Jay Smith is a third-generation missionary kid who grew up in North India. Smith, a member of the Brethren in Christ Church who earned a master's in Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, went to London to help churches and students dealing with intellectual attacks from Muslim campus radicals. As he researched Islam, Smith came across new historical and linguistic criticisms of the Qur'an, which Muslims revere as their holy book. They believe God, using an angel, dictated the Qur'an in Arabic to Muhammad in the seventh century.
The literary critics, called Western Orientalists, are subjecting the Qur'an to the same kinds of questions the Bible has faced since the 19th century. They say the Qur'an is an entirely human, fallible document. The Atlantic summarized the approach in a January 1999 article by Toby Lester, "What is the Koran?"
Smith began using this kind of information to answer Muslim preachers who spoke from atop the ladder at Speaker's Corner in London. He often experienced a violent response. In April 1995, angry Muslims kicked him to the ground, nearly knocking him unconscious. Finally, the police told Smith to stop debating unless he climbed the ladder himself, so they could keep an eye on him.
Smith has debated Muslims on many Sundays since then. He had his first formal debate at Cambridge that August, facing Jamal Badawi from Halifax on the topic, "Is the Qur'an the Word of God?" He has engaged in over a dozen more formal debates since then and has trained other Christians.
Some Western missionaries, however, criticize Smith for generating much heat but little light among Muslims. Dudley Woodberry, formerly Smith's instructor at Fuller, says of the approach, "It can raise questions, particularly for the Western-educated person. I think it's probably counterproductive in a non-Western context."
Smith freely admits that the approach will not work in Muslim-majority areas of the world, where such boldness would provoke severe persecution. But he says that Muslims in the West use it in their attempts to convert Christians, and that they interpret Christians' typical evangelistic restraint as weakness. He thinks they have a point, and says current missiology has created "a whole industry of fear."
"The Qur'an has huge errors in it, enormous errors," Smith says. "My goal is to eradicate the whole edifice of Islam so that [Muslims] can then look for the alternative."
Muslim apologist Shabir Ally, of the Islamic Information and Da'wah Center in Toronto, who has debated Smith four times, runs an extensive website (www.islaminfo.com). Christians experienced in working with Muslims have their own (www.answering-islam.org). Smith also participates in a debate-oriented website (www.debate.org.uk).
Smith calls on Christians to match the passion of Muslims. "I was never commissioned to go and die," Smith says. "Most people ask me, 'Aren't you scared for your health? Aren't you scared you're going to be killed?'
"So what? Yes, probably I will be killed. I told my wife I'll probably die before she does. If I were to die, there would be 10 or 20 people to take my place willingly."
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Previous Christianity Today articles on Islam and evangelism to Muslims include:
Outpaced by Islam?The Muslim challenge is growing faster than our Christian outreach. (Feb. 4, 2002)
Letter from a Muslim SeekerChristians aren't the only ones asking 'Why?' after September's tragedy. (Dec. 5, 2001)
Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?The answer to this question reveals the heart of our faith. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Does God Hear Muslim's Prayers?We must remember that God does not deal with theologies; he deals with persons. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Is Islam a Religion of Peace?The controversy reveals a struggle for the soul of Islam. (Dec. 28, 2000)
A Many Splintered ThingThough Muslims shared allegiance to Muhammad and to the Qur'an, Islam faced division as soon as the prophet died. (Dec. 28, 2000)
In 2000, Christianity Today focused on Muslim-Christian relations in a series by Wendy Murray Zoba. Articles included:
Islam, U.S.A.Are Christians prepared for Muslims in the mainstream?
Islamic FundamentalsChristians have a responsibility to understand our Muslim neighbors and their beliefs.
How Muslims See ChristianityMany Muslims don't understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith.
Engaging Our Muslim NeighborsThe Church faces a challenge not just to understand Muslims, but to befriend them.
A 1996 article in International Journal of Frontier Missions, (PDF), gives great background on the work of Samuel Zwemer, The Apostle to Islam.
Adherents.com is the place to go for statistics related to the adherents of any religion.
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