Nabeel’s life used to be all about showing others that he is “an ambassador for Islam.” The grandson of Muslim missionaries, Nabeel loved to argue in defense of his religion. And then he unexpectedly befriended a Christian who helped lead him to faith in Jesus.
He shared his story Feb. 25 during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s 2013 State Evangelism Conference at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden. The theme of this year’s conference was Culture Reach: Understanding, Loving and Relating to Muslims.
Nabeel was one of six speakers at the event that featured various Christian leaders, educators, speakers and mission workers. The others included Fred Luter, Mike Licona, Zane Pratt, Alex McFarland, and Nik and Ruth Ripken.*
For Nabeel, deciding to follow Jesus Christ was a life-altering decision.
“When I became a believer I had to give up a lot – my family, my friends, the direction I was going in life,” he said. “And when you have to stand in the face of that you’re not going to give up your faith on a whim. … It means something to you.”
Mike Licona, associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University, and Marty Dupree, with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, discuss how one can present an “airtight” argument for the resurrection. They chatted Feb. 25, during a Q&A session, at the 2013 State Evangelism Conference at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church. See photo gallery.
“[For a Muslim], your religion is part of your identity,” he added. “To leave Islam is to not just leave what you have believed, but to leave all of the people you know.”
Nabeel continues to pray for his family and hopes they will one day put their trust in Jesus.
“Our job is to share the love of Christ – period,” he said. “That’s our calling. Individually in our lives we should portray unadulterated, unabashed love for every Muslim we come across.”
Community and family is everything to a Muslim and that bond should never be taken lightly, said Nik Ripken, who has served for 25 years alongside his wife, Ruth, in North Africa and the Middle East.
“[Most Muslims] would rather go to hell with their families than go by themselves to heaven,” he told a crowd during the final session of the conference. Christians must reach out to families, not just individuals, he added.
The author of The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected, Ripken has interviewed Muslim background believers in more than 60 countries. Friends of his have lost their lives for their faith. He is considered by many to be a leading expert on the persecuted church in Muslim cultures.
The number one cause for persecution on the planet is people choosing to follow Jesus, Ripken said earlier during a panel discussion. But persecution is also a sign of Christian growth.
“Where we’re seeing the greatest growth of the church is in places where persecution is the most widespread,” he said. “Perhaps we don’t ask why those people are persecuted. We ask, ‘Why aren’t we?’”
Though persecution toward Christians is real and a problem in many parts of the world, there are many misconceptions about Islam, said Zane Pratt, who worked with the International Mission Board in Central Asia for about 20 years. He is now the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
One of the biggest misconceptions of Muslims is that all – or at least most – Muslims are terrorists.
“That simply is not true,” Pratt said. “… The Muslims we have known, who constitute the vast majority of Muslims, are not violent people. They are warm and friendly. I believe they are wrong [about Jesus], but they are not terrorists.”
When Pratt and his family moved back to the United States he described the transition as “incredibly disappointing.”
“Nobody came over to help us when we moved into our house,” he said. “I can guarantee you every time we moved into a house anywhere in the Muslim world all our neighbors came and helped.”
Other common misconceptions include the idea that the words “Arab” and “Muslim” mean the same thing, and that the word “Allah” comes from the “moon goddess.”
Both are untrue, Pratt said.
The word “Arab” refers to people group and language. While most Arabs adhere to the Islamic religion, many do not, he said. The majority of Muslims live outside the Arabian world, and the largest population of Muslims can be found in Indonesia. Other heavily Muslim populated areas include Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
And the word “Allah,” Pratt said, is simply the Arabic word for “god.”
“’Allah’ is related to the Hebrew word for ‘God’ that you find in the Old Testament,” he said. ‘[It] is the word that Arabic speaking Christians and Jews used for ‘God’ before Muhammad was ever born.”
When speaking English, Pratt said he avoids referring to God as “Allah” because in English the word is tied directly to Islam.
“[But] if I’m speaking a Middle Eastern language,” he said, “It’s just the word that means ‘god,’ and that is the word I use because that’s all it means.”
Pratt added that Christians still must “import” Biblical content into whatever word they use.
“You need to assume that people don’t understand what you mean,” he said. “You need to explain yourself very carefully.”
Both Mike Licona and Alex McFarland spoke on the importance of Christians being able to clearly articulate themselves on issues of faith. All Christians should be able to explain what they believe and defend why they believe it.
“Sometimes we want to drive the point home by saying, ‘What I’m telling you is true because it works for me. Let me give you my testimony,’” said Licona, associate professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University and president of Risen Jesus, Inc.
“And that works in a lot of cases with people whose Gospel language is testimony and experience. But there are other people who say ‘I don’t care about your experience … I want the facts.’“
Licona is the author of numerous books including The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach and Paul Meets Muhammad.
Christians can begin a discussion on faith with Muslims by pointing to the Quran, where Jesus is referred to as Isa.
Most Muslims acknowledge Jesus as a “good prophet,” who was virgin-born and performed many miracles. But they also believe the Bible has been corrupted, and they do not believe Jesus is God.
By learning what the Quran says about Jesus, comparing that with eyewitness accounts in the Four Gospels and with what most historians say about Jesus’ death and the resurrection, a Christian can make a solid case for Jesus to Muslims.
“I call it the Catch-22 moment for Muslims,” Licona said.
The key to remember, Licona said, is that Christians can do better than “quot[ing] a couple Bible verses and walk[ing] away.”
Today Christians live in the “Golden Age of apologetics,” said McFarland, an author, speaker, an occasional Fox News guest and director for the Center for Apologetics and Christian Worldview at North Greenville University in South Carolina.
“We’ve had 50 years of C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell,” McFarland said. “There’s no reason that everyone of our churches shouldn’t be equipping people to present, explain and defend the faith.”
“What we have is opportunity because we’ve got the one message of hope in a world that, with little reflection, concludes there is no hope.”
In September (Sept. 27-28), McFarland and North Greenville University will present an apologetics conference at Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’ve got to remember that our mission is that every succeeding generation know about salvation and about the gospel,” he said. “I will submit to you that we’ve forgotten our mission.”
Ultimately, we all need Jesus no matter who we are, said Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
“You can receive the Gospel no matter your culture, no matter your language, no matter your race, no matter your ethnicity,” he said. “You can receive the Gospel.
“The only thing God is concerned about is the color of the blood because the blood is what makes us whole. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”