Islam essentially says that Allah is ultimately unknowable because he is so utterly different than humans. Allah has not really made himself known. What he has made known is his will for people. The Islamic religion is not about knowing God, since that’s not really possible. It is about knowing what God tells people to do and then submitting to that will. The root of the word “Muslim” means “to submit.” Thus the Muslim religion is about what people do. They are to perform the “Five Pillars,” reciting the Shahada (creed), saying daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, giving alms and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. In doing these things the Muslim honors Allah.
But for Christians the issue is even more daunting. Our message is that the transcendent, holy God actually became a man so that we might actually know his true nature and character, that we might know him! To make matters even worse, we believe this God, though one, exists as three persons. That’s blasphemy to a Muslim. Most difficult of all perhaps is that our God came and died on a cross. For people whose bedrock belief is that Allah must always win and be honored this idea of God being humiliated – shamed – and losing by dying is inconceivable.
We often hear that we must dialogue with those of different cultures. The problem with this is that somewhere down at their core Muslims don’t really believe in dialogue. They believe in shouting down opposition so that Allah will always be honored and be seen to win. Even if we can somehow dialogue with them the basics of the Christian faith are anathema to them. How could they ever believe in a God who died and a religion based on the humiliation of its God?
It is helpful to understand as much as we can the cultural background of Islam, for that can help us comprehend what drives the people of that religion. For us as Christians we must understand that presenting the good news of Jesus Christ to Islamic people is a great challenge. Yet we are not the first to face such a challenge. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that Christ crucified was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Despite those obstacles Paul said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul believed that the cross was the wisdom and power of God and that the message of the cross has power even among those who think it foolishness. That power impacted lives in that day and it still has power today, even in the lives of those who think it absurd. Somehow in his quiet and mysterious way, the Spirit of Jesus can work in people’s hearts through that message even when it seems ludicrous to them. What this means for Christians today is that we must be faithful to this seemingly nonsensical message of ours, while displaying its reality in our own lives. As we do what Jesus did, humbly give up ourselves to serve others, our lives will bear testimony to the reality of our message.