Mars Hill Forums #129 (University of Virginia), #130 (Church Conference), #131 (Internet) and #132 (SUNY Buffalo): Four Muslim Leaders

John C. Rankin (November 23, 2007)

My four most recent Mars Hill Forums have been with various Muslim leaders.

On September 20, my guest at the University of Virginia was Dr. Abdulazziz A. Sachedina, professor of Islamic Studies. Our topic addressed “Human Rights in the Bible and the Qur’an.” Dr. Sachedina is a very gracious man, and grateful for religious, political and economic liberty in the United States. But much of his presentation did not argue from the Qur’an, giving the most liberal possible interpretation of the Qur’an, so as to agree, essentially, with the biblical basis for human rights in this country.

Many in the audience wanted a more Islamist presentation. But I was blessed. For if a Muslim scholar knows that the human rights and liberties he yearns for are best defined in the Bible, then the Gospel has advanced.

On October 18, my guest, now for the third time, was Imam Talal Y. Eid, who serves on President’s Bush’s international religious liberty commission. Our setting was the annual conference of the Advent Christian Churches of the Northeast U.S., in Peabody, Massachusetts. Imam Eid is also a very gracious man, but evoked the same sense from the audience — giving the most liberal interpretation possible of the Qur’an as we looked at the nature of religious liberty. Up front, Imam Eid said that “there are problems with the [Qur’anic] text,” hard issues in dealing with Muslims and the issue of religious liberty and conversion, and in dealing with contradictions in the text. In contrast, the Bible is clear to any honest exegete in its proactive and unique basis for religious liberty.

On November 3, I addressed my second internet debate with Egyptian Muslim dawah’ist (apologist) Wesam Abd Allah, on the topic: “Is the Bible the Word of God?” Wesam is not interested in real dialogue, just posturing from a jaundiced opposition to the Bible. He does these internet debates in order to try and prove the Bible wrong, yet calls them “Muslim-Christian Dialogue.” But he forbids any talk about the Qur’an, Islam, Muhammad or the Hadith. At the end of the debate, I offered to have a discussion with him where we look at the Bible and the Qur’an side by side. He cut off the phone line.

Was it worth it? Yes. In both internet debates, most of the audience (800 the first time and 650 the second time) were Muslims from the Middle East. They were able to hear a clear presentation of the Gospel, and as I read much biblical text I am sure they have never heard. In fact, my Muslim contact who set it up said that there was much resistance among many Muslims to having me do a second debate. No reasons given, but I can make an educated guess.

Then on November 12, I addressed the question of human rights in the Bible and the Qur’an with Imam Mohammad Ibrahim Memon of the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier. The location was the State University of New York at Buffalo. Mohammad Ibrahim (as he is called) has a reputation for being ideological aggressive, and brought a good number of his followers with him, including three women in head-to-toe black niqabs, with only slits for the eyes as we see in Saudi Arabia. The other women wore hijabs (head coverings), and most of the men wore Islamic dress, and all the men had beards.

Mohammad Ibrahim responded very well to how I treated him, and was most gracious. He made the best partisan arguments for the Qur’an of any of my forums thus far, agreeing with some key biblical realities, but focusing on a historic Islamic argument for “freedom from discrimination” in economic matters, and “freedom to protect people’s modesty” (part of that refers to how women are treated). Yet he avoided the topic of religious liberty, and a contrast I brought up between early church growth (through suffering) and early Islamic conquest.

The audience dynamic was great, as all but one of the questions came from Muslims, some of whom were mocking me a little at the outset, but ended up asking great questions. The most important one dealt with whether or not the U.S. is a “Christian nation.” I explained how, properly speaking, we are a nation founded by 56 Christians (55 Protestants and one Catholic) who did not impose a religious creed on any citizen. We are rooted in biblical ethics tracing back to what was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, unalienable rights, and as such, religious liberty is complete to all who honor those unalienable rights. He warmly received my answer, as did his fellow Muslims.