Greeson, a Christian missionary in South Asia, said the Quran’s mention of Jesus is a perfect starting point for engaging Muslims in dialogue that eventually can lead to their conversion to Christianity.
“It is the most effective evangelistic tool I’ve seen,” said Greeson, who works for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Conference. “I don’t mean to say Muslims are our enemy, but using the Quran as a bridge has allowed us to go deep, deep, deep into enemy territory.”
The world’s approximately 1.2 billion Muslims are the top target of evangelical efforts to spread Christianity, and Greeson is among mission professionals who discussed strategies Tuesday at a four-day conference, “Breakthrough Among Muslims,” held at Regent University. The Alliance for Missions Advancement sponsored the event.
Open to debate is whether such evangelization builds or burns bridges, especially when the United States is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In its March 7 report , the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies found that an overwhelming number of Arab leaders think the United States is “engaged in a war with the Arab world or Islam itself.”
The situation is so grave that on Monday , President Bush gave his adviser Karen Hughes the job of improving America’s image globally and among Muslim nations in particular.
Mohammad Amir , an Old Dominion University engineering student who is Muslim, said that back home in India, many have reservations about the United States’ intentions in the Middle East.
The appearance of American missionaries promoting Christianity, Amir said, might add to the “negative image people have about the policies of this country.”
“If someone would come and try to approach Muslims and understand them and seek common ground, that would be accepted,” said Abdulla Bazaraa, director of the Egyptian Cultural and Education Bureau in Washington, D.C. “To convert them, I would say, is not welcome.”
As recently as the 1970s, only 2 percent of Christian mission groups had staff working among Muslims, according to a training manual written by Greeson.
But that number has shot up in recent years, with more than 27,000 missionaries placed amid Muslims by 2001, according to Greeson’s book.
Many of those workers are indigenous to the culture and community where they are evangelizing and establishing churches.
Some evangelicals say there’s never been a better time to target Muslims.
Phillip List Sr. , a conference participant, said that in East Africa, where he is a missionary, Christian evangelization is needed to counter local Muslim evangelists who are trying to spread Islam.
Chris Grady , a Regent student studying to become a missionary, said December’s Indian Ocean tsunamis created an opening for Christian-based relief groups to deliver aid and demonstrate Christ-like compassion. Greeson said one of the most compelling arguments for evangelization is an outbreak among Muslims of dreams featuring Jesus Christ. Those dreams have left Muslims in various countries yearning to read the Bible and primed to hear about Christianity, he said.
Pat Robertson , the Christian broadcaster who founded Regent, cited Muslims’ dreams of Christ when he predicted in January that God would “send a revival, a spiritual revival in the Muslim world” this year.
Robertson is also among evangelicals who see a broader, high-stakes spiritual conflict between Christianity and Islam.
“Make no mistake, the entire world is being convulsed by a religious struggle,” Robertson said last August in Norfolk. “The struggle is whether … the moon god of Mecca known as Allah is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah, God of the Bible, is supreme.”
Portrayals such as Robertson’s have been deemed by some evangelicals and those advocating religious tolerance as either inaccurate or toxic to good interfaith relations.
“What many have been forced to recognize is that putting Jews and Christians on one side and Muslims on the other is not true historically,” said John L. Esposito of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “All three faiths are interconnected historically and theologically, and Muslims do recognize Jesus and Moses.”
One of the stronger advocates of religious tolerance is the Rev. Daniel Hanafi , an Indonesian native and executive with WorldHarvest, which organizes development projects and evangelization in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country. He told conference participants that Christian evangelists in Indonesia are most successful when they demonstrate public respect toward Muslim.
“When we started there, it was very, very Muslim and very intolerant,” he said of efforts in a particular village. “Now, we have a church next to the mosque.”