In this blogpost, I am sharing how I normally share the gospel with Muslims in South Asia. Before I begin, I want to share a few notes. First, there are many, many footnotes that provide theological and cultural details for this story. Second, we often only use the center box, which shares five unique things about Jesus: (1) birth, (2) miracles, (3) teaching, (4) sacrifice, and (5) resurrection. If you have any questions or suggestions about this presentation, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made everything that we see in the world. Last, he made Hazrat Adam PBUH and his wife Howa PBUH. He placed them in a beautiful garden and gave them authority over everything in the garden. But he gave them one command. He said, “Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17).
But what did Hazrat Adam PBUH and his wife do? They ate from the tree and broke God’s command. Because of this one act of disobedience, this one sin, their relationship with God was broken. If we have even one sin inside of us, we cannot go into the presence of God. Just like Hazrat Adam PBUH, we are also sinners. God’s Word says, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). This includes each one of us. Every person has this same problem that they are sinners and cannot go into God’s presence because of their sin.
Since we are sinners, how can we enter again into God’s presence? A good idea is to look to the example of the man called the friend of God, Hazrat Ibrahim PBUH. What is Hazrat Ibrahim PBUH famous for? God called him to give his son as a sacrifice. Hazrat Ibrahim PBUH heard God’s command and was about to obey by sacrificing his son when God stopped him. God provided an animal for Hazrat Ibrahim PBUH to sacrifice in place of his son.
So, why did Hazrat Ibrahim PBUH make a sacrifice? What is the purpose of sacrifice? Many people do not have a satisfactory answer to these questions. However, when we look at the examples of the prophets, many of them made sacrifice. Hazrat Nuh PBUH made sacrifice. Hazrat Musa PBUH made sacrifice. Hazrat Dawood PBUH made sacrifice. Therefore, we need to know the purpose of sacrifice. To understand the meaning of sacrifice, we should look to the writings of Hazrat Musa PBUH in the first heavenly book, Taurat Sharif. In that book, we are shown that if we sin, we must make sacrifice for our sins. In one place, God’s word says, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). And that is why Hazrat Ibrahim made sacrifice. This is why Hazrat Musa PBUH made sacrifice. All the prophets made sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
But this teaching about sacrifice creates a problem for our lives. When we look at society around us, we see that sin is common. When we look at our own lives, we see that we are also sinners and that we often break God’s commands. One sacrifice per year is not sufficient for our daily sins. For this reason, God sent other prophets who spoke about a Masih (Ur. for “Messiah”) who would come and offer one perfect sacrifice. The prophets taught that the Masih’s sacrifice would be sufficient for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.
One day Hazrat Jibril came from heaven with an announcement to Hazrat Miriam PBUH, saying, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name Isa” (Luke 1:31). When she heard this, Hazrat Miriam PBUH was amazed and said, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Hazrat Jibril responded, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). And it happened just as Hazrat Jibril announced. Now, is the birth of any other prophet this special? Did angels announce the birth of any other prophet? Was any other prophet born without a father?
Hazrat Isa al-Masih is also famous for his miraculous works. He healed the sick. He gave life to the dead. Once, he walked on top of water. Another time, Hazrat Isa al-Masih fed 5,000 people through five pieces of bread and two fish. The power of Hazrat Isa al-Masih was great. Was any other prophet able to do such powerful works?
Hazrat Isa al-Masih had the most unique birth of any prophet. He also did the greatest miracles. The teaching of Hazrat Isa al-Masih was also special. Every other prophet said, this is the way of God, walk on this path. However, Hazrat Isa al-Masih said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Hazrat Isa al- Masih’s teaching was special since he himself is the path for us to gain access to God. All the other prophets merely taught about a path, while Hazrat Isa al-Masih became our path.
So, Hazrat Isa al-Masih’s birth was special. His miracles were special. His word was special. But that is not the most special thing about his life. The most special thing that he did was to give a sacrifice for our sins. Hazrat Isa al-Masih gave the sacrifice of his own life. A perfect sacrifice. A blameless sacrifice. He gave his life upon a cross for our sins. And do you know what happened three days later? He came back from the dead! Have you ever met anyone who was in the grave for three days and came back from the dead?
Know this. Hazrat Isa al-Masih’s birth was special. His miracles were special. His word was special. His death was special. And his resurrection was special. And where is Hazrat Isa al-Masih today? He went to heaven. He remains in heaven today in the presence of God. Every other prophet, every other teacher or spiritual leader remains in a grave. We know where many of these graves are today, and people still visit them. However, one grave is empty because Hazrat Isa al-Masih was great enough to walk out of his grave and ascend to heaven.
A day is fixed when Hazrat Isa al-Masih will return to give judgment. He will establish justice in this world.We must be ready for this day of judgment by walking on the path of Hazrat Isa al-Masih. We do this by repenting of our sins and believing on Hazrat Isa al-Masih and becoming his disciples. If we do this, we will be ready for the day of judgment. If we do not, we will end up in the fires of hell. This is the choice that we have today when we hear the message of Hazrat Isa al-Masih.
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 In Urdu, there are two general terms for God, Khuda and Allah. There are differences of opinion about which of these two terms is best to use. The term Khuda comes from Persian and is utilized in most Urdu Bibles. It means something like the one creator God. Muslims use the term Khuda, but less often than Allah. There is a trend in South Asia, especially among orthodox Muslims, to prefer Allah over Khuda. In South Asia, the term Allah is more closely associated with Islam. However, it was used by Christians and others before the time of Muhammad and continues to be used by Christians in worship in several countries, especially Arab speaking countries. Therefore, it seems that either the term Khuda or Allah is permissible to use for God in evangelism among Muslims. In practice, I prefer the term Khuda since I want to make sure that those whom I am evangelizing do not mistake me for a Muslim. I have found it is more common that Muslims mistake me for a Muslim when I use Allah. Etymologically, the term “Allah” is related to the Hebrew term for God, “Elohim.” In the Hebrew Bible, the plural “Elohim” is commonly used, however, the singular “Elah” is also used in some places (e.g., Deut 32:15; Isa 44:8; Psa 50:22). Since both Hebrew and Arabic are in the Semitic language family, it is easy to see how the singular “Elah” and the Arabic “Allah” are related. Also, many Muslims use rhyming titles or words to add to names and words. This gives respect to the name to which another word is affixed. One example of this is that many South Asian Muslims say, “Allah Tala,” which has a rhyming rhythm. As a result, some also add Tala to Khuda, even though it does not rhyme. Thus, “Khuda Tala.”
 There are several issues in using the names of prophets in Muslim evangelism. First, it is best to use the Urdu names of the prophets. Otherwise, the people we are evangelizing will not understand who we are talking about. Second, Muslims in South Asia usually place the term “Hazrat” before the name of a prophet and say “alayhi salaam” after the name of the prophet. In evangelism, it is generally helpful to follow this custom. Here the Urdu/Arabic “alayhi salaam” is noted by PBUH (peace be upon him). Muslims use these terms for respect. Hazrat is an Urdu/Persian word meaning “honored.” There is certainly no issue in using this term. Alayhi salaam means “May the peace of Allah be upon him.” Note that the term Hazrat seems to be peculiar to South Asia and is not used throughout the Muslim world.
 Most Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were initially placed in a garden paradise in heaven (Ur. jannat). When they ate of the tree, they literally were banished from heaven by God.
 Four heavenly books (Ur. Asmani Kitaben) are mentioned in the Qur’an as being from God: Taurat of Hazrat Musa, Zaboor of Hazrat Dawood, Injeel of Hazrat Isa, and Qur’an of Muhammad. The Taurat is generally considered comparable to the Torah/Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Zaboor is generally considered to be the Psalms. The Injeel is understood to be either the Gospels in the New Testament or the full New Testament. Most Muslims have never encountered any of these books, but they have heard that they are heavenly books. The majority (but not all) Muslims in South Asia have been taught that these books have been corrupted and that only the Qur’an is uncorrupted. However, the veneration of these books in Islam causes many Muslims to be open and curious to these books and their teachings.
 Some include a first sacrifice story to the Adam narrative. They base this on Genesis 3:21 that states that “God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.” However, this verse does not clearly demonstrate that a sacrifice was made. Moreover, it is generally assumed that God is the one who made the sacrifice here. However, this would be significant since the only other sacrifice that God made in Scripture is the sacrifice of Christ. Since this is not a clear part of the Genesis narrative, it is my preference to exclude a sacrifice made by God for Adam.
 Many Muslims see themselves as having made mistakes (Ur. galti) rather than sin (Ur. gunnah). This conception of mistakes versus sin can be quite profound and causes many South Asian Muslims to take their sin less seriously than the Bible would instruct them to. For many Muslims the concepts of purity (Ur. pak) and impurity (Ur. napak) can be a bridge for understanding sin and forgiveness. The Bible often portrays sin and forgiveness in terms of ritual purity and sanctification (Titus 2:14; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:3). Therefore, this is a biblical way to express our need to be cleansed by God. Note that purity and impurity are deep cultural issues for Muslims. Pakistan is literally “the land of purity.” Muslims ritually wash before praying. Halal food is of the utmost importance to Muslims. Purity rules are some of the strongest cultural markers in South Asian Islam.
 In both the Bible and the Qur’an, Abraham is called the friend of God (James 2:23; Qur’an 4:125). It is common to hear Abraham called Khalilullah (Arabic for “friend of Allah”) in South Asia. Since this term is used in the Bible as well as in the Qur’an, it is an acceptable term.
 This story is very well known in Islam and is the basis for the annual festival, Korbani Eid (or Eid al-Adha or Bakra Eid – bakra is Urdu for male goat). In the Qur’an, there are some differences in this story. Therefore, it seems best to leave this story somewhat general at this point to avoid falling into an apologetic conversation about the Qur’an versus the Bible. Our goal is to preach Christ and Him crucified in initial gospel conversations. Many points of doctrine and belief need to be discussed but are better addressed in subsequent discussions. Instead, this story should be used as a bridge to cause Muslims to see the importance of the concept of sacrifice in their own religious system. Here are the most noteworthy differences between the Biblical and Islamic teachings regarding this story. First, Islamic tradition teaches that Abraham almost sacrificed Ishmael, while the Bible teaches that it was Isaac. Therefore, it is best at this point to keep it general as “Abraham’s son.” Also, Islamic tradition includes a story that God asked Abraham what was most precious to him. When Abraham said his son was most precious, then God called him to sacrifice his son. This story is not contained in the Bible. Therefore, it is best to leave it out of our gospel presentation. Additionally, many folk stories have emerged from the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. For example, I have been told many times that Abraham threw his knife after making the animal sacrifice. This knife then flew into the ocean and cut gills on the fish. Therefore, fish have gills today.
 Sharif is Urdu for “noble.” Just as South Asian Muslims affix terms like Hazrat to the prophets to give them respect, they often affix terms like Sharif to the heavenly books.
 There is no specific verse in mind here, but rather the whole sacrificial system of Leviticus 1-7, 16-17. Hebrews 9-10 offer much clearer teaching about the purpose of sacrifice and a comparison of the Levitical sacrificial system with the sacrifice of Christ.
 Note that a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins has no value unless the hearer believes that they are a sinner. Therefore, it is usually not helpful to progress to the topic of sacrifice until those you are evangelizing agree that they have sinned and are separated from God by their sin.
 See Hebrews 10:1-10 for a comparison of why the regular sacrifices of the Law of Moses could never take away sin but the final sacrifice of Christ could.
 See especially Isaiah 53. Another commonly used story about a prophet pointing to the sacrifice of Christ is John the Baptist (Ur. Hazrat Yahyah). Seeing Jesus, John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36). Hazrat Yahyah is known and respected in Islam.
 Most of the Urdu names are self-explanatory. However, Jibril is sometimes confusing. Jibril is the Urdu/Arabic name for the angel Gabriel.
 The miraculous birth of Jesus is told twice in the Qur’an (Qur’an 3:42-55; 19:16-34). There are many differences between these stories in the New Testament and Qur’an. However, my experience in sharing this story is that they respond, “this is our story about Hazrat Isa!”
 I use rhetorical questions like these throughout my presentation of the life of Jesus. My goal is to cause the Muslim I am evangelizing to compare Jesus to Muhammad and other prophets naturally and to see that Jesus is better. The Muslim you are sharing with will naturally ask themselves these questions. Often at the end of the presentation, a Muslim will declare that Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. If I feel that the person I am sharing with is somewhat receptive, I will sometimes ask these questions more directly. Like, “Did Muhammad have such a special birth?” “Did Muhammad heal the sick?” “Is not Muhammad’s body still in the tomb in Medina?” “Did Muhammad die for our sins?”
 In Islam, the answer is “yes.” Adam was also born/made without a father. When a Muslim points this out to me, I simply agree with them and then state that even Adam did not have angels come to announce his birth. Generally, this has caused Muslims to agree that Jesus had a better birth even than Adam.
 There is disagreement about which term to use for Jesus in Muslim evangelism. Some argue that only the name Yeshu should be used (e.g., Khudawand Yeshu, Yeshu Masih). Others use Hazrat Isa alayhi-salaam. Whether to use Isa or Yeshu in Muslim evangelism in India depends on the type of Muslim you are trying to reach and the evangelistic style you are using. Many who prefer to use Yeshu focus on apologetic and polemical debate with educated, orthodox Muslims. Therefore, using a different term for Jesus helps create a clear boundary between Islamic and Christian teachings on Jesus. Most who are engaging ordinary (or folk) Muslims prefer to use Isa. Using Isa helps the evangelist to enter the world of the person they are evangelizing. The goal is to reinterpret Isa from merely a prophet to Savior/Son of God/God for the Muslim listener. Since Hazrat is a Persian term for “honored,” there is no issue in attaching that prefix.
Some have objected to using alayhi-salaam (Ar. for “May peace be upon him”) in reference to Jesus, since he is the Prince of Peace. I have found it best to use “al-Masih” as a suffix to Jesus’ name. Using al-Masih is a clear indication to my listener that I am emphasizing something different about Jesus. Also, it has helped reduce confusion in evangelism about whether or not I am a Muslim or Christian. When they hear the term “al-Masih,” they assume that I am a Christ (Ur. Masihi). Regarding the etymology of the name Isa, there is no clear information. However, the following etymology is possible. In Greek, the name for Jesus is “Iesou.” In Syriac this became “Essa.” Since Syriac had an influence in the Middle East, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Syriac “Essa” became the Arabic “Isa.” Certainly, the term “Isa” is closer to the Greek name for Jesus than the English “Jesus” is.
 These two miracles are also mentioned in Qur’an 3:49. Jesus is the only prophet mentioned as a healer in the Qur’an. Some Muslims believe that Jesus was the healing prophet.
 These last two miracles are not mentioned in the Qur’an. I like to mention miracles of Jesus that are not from the Qur’an to promote a desire in Muslims to learn more about Jesus from the Bible.
 In South Asia, many Sufis are also reported to have done miraculous works like these. Some Sufis were reported to fly or levitate or miraculously feed others. Since Sufis are so highly regarded in South Asia, this has sometimes been a barrier to causing Muslims to see the uniqueness of Christ. Often, folk Muslims wonder if Jesus or the Sufis have more potency for miracles.
 My experience is that many Muslims will agree with me here (especially folk Muslims), but more educated or orthodox Muslims may argue. One verse in the Qur’an seems to say that Jesus did not die on the cross (Qur’an 4:157), while other verses discuss his death (Quran 3:54; 19:33). There is a whole field of Muslim apologetics related to discussing whether or not Jesus died on the cross. In Islam, the story of the Gospel of Barnabas often comes up here. In the Gospel of Barnabas, God made Judas to appear in the form of Jesus and it was Judas who was crucified in the place of Jesus. However, literary evidence within the Gospel of Barnabas indicates that it was a fifteenth-century European writing. The story of Judas becoming like Jesus on the cross is not found in the Qur’an or Hadith.
 The empty tomb is one of the most convincing aspects of the life of Jesus for folk Muslims. The reason is that they often go to tombs of respected Sufi pirs. Jesus’ greatness over these pirs is evident in that he was able to come out of his tomb while these others remain in their tombs. A pir is a type of Muslim religious leader who acts as a mediator for their followers. Pirs are both living and deceased. For example, Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi is a deceased pir. His followers say that Nizamuddin is alive and active inside of his tomb in Delhi and able to act as a mediator of those who come to him. At Hazrat Nizamuddin’s tomb, there are living pirs, generally descendants of Nizamuddin who pray for those in need, cast out demons, and give spiritual direction. Pirs come typically from the Sayyid caste, meaning that they are reputed to be descendants of Muhammad’s tribe. Orthodox and secular Muslims often object if Jesus is compared to a pir (i.e., described as a mediator).
 The concept of a mediator/path/means (Ur. vasila) is helpful here. In Islam, a vasila is the means by which a Muslim has their prayers heard and receives blessing from God. The Sufi pirs are generally considered the vasila of folk Muslims. Orthodox Muslims usually think of Muhammad as their vasila. In Shia Islam, the tomb of Hussain at Karbala, Iraq is their vasila. Therefore, Shias built elaborate shrines called tazia that are replicas of that shrine and act as conduits of its power. Different Muslims approach these shrines and tombs in various ways to seek power and blessing. In contrast, Jesus is in heaven and is, therefore, a better vasila, since he is in the presence of God. If a Muslim wants to enter the presence of God, then Jesus is the best vasila.
 The day of judgment is a great gospel bridge for Muslims. Often, I begin conversations with Muslims by discussing the day of judgment. For example, a few times when I have gone to a mosque, someone will ask me, “why are you here?” I have responded that I believe that there is a day of judgment coming and we must all prepare for it. This has always led naturally into spiritual conversation. Most Muslims believe that Jesus will return on the Day of Judgement. However, most also think that he will join with Muhammad on that day. Suffice to say, there are substantial differences of belief between Muslims and Christians about the day of judgment. One point that surprises most Christians evangelizing Muslims in South Asia is that many Muslims feel confident about the day of judgment. They believe that if they are part of the community (Ur. ummah) of Muhammad that Muhammad will accept them on the day of judgment. This is often a substantial barrier to belief in Jesus.