Can You Be a Muslim Follower of Jesus?

Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Sunday Worship Usher:  Have you met the Muslim woman from Turkey who was visiting today?

Me:  You don’t mean the Rumi Forum guys?

SWU:  No, this was a woman.  You need to meet her.

I was planning to travel to Turkey at the time and the usher was more interested in the fact that Z. was from Turkey than the fact that she was Muslim.  Z and I became friends – more because she was Muslim than because she was from Turkey.  One day over brunch she said, “I think I want to be baptized.”

Would you say that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” I asked and she said, “Not yet. I will always be Muslim culturally.  But I want to live my life like Jesus.”

Herein lies the very interesting issue of personal spiritual identity.  I just read a very brief novel (a novela?) by Brian McLaren called The Girl With the Dove Tattoo which is a prelude of sorts to his new book  Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, due out – very intentionally – on September 11, 2012.  And the tattooed title character – like so many young adults I know – is grappling with what she believes.  Her basic identity, however, is Christian – whether she toys with Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or even atheism.

Can my friend Z. be a Muslim follower of Jesus?  Can Islam be her cultural identity while she seeks to follow the way of Jesus?

What do we mean when we say Jesus is the only way to the Father?  Does this mean that I pray the Jesus prayer?  Does it mean I profess my faith in front of a congregation of Christians?  Does it mean I alter my life in a radical way to live my life as Jesus lived his life? 

There was a scene in the Gandhi movie where Om Puri plays a Hindu who has killed a Muslim child because Muslims killed his child. When he repents and confesses it to Gandhi, Gandhi tells him to adopt an orphan Muslim child and raise him as a Muslim.  This confused me as a Christian (and probably would be confusing to a Hindu person as well.)  What if we encouraged people of other faiths to be the most faithful Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist/Sikh/Jew they could possibly be while modeling to them what a faithful Christian looks like in hopes of sharing what love really looks like through Jesus?  What if we really loved “the other” in the likeness of Christ who clearly loved (but didn’t overtly preach to) the Syro-Phoenician woman, who saw Jesus as a prophet and healer but was identified as a Canaanite? 

This is the stuff of interesting conversation. 

A dear friend of mine who grew up Roman Catholic and now considers herself Buddhist (although she is still pretty Catholic whether she likes it or not) often says, “All religions are the same.”  I totally disagree with her.  Each faith has its own identity and culture.  But God uses all faiths – when practiced truthfully – to point to the Truth that is Jesus, in my humble opinion.  My identity is Christian.  I believe following Jesus is absolutely the best way to live – and none of us does it very well.  But sometimes people who self-identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh (and no faith) seem to do it better than I.

Thoughts?

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10 responses to “Can You Be a Muslim Follower of Jesus?

  1. Martha Shrout Brown

    Take a look at Stephen Prothero’s “God is Not One” — interesting.

  2. Hey Jan! Didn’t know you were in the blog world. But in response to your article:
    You said,” Can my friend Z. be a Muslim follower of Jesus? Can Islam be her cultural identity while she seeks to follow the way of Jesus?”
    What is a cultured Muslim as you refer to your friend Z? One who grew up in a nation where Islam was at the forefront religiously, or one who adheres to the 5 pillars of Islam?
    If by stating Muslim, you refer to a follower of Islam; not the sociopolitical entity I would say no. Both Islam and Christianity claim exclusivity. Although Islam arose out of the Judeo-Christian foundation, there are fundamental differences to both religions and at best superficial similarities. Sure, there are similarities in Islamic and Christian theology (One God, Angles, written records of God’s revelation, the apostles (or prophets)). However the most significant difference is that the Quran is the only historically claimed document that denies that Jesus Christ died on a cross, contrary to Greek, Roman, Pagan, Jewish and Christian historians. Muslims say it appeared that he died on a cross but he didn’t actually die (Quran 4:157). In Islam Jesus is merely a prophet who points to Muhammad.
    I definitely agree that someone raised culturally Muslim, but who does not adhere to the pillars of Islam and rejects its claims can still follow the way of Jesus. However, Islam is often seen as synonymous with it’s sociopolitical entities. It would be pretty rare to be born into a Muslim community and not be a Muslim. Muslims are born into the family a Muslim. Is there any way to affirm both Christian and Muslim views? If by saying someone who is a Muslim is also a follower of Jesus; I would ask, a follower of Jesus as what? As a moral teacher? A prophet? Jesus claimed deity many times (John 8:58, 10:27-30 among others) His critics also understood his claim as we see in John 5:18. By denying the doctrine that Jesus Christ was God incarnate you deny his claims. Jesus stood in sharp distinction to Islam. The actions and words of Muhammad are regarded as the criterion for how Muslims should live, not Jesus. You are not “born again” to obedience to Muhammad as Christians are to God.
    You ask, “What do we mean when we say Jesus is the only way to the Father?” There is salvation in no other name. We are reconciled to God only by the blood of Christ who through His blood we may appear perfect, spotless and righteous before the Father. God works a miracle in our hearts; he gives us new desires and new ambitions. The Qur’an is a book about what man must do to obey God’s will, not about how to know god, glorify him, and enjoy him. Let’s shift our focus from ourselves and our sin to Jesus and his life and his righteousness.
    Ultimately the most loving thing we can do is to show a person Christ as Savior and King, in hopes that Christ might save them from their sins. I hope my actions would be pointing to Jesus and His claims as the one and only God, not pushing them deeper into their own faith.
    And to what standard are you regarding (“people who self-identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh”) as well as yourself for living? As you say that they “seem to do it better than I.”
    I know we could probably go a lot further on some topics but I’ll leave it at this. Cool article. Hope this helps. Miss ya! Hope you’re doing well! Also shoutout to J.D. Greear’s Book, “Breaking the Islam Code” for some help with this. –Alex Edmiston

    • Alex! So happy to see you here.
      I read Breaking the Islam Code with my friend, Z and she said that there were some things in there which she would consider incorrect in terms of it’s portrayal of Islam. We had some good conversations (Libby was sometimes there too) watching videos about Islam, etc.

      Yes, Z would call herself “culturally Muslim” because she grew up in Turkey with Muslim customs, etc. Her family is secular but they call themselves Muslim much like families in the U.S. that are secular but they self-identify as Christian culturally. (I have a friend who keeps a kosher kitchen and she calls herself Jewish but she doesn’t believe in God. It’s a family/traditional thing for her.) Our identity (what we call ourselves) is often about family tradition/culture rather than how we actually live our lives.

      I remember reading about a eulogy that William F. Buckley did for a friend who’d died and he said something like, “I’ve been looking for models of Jesus all my life and I didn’t expect to find one in a Jewish friend.” One scholar (Lamar Williamson) wrote that Jesus didn’t say “No one comes to the Father through the church” but “through me.” Jesus talked about sheep who are not in his fold, and this is a mystery to me. I need the church to discipline me because I am not naturally good about doing what Jesus teaches us to do and be. But there are people whom God uses who are outside the church and they reflect the love of Christ better than I do. I’m grateful that I don’t have to make the decisions about “who’s in” and “who’s out” in the last days. But I do believe we will be surprised because God is always surprising us.

      I’m still learning a lot about this, and I find that talking with people who are faithful – or trying to be – in terms of their religion is interesting. I believe following Jesus is a way of life that involves some radical shifts from the way I would like to live my life. I’ve found God to be much more gracious that I am, especially towards people who believe things I don’t believe. Granddaddy Henry was more on target than he realized when he said, “Just love ‘em.” Jesus shows us what real love looks like and it’s an irresistable gift.

      HOpe you’ll read Brian McLaren’s new book. I’d love to hear what you think.

      PS Been writing this blog for almost six years.

  3. As a self-identified progressive Christian with an Evangelical Fundamentalist background, that second half of that verse may be the one I find most difficult. “No one comes to the father except through me.” What does that mean? I have some ideas, but it’s a tough one for me. –Wendy

    • Hey bookgirl. I wonder about this too. All my life I thought this meant that someone had to be in the church, accept the Four Spiritual Laws, etc. But I know so many people who have done those things but are so mean and hateful. What if Jesus was saying that we come to the Father through the love of Jesus, the way of Jesus – not just saying his name but imitating him? Which is more faithful?

  4. Hi Jan- I just caught up on your blog after missing for a while. (miss YOU even more!) Always thought provoking and I love how you STRETCH us as believers to think beyond the “obvious guidelines” and literal interpretations of scripture. Good stuff. This is timely as we are soaked in the absurdity of two political candidates whose religion is too often mentioned… “how could we elect a Mormon” or “is really a Muslim deep inside?” – UGH!!! I would suggest a good book to add to your readers’ list – I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish (Jan 17, 2012 ) – how could we possibly say this man is not “going to a better place” when he dies? If God truly weaves us before we are born, knows the hairs on our head, etc., then I choose to believe that he looks at the human heart in each individual. He is THAT good!

  5. You’re so gutsy I love it!

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