David, BJU Alumnus
Twenty-eight years ago, I moved from BJU–Brokenshire to a Muslim-majority country. I remember my first evenings here. At dusk I would climb onto the roof of an orphanage and hear the muezzins wailing out their calls to prayer. Since then I’ve heard that call some 40,000 times, but by the grace of God it still brings a lump to my throat. The first line of the call says, “Allah is great,” but it is the fifth line that grips me deeply: “Hasten to the salvation!” This saddens me as I consider how many are running to the wrong prophet, but it gives me hope to think about Our Loving Salvation’s finding those who seek Him, even if they are currently hastening to the wrong direction, knowing not Whom they really need.
As I write this in my study, I count some thirty-some books about Islam on my bookshelves (these are just the ones I’ve decided to keep). I’ve read the Quran, many of the hadith, and histories of the world from an Islamic perspective. I’ve studied Sufism and observed howling dervishes in their tekkes (dizzying stuff!). To learn more about Islam, I prefer going to their bookstores, not ours.
Beyond my research, I’ve talked to and shared the Gospel with countless Muslims, mystics, and scholars—even former Guantanamo Bay detainees and a few confirmed terrorists. I don’t consider myself an expert on Islam, but I was happy for the invitation to write on this theme—the dos and don’ts of talking to Muslims. I hope it helps:
Dr. Jacob Pursley, Friend to the Muslim World
Mass Muslim Conversions
We Christians have a problem. For over 1,200 years there was no movement of Muslims to Christ. Muhammad died in 632 A.D., but his new religion spread and thrived, unhindered. That is until the 19th century onward. David Garrison in his book, A Wind in the House of Islam, explains that a movement of Muslims to Christ means, “at least 1,000 baptized believers of the past one or two decades or 100 new churches are established over the same time frame within a given people group or ethnic Muslim community.”
The Christians’ problem is not the lack of movements to Christ from 632-1870, but rather the explosion of conversions from 1870 to the present. There were two movements in the 19th century, eleven movements in the 20th. century, and now in the 21st century there have been sixty-nine movements (recorded from 2000-2012).
So what are the exact numbers of converts today? This is hard to say. According to strict figures, in North America alone, there are estimated to be 493,000 Believers from a Muslim Background (hereafter BMBs), and worldwide that figure grows to 985,300.
Due to persecution and anonymity, it is difficult to estimate the actual number of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. Some have suggested that in Iran alone, there are as many as one million converts, though more conservative figures estimate around 450,000. According to David Garrison, there has never been a time in history wherein so many Muslims have come to faith in Christ (his figures are somewhere between two and seven million).
So why are the number of conversions a problem for Christians? It is because we are called to disciple them, and we are not equipped to do so. When Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all that he commanded us (Matt. 28:19-20), this includes all of these new converts. Those from a western background, who are not familiar with the impact of the Islamic primary sources (Qur’an, Hadith, Sirat) and Muslim culture on BMBs, are faced with unique challenges to fulfill Jesus’ commandment. We must prepare ourselves for this harvest and its unique challenges.
I have been in ministry among Muslims now for over 20 years (during this exponential growth of BMBs). My ministry has primarily been among Kurmanji speaking Kurds, Persians, Zazas, and Turks. I found apologetics and evangelism among Muslims to be much easier than with westerners. Muslims want to talk about the two taboos in the West—politics and religion. They usually bring up the subject of religion first, and almost every encounter with a Muslim may lead to answering their objections to Christianity and presenting the gospel. Let’s look at some fresh research on how Muslims are coming to Christ and the implications.
Factors that Led Muslims to Christ
In 2019, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation concerning discipling BMBs. Part of my research was surveying missionaries and BMB pastors concerning their experience of how Muslims are coming to faith.
According to my research, the most influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was exposure to the Bible via reading or listening. The second most influential factors that led Muslims to Jesus were dreams and visions. What is interesting was the least influential factor leading Muslims to Jesus was street evangelism/preaching (this maybe because it is rarely being done in the Muslim world). The second least influential factor that led Muslims to Jesus was visiting a physical church building.
What this tells me is that we need to get God’s word into the hands of Muslims, challenge them to read it, and read it with them. If they cannot read, find audio versions for them to listen to. We should also continue to pray that God would reveal himself in dreams and visions. I personally have seen many Muslims have their first encounter with Christ in this way too. However, it is not the vision or dream of Christ that saves them. The Muslim thereafter finds a church/missionary/Bible, and then upon hearing and believing the gospel is saved, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:17).
When it comes to the least influential factor that has led Muslims to Christ, maybe we need more winsome and equipped street preachers and bold evangelists in the Muslim world. However, it is clear that there needs to be an emphasis on getting God’s word into the hands of Muslims. As missionaries give out Bibles/SD cards with the Bible on it, they must teach the Bible’s trustworthiness along with how to read it.
Bible Left on a Park Bench
Mahmut, a deacon of our church in Istanbul, came to faith by discovering a New Testament on a park bench near his home. Mahmut began to read the Bible and thought to himself that its message was not bad, and the teachings of the book were loving and peaceful. This was surprising to him, because he was reared with Muslim indoctrination, which taught that anything Christian was bad. The more he read, the more he learned that what he had been taught was not true. Eventually, he met some Christians and later professed faith in Christ.
Around fifteen years after finding the New Testament on the bench, Mahmut, through a ministry outreach that our church helped organize, met the woman who accidentally left the Bible there. During the outreach, Mahmut recounted how he came to faith, beginning with finding a New Testament on a park bench. This woman immediately came to him and asked, “where did you find this Bible, what year was this, and what time of year?” After their conversation, she had remembered accidentally leaving the New Testament there at that park on that bench on that date. She did not know about Mahmut’s story or the fruit of her forgetfulness until that day!
“Go to the Church and ask for a Bible.”
The first time I ever translated in my life was the testimony of a Turkish pastor. We met at a Bible school in Ephesus, and I was translating so that my mother could understand. This pastor recounted that he grew up in a Muslim family and had never met a Christian or read a Bible. However, it all changed the night Jesus visited him in a dream. In the dream, Jesus said to him, “you have read the Qur’an (pointing to a Qur’an in his room), but you have not yet read my book. Go to ….. city, and you will find a church. Go into the church and ask for a Bible.” The Turkish pastor said he listened to Jesus, went to the city that was told him, and found the church. He was nervous about going in and asking for a Bible. It just so happened that the pastor of the church felt a prompting to put in an extra Bible into his bag that very morning. When this young Turkish Muslim man asked him for a Bible and explained the dream, the pastor then understood. It was at this church and through this pastor that this young Muslim man first heard the gospel and received his first Bible. Jesus did reveal himself to this man, but it was through the ordinary proclamation of the gospel and intentional discipleship that this Muslim came to Christ.
Who is to say that we are not living in the last days as prophesied by Joel? “. . . [A]nd your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. . .” (Joel 2:28). What is clear is that the Muslim world needs Christians that will make themselves available for this great new harvest.
 David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam, (Monument CO: WIGTake Resources, 2014),
 Ibid., 226.
 Duane Alexander Miller, and Patrick Johnstone, “Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 11:10 (2015).
 Samuel Smith, “Over 450,000 Join Iranian House Church Movement, 'Great Number of Muslims Turning to Christ',” The Christian Post, March 3, 2016, Accessed January 2, 2017, http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-450000-join-iranian-house-church-movement-great-number-of-muslims-turning-to-christ-158883/
 Garrison, 5.
Dr. Linda Hayner, BJU Faculty
The world into which Muhammad was born was far from peaceful. Raiders attacked caravans for the goods they carried, while pirates threatened trade on the Red Sea. The people of the Arabian Peninsula were organized into tribes and clans or families. No central government existed. Each tribe was governed by a council of men who chose one of their number to be a shaykh, or leader. Tribes and clans often settled disagreements by war. They also fought over who would govern cities such as Mecca.
Mecca, located in the Hejaz Mountains, was an important city on the west side of the Arabian Peninsula. Caravans brought goods from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to its markets making Mecca a place of wealth. Mecca also was home to the Ka’aba, a small cube-shaped building. This ancient shrine housed more than 350 idols of the gods worshipped by the Arabs. Each year during the month of Ramadan Arabs visited this shrine to worship. The powerful Quraysh Tribe ruled Mecca.
Muhammad was born in Mecca about AD 570 into the Hashemite clan, a poor family of the Quraysh tribe. Muhammad’s father died before his son’s birth. Muhammad’s mother died when he was six. When Muhammad’s grandfather died, a merchant uncle, Abu Talib, took Muhammad in. Abu Talib was a leader of the Hashemite clan and a merchant. Muhammad learned to be a merchant and may have travelled with caravans from Syria in the north to Yemen in the south.
As a young adult, Muhammad entered the employ of Khadijah, a widow who had inherited the businesses of two previous merchant husbands. The arrangement worked well and Khadijah, then 40 years old, proposed to Muhammad who was in his mid-20s. He accepted. Muhammad was a good merchant and had married well.
In spite of his success, Muhammad was concerned for his people. Meccans were less interested in the gods than in getting rich. They did not believe in a judgment day, and they feared that holy laws might interfere with their pursuit of money. The Persians talked of their prophet Zoroaster and their holy book the Avesta. The Jews had Moses and the Torah. The Christians had Jesus and the Gospel. These prophets and their books told their followers how to live. Muhammad wondered why there was no prophet or book for the Arabs.
Muhammad spent many hours thinking about the difficulties and turbulence of Arab life. While meditating one night, he heard a voice that sounded like the reverberating of bells. The angel Gabriel appeared and told Muhammad that he was to be the prophet to his people.
"In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clots of blood! Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, who by the pen taught man what he did not know" (Koran, Sura 96:1-4).
This was his first message from Allah. Khadijah immediately believed that her husband was the new prophet to his people. Abu Bakr, a young man living with them, was his second convert. All of this occurred around the year 608.
Gabriel visited Muhammad again and gave him his first message outline: there is one god Allah, Muhammad was Allah’s prophet, and there was judgment for those who did not believe his message. Muhammad waited three years before he began preaching publicly in 610. He taught that Islam, submission to Allah (The God), was a continuation of the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Muhammad’s preaching was necessary because the teachings of the Jews and Christians had become obscured by a lack of understanding and error. Islam reformed, purified, and completed those divine teachings. The number of Muhammad’s followers grew slowly, but it was enough to concern Mecca’s rulers.
They were not pleased with the message of only one god. What would happen to the yearly pilgrimage if people believed in only one god? After all, many came each year to worship the hundreds of gods at the Ka’aba. Pilgrims spent money for food, housing, and to purchase their needs for worship. Would they come if there was only one god?
When Muhammad condemned idol worship, Meccan persecution of Muhammad’s followers became great. In 615, he sent 85 of his followers to Ethiopia for safety. He had heard that Ethiopia was a Christian land. Perhaps there was a place of peace there for his people. The travelers didn’t stay long; the king of Ethiopia, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar, decided that Christianity and Islam were not much alike.
The year 619 was both a happy and a sad one for Muhammad. One night, he made a journey on a black, winged horse. The horse took him from his home in Mecca to Jerusalem. Muhammad stood on the Temple Mount before visiting the Seventh Heaven where he received from Allah the fundamental teachings of Islam. He also saw the heavenly Ka’aba and spoke with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus before returning to Mecca. This marvelous night is called the Night of Qadr (glory). This trip made Jerusalem a holy city for all Muslims. Shortly after the Night of Qadr, Muhammad’s wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib died. With the death of his uncle, Muhammad lost his protector. He needed to find his followers a place of refuge; they had to leave Mecca.
Muhammad discussed his need with some pilgrims from the oasis of Yathrib that lay 280 miles north of Mecca. Some of the Yathrib pilgrims became Muslims, and in 622 they promised to protect Muhammad. During the next few weeks, Muhammad’s followers trekked across the desert to the oasis now called Medina. This migration is called the hejrah. This happened on July 16th, 622, which is considered the first day of the Muslim calendar.
During the years of learning to live together, Muhammad received frequent recitations from Allah through Gabriel on how the people of Medina ought to treat each other. However, there were groups in Medina who disagreed with Muhammad’s teachings. Members of the Jewish community declared that the Torah was accurate, and that Muhammad’s teachings were wrong. Eventually, Muhammad declared war on the Jewish community and forced its members to leave Medina.
"Those [Jews] to whom the burden of the Torah was entrusted and yet refused to bear it are like a donkey laden with books. Wretched is the example of those who deny Allah’s revelations. Allah does not guide the wrongdoers" (Koran, Sura 62:5).
In Medina, Muhammad formed a new kind of community (called Ummah) based on loyalty to Islam.
Muhammad needed money to support his new community. Muhammad led and supported attacks on caravans bound for Mecca. When he was asked if it was good for Arabs to fight Arabs, Muhammad replied that the fighting was between followers of Allah from Medina and the pagans living in Mecca.
"Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked, because they have been wronged. Allah has power to grant them victory: those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: ‘Our Lord is Allah'" (Koran, Sura 22:39).
Meccans retaliated with war, but they were unsuccessful in defeating Muhammad’s army. For the next eight years Muhammad’s followers and Meccans fought several wars, but the religious center of the Arabs slowly shifted away from Mecca to Medina and Muhammad.
Muhammad wanted to convert the Meccans to Islam. He recognized the sanctity of the Ka’aba and made its possession one of his goals. In 628, he led a pilgrimage of 1400 Muslims to the outskirts of Mecca. Instead of war, Muhammad and the Meccans drew up the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. Both groups agreed to maintain the peace for 10 years. Muslims would begin their pilgrimages to Mecca the next year.
In 630, the peace ended. The Meccans had supported an attack made against Medina by another clan. Muhammad marched on Mecca with an army of 10,000. He seized control of the city and warned all the Meccans to stay off the streets as the Muslim army entered. Muhammad went to the Ka’aba and destroyed all the idol in and around it. He was proclaimed the ruler of the city.
After the conquest of Mecca, he defeated Arab tribes that challenged him, and some submitted to him. In the next two years, Muhammad had conquered much of the Arabian Peninsula. He ordered the destruction of all pagan idols.
Muhammad made his first full pilgrimage to Mecca in 632. While he was there, he delivered what is called his Farewell Sermon.
"This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith" (Koran, Sura 5:3).
A few months after returning to Medina, Muhammad fell ill with a fever and severe headaches. He died on June 8th, 632.
*All quotations from the Koran are taken from The Koran, translated by N. J. Dawood, NY: Penguin Books, 1974.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.