Five Barriers to Engaging Muslims with the Gospel

A pulpit inside of an imambara, a Shia place of worship.

In 1791, William Carey published An Enquiry, effectively launching the modern missions movement. His argument was that Christians needed to take up the Great Commission by forming mission boards to launch missionaries to the nations. Carey led the charge by going to India in 1792. In An Enquiry, Carey detailed the greatest centers of lostness in the world, making special note of a sizeable Muslim population that had not heard the gospel of our Lord Jesus (Carey, 62, 64). 

Now, 230 years later, Muslims remain one of the most significant challenges in the global advance of the gospel. There are over two billion Muslims worldwide, with South Asia having the greatest concentration of Muslim lostness. Most Christians are unprepared to take the gospel to their Muslim neighbors despite the need. 

The barriers that stop Christians from loving their Muslim neighbors are less about issues within the Muslim community and more about our hearts. The most significant obstacles preventing Christians from ministering to Muslims are heart issues. Until these heart issues are appropriately addressed, there is no benefit in training them to share the gospel with Muslims. Therefore, the purpose of this blog post is to help Christians identify and address the heart issues that inhibit them from being used by God to reach Muslims.

The first three barriers (Fear, Anger, and Hopelessness) are heart issues. The last two barriers (language/culture and lack of ministry tools) are what training can provide. 

Heart Barrier #1 – Fear. Many Christians are afraid of Muslims, and therefore, they will not go to them to share the gospel.

Let me share a common experience that I have had. It is common that when I train a group of people how to share the gospel with Muslims, I can see their hearts close as I teach. Smiles turn into frowns, and arms become defensively crossed. 

Inside the minds of my listeners, there is often a dialogue that goes something like this: “Doesn’t this guy know that Muslims are dangerous? If we go and try to do what this guy says, we’re going to get killed! We can’t go talk to Muslims about Jesus!” 

I call this inner dialogue the fear barrier. Fear is the strongest barrier that keeps Christians from talking to Muslims about Jesus. Here are four ways that the fear barrier can be dispelled.

  1. Trusting in God to protect us. My favorite verse on this subject is “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). In fact, the most common command in Scripture is, “Do not fear.” Ultimately, we do not need to fear when doing God’s will because He is our defender. He will protect us.
  2. Remember that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Even though God is our defender, it does not mean that we will not die while doing His work. Jesus was crucified while teaching God’s Word. Likewise, almost all His apostles died violent deaths for proclaiming the gospel. While Paul awaited execution in Rome, he wrote, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). While expecting to die physically, Paul trusted God to safely bring him into His kingdom. The gospel means that we have no fear of death. Even if we were to die while proclaiming the gospel, we are taken immediately into the presence of our God.
  3. Knowing that Muslims are without eternal hope. In contrast to our hope, if our Muslim neighbor dies today, then they go before the judgment seat of Christ (Heb 9:27). They are without hope in His judgment. If we truly believe the gospel, our eternal future is secure in Christ! How we can withhold this message that brings eternal hope from those who have never heard (Rom 10:9-15). 
  4. Realizing that most Muslims are peaceful people. While many Christians believe that Muslims are violent people, the reality is that most Muslims simply want to live peaceful and quiet lives. In fact, the number of Muslims who seek to express their religion violently is minimal when we consider Muslims in South Asia. For this point, the Muslim Triangle is helpful. Secular and folk Muslims, as a rule, are not violent in their faith. Since folk Islam is the most common expression of Islam in South Asia, we know that ordinary Muslims in South Asia tend to be non-violent. In addition, most of the major orthodox Muslim groups in South Asia reject violence in the name of Islam.[1] Therefore, we can have confidence that most South Asian Muslims desire to live peaceful lives.[2]
To learn more about the Muslim triangle, click here!

Heart Barrier #2 – Anger. Many Christians are angry with Muslims, and therefore, they do not want to share the gospel with them. For some, anger is not the right word. Instead, bitterness or animosity would be more appropriate. What I mean is that many Christians see Muslims as other than themselves and do not have a love for their Muslim neighbors. One good biblical picture of this animosity is the prophet Jonah. God sent him to proclaim a message of repentance and forgiveness to Nineveh, who were the enemy of his people. Because Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, he sought to disobey by traveling the opposite direction from Nineveh. Likewise, many Christians are not ready to share the gospel with Muslims because they do not have the love of Christ for Muslims.

However, Jesus died for Muslims, just like He did for everyone else. Revelation 5:9 praises Jesus, saying, “You purchased people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It is clear, from this verse, that Jesus died for every type of person on the planet, including every Muslim people group. Therefore, God loves Muslims! 

If God loves Muslims and we do not, our hearts are not like God’s. So, we need to ask God to transform our lives, and we should ask God to give us His love for Muslim peoples!

Jesus taught us that there is no benefit of only loving people like us. In fact, He taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-47). Therefore, if you feel in your heart that Muslims are your enemy, then your biblical obligation is to love them. Let me suggest that you pick a Muslim group or country and pray daily for that group to begin loving them. As you pray for them, God will undoubtedly change your life and help you love them as He loves them.

Finally, Jesus provided the best model of loving those who did not love Him. When He was being crucified, He said, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To be like Jesus means to have a heart ready to forgive others, even if they were killing you. In fact, Stephen followed the same example when he died for proclaiming the gospel and was the first martyr in the book of Acts. As he died, he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)

Heart Barrier #3 – Hopelessness. Many Christians do not believe Muslims can come to Christ, and therefore, they do not think it is worth it to minister among them. Perhaps my favorite story about this issue is a friend whose father was a Muslim-background believer. He was unwilling to share the gospel with his Muslim neighbors despite his background. He would tell me, “It is impossible for a Muslim to come to Christ!” I kept reminding him about how the Lord drew his father to Christ, so he said, “It is very difficult for Muslims to come to Christ.” 

So, I asked him how long it had been since he had shared the gospel with a Muslim, and he admitted that it had been more than ten years. So, finally – perhaps even just to make me quiet – he agreed to try. A few weeks later, this same man excitedly told me how he had shared the gospel with one Muslim man and how that man had repented and believed!

Sometimes, Muslim ministry is slow. However, the Lord is in control. If we say that Muslims can’t come to Christ, we are really saying that Muslims are the one people group on earth strong enough to resist God’s will! Our God made the heavens and the earth. He brought His people out of Egypt through Moses. He raised Jesus from the dead. Our God can do all things! Perhaps the greatest antidote to the hopelessness barrier is to meet Muslims who have come to Christ and hear their stories. In fact, more Muslims are coming to Christ now than at any other time in history. Across South Asia, many thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ. Also, significant movements of Muslims to Christ have happened in countries like Indonesia, Ethiopia, Algeria, and Iran. If you want to learn more about Muslims coming to Christ, I recommend reading David Garrison’s A Wind in the House of Islam.

Summarizing the Heart Barriers

Suppose the three heart barriers of Fear, Anger, and Hopelessness are not addressed. In that case, no amount of training about reaching Muslims with the gospel will be effective. The question is, are you ready to let God change your heart? Are you prepared to love Muslims and work among them? Our God has a great desire to bring Muslims into His kingdom, and he is ready to use you if your heart is ready to be soft towards Him. Please stop now and pray that God will take away your Fear, Anger, and Hopeless. Ask that He will replace it with His love for Muslim peoples.

Now that we have addressed the three heart barriers, we can briefly discuss the last two barriers. These are practical barriers that can be given in training settings.

Barrier #4 – Language and CultureTo communicate the gospel with Muslims, we should learn some language and culture. I am going to give advice for multiple settings here.

  • For those serving among Muslims in the West. To start your work, you don’t have to learn a Muslim language (but you may want to after some time!). In fact, you probably serve among Muslims who speak multiple languages. It is not practical or possible for you to learn all these languages. However, it will be helpful for you to learn some critical Arabic phrases and some Muslim culture. A great first step would be to read Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding JesusYou will discover how a Muslim in the West perceives the West and some key Arabic phrases that most Muslims use. Also, begin by learning one Arabic term, assalamu alaikum. This is the most common greeting for Muslims around the world. Whenever you see someone you think might be a Muslim, simply say this phrase with a smile. No doubt, you will build many relationships!
  • For expatriate workers in South Asia. Work diligently to master at least one local language! One of my most joyful tasks is to disciple Muslim-background believers in Urdu, digging through the Bible with them. As my ability to speak Urdu increases, my usefulness to local believers increases. Please do not disregard language study! 
  • For South Asian Christians. Many Christians speak in Hindustani (India) or Urdu (Pakistan) that is very different from the Urdu that Muslims use. Therefore, the gospel is misunderstood when they share it with Muslims. South Asian Christians can learn how to speak in a Muselmani version of their language with minimal effort. 

Barrier #5 – Lack of Ministry Tools. Many Christians do not know how to communicate the gospel with Muslims or disciple those ready to believe. Thankfully, we are beginning to add more and more tools for this to our blog! 

[1] For example, Deobandis and Tablighi Jamaat tend towards non-violence and are two of the largest orthodox schools of Islam in South Asia. However, it has been noted that those few Muslims who have become extremists first became orthodox, often through the Deobandis and Tablighi Jamaat movements. They then take the next step into violent extremism. In fact, some have mistaken these two movements as advocating extremism because most terrorists from Muslim backgrounds in South Asia have been influenced by one or both schools.

[2] In South Asia, sectarian violence between religious communities can sometimes make whole communities appear violent. The prime example was the violence between Hindus and Muslims during Partition. During that period, both communities killed large numbers of the other community. This sectarian violence between religious communities is different from Muslims, who are violent for pursuing religious goals. In fact, a significant amount of this religious violence is because something disturbs the communal peace, resulting in violence from both communities.

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