I’ve attended and participated in a few debate-style events, which I quite enjoy doing (because I am totally confident that the claims of Jesus hold water, so if it is in public then all the better!). Having said that, I have started to avoid them a little bit, especially with Muslims, as it usually doesn’t do much to help people really understand the truth. I’d much rather talk one on one with a friend. A few years ago when we were living in China, I “accidentally” ended up having an interfaith discussion with two imams which was actually very helpful. Here’s the story of one of those discussions.
I say accidentally because a friend and I went with our mutual friend, Ben, to visit his hometown for a few days. Ben had a few activities planned, but certainly nothing like what came about. Ben would describe himself as a seeker, but he knows quite a lot about Christianity, and he is researching extensively the claims of Jesus.
After one of our activities, we went back to the house of Ben’s school friend to eat. At this point, a few other guys arrived, one of whom was Ben’s friend’s uncle, who I soon discovered was an imam. We’ll call him Mr. James. These guys were inquisitive about us, since it is pretty unusual to have foreigners visiting a tiny village in central China.
As we began to chat, we very quickly got onto the topic of religion. As soon as I mentioned I was a follower of Jesus, Mr. James said that Christians believe that Jesus is God which is wrong. I explained that we think that because it is what the Torah and the Gospels teach. Surprise, surprise Mr. James came back with the classic objection: The scriptures have been changed. The interesting thing was that, at this point, Ben began to talk to me in English, telling me what questions to ask Mr. James! Ben and I have talked in great detail about the reliability of the Bible, and looked at the evidence together, so he is pretty clear it hasn’t been changed. Ben told me to ask him when the Bible was changed, by whom, and what evidence there was for this.
Mr. James’s response was that it was not me or later generations, but that it was changed just after Jesus had gone back to heaven. As to who made the edits or what evidence there was, he had no answer. Mr. James said he wanted to persuade me to join Islam, so I told him he should become a Christian.
At this point of impasse, Ben asked me, again in English, how should we determine what the truth is. So, I asked Mr. James, who had quite a long response, but basically, he said, to find the truth, read the Quran. But there was no suggestion of reading the Torah or the Gospels. He also admitted he had never read the Bible.
We then talked about the main aspects of Islam, and he mentioned giving. Ben asked me (again in English) to ask him to whom he would give money, and he answered that there are eight kinds of people worthy of receiving gifts, including the poor, the disabled, and so on. There were a few other topics of conversation throughout the discussion but that gives you a bit of a flavor.
The next day, Ben and I had a debrief. He said when we first started talking, he was scared it was going to end up in an argument between me and Mr. James, and he wouldn’t know what to do in that case! Ben also saw that the imam didn’t have good evidence for his views, especially regarding the reliability of the Bible. Ben said he thought the imam would not actually give away any money himself but was just repeating the rules without actually following them.
Ben was very excited to have this kind of discussion. He said that there was no way he could ask those questions himself, since it would be disrespectful to the imam, given that he was older and a community leader. He mentioned that as Mr. James left, he told Ben that he should be wary of us (Christians) and be a good Muslim. I said to Ben that there was no way Mr. James was going to accept anything I said, partly because he could not lose face in front of his extended family (there were seven or eight people in the room during our discussion). Ben said if we really wanted him to read the Bible and engage on the same level that we did, we’d need to get to know him better, and extend practical help and friendship to him.
Although the discussion was probably not of much benefit to Mr. James, I think it was very helpful for Ben. He was able to listen to what his elders would say about these topics, especially because he could see that the evidence for Christianity is solid.
The main learning point is that this kind of interfaith dialogue works well—I ask questions of an elder or imam that a younger person within the community cannot, especially if that younger person has already had the opportunity to consider it for themselves. I think this may be a way forward and is worth seeking other opportunities to do something similar in future relationships.
Ramadan: A Time to Pray for the Hui
Ramadan Prayer Emphasis from Pray for the Hui
Ramadan begins on March 22, 2023. As Hui people enter this most important holy month, join many others for those 30 days to pray for their hearts and souls. Pray that many Hui will have eyes opened to the triune God and see his love. Visit Pray for the Hui to learn more about how you can get involved. There’s an excellent video with Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Theological Baptist Seminary, introducing the 2023 prayer initiative. Go here to download a prayer guide or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for daily prayer prompts.
The Ramadan prayer initiative has also been translated into Chinese. Find the traditional characters version here, and Dr. Akin’s video introduction has traditional character subtitles. A version with simplified characters is coming soon!
Image credit: Courtesy of Gaylan Yeung.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.