Muslim - Christian Encounters
By William Wagner
Both Muslims and Christians feel that their religion is superior to the
other one. Both are intensely missionary and have an ultimate goal of winning
the world to their faith. When two dynamic forces meet head-on, sparks are
certain to fly.
One missionary method that Islam has used effectively in Africa and Europe
has been what is known as "power encounters". A biblical example of such an
encounter was Elijah's challenge to the prophet of Baal on mount Zion:. "Let us
see which God is the most powerful." The encounter was both public and
decisive. All left knowing that Jehovah had shown His power through
In looking at power encounters in today's world there are three different forms
in the battle between two great world religions - Christianity and Islam.
1. Encounters between religious structures
2. Encounters over theology
3. Spiritual and conversion encounters
Dialogue and debates, which are common, will generally address the first two
while the third enters into a form of spiritual warfare that is somewhat
foreign to many Christians living in the twenty-first century.
Contact through dialogue is a well-tried method that seldom yields any real
results except for possibly creating a better understanding of each other's
religion. In the last two decades, Islam has begun to replace dialogue with
another form, one that fits more with their expressed desire for immediate
victory over the opposition. The new form of encounter that is being used
successfully by Muslims is "debate". There are two forms of debate. One is a
high-profile debate, well publicized, and held in a large hall. The other
occurs when a mosque challenges a church to a debate that is often held in a
local venue such as a park.
The leading proponent of this approach was a Muslim cleric from South Africa
- Ahmed Deedat. This capable man spent much of his time learning all he
could about Christianity. He would carefully charm opponents into a debate. On
one occasion, Deedat challenged the American Evangelical Rev. Jimmy Swaggart to
a public debate. Swaggart was well versed in the Bible, but knew little or
nothing about Islam or previous encounters between the two religions. At the
end of the debate most would agree that Swaggart was soundly defeated. Today
you can go into most Islamic bookstores in America and the West and find the
fast-selling videotape titled "The Great Debate between Ahmed Deedat and the
well known American Evangelical Jimmy Swaggart". Muslims are encouraged to buy
the tape and show it to their Christian friends as proof of Islam's superiority
In both public and local debates the Muslims will be sure to have a large
number of their own people present. During the actual meeting they will
be prepared to interrupt the Christian speaker while loudly applauding the
Muslim. In some cases this can even get out of hand and violence can
occur. Islam's attitude is that they are right and such encounters often
help them since they are masters in intimidation.
In some cases the Christian leader is both mentally and spiritually prepared
and is ready for the challenge. In such cases it is apparent that the
Holy Spirit is leading the actions of the Christians and success often
comes. In one large debate when Mr. Deedat was having a debate with Rev.
Anis Shorrosh in South Africa it was apparent that Mr. Shorrosh was winning, so
even before the debate was finished the Muslims attacked the stage. Mr.
Shorrosh was led out a back door to a car for his escape. One of his
people was stabbed. The Muslims take such encounters very
In the third form - spiritual and conversion encounters - there is a much
more personal encounter that affects the common person. I have
spoken to over 300 Muslims on four continents who have converted to
Christianity and I have discovered that they are willing to talk about how they
found their new Faith. Most were helped in their decision by either (1) a
vision of Christ, (2) a dream where Jesus appeared to them, or (3) they heard
the voice of God or an angel telling them what to do. It seems that
spiritual encounters are taking place on a growing scale all over the
It is imperative that the church be spiritually prepared for such
encounters. One day Dr. Donald McGavran, the great missiologist, was
visited by a friend. Dr. McGavran was very ill and was not expected to
live long but his mind was still strong and he asked the friend, "What part of
the Great commission has the church of today neglected the most?" The
friend thought over the question and reviewed , the words of Jesus from the
28th chapter of Matthew. He said to himself, "We are told to go, to make
disciples, to baptize, and to teach." The friend concluded that the
church seems to be doing all of these. McGavran answered, "That
which the church has neglected the most is this - 'All authority in heaven and
on earth has been given to me". The church has failed to understand the
authority it has in the present world. In spiritual encounters with
Muslims we must once again regain the spiritual authority Jesus wants to give
to His church.
Some theologians question if signs, miracles and wonders are valid
today. I feel that when we come into power encounters with Islam we must
believe that our God is ready to give us the power we need to meet a very
difficult foe. Once again I have seen many such miracles take place when
Christians are in contact with Muslims.
One missionary from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist
Convention had a very exciting and powerful experience. He was sent
to a large Muslim city in Africa to find ways to win the people to the Lord.
His love and compassion for them was apparent to all, and in a short time he
gained the friendship and respect of many Muslims in the city. One day he
received a telephone call from the eighty-year-old Imam, the leader of the
central mosque, who asked if he would come to their mosque and bless his people
in the name of Jesus. At the meeting, the Imam asked the missionary to
pray for his people, and after praying for some in the mosque, a distinguished
looking man stood up and brought his eight-year-old daughter to the front,
asking the missionary to pray that God would heal her withered legs. The
father heard that there was power in the name of Jesus". Immediately
after the prayer, the condition of the girl remained unchanged. The
father thanked the missionary and returned to the back of the mosque. The
girl struggled in her father's arms until he put her down and she stood on her
legs for the first time in her life. She had been healed.
After this power encounter, many Muslims in that area of Africa believed and
were converted to Christianity, not because of an intellectual change but
because of a real spiritual power encounter.
The struggle continues between the world's two largest religions. Even
if it is an unpleasant thought, it is a fact that power encounters exist
between the two in the twenty-first century. The religion promoting such
encounters is Islam, but the Church is strong and able to defend itself.
The battle will continue and even intensify as a part of the present
clash of civilizations.