Christian-Muslim Relations: Part 3 - Christian Missionary Work Among Muslims

Christian Missionary Work Among Muslims
Yoginder Sikand

Efforts by Christian missionary groups to make inroads into and converts from among Muslims, in India as well as elsewhere, have seldom met with any great success. Yet, this has not deterred evangelical Christians from setting up special bodies for missionary work targeted specially at Muslims. So as not to provoke suspicion and protest, these bodies generally maintain a low profile and in public do not announce themselves as missionary agencies. Instead, they usually present themselves as social work organisations.

Some days ago, I stumbled upon the private circulars of two Bangalore-based Christian organizations actively engaged in missionary work among Muslims. Reading through these circulates it struck me most forcefully how, in these days when many Christian Churches are themselves ardently advocating inter-religious dialogue and understanding, some evangelical Christian groups in the country are still covertly engaged in missionary activities among Muslims, albeit in the name of ?development?.

A brief look, now, at these two outfits and the various activities that they are engaged in among Muslims. The first of these is called the Dar ul-Nejath, an Arabic term meaning ?The House of Salvation?. Headed by one Dr. Fazal Sheikh, probably a Muslim convert to Christianity, this is a branch of the global ?Call of Hope: Mission to Muslims? organisation. In order to ?reach out? with the ?good news? of the Bible to Muslims, it has set up what it calls the ?Muslim Masihi Fellowship?.

Under this programme, and in order to present the Christian message to Muslims, the Dar ul-Nejath has prepared an impressive list of activities. These include ?out-reach? work involving door-to-door visits of Muslim homes by Christian missionaries, and a correspondence course on Islam and Christianity. It also conducts an advanced level course on Islam in association with the evangelical Christian Light of Life Bible College, Austria, to train Christian missionaries in the art of polemics, arming them with knowledge of Islam so that they can present the Christian message to their prospective Muslim converts in a manner more intelligible to them. Plans are afoot now to have a regular three-week residential advanced-level course on Islam and Christianity at Bangalore. Initial work in this regard has already started in the form of classes in ?Islamic theology and Christian Evangelism?, with the help of the Bangalore-based Asia Evangelical Bible College and Seminary.

The Dar ul-Nejath, says the circular, has a number of ?honourary evangelists? engaged in missionary work among the Muslims of Bangalore. It claims that, ?This ministry has reached out (to) each and every corner of Bangalore district and the surrounding areas of other districts?. In order to attract young Muslims, it has set up a special Muslim school named Madrasat ul-Masih, in which one Dr. Fazal Masih teaches Urdu and the Bible to destitute Muslim children. The school has obviously been given an Islamic-sounding name in order to attract Muslim children. It has also a small medical centre, St.Peter?s Clinic, which is visited mainly by poor Muslim patients. Even in this apparently purely humanitarian effort the ultimate goal of conversion is paramount, for as the circular says, ?through that [the medical centre] it is easy to make friends and share the Gospel?.

Another Bangalore-based Christian evangelical organisation specially working among Muslims goes by the benign name of ?Helping Hands International?. Among its declared aims are setting up ?children?s homes, schools, craft centres, agricultural training and relief and medical projects?. Yet, behind these noble ventures the ultimate goals are, in its own words, ?evangelism and Church-planting among Muslims?. In a letter addressed to ?The Heads of Evangelical Mission and Bible Teaching Institutions?, dated 27 the March, 1996, the organisation?s Executive Secretary, G.M. Dhanaraj remarks that the ?Ishmaelites? (the children of Isma?il, meaning the Muslims) are, for the Christian missionaries, ?the most unreached people of India?. 98% of India?s vast Muslim population, he notes with profound regret, have as yet not been brought into contact with the Christian message, so much so that ?there is not even one Christian evangelist to work for one lakh Ishmaelites?. Having taken note of this, Helping Hands International, he writes, has taken upon itself the task of ?working for the salvation of the Ishmaelites? a euphemism, ofcourse, for attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity. The ?motto? of the organisation, he reveals, is ?Tell Jesus about Ishmaelites and tell Ishmaelites about Jesus?.

In pursuance of the above goal, the organization claims to have spread its activities to eight states and two union territories of India. It has put before itself the ambitious aim of opening its centres in all the states and union territories of the country before the year 2000 A.D. In order to do this, Mr. Dhanaraj writes, the organisation has begun a number of training programmes for Christian missionaries who will later be dispatched to engage in proselytizing work among Muslims all over India. The training programme is of a one year?s duration. In addition, there are also several short-term courses that are conducted at two locations?Bangalore, for volunteers from south India, and Nagpur, for those from the north. Volunteers are often sponsored by various Churches and upon finishing their training they go back to their ?mission fields? to put into practice what they have learnt.

The training programmes are divided into several levels. The Basic Level course entails a three-day training programme, followed by six months of practical work. The purpose of the latter is ?to meet one Ishmaelite for one day everyday for one hour and tell (him) about Jesus?. This is to be supplemented by the use and dissemination of suitable literature provided by the centre. The Advanced Level and Research Level training programmes are similar in nature, although more intensive.

To assist the trainees, the Helping Hands International has a well-stocked library called by the Arabic term Al-Noor (?The Light?), which, apparently, has ?a vast collection of books from all over the world on more than 50 different subjects?, including ?Evangelism Among Ishmaelites?, ?Reaching out to Ishmaelites? and testimonies of Muslim converts to Christianity. In addition, it has a large collection of audio and video tapes on similar topics.

Besides its numerous training programmes for Christian missionaries working among Muslims, Helping Hands International has set up what it has christened as the Ishmaelite Salvation Association (ISA) [a cleverly chosen acronym, meaning ?Jesus? in Arabic and Urdu]. As part of this effort, it has published 37 pamphlets, 18 books and one comprehensive correspondence course all, of course, tailored to the ultimate aim of converting Muslim to Christianity. In an effort to sensitise Christian missions to the need for greater missionary effort among Muslims in particular, it has, according to a leaflet setting out the various services it offers, organised numerous lectures on ?how to evangelise Ishmaelites?. Apparently, much intensive research and careful planing has gone into this, for it says that these lectures consist of no less than ?three different sets of teachings on 21 subjects?. These lectures have been delivered at various ?Bible Colleges, Theological Seminaries and Missionary Training Societies in different parts of the world?. In addition, ISA is said to have conducted 186 ?challenging? seminars on the above theme at various places under the MECCA programme, the Middle East Culture and Christian Approach project [another clever acronym here!].

Having at its command such ?expertise?, the ISA provides free consultation and planning on ?Ishmaelite Evangelism?, follow-up ministry, discipleship and Church-planting among ?Ishmaelites? to interested churches and Christian organisations. In this regard it offers advice and training on ?how to share the gospel? with Muslims, particularly with such vulnerable groups as students, patients, prisoners and women. The ISA has, it claims, gifted preachers who can ?give excellent speeches in gospel meetings and open crusades?, and makes available their services to Christian churches who wish to engage in conversion activity among Muslims.

Like many other Christian organisations, the ISA, too, runs various social service projects whose final aim is of course, to assist in conversions and to prevent those who have already converted from ?relapsing?. These services for ?Poor Ishmaelite Children? are said to include boys? homes, girls? hostels, training courses in carpentry, agriculture, tailoring and so on as well as temporary shelters, jobs and medical assistance to ?Ex-Ishmaelite families?. These facilities are presently provided by six centres of ISA, under the Siraj (Social, Industrial, Rehabilitational, Agricultural and Job Programme).
Personally, I believe that every individual has the right to make an informed decision to choose to follow any religion (or no religion at all) that he or she might wish. But the tactics adopted by many well-funded Christian evangelical groups, of effectively bribing poor Muslims and Hindus to accept Christianity in return for material benefits, as these two examples so clearly suggest, are simply deplorable.

Originally printed at, and reprinted at TAM with permission.