Over the last year or so, Christians across the UK have been confronted with a sudden escalation of media accounts of the actions of extremist Muslims, with stories of terrible atrocities and bloodshed in Iraq and Syria. What has shocked them even more is that British Muslims by the hundreds have gone out to these war zones to give their support to ISIS and other extremist groups.
A BBC poll of 1,000 Muslims in Britain found in February 2015 that a quarter had some sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks the previous month, and a similar proportion felt that acts of violence could be justified against people who mock the Prophet. Even more disturbing, they found that 45% of UK Muslims believed that Muslim clerics are justified when they preach violence as a response to the West’s interference in Muslim nations.
On the other hand, we are seeing that this violence is actually discrediting Islam in the eyes of millions of Muslims worldwide. It is a major factor in many of them turning to Christ, as Muslims begin to question their Islamic identity. Thus, at the same time as presenting a real threat, it also presents one of the greatest opportunities of our time: to unveil Jesus to Muslim people in the Western world and bring them to Christ.
In this context a new phenomenon networking both agencies and churches has proved to be a catalyst to unity and prayer. This prayer-based relational network is called Mahabba (‘love’ in Arabic); and it has flourished over the last four years, mainly because of the unprecedented opportunity in the UK. Its emphasis is on motivating and mobilizing ‘ordinary’ Christians rather than just ‘specialists’ to reach their Muslim neighbours. All the main mission agencies working with Muslims are now part of this relational network.
Many Christians have focused on the effects of ‘Islamization’ and on the ‘persecuted church’, responding with fear and alienating themselves from face-to-face interaction with their Muslim neighbours. So this new network is helping thousands of people (in Mahabba’s words) to ‘Face the Facts not Fuel the Fear . . . but Find a Friend’; and this often leads not only to Muslims coming to Christ, but also to improved social cohesion through joint activities in those cities with a major Muslim presence. This is not just an inter-faith exercise—it has so far led to growing numbers of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being discipled.
The testimony of all the networks is that the old model of ‘specialists’ reaching Muslims was frustrating and unproductive, but that since mobilizing ordinary Christians into prayer communities, the conversions have increased significantly. What is even more interesting, however, is the testimony of just one of these Mahabba prayer groups that, over a five year period, 25 members of the prayer groups were so impacted with a love for Muslims, that they signed up to become full-time missionaries with those mission agencies.
This network was started as a partnership of many churches and agencies in Oxford which were seeking opportunities to introduce local Muslims to the Good News about Jesus. Mahabba, as a movement, seeks to be a catalyst in networking together ‘ordinary Christians’, resourced by agency ‘specialists’ and championed by church leaders, to love their Muslim neighbours. So Mahabba is not seen as a mission agency (which are often viewed cautiously by pastors): the model is a prayer-based relational network which equips local churches with mentoring and training materials, and which helps church leaders to train ordinary members of their churches to relate to Muslims in love and be able to explain the gospel clearly.
Mahabba believes that this should not be the domain of experts in Islam, and has shown that the most successful means of reaching Muslims is through mobilizing thousands of ‘ordinary believers’ into united persistent prayer. By expanding the network, they have seen Christians across the UK motivated to reach out in love to the thousands of Muslim people who are now living among them.
The Mahabba model normally consists of a partnership between groups of churches. It creates a learning environment in which Christians can participate in one of the greatest mission opportunities in present times. Perhaps Mahabba could be the equivalent, in the realm of ministry to Muslims, to what Alpha has been: a carefully defined, replicable concept enabling ordinary believers to make a significant positive difference on behalf of Christ among Muslims.
The need and opportunity
The number of people identifying themselves as Muslim in the UK has grown by almost 70% in ten years, from 1.6 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011. It is estimated to grow to 5.5 million by 2020. Across Europe, there are already 47 million Muslims. By the year 2030, there will be 58 million Muslims in Europe, 8% of the population. Islam has found a home in Europe.
Too often, churches are ill-equipped to assist people who wish to convert, whether they come from atheistic or other faith backgrounds. The new Joining the Family DVD course is a unique training tool to help church leaders integrate Muslim-background believers (MBBs) into local churches. It is also important to hear the voice of these MBBs and ensure that they are not ‘over-extracted’ from their faith background. Remaining in their community will enable their witness to touch others of their faith background. This has led to some excellent cooperation between those who love working with the local churches, and those who hold strong to Church Planting Movement/Disciple Making Movement principles.
All these networks are built on unity and prayer—two key factors that release faith and love for Muslims, as well as an increase of the supernatural ministry of dreams and visions, and physical healing. In Oxford, it took two years to break through in prayer, but then about 40 Muslim people came to Christ over the next five years. Numbers have been difficult to record as Oxford is such a transitional place. However, there has been a regular flow of people coming to Christ, especially among the Iranian fellowship.
They were joined by an Imam Sheikh from Uganda who was an expert in Sharia law: he had a radical conversion experience, and now spends hours witnessing to Arabic speaking Muslims studying in Oxford. A Turkish Imam’s daughter came to Christ outside of Oxford and has inspired many by personally leading over 100 Muslims to Christ.
Most of the networks are witnessing Muslims coming to Christ. As a ministry they are spurred on by regular stories from around the other networks. In Manchester, in just a few days, a young man from Pakistan walked into the cathedral asking to convert; a Saudi woman walked into a church and asked to become a Christian; and a Somali man shared with his Christian friend that he wanted to become a Christian. Also in the north of England, one city has four medical clinics, which regularly pray for the local Muslim community: they are now discipling many of these Muslims who have experienced physical healing.
Expansion nationally and internationally
In the Western world there have been many organizations with network ‘specialists’ in Islamic ministry. Mahabba as a relational network has links to all of these, and is seeking to serve them as the pastors and churches in Western nations are responding to the presence of many precious Muslim people who are now living among us. Mahabba also networks with similar organizations which are springing up in other nations.
It seems that God is on the move! Mahabba networks have been now been launched in over 40 cities across the UK, as well as spreading across to France, Belgium, Norway, Austria, and even South Africa. They have been asked to help establish networks in India and Korea. One couple has moved across to Chicago (home to over 400,000 Muslims) and another to help set up in Australia. The goal over the next two years is to have 75 Mahabba networks across the UK, with strong relational networks with others across Europe and other Western nations.
Implications and our response
There has been a shift globally in terms of Muslims coming to Christ in recent years. David Garrison, in his book Wind in the House of Islam, makes it clear that there has been a sudden increase in the number of movements to Christ around the world. Similarly, through the rapid growth and spread of movements like Mahabba, we can see that creating a prayer-based relational network, with ‘starfish’ rather than ‘spider’ characteristics, can enable the basic concepts and DNA of Mahabba to be replicable anywhere.
The essence is ordinary Christians being resourced by specialists, championed by local leaders in unity, committed to persistent prayer, and compelled by God’s love for Muslim people to unveil Jesus to them and help them grow in Christ. This is often described as the ‘Mahabba Virus’ or ‘Love Virus’. Surely, this is the most contagious part of our faith.
If you would like help in setting up a Mahabba network, contact: [email protected].
- Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘The Challenge of Radical Islam’ by John Azumah in the March 2015 of Lausanne Global Analysis.
- Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘The Crisis in Syria’ by an anonymous Syrian pastor in the January 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
- See www.mahabbanetwork.com and the ‘Mahabba UK’ channel on YouTube.
- Examples include Friendship First, Come Follow Me, and Joining the Family. See www.kitab.org.uk.
Gordon Hickson has served as International Campaign Director for Reinhard Bonnke, as Assemblies of God Missions Director for the Muslim World, and as Parish Vicar of St Aldates Church in Oxford. Since 2012 he has been working full-time outside of pastoral ministry, in setting up Mahabba nationally, motivating and mobilizing ordinary Christians to unveil Jesus to Muslims.