A Response to Joseph Cumming’s ‘Muslim Followers of Jesus?’

To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.

All discussion on contextualization can be helpful and challenging. The intention is always to seek to convey the absolute truths of the gospel and of the person of Jesus in a way that the hearer may understand and respond. Some have analyzed the different ways in which contextualization can occur and this analysis can be helpful for the proclaimer, but may be confusing when shared with the hearer.

There are those who would prefer a direct presentation of the gospel and a simple response identified ultimately in the public act of baptism.  But the reality in some non-Christian contexts is that this simple approach may sound like a Western rather than a biblical presentation and the proclaimer may be looking for a western rather than an indigenous response which is relevant to the antagonism of the family or other local people.  Joseph Cumming has made good use of the analysis with a view to helping us all to think, but in my view he leaves the reader with some confusion as to whether there is a difference between a secret believer or a person who pursues both the Islamic religion and the Christian faith at the same time. He has interviewed some people who have a Muslim inheritance and have become Christians. The video comments of some people with a Muslim inheritance who have become Christians seem supportive of this confusion.

I support the attempt to contextualize, but this needs to be open to debate as there are variations of understanding and of the consequences.

Why am I concerned?

(a) Cumming’s argument that there is no difference in concept between a Messianic Jew and a Muslim who is also a Christian (referred to on one occasion as a Messianic Muslim) is totally misleading!  Messianic Jews are committed to YHWH and the OT as well as to Jesus as he is described in the NT. They follow Jewish customs, but there is no conflict for them in their theology as it is rooted in the OT and in the letter to the Hebrews. Whereas the Qur’an has misquoted the OT and refers to Jesus (Isa) 92 times, but he is not the Son of God and he did not die on the Cross and is not the way to the Father! You cannot believe in both the Qur’an and in the Bible at the same time.  Allah as described in the Qur’an has no connection with YHWH.(1)

(b) What Cummings is really arguing for is not that Muslims worship both the Allah of the Qur’an and at the same time Jesus, but that they follow some aspects of the Islamic culture, such as praying and celebrating Ramadan. They may go to the mosque so long as this does not require of them to state the Shahada (the declaration of commitment to the Islamic faith). It is the test of one’s acknowledgement of Muhammad as a prophet of Allah. It is a clear ‘identity marker’ and shows that the person regards him/herself as a member of ‘Dar al Islam’ (house of Islam) which by definition means that all those not in this ‘Dar’ are in the house of war with Islam (Dar al Harb). Christians can in fact repeat the first part of the Shahada: “la ilaha illallah” (‘There is only one God [Allah])’; it is the second part which raises the concern, ‘and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah’. There is no evidence that Muhammad is a prophet or that his belief in Allah had anything to do with YHWH and Jesus of the NT.  Muhammad opposed the cross and denied the deity of Jesus (e.g. Qur’an 4:171; 5:116).  It is possible to follow Muslim culture and be committed to Christian doctrine but to be committed to the Dar al Islam concepts/ideology/theology means that the person is  following two different ’gods’ at the same time.  Certainly Christians are clearly called to be committed to the Trinity alone.

(c) There is a concern as to how a convert to Christianity can grow in the faith or be accountable to a local Christian community. I know of some who are dependent on a visit from a Christian at a safe time to be able to read the bible and pray together. These people usually avoid as much of the Islamic practice as they can whilst conforming in all the cultural ways such as with dress and food. They are secret believers.  We do not want to discourage them by saying they should also practice Islamic rites.

(d) Another concern is whether a convert to the Christian faith is actually practicing the Muslim ideological idea of ‘Taqiyya’ (defined as “concealing or disguising one’s beliefs”).  This is a hard issue. In most countries where there is Sharia law or where Islam is the dominating religion, all people have to carry an identity card. If this card indicates that the bearer is born Muslim, then there is no mechanism for changing this following conversion to Christianity. So the government requires the person to maintain the Islamic identity and therefore the culture, but this does not mean that the person has to practice the Islamic religious rites. Many such people have talked to me about this problem. In some cases suffering for the faith or running away into a safe country has been regarded as the only options. But these don’t lead to follow-on conversions. There is no simple answer. The concept that one can be a secret believer or appear to be a Muslim believer whilst really believing in Jesus is the way many have coped. But arguing for a position that one believes in Muhammad and Allah (with his ideology) as well as in YHWH and Jesus of the Bible (with his covenant) means that we have not yet resolved how people  can remain in the Islamic community and have their light shine (Mark 4.21-13). How will their family hear?

Dr David Claydon is an author and a member of a Middle East Church as well as a western Church.

(1) Mark Durie, Revelation? Do we worship the same God? (Upper Mt Gravatt:City Harvest, 2006)

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