A Lifelong Journey with Islam
How should Christians who have a passion for evangelization relate to Islam? For North Americans, the question took on new urgency in the wake of September 11. But Christians in Muslim-majority societies have dealt with the question far longer. Growing up Christian in Syria gave Chawkat Moucarry many opportunities to interact with Muslims and learn about Islam. In this installment of the Global Conversation, World Vision International's director of interfaith relations describes his commitment to both dialogue and mission.
I have never understood why some people look at dialogue and mission in either-or terms. In my experience, these words belong so much to each other that they should never be divorced. Evangelical Christians (whose theology I share) have shown an unwarranted suspicion of dialogue, simply because some have used it as a substitute for mission. Not only are the two words compatible, but they must shape each other.
I have always believed in God and Jesus Christ. Growing up in a Muslim-majority society, I knew as a child that I was different, and I gradually realized that this difference implied that I had something precious to share with my Muslim friends.
I was born into a Catholic home and was an altar boy in my early teens. I attended a missionary primary school, which gave me my first opportunity to discuss religion with my Muslim peers. However, my significant conversations about Christianity and Islam started after I moved to a government secondary school, where the majority of pupils were from working-class families. I was surprised to realize that many Muslim schoolmates were very interested to know more about Christianity and Christians. And I wanted to better understand Islam. A unique opportunity presented itself when the teacher of Islamic religious education granted me permission to attend his class. I was the only Christian there. He regularly asked me to give my views as a Christian on certain topics. These discussions extended outside the classroom.
In Paris, after I graduated in Christian theology, I felt as an Arab Christian a compelling need to relate my faith to Islam. That required me to study it. The need was reinforced after I started working for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students among Arab and Muslim students. Sometimes they would ask me challenging questions that I had not seriously considered as a theological student. Hence, it wasn't difficult for me to find research topics for my Islamic Studies dissertations at the Sorbonne.
For my first degree, I looked into the Islamic charge against the reliability of the Bible, and in my Ph.D. dissertation, I examined Islamic and Christian teachings on forgiveness. Needless to say, studying Islam unavoidably meant re-examining my major Christian beliefs, which I had often taken for granted. My work with students included setting up book tables at university campuses and leading Bible study groups, as well as speaking in public debates in France and abroad on Christianity and Islam.
For 12 years I worked for All Nations Christian College, a mission-oriented Bible college in Ware, England. I was in charge of its Islamic course, to which I invited a Muslim lecturer to contribute each year. His or her talks were one of the high spots of the course, as they provided an opportunity for a genuine and often animated interaction between students, the speaker, and me.
For three years now I have been working for World Vision, whose mission statement echoes the "mission statement" Jesus proclaimed at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19). The Christian aid organization operates in 20 Muslim-majority countries, with Muslims composing most of the staff in places like Afghanistan, Mauritania, and Somalia. My work includes providing orientation on Christianity and Islam to all our staff. It has been fascinating to learn from each other about our respective faiths—and often about our own. Without ignoring the distinctive beliefs of each tradition, knowing our common ground enhances our work for the common good of the communities we serve.