A delegation of evangelical leaders recently visited the Kingdom of Morocco. "The Moroccan overture is a great beginning," says Richard Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals' vice-president for government affairs, "and a sign of good faith from leaders of a country whose inhabitants are almost entirely Muslim. It's a bold step by both faith communities to showcase cooperation and mutual respect in a conflict-weary world." Associate news editor Stan Guthrie interviewed Cizik. More information on developments will soon be available at www.nae.net.
How did the Morocco initiative begin?
In May of 2003, the NAE co-sponsored with the IRD [Institute on Religion and Democracy] a consultation on Islam meant to encourage both dialogue with Muslims on democracy, human rights, and religious freedom, but also to explore opportunities here and abroad for acts of compassion in Christ's name toward those in the Muslim communities. And thus, in prayer and thinking about the opportunities available to us in Morocco, opportunity arose because it provides a potential model for not just other Muslim nations but for Christian-Muslim collaboration on a variety of levels.
And why did you choose Morocco?
We chose Morocco because it has a history that includes a very dynamic, culturally diverse society that is modernizing and is open to evangelical Christian outreach. But it also is a society that was never occupied during the Ottoman Empire and is a bridge toward other Islamic states and nations.
What are the results coming out of this meeting?
On February 29 to March 8, a nine-member delegation visited Morocco and met with the nation's prime minister, cabinet ministers, regional governors, and then top Muslim, Jewish, and Roman Catholic authorities. And as a result of those meetings, there has been an agreement to allow in Morocco for the first time, openly identified Christian development projects, as well as cultural initiatives, such as a Christian music concert for the following spring.
So the consequences of the trip are, among other things, a breakthrough in relations with an Islamic state that we believe will build a more respectful positive dialogue between evangelical Christians and Muslims around the world. Other nations are looking at what's occurring in Morocco, and we believe it's a model for dialogue that could be patterned elsewhere.
What about evangelism?
The status of religious freedom in Morocco was one of those issues we repeatedly raised with top governmental officials, including the prime minister and the cabinet minister for Islamic affairs. And proselytizing, by law, is prohibited. On the other hand, simply explaining your faith, who we are as Christians, and that we are hoping to have dialogue—not just what Christians believe but also hearing what Muslims believe—is an opportunity for both sides to learn. We have been assured that to answer questions, when asked, about why we are there and what we believe about Christ, is not going to be a problem. This is primarily a passive type of witness—by our lives, our actions, and dispositions. Active proselytizing is, and would be, a different matter entirely.
What's next in this process?
A couple of other stated achievements of the delegation's visit are a Christian music concert in Marrakech in 2005, which we think will help build some bridges, as well as further theological exchanges, both this fall and in the spring, in collaboration with other evangelical groups. Those are some of the developments we have on our calendar.
But the priority, from my vantage point, remains specific development projects that we can pursue with Moroccans on the most pressing of their development needs, which include water and literacy projects. Those are higher on our priority list, for the simple reason that serving as an example is, in our minds, one of the most effective ways to nudge forward—not only Christian-Muslim dialogue—but the cause of human dignity and religious freedom.
This is not business as usual. It's a very exciting development, in my mind. And I think it ought to be something that all evangelicals ought to rejoice in and pray for.
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Past Q&A columns include:
Clive Calver | President of World Relief, the church-based development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, on humanitarian trends in the wake of 9/11. (April 27, 2004)
Bill Frist | The Senate Majority Leader on key moral issues. (March 24, 2004)
Franklin Graham | President of Samaritan's Purse on Sudan (Feb. 16, 2004)
Previous Christianity Today articles on Islam and evangelism to Muslims include:
Evangelicals Advise on Muslim Dialogue | But hastily called meeting fails to include Franklin Graham, Falwell, and Robertson. (June 18, 2003)
Weblog: The New York Times Breaks the News That Christians Evangelize Muslims | Today's front page says, "Seeing Islam as 'evil' faith, evangelicals seek converts." (May 27, 2003)
In Perspective: What's the Difference Between Shi'ah and Sunni? | With a history of persecution and belief in martyrdom, the Shi'ite Muslim majority in Iraq may be more receptive to Christianity. (April 30, 2003)
The Dick Staub Interview: Why Don Richardson Says There's No 'Peace Child' for Islam | The author and missionary says he has tried to find bridge-building opportunities with Islam, but failed.
Evangelism Antagonism | Sharing the Good News is not a hate crime. A Christianity Today Editorial (Jan. 29, 2003)
Comments on Islam Endanger Missionaries, Letter Says | Baptists in Muslim nations plead for restraint in public statements by American Christians (Jan. 17, 2003)
Muslim Phobic No More | Verbal attacks on Islam sabotage evangelism. A Christianity Today editorial (Dec. 16, 2002)
Doors into Islam | September 11 has only intensified the dangers and rewards of Muslim evangelism. (Aug. 19, 2002)
Outpaced by Islam? | The Muslim challenge is growing faster than our Christian outreach. (Feb. 4, 2002)
Letter from a Muslim Seeker | Christians 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 Thing | Though Muslims shared allegiance to Muhammad and to the Qur'an, Islam faced division as soon as the prophet died. (Dec. 28, 2000)
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