The gospel of interfaith dialogue

I write this with a heavy heart and great concern for the “faith once delivered to the saints.” Our culture has chosen to submit to Islam, and there’s pressure on the church to follow suit. Let me say from the outset that I am not opposed to those who engage Muslims in conversations about the difference between the two religions outside the setting of the pulpit. I have enjoyed such exchanges. However, under the guise of tolerance, love, and some would even say, evangelism, Muslims are being invited into churches to present a special revised version of Islam. As emphasized in a previous chapter, becoming friends with Muslims is a privilege given to us by the Lord. And, for the sake of the record, I am opposed to arguing, trying to prove who is right, and expressing words of condemnation. We should not attempt to win an argument but to win trust and show respect and caring. In fact, I’ve heard testimonies from Muslims who converted to Christianity, and all of these stories have the same theme: unexpected love and caring from Christians. However, this chapter has to do with “interfaith dialogue,” a planned and organized forum that is employed by some Muslims or Muslim groups to present a more palatable version of Islam. Stephen Coughlin, a concerned Catholic, exposes the acceptance of Islam among liberal Catholics. He grieves that Catholics “are willing to submerge their own core beliefs in favor of seductive relationships with interfaith partners whose approval and false friendship they foolishly come to prioritize over fealty to their own faith.” Coughlin writes that through this subversion of the interfaith community, the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, seeks to manipulate other religions in further dislocation of their faith. What has been so effective in America’s universities and colleges is now entering our churches. Coughlin explains, “For the brotherhood, the interfaith venue represents an optimal platform for penetration into the leadership circles of religious organizations.” Interfaith dialogue in the church gives Muslim leaders an uncontested platform to speak publicly and invites them to present a version of Islam that simply does not exist in Muslim countries. Nor is it based on Islam’s history or its foundational writings.

The goal of interfaith dialogue
From the Muslim point of view, the goal of interfaith dialogue is stated by the late Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: “The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah [the society of unbelievers] is great and a bridge is not to be built across so that people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam.” In this same vein, Omar Ahmad, founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations, was reported as saying, “… the media person among us [members of the Muslim Brotherhood] will know that you send two messages, one to the Americans and one to the Muslims.” The book Interfaith Dialogue: a Guide for Muslims by Muhammad Shafiq and Mohammed Abu-Nimer, speaks in neutral tones, many of which Christians would find acceptable. The authors talk about fairness, politeness, careful listening, and the need for coexistence. In brief, it was written to present a sanitized version of Islam to non-Muslims by reinterpreting its sacred texts and its history without discussing sharia law and issues such as the harsh penalties for apostates, or Muslims who renounce their faith. Nor does it refer to Islam’s historic violence against Christians, particularly in the Middle East. Muslims should encourage a spirit of trust but should not forget that “the Qur’an becomes the purified text that restores the prophetic concept of pure monotheism.” Read this carefully: “Each dialogue partner has the right to define his or her own religion and beliefs [so that] the rest can only describe what it looks like to them from the outside.” And again: “These seminars should address both Christian and Muslim beliefs and provide a comparative view of each, without attempting to judge between the two.” The bottom line: Muslim participants in interfaith dialogue want an uncontested platform where they can present a version of Islam without undesirable references from the Quran or discussion about Islam’s mistreatment of its own people, especially those who disagree with its teachings. Each dialogue participant should take the other’s words at face value. In other words, a critical analysis of the respective religions is discouraged. They believe a friendly atmosphere is important if Islam is to be seen as open and tolerant.

Let’s listen in
Imagine you are a Christian in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia and have witnessed oppression and persecution firsthand. You might not recognize this revised version of Islam. Here are six quotes from Interfaith Dialogue to instruct the Muslim speaker on how to present Islam to Americans: Islam should be presented as “protecting and enhancing civil rights.” “Muslim participants can emphasize that Islam stands for protecting the rights of both men and women.” “Many people in the West believe that Islam is a religion of revenge because they do not know that its core teachings are forgiveness and mercy.” “Muslims should avoid saying that Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or others will end up in hell.” Such conversations should be avoided. And if not, then this should be stated in a way that is least offensive, because “peaceful living and coexistence are at the very center of what Islam enjoins on all Muslims.” “Muhammad … built an interfaith confederation that included Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans. His goal was to find a way for everyone to live together in peace…. [Muhammad] always used the Islamic principles of forgiveness and mercy to reconcile differences between individuals.” Perhaps now we understand the value of interfaith dialogue for the Muslim community. Little wonder we read, “Interfaith dialogues are perfect settings not only for nurturing positive and constructive Muslim and non-Muslim relations, but also for spreading them abroad and allowing such relationships to be the guiding model for interaction.” Muslims look for Christian leaders who will play by these interfaith dialogue rules and who will accept the Muslim narrative uncritically, even at the expense of their own Christian beliefs. Frank Gaffney, one of America’s most knowledgeable scholars on Islam says, “The Catholic church in particular has proven especially susceptible to a sophisticated strategy of manipulation whose goal is the dislocation of faith to advance submission to Islamic Law (shariah) under cover of cherished leftists, liberal values of acceptance, inclusion and acceptance.” Protestant churches—even evangelical churches—are following suit. Unfortunately, Muslims who present their version of Islam can count on a ready American audience that longs to believe that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are tolerant, peaceful, and respectful of other religions. They can count on the fact that they are speaking to people who have never read the Quran and the Hadith; they can be quite sure that many have never studied the history of Islam and also have willingly ignored all the statements of the Brotherhood leaders who say that their intention is to destroy Western civilization from within. No matter the professed goals of the Brotherhood, no matter the number of terrorist attacks carried out by radical Muslims, no matter the history of Islam, and no matter the growing insistence that we curtail our freedoms in favor of Muslim demands, Muslim leaders know that many Americans are accepting the narrative that Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace. To those evangelicals who would say that we should engage in interfaith dialogue and “build bridges” that will lead to evangelism, my response is twofold: First, allowing false teachers to speak in our churches under any condition is forbidden by Scripture (see 2 John 1:6–11). Second, evangelism is best accomplished by friendship, authentic discussions, and serving others, including our neighbors of different faiths. However, it is never right to give a representative of a false religion an unchallenged platform to win a hearing by carefully crafted deceptions, especially in a church setting. If a church wants to learn what Islam believes, why not invite a convert out of Islam to come into a church and share his/her story? I’ve personally discovered that these testimonies are instructive and helpful to understand life in Muslim countries without the influence of Western values. We have much to learn, and there are many who can teach us. As a means of evangelism, other opportunities exist for reaching Muslims with the love of Christ and the message of the gospel. Christians and Muslims can connect with each other in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. Jesus calls us to reach across the chasm and represent Him well wherever we find ourselves. This just might be the time for us to remember the words of Jesus to His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Thankfully, we can count on the Good Shepherd to be among us each step of the way.