Why take it out on Christians?

The paranoia of some Muslims against the so-call Christianization threat is quite palpable. Off and on, some group will come up with a seminar or statement on how Christians are converting Muslims.

Recently, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, the president of Malaysia’s Islamic Party PAS, was said to have claimed in PAS’ publication, Harakah, that Christian missionaries had turned to Malaysia because the religion was no longer accepted by the West where the education level was high. He also alleged that the missionaries were using money and other forms of aid rather than knowledge and reasoned argument to spread the religion.

On May 6, last year, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) organised a seminar where the audience was told that Christians went undercover in different guises like working as football coaches with Muslim children in order to convert.

I can understand one’s concern over efforts to convert members of your religion. But, what I find morally incongruous is that these same people who accuse others of converting Muslims do the same thing to non-Muslims — and, often, with government sanction!

The Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) gave an appropriate response to Hadi’s recent statements. CCM secretary-general Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said in a statement as reported in The Star: “He (Hadi) seems to ignore that the very thing he accuses Christians of doing are the very same thing Islamic agencies and institutions are doing. There are many documented reports of Islamic missionary activities in the country, especially targeting natives of Sabah and Sarawak, to win over people to Islam with all kinds of incentives.”

We have heard stories of how state governments give money to the Orang Asli and ethnic bumiputra groups in Sabah and Sarawak to build mosques but Christian Orang Asli and East Malaysian ethnic groups don’t get money to build their churches. In some cases, when they build their own churches, these get pulled down or bulldozed over! Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a newspaper article of how some Muslims went around the streets of Kuala Lumpur distributing flyers as their effort to present the right picture of Islam. And, they did it openly. The list of the activities of what some Muslim groups do to proselytize can go on and on!

Those who criticise us of “christianization” must realise that when you point an accusing finger at us, three other fingers point back at you!

But, am I bothered by this Muslim effort to evangelize? No, I’m not! Because this is freedom of religion. The freedom to believe in the religion of your choice is a human right. An extension of that belief is to have the freedom to share it. I don’t believe there is any religion on Earth which advocates the curtailment of this human right. Not Islam, and, certainly not Christianity.

In Malaysia, while there is freedom to practise our religion, the constitution says that we can’t proselytise Muslims. And that’s the problem. While Muslims can preach to non-Muslims, Christians can’t preach to Muslims. That’s the double standard Christians have to live with in this country. Since we believe in following the laws of the country we live in, generally, most Christians don’t preach to Muslims. When an opportunity lends itself, we may share, but most of the time, we don’t. Some of us may feel a sense of call to do it and may actively reach out to them, fully prepared for the consequences, but these are very few and they are usually discouraged from doing so.

Christians feel free to share our faith — not only because it is a human right, but because we are called to do so as stated in the Bible. 2 Timothy 4: 2 states: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” Christians are expected to preach the Word of God all the time! But the operative words here are “with great patience and careful instruction.”

In other words, we are to share but not shove anything down anybody’s throat! The way we do it must be with patience, reasoned thought and respect (you know, do unto others as you want them to do to you!). Sometimes, we fail and we face the music. And, if we learn from our mistakes, we correct ourselves.

Christians are also called to disciple everyone as in Matthew 28: 18-20: ” Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Making disciples presupposes conversion. You can’t disciple someone who hasn’t “converted”, so to speak. Having said this, I want to stress here that although Christians share freely, we can’t convert! Sharing is our responsibility but only God can convert. Only God can convince you that He is who He says He is. We share to expose people to that reality, but whether you believe or not is entirely your responsibility and between you and God. If God convicts you and you believe, we will do the follow-up and disciple you.

Yet, despite the constraints on proselytizing Muslims, there are Muslims who convert to Christianity. This dumbfounds everyone. The thinking is that, maybe, we are resorting to underhanded tactics to “convert” Muslims. We do no such thing because — as stated — we can’t convert!

In the majority of cases of Muslims converting to Christianity, the reason is that these Muslims get visions and dreams of Jesus Christ. Naturally, they ask Christians about them, and, as a result, some believe. That is not our doing! That is God at work! So, if you need a scapegoat, blame God!

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