Crusaders

In another holy war, the battle plan is to turn Muslims into Bible believers

The report, written by Ken Perkins, the board's Middle East strategy consultant, says about 80 percent of Muslim-to-Christian converts are men. "Many who are upwardly mobile in society, with a strong education and who are economically secure, will marry a single, female foreign missionary." Most end up leaving the region and resettling in the West, the report states. In one unspecified central Asian country, a pastor performed 14 weddings involving Muslim converts over the past 15 years. Thirteen of the marriages were to foreigners, and 12 of the couples emigrated. "In one North African country, this intermarriage issue has become so acute that [other] expatriate mission agencies have considered not recruiting single, female workers for the near future."

Cracknell, the TCU professor, says Muslims have been an unusually challenging population for Christian evangelicals for at least three reasons. The Koran, which came into existence centuries after the Bible, contains many passages denying the truth of Christian claims, the professor says. "The Koran doesn't allow that Christ died for our sins. Any evangelical witness about Christ being the son of God, that he died for your sins, is a non-starter for Muslims. They've already dealt with that."

The second problem is historical, rooted in the march by European armies on Jerusalem in the name of Christianity at the end of the 11th century. Eyewitness accounts of the Christians' sack and taking of the holy city described blood "flowing up to the knees" in the mosques and synagogues, where no one was spared.

"Most Westerners, George W. Bush included, have no idea of the impact that the Crusades made on the Muslim world," Cracknell says. "The Crusades lasted generally from 1095 until the 14th century, but they are as of yesterday to the Muslim world. After September 11, George W. said we were going on a crusade against terrorism. He climbed down from that and has never used the word since."

Although there are several words for Christian in Arabic, Cracknell says in many parts of the Arab-speaking world the commonly used words for a Christian and for Christianity are salibi and salibiyya, which mean crusader and crusade.

Lastly, he says, vocal support for Israel by evangelical Christian leaders in the United States has helped Muslims paint the religion as "pro-Israel and therefore not pro-Islam."


Early one recent Tuesday, Shahid stood before about a dozen students in a second-floor classroom in the domed hall that dominates the 80-year-old seminary. With its classical architecture and well-shaded grounds, the Baptist school reminds one a bit of an elite institution in the East, save for the students, who are all conservatively dressed and excessively polite.

Shahid, lecturing in his basic survey course, is going over the sectarian differences among Muslims. The students have open on their desks a mainstream textbook, Islam, by Caesar Farah of the University of Minnesota. "Nobody can say we are teaching things that aren't supported and accepted by Muslim scholars," he says.

In his breezy presentation, Shahid likens Sunni Muslims to Baptists because of the autonomy of their mosques. Shiite Muslims, who dominate Iran, are more like Catholics, he says, with the Ayatollah functioning much like the pope.

For a while, Shahid goes along in this strictly academic tone. But he veers wildly as he comes to discuss the annual Shiite celebration of the death of al-Hussein, a seventh-century martyr. "Every year, they re-enact the story of al-Hussein, and I'm going to show you a video," Shahid tells the class. "At this celebration, they hit themselves. They bruise themselves. They cut themselves. Even children do that.

"When you see this video, you will think as many other students have, 'It's impossible to reach out to these people. Impossible!' Well, let me tell you, I know of a country...I don't want to mention names...where the head of a tribe that had been Shiite has come to Christianity. They have a school, and many Christian doctors and teachers go there."

Later, after the class, Shahid declined to name the country or the tribe, saying publicity would only bring trouble.

The existence of such a place no doubt filled Shahid's students with hope. Thus far, some have never seen such a place.

Beyond her recent trip to Lebanon, Sarah Logan says she has met three Muslim families, all recent immigrants, living in the area. In the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth, whole apartment houses have been filled in recent years with women shrouded in veils, their hands painted with henna. "I've gotten to know a Jordanian man and a Sudanese family. I'm also working with two ladies from Syria, teaching them English," Logan says.

She has not changed anyone's religion, she says, but she talks warmly about the cross-cultural experience of waiting for the husband of the Sudanese household, dressed in full Muslim garb, to finish his prayers before dinner. From the Syrian women who insist on her sharing grapes and conversation before the English lessons, she has learned a lot about the Middle Eastern concept of hospitality.

"After September 11, another woman and I brought the Sudanese family an Arabic Bible," she says. "The next time we were there, they gave us Korans. They were very nice Korans."

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