Monday, September 19, 2005

Jay Smith - Islam and Christianity: Clash of Civilizations in a Multicultural Age

The other night, I went to First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood to hear a presentation by Jay Smith whose is a missionary to Muslims. His particular approach is to debate with them in London and in other (mostly university) settings as opportunities arise. Some of his material can be found at

Like most Americans, my knowledge of Islam is fairly modest. The other day I was sharing with a friend about this lecture and mentioned that I went in knowing just three things about Islam: (1) not all Muslims are Arab (2) Muslims hold to the Five Pillars of Islam (monotheism - Allah, prayer, charity, observing Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca) and (3) the countries with large Muslim populations are actually Asian countries.

What follows are the notes I took from the presentation.

The situation in London

He began the talk by saying the Islamic groups in London are probably more outspoken than most other places. Over the years, he has befriended some of the people he has debated while others hold hatred for his views.

He mentioned he often goes to "Speaker's Corner" in London to debate with Muslims there usually on Sundays at 4pm. He invited the audience to see him there should they visit London!

In 2002, he got to know a student through debate. Smith found out that student eventually left London to go to Syria to learn Arabic. He would next see a photo of this student on a newspaper in 2003 when that student blew himself up in Tel Aviv.

Smith went to Speaker's Corner the following Sunday and held up the newspaper and asked how many people here support what this man did?

30 raised their hands.

Smith asked, how many would do what he did right here in London?

15 raised their hands.

Thus, the news of the London Underground bombing came as no surprise to Smith. All the bombers in that attempt and in the failed attempt that followed were all citizens of the UK and not foreign terrorists.

In a survey of Islam in the UK taken shortly after 9/11 showed that 15% were radical, 70% nominal and 15% liberal.

The serious readers of the Koran were considered radical. (ed. note - I think this is unfortunate terminology because I don't think of Christians who are serious readers of the Bible should be considered radical). The nominal Muslims were generally non-readers of the Koran. The liberal Muslims were the one who proclaim that Islam is a "religion of peace."

Islam around the world

Smith then gave some quick facts and figures about Islam for our audience: over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, 700 million can be found in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and 1 million in London.

He believes that the large numbers in the UK as compared to the USA is intentional because church attendance in the UK is only 5% thus would be more ripe for the spread of Islam. Islamic missionary strategists know that English is become the world language so they need to reach the English world and the UK was more open than the USA for evangelistic efforts.

Smith discussed why there is such hostility to the West and the USA in particular. He mentioned five factors: (1) moral decline of the West is due to the US (2) democracy is incompatible with Islam beliefs (3) usury is a terrible sin and capitalism is a form of usury (4) all of the above mentioned is sustained by the US military and (5) the West is Christian and Christians have corrupted Scripture thus the West is corrupt.

The poll taken shortly after 9/11 was taken again a year later in 2002. The radical portion in the UK grew to 25%. The poll hasn't been taken since but unofficial estimates put the radical group at over 40% today.

History of Islam and the Koran

Smith then moved onto some historical aspects of the rise of Islam.

Muhammad lived in the 7th Century and he received visions from Allah which came to be the Koran text. Smith cited that the oldest biography of Muhammad was about 200 years after his life. Also, the oldest commentary of the Koran was 300 years later. Thus, the time between the actual events and these significant writings is a bit long and thus Smith contends weakens the claims of historicity.

In debates with Muslims, the question often came up, where do you find "Peace" in Islam?

Smith then quoted several passages from the Koran that are used to justify violence. He added that some of the peaceful passages are often mixed with violent ones.

ed. note - I tried to jot down all the verses from the Koran he cited but he spoke fast and I didn't catch all the referencees. I've only list the ones I've been able to confirm by checking an on-line English translation of the Koran.

Smith cited: Sura 9:5, 9:29, 5:32.

The first half of the Koran is from the later Medina part of Muhammad's life. The second half of the Koran is from the earlier Mecca part of his life. For a brief explanation of this see here. The Medina passages are regarded as having precedent over the Mecca passages. 149 verses in the Medina section can be considered as "Sword" verses.

Al-Qaeda is a very violent sect within Islam that cites the "Sword" verses. A 2004 poll showed support for Al-Qaeda in Turkey at 31%, Morocco at 45%, Jordan at 55% and Pakistan at 65%.

Smith believes the "nominals" who used to not read the Koran are now doing so and are adopting the radicalized form of Islam.

Smith's Experiences

Smith says that Bush and Blair can't say the things he is saying because it would be politically incorrect.

He believes Islamic ideology can only be defeated by another ideology and he believes the Christian Gospel is the best idea. He mentioned that Jesus confronted opponents directly. He cited that St. Paul confronted opponents directly.

He mentioned that before St. Paul became a missionary for Christianity he was Saul who was a devout persecutor of Christians. He asked us to pray that there would be an Islamic Paul.

Smith briefly shared that he has met two young men who were very strong Muslims of good reputation who recently became Christians who might be Paul's who can reach the Muslims.

One of them had read an article by Smith and received the Gospel of John to read. He read how Jesus responded on the Cross. He thought about how Muhammad lead military campaigns. Because of this tension, he became a Christian.

The other man Smith met used to watch videos of Smith and then teach Islamic youths that Smith was wrong. He was working in a Mosque when he heard a voice saying, "This is Jesus, follow me." He eventually became a Christian.

Q & A

Q: How does someone in LA respond to Islam?
A: Be friends with Muslims but don't be shy about discussing the differences between Islam and Christianity. Don't be afraid to dialog with the ones who have questions. It makes you learn your Christian faith more when they ask you about your faith. Ask them about why they believe what they believe.

Q: I heard there was some old Koranic texts found in Yemen. What do you know about them?
A: In the 1970s some old texts were found. In the 1980s, 2 German scholars were invited to examine them. The texts seem to be at variance to the Koran as currently configured. Smith has met one of these scholars and that scholar isn't a Christian but one of the leading experts in ancient Middle-Eastern languages. Unfortunately, his findings haven't been yet published and that scholar is fearful about doing so.

Q: Isn't some of the injustices that Muslim societies have suffered part of why they hate the USA?
A: It is a factor. But a lot of people around the world hate America. But only the Islamic ones do suicide bombings. Thus, more is at work than just economic and social injustice. A belief system is in play and the major factor.

Q: How much truth is in the Koran?
A: Scholars are doing source criticism of the Koran. It is quite possible that some sections of the Koran are Jewish apocryphal literature in Arabic. Poetry is about 30% of the Koran and some poems are incredibly similar to some Christian hymns that pre-date the Koran.

Q: Where do you think we will be in 10-20 years in regards to Islam?
A: Military forces isn't going to solve it. Certainly military action and law enforcement might stop some of the terrorists but what has to be defeated is the ideology that breeds the terrorists. They use their scripture to defend their actions. Christians should encourage them to re-assess their scriptures and begin to consider what the Bible has to say.

Q: What is this we hear in the media about 70+ virgins will be the reward for suicide bombers?
A: It is a debated interpretation of Suras 55 and 56.

Q: How to witness to a Muslim?
A: Just like anyone else. Tell them you believe in Jesus and the Bible. It they are open, they will ask you all sorts of questions about it and you should go get answers for them.


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