When Muslims Attack ... the Faith

Christians are woefully unprepared to defend their beliefs when confronted by devout Muslims. Here's how to prepare for talking with followers of Islam.

Devout Muslims attacked my faith when I was 18 years of age. In rapid-fire succession I was asked these questions and challenged with these statements: “Your Bible is corrupted and your New Testament can’t be trusted. The Gospel of Barnabas is a more truthful gospel. How Can God have a Son? Jesus never died on the cross.

"Where in the Bible does Jesus ever say: 'I am God, worship me?' Did God have sex to generate Jesus? Does God go to the bathroom? How can God be three and one? Why does someone else have to die for your sins? Why can’t God just forgive you? If Jesus was God why did he pray to himself? Why did Moses die in the Pentateuch if he wrote it? Why are the prophets of the Bible committing big sins (adultery)? Why do you have seven fewer books in your Bible then the Catholics?

"Islam is the straight path. Muhammad is the final prophet to mankind. Muhammad is prophesied hundreds of times in the Bible. Every Quran is the same, not a letter, dot or vowel is different from east to west, a matchless miracle preserved by Allah. Islam is a whole way of life. The Quran is a scientific miracle. Islam is simple and not complicated, unlike all these contradictions of Christianity and the failed, immoral Western society it has produced.”

I was challenged by these questions. I wanted to be ready. My attackers were pushing me back to my foundations—was what I believed actually true? I was put on the defensive by a seemingly endless list of questions and polemical attacks, while Islam was presented in glowing, idyllic terms. I was surprised at the intensity and level of the questions. They were trained and equipped for this discussion, but I had no preparation. 

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This is typical of so many interactions between Muslims and Christians. Since those days, I have extensively studied Islam at six universities. I’m not afraid of Islam, but feel compassion for the Muslim people. We have taught thousands of Christian students and missionaries globally to confront Islam, and we’ve learned there are three main fears that debilitate Christians in these situations: 1) fear of persecution at the hands of Muslims; 2) not knowing enough about Christianity; and 3) not knowing enough about Islam. There are four steps you can take to be ready:

1. Prepare for Spiritual Warfare. Make no mistake, dealing with Islam puts us in the center of a fierce spiritual battle. The biggest demons in the world are in Islam, holding captive more souls than any other religion, false god or ideology. Paul tells us, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought [idea] into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5, emphasis added). Islam raises arguments and exalts itself against the knowledge of the true God. Our job as Christians is to war against Islam with spiritual weapons. These weapons are in the realm of love and learning, knowledge, ideas, thoughts and arguments. Make Jesus Lord of your life (see 1 Pet. 3:15) and learn the answers to the questions Muslims ask.

2. Don’t Fear Suffering. The New Testament was written by suffering Christians, to suffering Christians, for suffering Christians. The Bible explains: “All who wish to live godly lives in Christ will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12); and “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28); and finally, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

On the other hand, the Quran says: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” (Sura 8:12). Jesus prophesies about this: “In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God [Allah]” (see John 16:2). Jesus said of the devil: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

The good news is, God has prepared for every believer involved a reward that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). Therefore, don’t fear! Be more concerned about the witness you are giving to Muslims by exalting Jesus than your own life! Otherwise you will never be effective with Muslims—being more concerned with your comfort, and constantly measuring your safety rather than expanding His Kingdom. Do what Jesus told us to do.

3. Learn the Foundations of Your Christian Faith. How do people learn to recognize counterfeit money? By studying the real thing. In the same way, “Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Ask your pastor to have courses offered in your local church on the subjects of Islam and Christianity. There is no other way to learn about our faith than to study, study, study. Sorry!

We must know God, and know his Son, Jesus. In Christianity, the entire Bible is about God making Himself known and desiring to be known by man in covenant relationship.

The Bible is clear that God walked in the Garden desiring to know Adam, calling to him by name (Gen 3:15); led Israel as a cloud by day and fire by night (Ex. 13:21); spoke to Moses face to face (Ex. 33:11); came as the eternal Son of God incarnated in the man Jesus of Nazareth (John1:1, 14); suffered and sacrificed out of love for us on the cross (Matt. 27:35,50); and continues to lead His people by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5,8). God made continual covenants with men—from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus, and so on. In fact, the entire Bible is about God’s empowering presence among us.[1] God is knowable!

Consider your own experiences with God. Is He not a God who is knowable? Does He not speak to His disciples (John 10:27), lead them by His Spirit (Rom. 8:14), bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25) and manifest His presence in signs that follow those who believe (Mark 16:17; 1 Cor. 12, 14; Acts of the Apostles)? Millions of Christians experience this around the world every day. Be sure to share your testimony with the Muslims you share the gospel with.

However, this is simple blasphemy in Islam to speak about Allah as knowable in a personal relationship with man. In Islam, Allah is "unknowable" (Sura 2:30-39; 7:19-25; 20:116-123). Muhammad never met Allah, nor did Allah speak directly to him; revelations reportedly came through an angel (cf. Gal. 1:8) that contradicts the historical first century witness in the Bible.

This separates Christianity and Islam forever. Is God knowable? In Islam—impossible! For Christians—absolutely! Why perform all the religious acts when at the end of your religion you don’t know your god (Allah)?

We must know who Jesus really is (see John 1:1,14; 5:18; 8:24; 8:58; 10:30-33; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 1:8; Matt. 4:10; 2:2; 2:11; 14:33; 28:9; 9:35-38; Heb. 1:6; Is. 44:6; Rev. 1:17).[2] Was Peter right when he said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16; emphasis added)? Consider the importance of this belief: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12, emphasis added); “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36, emphasis added). Jesus is called the “Son” or the “Son of God” 77 times in the first century New Testament.[3]

Jesus was crucified (see Matt. 27:31-28:10; Mark 15; Luke 23:13-24:12; John 19-20). Salvation can be known (John 3:16). Salvation is by faith and not by works (Rom 3:21, 4:5; Gal 3:21) and is a free gift (Rom 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9). There is only one God (see Deut 6:4; Is. 44:6,8; 45:6,14,18,21,22). God is a Trinity of persons, revealed as Father (Phil. 1:2), Son (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9) and Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). Jesus showed His disciples what it really means to be a human being in covenant relationship (see Matthew 5-7).

Or should we wait 600 years after Jesus’ earthly life—believing one man, Muhammad—to learn that Jesus is not the Son of God,[4] that he was neither crucified nor killed,[5] that God is not a Trinity[6] and that there is no salvation through Jesus?[7] These are a few reasons that Christians consider Muhammad demonstratively a false prophet (see Is. 8:20; 1 Thess. 5:21).

Sura 4:171 of the Quran says: “Say not, 'Three.' Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be it from His glory that He should have a son.”

No historian would accept information coming 600 years after an event as more valid than what was written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses. All historians agree that Matthew, Mark, Luke and the other New Testament witnesses wrote the earliest first-century writings available for Jesus Christ. No historical Jesus scholar uses the Quran for information about the life of Jesus because the Quran comes at least 632 years after the life of Jesus. The more you study the Scriptures, the more you will be anchored in the truth.

4. Deepen Your Study and Knowledge of Islam. Study the early origins of Islam so you can counter the idyllic way Muslims present it. Is Islam actually the straight path, the simple pure way, in contrast to the contradictions of Christianity and a failed, immoral Western society?

To answer that, here is its actual early history: In A.D. 622 Muhammad had a mere 100 Muslim converts to Islam when he migrated from Mecca to Medina and was instructed by Allah to warfare in the way of Islam. By the time of Muhammad’s death 10 years later in A.D. 632, Arabia was entirely Muslim. The majority of pagans, Jews and Christians had been killed, converted or chased out of the hijaz (western Arabia, Mecca and Medina).

These were not defensive battles, as some Muslims present; two-thirds of them were offensive battles for plundering pagan tribes.[8] The earliest surviving recorded biographies of Muhammad record 86 battles[9] led by the Muslim false prophet and are replete with a history of killings,[10] assassinations,[11] beheadings,[12] mutilations,[13] thefts,[14] kidnappings of wives and concubines,[15] as well as lying,[16] slavery,[17] torture,[18] forced conversions[19] and rape.[20] Indeed, nearly 75 percent of the 813-page Life of Muhammad covers the Muslim battles.[21] Muslim armies killed 1 million Christians (Jews, pagans and Zoroastrians) in the first 10 years of the Islamic Conquests.[22] Within 100 years, 50 percent of global Christianity was under Islamic rule, including the Middle East and north Africa.[23]

We are told commonly by Muslim scholars, such as Maulana Maududi, that the Quran "contains the word of Allah."

"In it is preserved the divine revelation, unalloyed by human interpolation of any kind, unaffected by any change or loss to the original," he states.[24] Later in the same work he writes, “The Qur’an—the book he gave to mankind—exists in its original text, without a word, syllable nor even letter having been changed."[25]

Is this true? Let’s look at just one of those—the “missing vowel” and “dot.” Dr. Arthur Jeffery shows us thousands of textual variants from Islamic traditions between Quranic manuscripts in his book.[26] Early Quranic manuscripts do not use many vowel points (dots) compared with the modern manuscripts (today’s Quran is based off of a 1924 text from Cairo!). If these dots were added later, then how is it they come down from Allah, preserved by a matchless miracle? In other manuscripts there are missing words, multiple word variances and entire chapters missing.[27] Their holy book does not hold up to their own standards, yet they apply the same standard to our Bible. [28]

(image courtesy of Dr. Gerd-R Puin)

Among the more interesting variants are the two that come from the same page of an ancient Qur’an and are  shown below:

This first example (above) shows a spot at which the scribe forgot to put the word “Allah” in the text.  At some later point in time, most likely after the initial completion of the manuscript, that scribe or another came back and, having realized their error, corrected the verse by adding in the word, “Allah.”[29]

… and this one ends sura 67, skips 68-70, and goes directly to the start of 71

(photo courtesy of Gerd-R. Puin, used by permission)

If there is even the smallest discrepancy between our biblical manuscripts they call them corrupted. “the claim of the Qur’an and Islam in general is ‘perfection and preservation by Divine decree.’ In a text which is only valid if it is preserved for all time, a multitude of divergences is unforgivable.”[30] As for the Biblical Manuscripts, we have a substantial, reliable text preserving the life, works and words of Jesus.  

Muslims are doing a good job of attacking and reaching Christians. With 1.6 billion Muslims[1] in 97 nations, you can be certain that the challenge of Islam is coming your way. Prepare yourself so you will be ready to hold out the Word of life to Muslims who so desperately need the Savior. The biggest problem in the world is not radical Islam; it is nominal Christianity! God is calling pastors to train their young and old to evangelize the Muslims.

Once, while out sharing the gospel on a Friday night, my evangelism partner was approaced by a Saudi Muslim who said to him: "Do you remember me? I am Muhammad. I became a Christian after the night you shared the gospel with me." It had been one year since that night.

From his back pocket Muhammad proudly pulled out a baptism certificate given to him by a local baptist church. Muhammad told my friend, "Thank you so much for sharing with me!" Then he whispered, "And thank your friend with all the book knowledge." That was one year after I had shared the gospel with him."

Over the past 30 years, more Muslims came to Christ than in the other 1370 years of Islam.

[1] Pew Research Center’s Froum on Religion & Public Life * Future of the Global Muslim Population, January 2011

The biggest problem in the world is not radical Islam; it is nominal Christianity! Let us answer God's call to evangelize Muslims.

[1] Fee, Gordon D., God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

[2] Of note, extant manuscripts, p66 (Bodmer II), was thought to be written 125-150 A.D. containing John 1:1-6:11; 6:35b-7:53; 8:11-14:26,29-30; 15:2-26; 16:2-4; 16:5-7; 16:10-20:20; 20:22-23; 20:25-21:9; 21:12,17, 19:16.

[3] Thanks to Miriam Casiano Alves for this detail.

[4] S. 4:171

[5] S. 4:157

[6] S. 2: 4:171

[7] Salvation through works, Sura 5:9, 42:26

[8] Thanks to Dr. David Cook, Rice University, for this comment and observation.

[9] J.M.B. Jones, “The Chronology of the Maghazi—A Textual Survey,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 19 (1957), pp. 245-80 (who details a total of 86).

[10] Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, (London; Oxford University Press, 1955, 2002), p. 303, 308, 310, 369, 407, 447, 464-466, 550-1, 554-5, 560-562 577, 589, 597, 618-620, 643, 647, 661, 665-6, 669, 674-6

[11] Life of Muhammad, p. 316, 368, 482-3, 586, 666, 671-2, 673, 675, 676

[12] Life of Muhammad, p. 303, 304, 464-466, 515, 545, 547, 550, 564, 574, 646, 649, 661, 671-2

[13] Life of Muhammad, p. 322, 387, 588

[14] Life of Muhammad, p. 281, 287-8, 307, 321, 490, 548-9, 561, 572, 576, 577, 584, 588, 590, 592-3, 643, 559-560, 671-672

[15] Life of Muhammad, p. 99, 169, 309, 464-6, 490, 493-9, 511, 531, 593, 651, 653, 665

[16] Life of Muhammad, p. 294, 367, 368-9, 458, 482-483, 519-520, 543,

[17] Life of Muhammad, p. 144, 493-499, 551, 572, 576, 590, 648, 653,

[18] Life of Muhammad, p. 515, 665, 674-5, 677-8

[19] Life of Muhammad, p. 213, 241, 478, 587-8, 593, 598, 614-5, 618, 628, 629, 645-6, 669, 672, 676

[20] Life of Muhammad, p. 490, 590, 594

[21] Guillaume, A., The Life of Muhammad, (London; Oxford University Press, 1955, 2002): a translation of the work by Ibn Ishaq (d. 763) This is by far the most important body of material on Muhammad's life;  it forms the basis of every biography written after that time. A slightly later rendition of Muhammad's life, that by al-Tabari (d. 923), is also available in English in the translation series The History of al-Tabari, published by the State University of New York Press: volume 6, Muhammad at Mecca; volume 7, The Foundation of the Community; volume 8, The Victory of Islam; volume 9, The Last Years of the Prophet. Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat provides another source; the two volumes on Muhammad are translated into English: Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir: English translation, by S. Moinul Haq (1967, 1972)

[22] Waqidi, al-. The Islamic Conquest of Syria. Translated by Mawlana Sulayman al-Kindi. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 2005.

In the early period, if one rejects Islam, slaughter or enslavement awaits: “I ordered him [Khalid] not to fight anyone or to kill anyone until he has called him to the cause of God; so that those who respond to him and acknowledge [Him] and renounce [unbelief] and do good works, [my envoy] shall accept him and help him to [do right], but I have ordered him to fight those who deny [Him] for that reason. So he will not spare any one of them he can gain mastery over, [but may] burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take women and children captive; nor shall he accept from anyone anything except Islam” (Al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, vol. 10, 57. Bold emphasis added.). Again, “Whoever does not respond to the cause of God shall be killed and fought wherever he may be and wherever he may have come to, as an enemy. [God] shall not accept from [such a] one anything that he may give, except Islam; but whoever responds to Him and acknowledges [Him], He shall accept [it] from him and instruct him. (The Muslim) should fight whoever denies [God]; so, if God lets him prevail over (the unbeliever), he should make slaughter among them by any means, with weapons and fire; then he should divide that which God bestowed as spoil upon him…” (Al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, vol. 10, 59. Bold emphasis added.).

[23] Ye’or, Bat. The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. London: Associated University Press, 1996.

[24] Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi. Towards Understanding Islam (Markazi Maktaba Islami, 1993), 11.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Jeffery, Arthur. Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an. New York, AMS Press, 1975. (1937). Lingel, Joshua. “History of Qur’anic Textual Variants,” SOAS, University of London, Thesis Submitted to Dr. GR Hawting.

[27] There are also a number of "facts" that need to be considered. One is that the earliest datable Quran verses are on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Of course, this only attests to part of the Quran. Another is that the earliest dated, complete Quran is dated to 394 A.H., that is the end of the fourth Islamic century (sometime during the eleventh century AD).  Also, there are a number of manuscripts that have been only partially studied in Yemen and other places that attest to variants in early Quran codices.  There are rock inscriptions from the Hijaz and southern Palestine that also appear to be variants on Quran verses.  What does seem to be clear is that the "final" form of the Quran text took some time to develop, and it may be that some of the earliest extant Quran commentaries provide the earliest evidence for a canonical text of the Quran.

[28] This page shows some of these typical variations, compared with the 1924 Cairo edition pasted in for comparison. All four of the highlighted words on this page show that today’s version includes alifs that are not in the words within this particular manuscript. Other manuscripts show missing words, multiple word variance, and chapters that are missing. See, Prof. Lingel, Joshua, Christian Apologetics to Islam, Mission Muslim World University: Session #11: Textual Criticism of the Qur’an. Church-based DVD training program: Course #2 of 35. www.i2ministries.org

. Altikulac, Dr. Tayyar (ed.), Al-Mushaf al-Sharif, Attributed to ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan, Istanbul: IRCICA, 2007. Such variants can be found in 2270 such examples comparing the Topkapi MS compared to the 1924 (1984) edition. The early manuscripts are filled with variations involving the long vowels, especially the alif. Also see: Mark, Brother, A ‘Perfect’ Qur’an, Privately published, 2000.

[29] See Daniel Brubaker, “Asking Forgiveness Seventy Times”, 2010). Thanks to Dan Brubaker for permissions to use this variant.

[30] Brother Mark, A Perfect Qur’an, 168

[31] Pew Research Center’s Froum on Religion & Public Life * Future of the Global Muslim Population, January 2011


Joshua Lingel attended six universities for Islamic studies, including University of Washington, University of London, Harvard and Talbot School of Theology. You may contact him at info@i2ministries.org.

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