In the book Infidel author Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about a time in her life when she was sufficiently enthusiastic in her commitment to Islam that she and her friends became evangelistic. They attempted to lead some Christians to convert to Islam. At the time Ayaan was under the influence of a female teacher of Islam who must have been charismatic. Ayaan calls her Sister Aziza.
Unlike other teachers of Islam who convinced Ayaan over a lifetime that Christians simply need to submit to Islam, Sister Aziza convinced her students the it was their duty to convert Christians. It reminded me of my own childhood, when I first began to worry that my unsaved friends would go to hell. Sister Aziza convinced her students that non-Muslims were destined for hell, and it was the duty of Muslims to lead them away from this fate.
It is the first time, actually the only time, I have ever heard of Muslim evangelism. So far in my life, Muslims have appeared to be uninterested in saving people from hell. They have appeared to be very assertive about converting to Islam, but not because of hell. Rather, the Muslims I have seen actively telling Christians to convert are doing so by threatening the Christians with death if they refuse.
Ayaan, however, and her friends, dutifully made the effort to convert their Christian classmates. To my surprise, the Christian classmates did not respond as I expected. I thought the Christians would tell the Muslim children about Jesus and explain what Jesus did for all people. Instead, the Christian children simply asserted their right to believe something other than Islam. Ayaan writes that the Christian children responded saying, “How would you feel if I tried to make you a Christian?” That seems like a very un-Christian response, since it equates Christian evangelism with forceful conversion, and the equation is being stated by a Christian. If Christians consider that sharing Jesus with people is an attempt to force anyone to do anything, those Christians have a truly skewed view of their own faith.
Ayaan continues by saying that the Christian children “said their parents had taught them about Jesus just as mine had taught me about the Prophet Muhammad, and I should respect their beliefs.” Respect for one another’s beliefs is a prime element of a definition of religious liberty. The assertion of religious liberty is the proper response to efforts at forced conversion or efforts to prevent Christian expression or worship. It seems like a poor response to an evangelistic effort. Without judging either the children or their parents or the teachings of their churches, I nevertheless do not intend to mimic that strategy when someone attempts to convert me to some other faith.
In today’s combative cultural landscape, it is easy to feel that tamping down conflict is the first priority. It is easy to feel that every difference of opinion is intended to initiate conflict and to show a critical attitude toward other opinions. When people feel that way, they often back away from expression of their own convictions. This consideration may have been at the root of parental teaching to the Christian children. While I agree with people who seek to prevent conflict, I do not see that as a legitimate reason to suppress a Christian testimony, especially in the circumstances Ayaan described. Those Muslim children were acting with the best of intentions toward their Christian friends, and it seems to me that the Christian friends missed a great chance to say, “We love you as much as you love us, and we want to share Jesus with you as much as you want to share Muhammad with us.” I obviously do not know what would have happened next, but I do know that throughout the book, I grieved that this author sought all her life for the blessings Jesus gives, but nobody shared them with her. She is not dead, so there is still hope. I pray Ayaan will meet someone who will share Jesus with integrity and touch her heart.
My grief for Ayaan fuels greater concern for all the people I meet. When I am standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, there are usually people in front of me and behind me, as well as a checker, and maybe a bagger, too, whose faith convictions are unknown to me. For some time I have made it a practice to pray silently for all of them, and to watch for any opportunity to testify to Jesus. Sometimes I express a blessing to the checker or to people in line if the opportunity arises. Sometimes I ask the checker how I can pray for him or her. I do make a habit of reading name tags, and I even ask them to uncover the tags when I can’t read them. I say things like, “Judy, may the peace of Christ be with you.” Or I say, “Ed, how can I pray for you?”
I do these things, because I want the thought of Christ to be in their heads, and because I pray that someone with a closer connection will be able to share Jesus with them.
In various sorts of conversations, online or in person, I do encounter people who want to change my mind about many things. So far, nobody has tried to convert me to Islam, but people do try to convert me to support for same-sex marriage or to sympathy for rioters who burn their own towns. When this happens, I cannot reply to such efforts with a demand that the people stop talking to me and show respect for my point of view by not sharing their own. Maybe that kind of response would tamp down the edginess that sometimes develops. Maybe. But I don’t think that is what Jesus would do, and I don’t do it. I state my faith principles, and I do it with a view to sharing the love of Jesus as part of the statement.
Sometimes real anger erupts as a response to my statements. Jesus had the same experience. Think of all the times he approached people possessed by demons and the demons shouted, “I know who you are! What are you doing here?” Satan and his demons still act in and among people. I don’t think a plea for religious liberty will even slow down the work of Satan in the hearts of human beings. I do believe the name of Christ puts makes demons afraid. I think I can promise my readers that if a Muslim ever approaches me to save me from hell, I will reciprocate with a testimony to Christ, not a speech on religious liberty.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Quotations taken from Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, © 2007, New York: Simon&Schuster, pp 83 and 86