Facts, arguments and logic


Westerners are raised on syllogisms and constructs of truth that are propositional.  It is somehow hard for those in the Middle East to believe that an anecdote could make them pungent a point as three logically connected paragraphs.

In many respects, the parables of Jesus take on the appearance of riddles for a Western readership because the point of contact, which was obvious in the original situation, is lost across the cultural divide.  For many Muslim peoples, however, both the parable form and the content of he biblical stories are easily accessible.

Story-telling should not be feared by Western missionaries to Muslims.






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The Bible in Semitic thought-forms


Poetry and poetic passages fill the Bible pages from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation.  In the NT, the songs of Mary, Anna and Simeon and the intimations of hymns belonging to the early Christian communities are mirrored by the great choruses of praise chanted by angelic and saintly hosts and entrusted to John to record in earthly phrases.

The majority of the Bible is couch in rural concepts and metaphors. The Lord declares His sovereignty over the nations in terms easily understood by those living in a pastoral setting:

No, for all the nations of the world
    are but a drop in the bucket.
They are nothing more
    than dust on the scales.
He picks up the whole earth
    as though it were a grain of sand. – Isaiah 40:15

The picture employed here is of a girl fetching water in a container from a well or river.  As she hoists the pitcher to her head and trudges back home, a few drops slop over the edge and drip down.  The ‘nations’ are like those drips to the Lord.  A rural community cannot but get the point.

Many of Jesus’ parables are based on an understanding of nature.  The stories make telling points precisely because Jesus’ audience understands the implicit details of each natural situation.









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Silence in an important aspect of Arab mentality.  What is not said is as important, perhaps more important, than what is said.

Silence is a means of concealing information which might lead to a loss of honour.  Arabs dislike revealing information deemed to be personal.  A taxi driver therefore asks a new customer – “Where to — if God wills?” and the new customer responds by offering directions as the ride proceeds.

Arguments  in public are ‘won’ by forcing the opponent to lose their temper.

Often, a huge chasm exists between the role that an Arab will play publicly and how they act in private.  Arabs can be quite reserved about demonstrating joy or happiness.  Personal happiness must not be shown to be enjoyed at the expense of group loyalty or commitment to kin.

Silence has mainly to do with the concealment of facts.  Learning to act within those norms is important if Western missionaries are to be effective conveyors of Christ’s life in Middle Eastern contexts.

How many Western Christians have been confused by volatile shifts from expressions of extreme friendship to those of strong enmity in Middle Easterners whom they understand to be ‘brothers in Christ’?  The Middle Easterner lives each emotion in turn to the full, ready and eager for the next change of expression.






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Arabic is the Arab’s greatest treasure

Arabic is the Arab's greatest treasure

The language of a peninsula’s daily communication was transformed in the seventh century to become the direct source of spiritual nourishment for generations of Muslims.

Songs and poetry are important facets of that oral literature.  Riddles, sayings and proverbs contribute their wit to the bank of oral literature that funds Arab and other Muslim cultures.

The impact of words and forms counts for far more than the transmission of ideas in many Middle Eastern languages.  The Yoruk nomads live by a legend which says that each year on a night in May, two heavenly stars meet.  Their only hope lies in a star-born wish.

Just as with their oral and written literature, so one of the main aims of everyday conversation among Arabs is to engage the emotions.  The imagination is in gear as phrases are savoured and offered to an audience of one or a hundred.

The lights go out in a Cairo suburb because the electricity system is overloaded.  A host immediately utters a beautiful phrase which engages the guest in his home, reassures him and allows the speaker permission to go and find some alternative sources of illumination — he says – “Your light is enough!”

In order to come up with the proper saying at the right moment, memories are developed from childhood.  One observer refers to this characteristic as shared access to ‘prefabricated wisdom’.

There are polite forms of address (rather like the difference between tu and vous in French).  Speech is a primary conveyor of emotion.  Expansive, expensive phrases characterise the way all Arabs tend to speak.  Children learn at an early age to speak in exaggerated ways.

Among many factors which provoke anger is gossip, especially talk about the reputation of the sexual honour of a man’s womenfolk.  Primary purveyors of gossip are women – thus they come to be power-holders in societies where shared information or defamation can be so damaging.  Over exaggeration and overemphasis led to massive miscommunication between Arab protagonists in successive wars against Israel during this century.

Language is pure and profane – orisons and oaths issue from the same mouth in quick succession!  Sharing of the gospel will best be packaged in emotive terms if it is to touch the heart of the Middle Easterner in an effective way.




Arabic the Semitic Language of the Arabs

What is Modern Standard Arabic?


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Concept of time and space


God is no stranger to Middle Easterners’ concepts of time and space.  Intrusions into space have taken the form of miracles, while dreams have interrupted time.

Visions and dreams significantly interrupt Muslims’ lives, just as they interrupted the lives of many biblical characters.  Praying for, and being interpreters of such dreams and visions is a significant contribution for sensitive Western Christians to make to evangelism among Muslims today.

The potency of revelation of Jesus lies in the Holy Spirit’s appropriating concepts of ‘time’ and ‘space’ already functioning in the worldviews of Muslims.

Non-Western Christians are perhaps more readily accepting of constructs of ‘reality’ in which the kind of occurrences illustrated here make sense.  Western Christians who admit the possibility of the sun’s shadow being reversed in answer to Gideon’s prayer, or the overruling of the laws of thermodynamics in a Babylonian fiery furnace, should make potential co-labourers in cultures closer to those of the Bible than our own secular humanist model.






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Phrases or Actions: Stretch your legs to the size of your blanket


The themes of time and space tend to reinforce one another illustrating a difference in perspective from general Western assumptions about the time/space continuum.

Like time, space is conceived of in organic and personal terms by Middle Easterners.  Even in towns and cities, the physical geography of a building or an area speaks of the paramount concerns for a sense of hierarchy, a separation of sex roles and the submersion of the person in the goals of the group.

The medina of a city, and especially the central bazaar, is a world in itself.  The main aim of the bazaar is not to help competition and economic growth, but to ensure equality of benefit and social interaction.

In many Muslim societies, especially at the level of bazaar and medina, the concept of ‘limited good’ functions as a leveler.  The physical layout of the bazaar enables this tension to work.

In the confines of a home, ‘space’ is not a very important commodity.  People, not things, nor primarily palace, make ‘home’.

Space conveys shades of relationship.  They don’t like it being invaded.

One of the first uncomfortable realisations that a Westerner undergoes as he gets to know Arabs is that the Arab chooses to converse head on, at a small distance and in a loud voice.  It is not strange to find two moving around a room each seeking to be comfortable, in spatial terms, with the level of interaction going on.






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‘Value’ culture


Perhaps one could differentiate Western from Middle Eastern culture in terms of the former being a reality culture and the latter a value culture.  For Middle Easterners, facts are more negotiable commodities.

The biblical world, like those of many contemporary Muslims, is one in which value is far more significant than surface reality.  Nevertheless, Jesus Christ has a challenge to make to a worldview in which value comes to be enthroned at the expense of the real.  In the parable of the two sons – one who did what is father asked and the other did not – in Jesus’ view, it is the son who does the deed, whatever his immediate words, who most closely conforms to the ideal of obedience.

Sometimes it is very hard to get a straight answer from a Middle Easterner about when something is going to happen.  The Arabic phrase in sha’a ‘llah (if God wills) could mean ‘definitely yes’, ‘definitely no’ or any shade of response in between those two extremes.



Why is culture important?

Cultural Values



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