Adventist Woman to Muslim Woman

Evangelistic approaches to reaching Muslims.

Borge Schantz served the SDA Church on four countinents as pastor, evangelist, teacher and administrator. At the time of his retirement he was director of the SPA Global Centre for Islamic Studies. He is now active as an adjunct professor at Loma Linda University; Andrews University and Newbold College. He also presents seminars on Missiology, Church Growth and Islamics and wirtes on various topics. He and his wife, Iris, live in Denmark. This article appeared in the Adventist-Muslim Review.

One person out of ten in the world is a Muslim woman. Three-fourths of these live in restricted  areas where direct approaches with the Christians message are forbidden by Islam laws enforced by various Muslim governments.

The other one-fourth are in theory within the reach of the Christians. They live in secular (Christian) countries with religious liberty and personal freedom of choice for all people who are of age. However, although they officially have personal freedom and in theory can choose religion and politics in the area where they live, often Islamic laws and regulations guide their lives and choices. For them there is freedom on the streets but Shariah laws in the homes.

However, they are not beyond the saving grace of God. They are always a responsibility of the church and ways and means to reach them must be found. For this reason, their world view must be understood and appreciated and avenues to reach them must be found.

Three characteristics

There are three dominant characteristics of Muslim women. First, they live life in fear. They fear the spirit world, ill health, and death.

They fear the black angels whom they are told will visit the corpse after it has been buried and ask them questions on their religious life. They have also been told that whereas hell is a place with the most horrific torments, heaven is a delightful place depicted in extreme materialistic terms. However, they are also warned that in paradise, men have preferential treatment. Although some of these beliefs originate in a confusing mass of traditions rather than in ideal Islam, they are still, for many Muslim women, realities of their personal religion.

They also fear beatings by their husband, and the easy way he can get a divorce. The authority of the mother-in-law is also dreaded by married Muslim women. To this must be added the gossip that, in a society where women have no voice or say, can lead to the loss of honor, a factor of paramount importance in most Muslim cultures,

Secondly, there is domination of Muslim men. This begins with the fathers, uncles, and brothers. Later their husband takes over command. Always there is a male who is superior, in command and the center of her attention. She is naturally expected to serve that person. Males are the decision makers in even the smallest and most trivial matters.

Having elaborated the somewhat negative status of many Muslim women in various cultures it must also he mentioned, that many even in their inferior positions, may wield in a quiet way some power and influence and act as opinion makers in the family.

The third characteristic of Muslim women is the awe they live in. This awe is of the unseen spirit world, the respect for the religious leaders in the Islamic community, the observance of religious rituals, the honor they pay to saints and pirs.'

Inferior role in religious life

In Islamic religious life, women are allocated much less than even a secondary position and role. This no doubt causes many of them severe apprehension and leaves a vacuum in their lives.

She is expected to believe in the Five Beliefs and practice the Five Pillars of Islam. However, the Muslim woman is not allowed to pray together with her family in the main mosque. When they go to the mosque, they worship in a separate room and only together with other women. A woman can only be "imam" (prayer leader) for other women.

The pilgrimage to Mecca is required of all male Muslims once in a life­time. It is not obligatory for women, but should a woman succeed in taking part in this exalted experience in Islamic religious life she must be accompanied by a male Muslim from her nearest family. No doubt the spiritually-minded Muslim woman, she who is seeking a close relationship with Allah, is frustrated by these ancient restrictions that place her in a position where she not only questions her own value as a human being but also has doubts about her abilities to gain entrance into paradise. She is looking for help. How can she get close to God who seems to be too great to consider a woman's heartache and tears? Perhaps those are the reasons that Muslim women often look outside Islam to traditions and old superstitions to find the comfort and spiritual guidance the religion of their husband seems not to be prepared to give her.'

Visitation restrictions

Islamic rules and regulations, often influenced by local culture and customs governing Muslim women, obviously make it impossible for the male missionary, pastor or evangelist to work directly with them. They are protected from strangers and prohibited any contact with out­siders. They are generally beyond the communication reach of any man not belonging to the family circle. In the Islamic world Muslim women will in most cases be denied any opportunity to accept visitors not approved by their menfolk. Should permission—only granted in rare cases—for such contacts be made, no Christian witness will ever have the opportunity to be alone with the prospective convert. There will always be a male member of her family present. To this must be added that the literacy rate among the 600 million Muslim women is alarmingly low, so even the printed word will not be of much use.

Here is a golden opportunity for the missionary-minded Adventist Christian women to be involved. The female missionary, and the wife of the expatriate pastor no doubt has advantages over the men in this sensitive and much needed witnessing activity. However, the national Adventist Christian female church member is of paramount importance to this work. She speaks the language and knows the behavioral patterns and customs of the Muslim neighbor. In her outward appearance and national dress, she can move freely without drawing too much attention or arousing suspicion. A national Christian will also be aware of laws dealing with cross-religious relationships and thereby know how far to go in any communication situation.

Seminars in witnessing to Muslim women

The latent witnessing potential of Adventist women in reaching their Muslim sisters should be utilized. For this reason seminars should he conducted where Christian women are encouraged and enabled to witness in a culturally acceptable way to their Muslim neighbors.

Such seminars should last four to five days and cover the following subjects in 30 sessions:

  1. Devotionals, morning and evening (5 units).
  2. Women in the Bible who used their talents: Miriam, the Samaritan Women, Lydia, Dorcas, etc. (3 units).
  3. Islamic history, beliefs, practices (5 units).
  4. National and local cultures and customs (3 units).
  5. Muslim evangelism, social concern and health, personal work, witness methods, importance of dreams, relevant biblical topics, etc. (8 units).
  6. The Muslim woman (6 units).

Evangelism for Muslim women

In dealing with this subject, the following points should be carefully studied:

The Muslim code for modesty in dress and their customs of segregating the sexes must be respected. At the beginning of the dialogue (Bible studies), the meetings should take place in the home of the Muslim woman; however invitations to the home of the witness should come when convenient. Finally special church events can be used as attractions.

 Frequent brief visits are more valuable than few and far between extended calls. However, ample time must always be taken to develop meaningful relationships. The authority of the head of the family—usually a man—must be respected. At the same time, attempts should be made to discover which woman is the religious and community leader and opinion maker in the extended family.3

Of high priority in such visits is to discover what the felt needs of the Muslim women in the area are. It can be illiteracy, health and hygiene, or even spiritual matters such as the fear of demons. Then the witness must use all of her resources to meet these needs.

Tips for witnessing

In the witnessing process, it must be understood that the needs of the Muslim woman are often of a psychological rather than theological nature and more relational than informational. Love, understanding, and a demonstration of the love of Jesus are more important than intellectual, theological, doctrinal and apologetical approaches. Jesus Christ is a person experienced, not a doctrinal point to be elaborated, a leader of a religious system, not the main character of a hook, Muslim women are more easily reached by imagery, poetry, and songs. Story telling and parables, especially those from the gospels told by Jesus (the widow's son, woman who touched His robe, Samaritan woman) are easily understood and well accepted.' As Allah to them is often far away, obscure, and even a taskmaster to be feared, Jesus Christ offers them what they often lack in life, namely dignity, wholeness, peace that passes all understanding, forgiveness for sins, and the assurance that they are full members in the priesthood of all believers.'

Transition state

The Christian witness must also realize that Muslim women are not frequent visitors to the mosque. As mentioned, Muslim men listen to and follow the Korannic teachings, while Muslim women are the followers of traditional religious practices and Folk-Islamic beliefs. These non-Islamic beliefs and practices can be used positively, as they tend to bring people into a "transition state"where they not only are prepared to listen, but also are looking for new solutions to old problems. Demonstrate to them that Christ can meet their felt needs whether they are spiritual or physical. Also use God's healing power, signs and wonders by praying for divine intervention in their lives and those of their families. Assure them that evil spirits and demonic powers, which arc present realities for them, can mightily be overcome by prayer and the power of Jesus Christ as well as by intervention of the angels.'

Some concerns

Witnessing activities, even when national Christian women visit the homes of their Muslim sisters, are not without stumbling blocks. In interviews with some Christian women during a women's seminar some possible objections were raised that we must seriously consider:

  1. Other Christians in a small community could misunderstand the purpose of frequent visits, as the two religious groups generally have very little communication with each other. Years of enmity between the Muslims and Christians in areas where they live together are so deep rooted that contact with each other is only on the business and political level, rarely is there a social contact.
  2. Christian husbands, in many cases, will be reluctant to have their wives and daughters exposed to Muslim men on their premises. The age-old mistrust between the two communities with suspicions of immorality has made both groups extremely protective of their women. There is also the fear that the reputation of a woman who visits alone the home of a Muslim could have her reputation spoiled by gossip.
  3. In some Islamic countries, witnessing to Muslims about Jesus Christ as the Son of God is for­bidden. It is classified as blasphemy and therefore could invoke severe punishment.

These concerns must be taken seriously. However, careful communication over an extended period will help the Christian witness to evaluate the situation, find out who she is facing and thereby avoid the pitfalls. There should he no direct witnessing where the Bible is used until there is established a trust relationship.

The objections listed above also brought home to us that Islamic Seminars for Adventist Women to witness to their Muslim sisters will not bring results immediately. There must be in many Christian churches in Islamic areas a continuous process over some time to emphasize the responsibility we have to also witness to Muslims.

Witnessing guidelines

In all you do be honest and uncomplicated in your attitude and behavior. Be yourself. Be sensitive to the fact that the status of Muslim women varies greatly. No doubt some are unjustly treated and despised. However, others are admired and protected. Generally all Muslim women have an inner strength that is seen in their ability to adapt to the social structure, even when they emigrate to the West. They also have an innate ability to influence and control their family in their own quiet and subtle way. Show interest to their family and kinship relation­ships. Pay special attention to names, kinship terms and numbers. The Christian witness must always be a good listener and even be prepared to hear the same story repeated again and again, having in mind that what is told can tactfully be used to open up witnessing possibilities. As a person from outside the family circle there is a great possibility that family secrets will be revealed in confidence. However, such matters must he kept confidential.

This could be the year when Adventist women accept their responsibility to bring the ever­lasting gospel to the Muslim women in their various cultural and geographic settings.

Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952), perhaps the greatest modern missionary to the Muslims once declared:

What the women of the Muslim world need supremely is the sacrificial service of their Christian sisters.

Can Adventist Christian women who have received the priceless gift of the knowledge of Jesus withhold it from them?

Borge Schantz served the SDA Church on four countinents as pastor, evangelist, teacher and administrator. At the time of his retirement he was director of the SPA Global Centre for Islamic Studies. He is now active as an adjunct professor at Loma Linda University; Andrews University and Newbold College. He also presents seminars on Missiology, Church Growth and Islamics and wirtes on various topics. He and his wife, Iris, live in Denmark. This article appeared in the Adventist-Muslim Review.