t we be free to follow Christ without being forced to adopt two thousand years of Western religious culture? How can an outsider know the impact of our customs on our hearts? If we say our religious customs do not negate what is in our hearts, how can others negate our faith?
Vocabulary is an issue in this discussion. I often hear, “Followers of Jesus shouldn’t call God ‘Allah.’” But Allah is the Arabic word for God, and is the normal and usual word used by Christian Arabs for God. It shares a Semitic root with Hebrew words for God (el, eloah, and elohim).
Those who criticize followers of Jesus who want to remain in their largely Muslim culture may not fully understand us. My heart breaks for young believers who receive subtle (and perhaps unintentional) messages from Christians that the way of life handed down to them is ugly. They are given the impression that God cannot be in their culture. If I were a Jewish believer continuing to call myself a Jew and remaining inside my Jewish community, I would be lauded by most of the Christian West. My experience is that most Jewish ideology rejects the entirety of the New Testament and does not honor our Lord. Yet even with those obstacles, believers that remain inside Judaism are able to faithfully follow Jesus, and do not undergo scrutiny by Christians. Can we not honor Muslim followers of Jesus just as we honor Jewish followers of Jesus?
Here is something that most people in the West may not understand: Islam is the blanket with which my mother wrapped me when she nursed me and sang to me and prayed over me. I imbibed aspects of Islam with my mother’s milk. I inherited Islam from my parents and it was the cradle which held me until I found Christ. Islam is my mother. You don’t engage a person by telling him his mother is ugly. No matter what your friend’s mother may look like, you don’t say to him, “Your mother is ugly,” or his initial reaction will certainly be to fight you.
I notice in some of my Christian brothers and sisters almost a sense of betrayal if something positive is said about Muhammad. They may say, “We also have to be honest about the negative aspects of Muhammad’s life…” Why is this so important? I am allowed to say good things about Oliver Cromwell without being reminded that he chopped off the king’s head. I am allowed to speak positively about Thomas Jefferson without incessant interruptions that he impregnated his slave. Are we somehow admitting defeat, or dishonoring Christ, if we mention positive aspects of Muhammad or the religion he founded? I am convinced that Christians aren’t required to dislike Islam in order to engage it.
I long for the day when we can err on the side of preferring and respecting one another, resisting the temptation to search out heresy every time someone disagrees with us or challenges the status quo.
I say to my Christian brothers and sisters as they consider the idea of Muslim followers of Jesus, “Show me that you love Muslims! Show me that your attitude is like that of our Lord! Show me that you are acting out of love and not out of the emotions that surface when two civilizations collide!”
I am a Muslim follower of Jesus because I was born into a Muslim context and I don’t wish to reject my heritage. Islam is my heritage and Christ is my inheritance.
Mazhar Mallouhi is an Arab Syrian novelist and writer. In 1998 he founded Al Kalima, a publishing association, to print and distribute books that build bridges of understanding between Muslims and Christians. His 50 year journey with Jesus is the focus of Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road by Paul-Gordon Chandler.
This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)