The Sinner's Prayer, the Islamic Shahada, and Peacemaking
by Rick Love
At a Mosque during Ramadan this year a Muslim asked me to say the Muslim equivalent of the evangelical "sinner’s prayer." He encouraged me to say the Shahada, the Muslim confession of faith: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” When you say this confession, you formally become a Muslim.
I assured him I am deeply satisfied with Jesus and that I appreciated his desire to share his faith with me. Later in the Imam’s office, one of the leaders showed me a video of three young American boys confessing the Shahada. I actually like it when Muslims witness to me. It shows they are devoted to their faith. This is an act of love from their perspective.
During an interfaith leadership team meeting, a mainline Christian Pastor (non-evangelical) asked me why I was involved. He knew I was evangelical and feared that I only wanted to convert people. He starting asking questions about my motives. Then Imam Ahmad interrupted us. “Pastor, why does that bother you? In the Seven Resolutions document we have agreed on, we acknowledge that I want you to embrace Islam and you want me to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”
Both Christians and Muslims are compelled to share their faith. Muslim da’wah (the Arabic term for Islamic outreach) and Christian evangelism takes place in both directions. Muslims are coming to Christ and Christians are converting to Islam. The reality of da'wah and evangelism is one of the most important peacemaking issues we face in Christian-Muslim relations.
Please note… the issue is not whether Christians should do evangelism or Muslim’s do da’wah. The issue is HOW we bear witness. As a follower of Jesus I am commanded to get the “log” out of my eye before I get the speck out of any Muslim’s eyes (Matthew 7:3-5). So I want to reflect a moment on how we witness to Muslims.
Making friends with Muslims as an evangelistic strategy and then dropping them if they don’t respond is unworthy witness. Handing out evangelistic tracts during disaster relief is unworthy witness. Smuggling Bibles in on military operations is unworthy witness. Having said that, I am happy to note that there is an increasing number of evangelicals who seek to share their faith in a manner worthy of Jesus.
Every follower of Jesus should be aware of a magnificent document that outlines a Christian code of ethical witness. “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” was recently produced by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). I don’t agree with the wording on some points (it is after all a consensus document written by Catholics, Liberal Christians and Evangelical Christians). But I wholeheartedly affirm what the document affirms.
The preamble reads, “Mission belongs to the very being of the church. Proclaiming the word of God and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian. At the same time, it is necessary to do so according to gospel principles, with full respect and love for all human beings.” Adhering to the guidelines in the document will result in witness that is worthy of Jesus.
I deeply appreciate Sheikh Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s perspective on this issue. He is a celebrity in the Muslim world, frequently speaking on television in the Middle East. During the Common Word Dialogue, we discussed the issue of da‘wah and evangelism. He concluded: “I do not have any problem with Evangelicals sharing their faith anywhere, because I am convinced about my faith.” I feel the same way! Christians confess that God is sovereign, almighty and omnipotent. Muslims confess, Allahu Akbar! Both faith communities need to believe what we confess – even in this touchy area. Will we trust Almighty God with the results of our evangelism and their da’wah? Will we love our Muslim neighbors if they reject our witness and even win our neighbors to Islam?
I want Muslims to follow Jesus, and I want peace. What does this mean practically? This means I engage in respectful witness to Muslims, which is an act of love. It also means I work for freedom of religion for all people. I promote and protect people’s right to say the sinner’s prayer or confess the Shahada. This is an act of peacemaking.