Blessed are the Pure in Heart: Muslims, Ritual Purity, and the Gospel

The Wudu area inside of Badshahi Mosque in Lahore Pakistan. Visitors are seated to perform their ablutions before praying in the mosque,. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:People_washing_up_to_pray_at_badshahi_mosque.JPG

Muslims tend to be obsessed with ritual purity. Islam demands this obsession for the person who wants God to hear their prayers. This blog post aims to explain this obsession and discuss the implications of this obsession for sharing the gospel with Muslims. I believe that understanding and framing Scripture in terms of purity issues is cultural key that will help most Muslim workers communicate the Bible well to their Muslim friends. Please note that I am writing from a South Asian context. It is possible that these cultural issues will differ from place to place.

This blog post is lengthy. The reason is that concepts of purity in the Bible and the Qur’an are complex. In fact, I honestly feel like this article is too short to do justice to the issues involved. I have omitted quite a bit to keep this to a readable length.

Since this blog post will be longer than most, here is the outline:

  • Part 1: Islamic Regulations Regarding Ritual Purity
  • Part 2: The Law of Moses and Ritual Purity
  • Part 3: The New Covenant and Ritual Purity
  • Part 4: Baptism, the Holy Spirit, and Ritual Purity
  • Part 5: Sharing the Gospel and Ritual Purity (the most practical section)
  • Part 6: The Sermon on the Mount and Ritual Purity (the second most practical section)

PART 1: ISLAMIC REGULATIONS REGARDING RITUAL PURITY

Probably the best way to understand the issue of ritual purity in Islam is to study its regulations regarding wudu and ghusl. Wudu is a partial washing, whereas ghusl is a complete washing. Muslims generally perform Wudu before prayers at a mosque. Ghusl is a full bath taken in the privacy of one’s home.

In general, wudu begins when a Muslim intends in their heart to become ritually pure through an act of cleansing. Then in this order, they (1) wash their face, (2) wash their arms from the fingertips to the elbows, (3) wipe their head and (4) wash both feet up to the ankles. Washing the face includes gargling water and sniffing water into the nostrils to clean these. There are slight differences in how different sects perform wudu. 

You might be asking, “Why is ritual purity important for a Muslim?” This is a great question. Perhaps the two most important things that someone cannot do while they are impure/unsanctified are (1) pray and (2) read or recite the Qur’an. First, a person must become ritually pure; then, they can pray and study the Qur’an. An impure person is not permitted to come close to God in Islam. 

Wudu and Ghusl are required whenever someone becomes ritually impure. Here are a few particulars of what this means:

  • Going to the bathroom (urination or defecation) and passing gas makes someone ritually impure. These all require wudu to become ritually pure. 
  • One of the most interesting fatwas[1] I read recently was a man asking for guidance regarding issues passing gas. He has so much trouble passing gas that he could not finish wudu without passing gas. As a result, he could never become ritually pure. Thus he had a fear that all his prayers would be invalid. If he could not become ritually pure, then he could not pray. If he could not pray, then what would he do? You could feel this man’s franticness in his question.[2]
  • Sex makes someone ritually impure. However, sex requires the full ghusl rather than a simple wudu to become ritually pure. Suppose someone performs ghusl with an intention for worship to become ritually pure and includes the wudu as part of the ghusl. In that case, wudu is not required after ghusl. However, many perform ghusl and then wudu to become pure again. 
  • Islamic sites are full of detailed rules on exactly what kind of sex makes someone impure and what does not break purity. There are disagreements among Muslim scholars on some of the detailed issues. To followers of Jesus, it is strange to read Islamic scholars discussing sexual acts in the detail that they do to determine precisely when ritual purity is broken. But such is the curse of any system where ritually purity is obtained through rituals. 
  • Most Muslims believe that someone simply touching their (or any) penis makes someone ritually impure. However, merely touching a penis only requires wudu to regain purity.
  • Menstruation and post-natal bleeding make someone ritually impure. Therefore, a woman cannot become ritually pure during her monthly menstrual cycle. It seems to me that one implication is that a woman cannot have her prayers heard during her monthly cycle. Ghusl is required to attain ritual purity at the end of the menstrual cycle. 

The rules on ritual purity are more complex and detailed than what I have written above. Different schools have different opinions, but these are true in general. To summarize, Muslims cannot pray unless they are ritually pure. According to Islam, Muslims become ritually pure through the washing rituals of wudu and ghusl. 

Here are four additional anecdotes to illustrate the importance of purity in the lives of Muslims.

  1. Muslim men often squat to urinate because of purity rules. The reason is that a Muslim’s clothes must also be ritually pure for them to be able to pray. When a man urinates, if even a drop of urine splatters on his pants, his pants are unclean and cannot be worn for prayers. 
  2. Pakistan means “the land of the pure.” This name reveals much about the felt needs of Muslims in South Asia! Before the Partition of India and Pakistan, Muslims often fretted about how to live as Muslims while under non-Muslim rule properly. For them, it was natural to break away from the British and Hindus to make a land characterized by ritual purity.
  3. During the Covid pandemic, Muslims fretted about Covid regulations related to ritual purity. For example, alcohol is haram (forbidden) in Islam. Therefore, many Muslims asked whether alcohol-based hand sanitizers were also haram and whether they would make them impure and invalidate their prayers. Muslims asked a similar question about whether using alcohol-based cleaners to clean a mosque facility would make the entire mosque unclean. A third concern was whether Covid testing, which required swabs to enter the nose and mouth, would invalidate a fast. Muslims are not permitted to have anything enter their nose or mouth during a fast. 
  4. I recently read an anecdote about Imam Abu Hanifa (who holds importance among Sunni Muslims similar to Martin Luther among Protestants). It said, “For forty years he said his morning prayers with the wudu he had performed for his isha prayer (the night prayer).”[3] This claim is that Hanifa guarded his ritual purity so carefully that he did not make love to his wife, go to the bathroom, pass gas, or do anything else to break impurity from the evening to the morning for forty years. While the accuracy of this anecdote is unlikely, it illustrates the importance of ritual purity in the life of Muslims.

PART 2: THE LAW OF MOSES AND RITUAL PURITY

As followers of Jesus, we should ask how these rules in Islam relate to the Bible. We will address this question in multiple parts. First, we will look at ritual purity in the Law of Moses, which Muslims call the Taurat Sharif. Then we will look at the ritual purity in the New Testament, which Muslims call the Injeel Sharif.

The Law of Moses contains regulations similar (but not identical) to those in Islam. The book of Leviticus, in particular, is full of these kinds of rules. Here are some examples:[4]

  • “If one of the animals that you use for food dies, anyone who touches its carcass will be unclean until evening. Anyone who eats some of its carcass is to wash his clothes and will be unclean until evening. Anyone who carries its carcass must wash his clothes and will be unclean until evening.” Leviticus 11:39-40
  • “When a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is during the days of her menstrual impurity.” Leviticus 12:2b
  • “The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:45-46
  • “When a man has an emission of semen, he is to bathe himself completely with water, and he will remain unclean until evening. Any clothing or leather on which there is an emission of semen is to be washed with water, and it will remain unclean until evening. If a man sleeps with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them are to bathe with water, and they will remain unclean until evening.” Leviticus 15:16-18

Indeed, the issue of ritual purity is present in the Law of Moses. Many of these rules are like those in Islam. However, the Law of Moses is even stricter. For example, if a man and woman have sex, even after bathing, their impurity would last until the evening (Lev 15:18). In contrast, according to Islam, ghusl removes the impurity immediately. Significantly, there is not a one-to-one correlation of purity rules between the Law of Moses and the Qur’an because it is one indication (of many) of discontinuity between these books.[5]

The results of impurity in the Law of Moses are significant. Here are a few verses about the consequences of ritual impurity:

  • “You must keep the Israelites from their uncleanness, so that they do not die by defiling my tabernacle that is among them.” Leviticus 15:31
  • “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2b
  • “Anyone who touches a body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the Tabernacle of the Lord. That person will be cut off from Israel.” Numbers 19:13

In simple terms, a person could not worship God in the Law of Moses when they were ritually impure. If they broke the purity laws, they would be exiled from God’s people. 

Later, the prophets declared the curse of God on the people of Israel using terms of ritual impurity. For example, Ezekiel wrote, “’Therefore, as I live’ – this is the declaration of the Lord God – ‘I will withdraw and show you no pity, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all of your abhorrent acts and detestable practices’” (Ezek 5:11). In this verse, God declared His intention to judge His people because of their ritual impurity, i.e., because they defiled God’s sanctuary.

Here are four things we can learn from the focus on ritual purity in the Old Testament:

  1. God is holy. He wants His people to be holy. Sometimes, I think that Christians have lost a focus on personal holiness. The reason is because of the emphasis against hypocrisy in the New Testament. However, Scripture shows that God desires His people to be holy both inside and out. The answer to hypocrisy, which we will discuss below, is not to abandon holiness but to pursue the kind of holiness taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that is both internal and external.
  2. The laws regulating ritual purity in Islam have similarities to the Law of Moses. Therefore, one way to look at Islam is that it is an attempt to return to the system that was in place before Jesus died on the cross for our sins, ascended to heaven, and gave us the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Even more, Islamic law conflicts with the Law of Moses. While Islamic law relating to purity has similarities to the Law of Moses, the details are different. These are two different sets of laws regarding ritual purity. Since there are differences in details, these two systems conflict, so the reader must determine one of three options. The first option is that both systems are false. The second option is that the Law of Moses is true, and the Qur’an is false. The third option is that the Qur’an is true, and the Law of Moses is false. As a follower of Jesus, I believe the second option is correct. What I mean is that I think that the Law of Moses is true and that the Qur’an is false. Muslims have no good options here. Their preferable choice is the third option, but the Qur’an testifies that the Qur’an and the Law of Moses are not in conflict (see, for example, Qur’an 5:44-48). Muslims have tried to explain this by saying that the Law of Moses has been corrupted, which is an unsatisfying answer for many reasons. In the end, the conflict between the Law of Moses and the Qur’an is one indication that the Qur’an is not from God.
  4. Both Islam and historic Judaism strongly emphasize ritual purity related to worship.

PART 3: THE NEW COVENANT AND RITUAL PURITY

One of the great truths of the New Covenant is that the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus freed us from the regulations of ritual purity of the Law of Moses. There are many places in the New Testament where we could demonstrate this truth. Here we will look briefly at Galatians.

In the book of Galatians, the Law of Moses is described as a temporary guardian (Greek pedagogue) to watch over us until the fullness came in Jesus. Before the Law of Moses, God made a promise with Abraham, including the promise that “All the nations will be blessed in you” (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). God chose Abraham from among the nations and made a covenant with him that He would make his name great and make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21, etc.). The point is that this promise from God to Abraham came 430 years before God gave the Law to Moses (Galatians 3:17). 

From Galatians 3:15-26, I want to explain the relationship of God’s Promise to Abraham to the Law of Moses and how this relates to the Gospel of Jesus. 

  • “Brothers and sisters, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to a validated human will” (Gal 3:15). The point here is that once a promise is made, it cannot be changed. God made a promise to Abraham. Therefore, rules given after the Promise to Abraham cannot alter or invalidate that Promise.
  • “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ” (Gal 3:16). Throughout the Law of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy), there are numerous references to the Seed of Abraham. The meaning of this verse is that Jesus is the natural successor of these references. Jesus is the successor of the Promise that God gave through Abraham (see also Galatians 3:8).
  • My point is this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously established by God and thus cancel the promise” (Gal 3:17). God made a covenant with Abraham, then 430 years later gave the Law through Moses. Since the Promise precedes the Law, the Law cannot cancel the Promise. This argument is legal reasoning that a promise or covenant cannot be changed.
  • For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise; but God has graciously given it to Abraham through the promise” (Gal 3:18). This verse simply provides further clarification. The inheritance is either based on either the Promise or the Law. The inheritance means being the people of God in this passage. Since the Promise came first, the Law, which came later, cannot abrogate it. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus stands firmly on the promise God gave to Abraham and is a continuation of that promise. 
  • “Why, then, was the law given? It was added for the sake of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come” (Gal 3:19a). Since the Law of Moses does not provide salvation, but rather the promise God gave Abraham does, the natural question is, “Why, then, was the law given?” The answer is that God gave it to restrain sin in the people of God until the coming of the promised Seed, who is Jesus. Therefore, the Law of Moses was a temporary restraint placed upon God’s people to keep them from sinning before Jesus.
  • “Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law” (Gal 3:21). The Law of Moses was the most perfect law that could be given (see Rom 7:12). It was not against the promises of God. Indeed, if a law could give life, then that law would have been the one able to do so. As Galatians clarifies, the new system under Jesus is that He purified His people through His sacrificial death and then gave them the Holy Spirit. So, now God’s people do not become holy by adhering to the Law. Instead, they become holy by the guidance and power of God’s Spirit. The primary difference between these two systems is that the Law of Moses was a perfect system of rules. However, followers of Jesus today walk into holiness by the power of God living in us. 
  • “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed” (Gal 3:22-23). In verse 22, “the Scripture” that has imprisoned everything under sin’s power is the Law of Moses. When we read the Law and seek to obey it completely, we realize our sin and inability to draw close to God (see Galatians 3:10-14). Being confined under the Law of Moses only occurred until Jesus came.
  •  “The law, then, was our guardian (Greek pedagogue) until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). The Greek word pedagogue here is one of my favorites. We do not have an exact term in English for a pedagogue. So, some people have used “teacher” or “guardian” to try to translate this idea. However, a pedagogue in ancient Rome was an enslaved person assigned by a landowner to look over their children. More than anything, the job of a pedagogue was to discipline the child into obedience.[6] The Law of Moses was to serve as a pedagogue for the people of God. As a pedagogue disciplined children for the landowner, the Law of Moses disciplined God’s people for God. The function of the Law of Moses as a pedagogue had a time limit, “until Christ.” Therefore, when Jesus Christ came, the Law of Moses no longer served as a pedagogue.
  •  “But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:25-26). Since Jesus has come, we are no longer under the control of the pedagogue of the Law. Instead, we have freedom from that Law and have gained maturity in Christ. 

Now, the astute reader of Galatians should be asking questions like, “If we are not under the Law of Moses, then what is the new law we are under?” Or, “Does this mean that we can do whatever we want?”

The answer to these questions is that God gave us His Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-25). A key verse is, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:18). This verse means that if an individual has the gift of the Holy Spirit and is led by God’s Spirit, he is no longer obligated to adhere to the Law of Moses. If the Spirit leads us, sin will automatically be removed from our lives (Gal 5:19-21). And God will transform our character by the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). The gift of the Holy Spirit should make a follower of Jesus than those who follow Islamic law or the Law of Moses. Another way of saying this is that if someone claims to be a follower of Jesus, yet their life is not holy, then the Spirit of God is not leading them. If the Spirit is not leading them, they are not truly in Jesus. 

Therefore, followers of Jesus are free from the particular rules of the Law of Moses related to ritual purity. However, if the Spirit of God is in a follower of Jesus, then that follower of Jesus will live a pure and holy life.

Galatians urges followers of Jesus not to return to the yoke of slavery, which is the Law of Moses. “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). For a follower of Jesus, returning to the pedagogue of the Law would be to take on an unnecessary yoke of slavery. Instead, the Holy Spirit connects us to God and leads us into holiness. 

When a follower of Jesus looks at the Islamic system of ritual purity with its rules and regulations, they see two things. First, they see a system that is something like the Law of Moses. Submitting themselves to Islamic law would be to unnecessarily take on a yoke of slavery, from which Jesus gave us freedom. By nature of what Jesus did on the cross, followers of Jesus reject the yoke of slavery of Islamic law. Second, followers of Jesus know where to find the perfect Law. The Law of Moses is the ideal, God-given law. If there were ever a system of law that could lead us into purity, it would be the Law of Moses. However, it was ultimately unable to do so. Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world to die on the cross for our sins. God gave us His Spirit to dwell in us and guide us. In short, we have a better system. We have no need to return to any law to attain ritual purity. 

Part 4: Baptism, a Pure Heart, the Holy Spirit, and Ritual Purity

In the New Testament, baptism is the only purity ritual for followers of Jesus. Comparing the Islamic systems of wudu and ghusl with baptism provides a stark contrast.

First, baptism is a rite that occurs only once in the believer’s life. In contrast, wudu and ghusl are continual rites that Muslims perform to attempt to attain and maintain ritual purity.

Additionally, there are no actions or sins that invalidate baptism. In contrast, wudu is broken by going to the bathroom or passing gas. This contrast demonstrates that the effects of baptism are far more potent than the effects of wudu. Baptism as a rite is so mighty that it permanently makes a follower of Jesus ritually pure. 

In Urdu, Pak Ghusl is a term for baptism, which means “a holy bath.” The modified “Pak” is the word for holy or pure in Urdu. It distinguishes the Pak Ghusl from the ordinary ghusl that Muslims utilize. The Islamic ghusl claims to provide temporary purity, while the Pak Ghusl of Jesus cleanses a person for life. 

I have often wondered how early Jewish followers of Jesus struggled over this transition. As they realized their freedom from the old purity laws and rituals, surely they were struck by the power and simplicity of the purity they had in Jesus. One of the strongest statements for Jewish followers of Jesus is in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 8 describes the New Covenant that Jesus made by His blood, then Hebrews 9-10 describe His last and greatest sacrifice for our sins. The application of that passage begins is in Hebrews 10:19-22,

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus ​— ​ he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh ) ​— ​ and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” 

According to this passage, our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. Ultimately, this is the primary difference between the Pak Ghusl and the ritual washings of Islam. The rituals of Islam merely clean the outside, while the work of Jesus cleanses our hearts. 

Our Lord Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day with this challenge, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.”The point is that Jesus emphasized an inner purity that went beyond external rituals and washings. He taught us that we would automatically be externally clean if we were internally clean. These teachings on internal purity were common from Jesus (see Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). Purity of heart rather than external purity is the requirement to see God. Jesus accomplished the work of purifying our hearts by giving His life on the cross for our sins. Baptism (Pak Ghusl) is merely a symbol of that powerful work that Jesus accomplished for us.

The concept of a clean heart or conscience is common in the New Testament (1 Tim 1:5; 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3; 2:22; Heb 10:22; 1 Pet 1:22).[7] God changing the heart of his people was at the core of the Old Testament promises of what God would do for His people. For example, Ezekiel wrote, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26). The purpose of God transforming the hearts of His people was to cause them to walk in obedience to Him. The change of heart accompanies God giving His Spirit to His people in these Old Testament texts. 

The purifying power of the blood of Jesus is what prepared us for the Spirit of God. In the Old Testament, God had Moses prepare a tabernacle, which was the place for His presence to dwell (Exodus 25-40). When the people of God prepared the Tabernacle and all its components, God gave His people His regulations about sacrifice (Lev 1-7). Hebrews 9:22 summarizes those regulations well, “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The Law of Moses provided two purposes for sacrifice. First, sacrifice provided for ritual purity. Likewise, we as followers of Jesus have been sprinkled clean by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:2). Second, sacrifice provided for the forgiveness of sins. Throughout Leviticus 1-7, the person bringing the sacrifice would put his hands on the head of the animal as the priest sacrificed it for that person’s forgiveness. God gave this regulation in the Law of Moses to teach His people the depth of their sin and what was required for forgiveness. This system of sacrifice was a constant reminder to God’s people of their need to transfer their own guilt onto the animal as a sacrifice for their sins. The same picture is accurate of us in how Jesus took on our sins. As John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29)

In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was where God would dwell among His people. So, they performed many sacrifices to purify the Tabernacle and priesthood in Leviticus 8-9. Leviticus 9:24 shares how this time of worship concluded. “Fire came from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell facedown.” This verse describes God coming to dwell in the Tabernacle. It was necessary to make the Tabernacle holy through these sacrifices so that the presence of God could live there. 

Of course, there is a strong New Testament parallel. Today, followers of Jesus are called the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).[8] God poured His Holy Spirit on His people only after Jesus purified us by His blood. The old system of the Law of Moses could never sufficiently purify our hearts to make us ready for the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us. But now, we have been prepared by the powerful work of Jesus on the cross. 

When we compare the New Testament system of purity and what Jesus did with the Islamic systems of wudu and ghusl, the Islamic systems are found to be lacking. There is great freedom in Jesus in which we are freed from constant washings and rituals to simply be with God by the indwelling power of His Spirit. God has given us this great gospel to share with our Muslim friends! The depths of these things can be challenging to explain initially. Still, the power of our freedom from constant purity rituals will be apparent to our Muslim friends. Because of our lack of purity rituals, their primary concern might be that we do not care about purity and holiness. 

In the same way that God freed the Jewish people from the Law of Moses through Jesus, God desires to free our Muslim neighbors from the burden of sharia law to know and obey Him.

PART 5: SHARING THE GOSPEL AND RITUAL PURITY

The previous sections provide theological foundations, these final two sections are practical guidance about how to utilize these theological truths in evangelism and discipleship. There are three ways that this teaching should influence our evangelism.

First, frame sin issues in terms of purity rather than only sin when sharing the gospel with Muslims.When we seek to argue about sin and our need for forgiveness, Muslims often say God is merciful and forgiving. They say that we simply need to ask for forgiveness and that no sacrifice is needed. Many have found themselves deep in theological arguments with Muslims about the necessity of substitutionary atonement. Some followers of Jesus have been frustrated that their Muslim friends do not see the depths of their sin.

On the other hand, some Muslims have mocked our beliefs on substitutionary atonement. They think it is impossible that Jesus could die for the sins of the world.

 Remember that God gave His people the picture of substitutionary atonement for over a thousand years. Under the Law of Moses, they brought a sacrificial animal whenever a person sinned. The sinner put their hands on the head of the animal and watched the priest make the sacrifice. God discipled His people to see and understand substitutionary atonement. 

I have found far less argument when I frame our need as purity rather than forgiveness. Every day, Muslims seek purity. If they are religious, they do a hundred small things every day to avoid becoming ritually impure or to become ritually pure. If they are more secular, half of their complaints are all the rituals related to purity!

I simply share something like this. “The God who made this world and all things in it is holy. However, when we look at humanity around us, everyone is impure. Can those who are impure go into the presence of God? It can never be. Every day, people work hard to become pure. But the problem is that we are not pure within. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The only way to see God is to have a pure heart! All the washing and cleaning rituals can clean our outside, but they can never clean our hearts.” 

It is my experience that when I frame our sin problem in this way that Muslims understand much more and are more willing and open to see the problem in their own life. 

Second, frame the gospel in heart issues rather than external purity. In the example above, I already shared an example of how I begin to speak to heart issues. Many Muslims are experts at being like Pharisees and showing their religious deeds to others. We need to learn how to talk to their hearts. I love attacking hypocrisy when I have gospel conversations with Muslims because it helps me get to heart issues. One way to define hypocrisy is simply being better at showing others you are religious or spiritual than you are in private. 

Try to describe your relationship with Jesus and how you experience Him to your Muslim friend. Model prayer in front of them as a picture of your relationship with God. For many Muslims, our relational style of worship to God is powerful. Share about specific ways that Jesus has transformed your character or comforted you. Help your Muslim friend see the reality of your faith. Throughout all of this, I love discussing Matthew 5:8 and Matthew 23:25-26. These two passages are favorites for getting to heart issues.

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

Third, since we do not have a system of laws, some Muslims are very confused about what followers of Jesus are supposed to do. Many Muslims are very proud of their elaborate systems of rules and regulations. They only know a fraction of those rules and regulations, but they are proud that they are there. In contrast, Muslims see Christians as antinomians (those without laws) who commit every sin they want. In their minds, Christians eat pork, drink alcohol, and have sex with many people. Most Muslims have heard that Hollywood movies exemplify the lifestyle of Western Christianity. These rumors are one reason that I tend to use the term “followers of Jesus” rather than “Christians” because we can define what a follower of Jesus is. 

My point is that we must describe to Muslims what it means as followers of Jesus to obey Jesus and walk by the Spirit. They appreciate hearing from us that we pursue lifestyles of holiness and shun sin. But since our walk with Jesus is not simply a list of dos and don’ts, they lack handles about what it looks like to follow Him. New Muslim-background believers often struggle significantly with sin issues as they work out the kinks of the new freedom they have in Jesus. The point is that Muslims who hear the gospel need precise guidance on what it would look like to follow Jesus. I often used the Seven Commands of Christ[9] to describe a basic picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

PART 6: THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND RITUAL PURITY (THE SECOND MOST PRACTICAL SECTION)

Many Muslims love the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. The reason is that Jesus speaks directly to these heart issues and gives the most potent challenge against hypocrisy that has perhaps ever been given. Jesus discusses problems in terms of purity and repeatedly demonstrates our need for internal transformation rather than merely external religion. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount speaks to the Muslim’s desire for purity. 

When Muslims read the Sermon on the Mount, I think that many of them long for a religious experience that is more like what Jesus teaches in that sermon. It is about holiness, but it is also about living with God as a whole person. 

At the same time, they read their religious leaders into the place of the Pharisees. Like the Pharisees, many Muslim religious leaders focus on gaining knowledge and appearing religious externally. Like the Pharisees, these Muslim religious leaders are expert hypocrites who focus on external obedience. At the same time, their hearts are full of impurity. It is informative that both Pharisaical Judaism and Sharia Islam tend to develop hypocritical religious leaders. Religious systems that focus on external obedience rather than internal transformation have that effect. Before we become boastful against our Muslim neighbors in this regard, we should consider how many Christian leaders are likewise hypocritical. It could be that many Christians have learned to focus on external obedience rather than internal transformation despite Jesus constantly teaching against that kind of system.

Therefore, I highly recommend that Muslim-focused workers regularly study the Sermon on the Mount and incorporate it heavily into their evangelism and discipleship practices. Moreover, the Muslim-focused worker must not simply teach the Sermon on the Mount, but they must live it. Muslims are trapped in a system in which they are surrounded by religious hypocrisy. As followers of Jesus, we should provide something better. Read, pray, and weep through the Sermon on the Mount until God transforms your life to become like it. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). My point is, be the person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

As Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

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[1] A fatwa is a ruling on a religious matter by a qualified Islamic leader. A person writes to a religious leader to ask for guidance on a particular issue. The religious leader gives an official and binding decree called a fatwa.

[2] In this man’s case, the religious leader declared a medical exemption. The fatwa decreed for this man that passing gas did not make him ritually impure. 

[3] Allamah Shibli Nu’ Mani, Imam Abu Hanifa: Life and Work. Idara Implex, 2015 Edition, 43. This work was originally written in the early 1900s.

[4] This list is not exhaustive but is instead representative of the types of laws in the Law of Moses about ritual purity.

[5] Followers of Jesus read the Law of Moses (Taurat Sharif), the Psalms of David (Zabur Sharif), and the New Testament (Injeel Sharif). The fact that followers of Jesus can read these books together and include all three in the Bible is a strong testimony that these three books correlate with one another. However, the Qur’an is generally not included with the other three. The three books give a powerful and united witness against the one. 

[6] For more information, see Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 33-34.

[7] The concept of a pure heart is also in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 24:3-4a said, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” In this psalm, both internal and external holiness are required to go into the presence of God.

[8] My reading of these texts is that the corporate body of followers of Jesus is the temple of the Holy Spirit rather than the ordinary believer. In that context, Ephesians 5:18-21 is a powerful picture of how the corporate body of Jesus can be filled with the Spirit together. 

[9] If you do not know the Seven Commands of Christ, they are a common discipleship tool that was developed by George Patterson in Latin America that are now being used globally. A simple Google search will provide many examples of how they are being used. 

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