The MBB’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’
You have never read a story like this one.
It was a meeting like the hundreds of others we have experienced over the course of twenty years. My brother Emir was gently debating another Arabic Christian at a seminary on the best methods of reaching Muslims with the gospel of Christ. The “talking points” were familiar. In fact, we have grown used to discussing the same issues in countless meetings and various manners. Everything fit the standard parameters until an innocent student rose to ask the fateful question:
“How do we faithfully proclaim the gospel to Israel? They are fighting such a horrible battle at such a tremendous cost. How do your backgrounds as former Muslims help you share Christ with the Jews?”
My brother smiled to himself. He knew what his answer was, but he did not know the position of his colleague. The other man speaking in the forum was a learned evangelical Christian who had, like us, converted from Islam. He had spoken countless times before thousands of American evangelicals and was viewed as a leader in Middle Eastern evangelism. This man shifted imperceptibly and shuffled his papers, hoping Emir would jump in. However, Emir stood quietly and allowed the painful silence to force the man to answer.
Slowly, without looking up, the man spoke: “Well, with regard to Jewish evangelism, we should always present Jesus as Messiah. This is certain. However, [pause] in the Palestinian Israeli conflict, [pause] I think we should remain [pause] neutral.”
Welcome to our world.
This story may shock and surprise you. Yet I have decided to tell it and, as they say, let the chips fall where they may. This article has taken me twenty years to write. And I am about to betray my kinsmen according to the flesh. I am about to betray our dirty little secret.
Most articles and books that I have written with my brother have been either academic or works on understanding and reaching Muslims. In 2002, when our book Unveiling Islam became a bestseller, we were thrust into the media spotlight. Our debates, sermons, and addresses have been in front of tens of thousands of people. We have addressed the thousands of messengers at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention twice. We have appeared on countless television shows, talk shows, and national radio shows.
In 2003 Unveiling Islam (Kregel) earned the Gold Medallion Book Award; and our books More Than a Prophet (Kregel) and Voices Behind the Veil (Kregel) also became best sellers and were nominated for awards. We are presently working on our largest book, a million-word reference that will be the first Christian commentary on every chapter and verse of the Qur’an. And our publisher sold out of copies of our recent book, Christian Jihad (Kregel), at a conference in the summer of 2004. Suffice it to say, we like to write.
Yet these books were easy compared to this article. It is intensely personal, and I debated and prayed about it for weeks.
Difficult as this may be, I feel compelled to finally tell the story. However, doing so means that my brother and I, both professors at Christian universities, are opening ourselves to scorn. In truth, we are used to scorn from Muslims. They hound us at every turn and threaten us weekly in e-mails and letters. They protest our appearances and shout at us in the churches where we speak.
But this scorn will be altogether different. This scorn will come from fellow Christians.
This scorn will come because we betrayed the secret of our kinsmen Muslim-background believers. (MBBs) I finally decided to “come out” in Israel My Glory. Knowing the editors as I do, I know they stand with me. At least Emir and I will not be alone.
A Vestigial Hatred
As Muslims, we were raised to hate the Jewish people.
As Christian converts from Islam, many of us still do.
Read those words carefully. Let their meaning and importance sink in. Surely you have met hundreds of us during these past years. Springing out of the background, former Muslims have taken the center stage in many denominational meetings and conferences. Though we are all confronted with questions concerning presenting the gospel to Muslims, rarely are we asked about Israel, the Jewish nation, or the covenants in Scripture between God and His people.
Many of our kinsmen, whose names you know and whose books you have read, are grateful you haven’t asked them. Why? Because many former Muslims who are now genuine believers still disdain, scorn, and hate the Jews. These include many who speak in forums, write books, and serve in church es. It truly is our dirty little secret.
Emir and I refer to it as the remnants of Islam, a type of vestigial hatred. As· children, we were raised in our madrasses (training centers) to believe that Jews drink the blood of Palestinian children. Imams would preach sermons that dripped with hatred for the Jewish people and the Jewish nation. We called them the “pig people” and “common dogs” who had taken our land and slaughtered our brethren.
Then, when we converted from Islam, convinced that Isa (Jesus) was not a prophet of Allah but actually the Messiah, we were all faced with a common threat. Many of us have been disowned, cast out, deported, imprisoned, or worse. Those of us who survived began new lives, separated from our heritage and families. Very little remains—except for a lingering bias. We still hate the Jewish people. I must confess, my brothers and I still did.
In the early 1980s, after our conversion, my brothers and I began new lives as believers in Jesus as the Christ. In many ways, our church became om family, since our father had disowned us. I hungered to know the Lord and His Book; and I read the Word passionately, sometimes for three or four hours a day. I wore out highlighters as I made my way through the Old Testament.
When I got to the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12, I stumbled. “Old Testament,” I muttered. “Jesus got rid of that.” Soon I became disgusted with the constant reiteration of the refrain, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph.” I had been raised to believe in Muhammad’s redaction of the teaching, “Abraham, Ishmael, Jesus, Muhammad.”
We read in the Qur’an that it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who was almost sacrificed on Mount Moriah. This is the core teaching of one of our celebrations (Eid). Now I was confronted with the fact that, 2,200 years after Moses had written Genesis 22 and approximately 2,700 years after the event had actually taken place, Muhammad had changed the story.
Quickly I flipped to the New Testament. Surely I would find that Jesus, my Savior, repudiated the Old Testament; that way my bias could remain unaffected.
Then I got to Romans 9—11. Game, set, match for the Jewish people as the priest-nation of God. I began to ask questions. I began to read books. I even attended Messianic Jewish services.
And slowly, ever so slowly, I began to love the Jewish people, as does our Father. They are God’s chosen. And the land of Israel belongs to them.
It took my brothers and me some time, but we assumed that all former Muslims (we are called Muslim-background believers, or MBBs) went through the same journey. Apparently not.
The Replacement Myth
Shortly after I made my first appearance on the television program of pro Israel Bible teacher Zola Levitt, I was flooded with emails from angry Muslims. I was expecting that. What I did not expect was the number of angry emails from Anglo Christians. They usually went something like this: “My brother in Christ, the church has replaced Israel!” After one meeting, a former Muslim who had become the pastor of an Egyptian-Christian fellowship pulled me aside and said, “You are hurting your witness, my friend.” His not-so gentle rebuke continued: “The covenants with Israel to Abraham, David, and Ezekiel were conditional. He came to His own and they rejected Him. The church is now the new Israel.”
He offered me a number of evangelical books to prove his point. I began to read these theological studies, many of which I know you, dear reader, have on your shelves. Reformed writers, evangelical writers, and even popular radio and television preachers all said the same thing: Israel was replaced by the church. Well, now twenty years later, may I state it emphatically, so there is no misunderstanding?
God’s covenant with Israel was unconditional. Israel remains God’s chosen nation.
Though they are, in the Hebrew Scriptures’ own terms, a “stiff-necked” and “stubborn” people, God has not abandoned them. To teach otherwise is unbiblical, ungodly, racist, and anti-Semitic. I do not care how beloved these well-known authors may be; nor do I care how many engagements this position will cost me. I cannot abandon God’s people or replace His plans. Romans 9—11 still remains in the Book.
The Myth of Palestine
Today we are confronted with the ongoing conflict over Jerusalem. Daily we see bombs explode and bullets fly, as the fight of the last fifty years resonates. I ask, “Where is the Christian voice?”
Sadly, many who should speak out are mute because a residue of hatred for Israel still lingers in their hearts.
Time and time again, Emir and I have asked fellow MBBs, “Show us ‘Palestine’ on any map. When did the Palestinians ever form a government, have a capital, or maintain an embassy?”
The answer, of course, is never. The concept of a country named Palestine did not arise until after Israel became a nation. It is an entirely hypothetical country based not on a common ethnic background but on a common hatred of Israel. Our fellow Arabs and Persians have found compatriots among Anglo and European theologians who have adopted an entire theology and eschatology based on this common hatred. My brother and I are now in the ironic position, as MBBs and Persian Turks, of defending Israel against white European Christians. Strange world.
We agree with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Jerusalem is God’s eternal and indivisible city.” Someday we hope to meet him and tell him so.
The Myth of Allah
Another strange component of this issue is the use of Allah. Recently we heard an evangelical missionary speak of the “Allah-leuia” movement, where missionaries are using the Arabic term Allah to proclaim the gospel. Some even go so far as to enter mosques and assume the positions of prayer (rakats) but pray to Jesus in their minds. Allah, they conclude, is merely the Arabic term for “God.” Adonai and Allah speak of the same God, they say.
May I state for the record, Allah is not the Arabic term for “God.”
Allah is an idol.
In all of our debates in universities and colleges, my brother and I have never found one Muslim ulema who believes that Allah of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible are the same God. Never. If monotheism is the sole measure of truth in this case, if Allah is the same god as the true and living God, then Elijah owes the prophets of Baal (also monotheistic) an apology.
So why use the term? I asked a Christian Arab why he continues to use the term Allah when he prays, and he whispered to me, “I cannot bring myself to use the Hebrew names, you know?”
Yes. I know. Sadly, I know.
I realize that in one short diatribe, I have taken on Replacement Theology, Puritan eschatology, modem theologians, and entire denominations. However, my silence of twenty years is over. Our dirty little secret is out.
Emir and I shall continue to stand with Israel in the conflict against our kinsmen according to the flesh. We shall continue to confront Replacement Theology whenever we see it.
And we shall continue to stand with Israel as God’s chosen nation because He calls us to do so in the Old and New Testaments. The Jewish people need to accept Jesus as the Messiah, to be sure. But they also need the Christian community—the church—to stand alongside them in a world bent on their destruction. It begins now.