In April, BBC hosted several world-class scholars on our campus in Bethlehem.  Ravi Zacharias joined us on April 6 for a special evening of Christian apologetics which was attended by several hundred people.  A few weeks later, about 15-20 BBC staff, faculty and volunteers took an intensive course on Islam with Rev. Colin Chapman.  In the midst of our complex cultural, social, political and theological context, the goal of the class was to help us develop informed and genuinely Christian attitudes towards Muslims and Islam.

Rev. Chapman is the author of numerous books on Middle East issues, including “Whose Promised Land?”, “Cross and Crescent,” “Islam and the West: conflict, co-existence or conversion?”, “Whose Holy City? Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

Sympathetic and Critical

We began the class by examining our attitudes and developing an approach that is both sympathetic and critical; seeking to understand Islam as Muslims understand and practice it, while also asking all the hard questions.  We were reminded that not all Muslims are the same, even as all Christians are not the same.  If we really want to understand any religion, we need to study what the practicioners write about their faith and not only what outsiders write. Islam can roughly be divided into several approaches, including Traditionalist/Orthodox Islam; Folk Islam; Liberal/Modernist Islam; and Islamism.

In the study of Islam, it is also important to develop a historical perspective; we must understand how the history of 1,400 years affects relations between Christians and Muslims today.  One cannot properly understand Islam without discerning the importance and diversity of contexts.  As Christians, we should to discern our common ground as well the differences in our beliefs. It is important that we learn not only how to share the gospel with our Muslim neighbors, but also how to build positive and lasting relationships with them.

The course contained 20 lectures on different topics related to Islam such as: The Fatiha; Thinking Biblically about Islam; The Life of Muhammad; Introduction to the Qur’an; Adam and Jesus in the Qur’an; Hadith and Sunna; Christians in the Qu’ran; Theological Differences and Questions; Islamic History; Ethics in Islam; Polemics, Apologetics and Dialogue; Women in the Qur’an;  Jihad, Islamism and ISIS; and others.

“Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”  

Rev. Chapman suggests that this is the wrong question because there is no proper answer for it.  To answer with either a simple yes or no does not do justice to the issues at hand.  Do Christians and Muslims have exactly the same idea of God?  Of course not–but is there anything in common between the Christian and Muslim concept of God?  Yes, indeed.  Rev. Chapman contends that rather than arguing about semantics, a better approach is to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who, in his sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17), used the Greek word “Theos” in reference to the “Unknown god;” a word which in Greek can be masculine or feminine, singular or plural.  Paul took a pagan word and concept and unabashedly filled it with Christian meaning.  Historically, missionaries have tended to follow this example and used whatever word for God was already in use in any particular culture, rather than importing foreign terms.

With over 40 years  of experience in dialoguing with Muslims, Rev. Chapman brought a rare and balanced mix of compassion, sensitivity and the intellectual rigor that the topic demands.

Some of the participants in this class were internationals who had little experience with Muslims, and much of the material was new to them.  Others were Palestinians who lived their whole life alongside Muslims, but still learned many new details. The content of the class was very helpful for both groups, who were challenged by Rev. Chapman’s contention that we should approach Muslims with the same basic respect that we as Christians would like to be approached with from those of other faiths. “These days, we are only hearing and seeing Islam at its worst, but through this course we also want to see Islam at its best. We need to see both sides of this issue.”   For those who truly desire to build bridges to the Muslim world for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no better starting point.

The classes will be available to the general public this fall when we launch our e-learning program.  Stay tuned for more information!

Colin Chapman was brought up in Scotland and was ordained in the Anglican Church. He has served in teaching and missions for his entire professional life, having lived in Egypt and Lebanon for many years, as well as taught the Study of Mission and the Study of Religion at Trinity College, served as the Principal of Crowther Hall, the training college of the Church Mission Society in Birmingham, and taught Islamic Studies at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut.