There is a growing number of Muslims around the world who maintain their cultural identity as “Muslim” but choose to align themselves with the spiritual and moral teachings of Jesus, becoming His disciples while becoming what “Muslim” truly means – submitted to God.
Is it theologically viable for a Muslim to refer to himself as a follower of Jesus and still be Muslim? The present concern is to consider how theological principles might give some direction for how and where contextualization techniques might be used in evangelism and church planting among Muslims. To do this, we must address a problem that is implicit in Whiteman’s definition. He states that contextualization means, “allowing them to follow Christ and stay within their own culture.” While he appropriately distinguishes the Gospel from culture and non-Christian world view, the majority of people in the world regard personal identity and culture to be fundamentally inseparable from religious tradition and belief. In their understanding, conversion to Christianity, implies abandoning one’s native culture in exchange for another. Put simply, the dilemma is this: how can a fellowship of biblical believers grow and witness for Jesus, yet remain authentic, active members of their overtly non-Christian culture? The relative failure of Christian outreach to Hindus and Muslims illustrates this dilemma and reinforces contextualization as a strategic imperative.
Is it culturally feasible for a Muslim to stay a Muslim and follow Jesus? In the last twenty years or so, the phrase “Muslim follower of Jesus” has been used to identify those who allegedly accept Christ in their hearts, acknowledge him in their mind, yet still keep their Muslim identity. My big question is: “Can you call yourself a follower of Christ, and by the same breath deny that you are a Christian?” This can all be very confusing and controversial to those who were born into “Christian” cultural contexts and who believe that there is little difference between their cultures and genuine biblical faith in Jesus. For some Christians, accepting Jesus means also accepting the cultural forms that accompanied the presentation of the gospel they received. It is also hard for many of us—especially those in the West—to fathom how someone can stay a “Muslim” or “Hindu” and still faithfully follow Jesus from a solidly biblical foundation, not to mention growing in his or her relationship with Jesus.
Is there a need to become a Christian in terminology to follow Jesus in both theological and cultural fashion? The title Christian is at issue. Is it OK to worship Jesus and not call yourself a Christian? For some this is a point of contention, but consider some things. The earliest disciples of Jesus did not call themselves Christians. They’re called Christians by others. In fact, the word “Christian” only appears in the Bible 3 times. “Christian” was a derogatory term meaning “little messiahs” or “little christs.” Peter says, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” In this context, a proper stance for a Muslim believer might be, “I call myself a Muslim who worships Jesus, but if you call me a Christian, I will not be ashamed.” Some may disagree, but remember that we are not trying to get people to join our religion, we are inviting every nation, tribe and tongue to make Jesus Lord.
In the context of history, a Muslim’s identity is major. So when we look at the Sufi Muslim, they were originally monks who lived in seclusion from what they viewed as a widespread corruption of Islam. Many of them lived in intentional poverty, instead seeking nourishment spiritually and many of them were completely dedicated to living according to the teachings of Jesus. The Sufis believed that to serve God was to love God, purely and simply. They rigorously expended themselves in songs and dances, in pure worship of this creator God who made them so that they could live in a love relationship with Him. They believed that all else was nothingness, a waste. This flies directly against the typical Muslim concept of religion, where the works of the flesh are critically significant.