Religious Culture, Community and Communication Needs
While the religious differences between Christians and Muslims are significant, sometimes cultural differences can be even greater sources of misunderstanding and mistrust. Different perspectives can also be opportunities to learn from each other. Cultural differences may inhibit or enhance our ability to proclaim Christ, as well as a Muslim’s ability to receive our message. Below is a list some basic differences between Western culture and many African and Oriental Islamic cultures. (These characteristics are generalisations. There may be many exceptions in various nations and regions):
Western societies religious culture:
- Individualism, independence and initiative are encouraged
- Time oriented (exact times, for example: one arrives on time)
- Future oriented (seeing opportunities and foreseeing problems)
- Performance oriented (ability and accomplishments are important)
- Freedom to show weakness
- Egalitarian relationships / Direct communication
- Analytical thinking / concept oriented
African and Oriental Islamic religious culture:
- Community / group oriented
- Event oriented (general times, example: arrival when an event happens)
- Present oriented (enjoy the present, take action when crises develop)
- Status oriented (class, age, family and reputation are important)
- Fear of showing weakness or admitting failures (shame cultures)
- Indirect communication (seeking to not offend or to dishonour)
- Holistic thinking / experience / circumstance oriented
Simple questions on religious culture
One very real difference between accepted Western and Islamic religious cultural norms can be found in simple conversation. In many Islamic societies a man is not permitted to inquire about the another man’s wife in direct conversation. One can ask about how things are “at home” instead of asking the question directly: “How is your wife?” In some contexts it can sometimes be deemed incorrect, impolite and even possibly a bit suspicious for a man to ask directly about another man’s wife even if the two men are friends.
The Barnabas Gospel
In Islam Jesus is considered to be a messenger of God, a prophet, who was sent to guide the Israelites. His message was given with a new scripture, the Injil (Gospel). The Qur’an affirms that Jesus was born to the virgin Mary (Maryam) by the decree of God. Jesus had the ability to perform miracles by God’s command. Like other prophets in Islam, Jesus is considered to have been a good Muslim (that is, someone who was submitted to God). Jesus preached to His people to live in submission to God’s will. For Muslims Jesus was actually preaching an earlier form of Islam.
In recent years many Muslims have cited the book “The Gospel of Barnabas” (available on the web) in order to show that Jesus was a good Muslim. Jesus is portrayed in the book as a prophet who prays, speaks and acts exactly like traditional Muslims.
The book seems to have been written in Europe sometime during the 14th–16th centuries. It includes geographical and historical inaccuracies as well as errors about Christian and Islamic beliefs. In the Gospel of Barnabas Mohammed is called the Messiah which means “anointed one” (Christ) while in normal Islamic belief Jesus is understood as being the Messiah. In several places the Qur’an itself proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah (see our article for day 22). In the Gospel of Barnabas Jesus is called the Christ (chapter 6). The author did not realize that The word Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. This is a significant error.
Here are quotes from chapters 96 and 97: Jesus answered: “As God lives, in whose presence my soul stands, I am not the Messiah whom all the tribes of the earth expect, even as God promised to our father Abraham, saying: ‘In your seed will I bless all the tribes of the earth.’ But when God shall take me away from the world, Satan will raise again … making the impious believe that I am God and son of God, whence my words and my doctrine shall be contaminated … God will send his messenger …. who shall come from the south with power, and shall destroy the idols with the idolaters … The name of the Messiah is admirable … Mohammed is his blessed name.”
It is an interesting distortion that Satan is portrayed as the one to claim Jesus as God. The author of the “Gospel of Barnabas” has rewritten the Biblical Gospel to make it agree with the Qur’an. The aim of the book is to try to convince people that Jesus was a Muslim and predict the coming of Muhammad. It is a direct distortion of the Bible. See “Gospel of Barnabas” at www.answering-islam.org
- Pray for those witnessing to Muslims to understand the cultural differences as well as the religious differences.
- The Gospel is cross-cultural – pray that this truth be believed and acted upon by Christian workers.
- Pray that believers will accurately be able to show that Jesus was always submitted to the Father but He was more than simply a good prophet.
- May God give Muslims insights into the errors of the Gospel of Barnabas.
- Meditate on these texts in prayer: Matthew 5:43-48, Hebrews 1:5-8.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution which brought Colonel Muammar Qadhafi to power in Libya. Forty years ago very few people in Libya knew the Lord and this is very true today. Native Libyans who believe in Jesus probably number less than fifty people out of a population of 6.2 million. Pray for labourers who will sow, water and harvest. For more information write: pray4ly [at] gmail [dot] com
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