Confrontation is a frequent feature of Christian-Muslim encounter. Both faiths are missionary religions, Christians obligated by the Great Commission to share the gospel with the unsaved, Muslim compelled by the responsibilities of da'wah (Islamic mission) to seek the conversion of non-Muslims. This is especially true in the West, since Islamic law forbids long-term residence outside the Muslim world unless those Muslims living in a non-Muslim state engage in da'wah. Younger Muslims in Britain are particularly eager to share their faith, and every year one militant group holds a rally in Trafalgar Square, inviting the Queen, the Prime Minister and the entire British nation to convert to Islam. In recent years many Christians have turned up at these rallies, and sometimes-heated exchange of views has followed.
clearly there is a need for a forum where Christians and Muslims can meet in large numbers to hear what the other community believes
In other cases, Muslims and Christians have organised debates about issues such as the true divine revelation, the deity of Christ, or even whether Britain should be an Islamic State. Whilst in many ways such events have their uses, the problem nearly always attached to them is the degree of heated controversy they frequently engender. On the other hand, inter-faith dialogue always runs the risk of obscuring the differences between the religions, and implying that all roads lead to God. Yet clearly there is a need for a forum where Christians and Muslims can meet in large numbers to hear what the other community believes without succumbing on the one hand to liberal ecumenism or on the other deteriorating to a shouting match. Large meetings have the advantage of allowing people who might be interested in 'the other side' to hear the facts without being concerned what others might say if they saw a Christian entering a Muslim house, or a Muslim turning up at a church.
A method that may be called a middle way and has been successfully employed in North America, and recently here in Britain, is a concept called Meetings for Better Understanding. These are not debates. Any public criticism of either the Muslim or Christian religion is not encouraged since that would lead to unproductive arguments. Neither are they ecumenical dialogues, in that the aim is not for either side to compromise its message or mix the two faiths. Meetings for Better Understanding. promote a mutual comprehension of what Muslims and Christians believe. These meetings enable the two communities to encounter one another in a relaxed context of friendship and learning.
Speakers from both communities address the meeting for about 30 minutes on the same, agreed-upon topic. A thirty-minute question-and-answer period is held after both speakers have presented their messages. Questions, which may be directed to one or both of the speakers are to be kept on the topic and are not to be statements of the views of the questioners. Each speaker may follow up on the answer of the other speaker once. Other questions that are of personal interest but are not related to the topic may be discussed in individual conversations after the formal sessions. The host group selects a moderator for each meeting, whose role is to ensure that the above guidelines are followed. There is ample time after the formal meeting for people attending the meeting to meet personally with members of the other faith. Meetings can vary in frequency, but once a month is suggested. Topics are classified as theological or social, such as ?who is Jesus Christ?' in regard to the former, and 'marriage, divorce, and remarriage' as an example from the latter. One can alternate between the two classes from meeting to meeting.
ABC (Applied Biblical Christianity) has been utilising this method for some years. For example, in Slough, they have been held for three years and have seen great numbers attending, including local councillors and an MP. The meetings have caught the attention of the local council to the extent that they provide funding each year to help defray the costs of the food served after each meeting! A recent one-off experiment involved a different format. Instead of having one topic and two speakers to explain their faith's viewpoint, one speaker was invited, a UN official who addressed multi-faith issues from the perspective of that institution. Controversially, his basic message was that exclusivist faiths were a primary cause of strife in the world, and intimated that the UN would be happy with a one-world religion. This resulted in a very lively discussion afterwards, with Muslims and Christians united in disagreement over what seemed a private UN agenda!
In Tooting, South West London, meetings have also been fruitful. Comparing different types of 'outreach methods' such as debate, dialogue, door to door visitations among London Muslims, MBUs have been found to be far better and encouraging, because they involve a non-threatening environment. Participants have expressed their appreciation for meeting one another. Unlike with other public religious assemblies of members belonging to the two faiths, there has always been a friendly ambience. Many misunderstandings have been removed on both sides. This has resulted in more openness for relationships. Perhaps the best thing is that Muslims willingly come to listen to what the Bible has to say on chosen topics. After all, the Imam, their local leader, has given his approval to the gatherings. Numerous times, team members have gone away times with several addresses to follow up.
An old British saying is that 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating', and the practical outworking of the MBU strategy suggests it is a major way forward. It does not preclude other methods of outreach, but so often house-to- house knocking is met with a quickly shut door, whereas MBUs allow one to get over the threshold. Debates enable Christian doctrines to be presented, but MBUs guarantee them a better (and a quieter) hearing. The elements of fear and defensiveness are dispelled by his kind of Muslim-Christian encounter, which is why ABC have sought to promote them in our outreach strategy, and why we invite the prayers of our supporters for their continued fruitfulness and spread. If anyone would like to start MBUs in their area, ABC are happy to help with advice. Obviously, the meetings require a church to contact a local mosque to suggest the meetings and explain the motivation behind them - that is, to encourage 'community cohesion' (an 'in' phrase in contemporary community relations) and better relations ate the local level between Evangelical Christians and Muslims through a more adequate understanding of what the other believes. A sample of the topics that could be considered is as follows:
Theological and doctrinal topics
1. The unity of God.
Social topics -'Christian living' and 'Islamic living'
1. Religion in daily life.
If you would like to receive more information, please visit the ABC website: www.aboutabc.org