Conversation with an Arabic friend

For many years, I hosted the Middle East nations at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. At one of those breakfasts, I met Ahmed from one of the most prominent countries in that region. He wasn’t from the Royal family, but he was one of their most senior officials. We spent a lot of time together that week, and I liked him immediately. As I got to know him, I learned why he was so open to talking about Jesus.

Let me give you a very condensed biographical sketch of Ahmed. He is fabulously wealthy today (14 personal servants) but grew up in desert poverty. Oil was discovered in 1938, but the general population did not feel its benefits for many years. Ahmed was born in one of the goatskin tents of a large Bedouin tribe. In the early nineteen forties, an evangelical missionary doctor and two nurses arrived in his area. They met with the Sheikh (Headman) of the tribe and asked if they could help with the medical needs of the tribe. The Sheikh was very suspicious of their motives and told his people that if they went to the clinic, they might die. The doctor was persistent and continued to meet with the Sheikh and explain the advances in medicine. After months of relationship building, there was a break-thru. The Sheikh said he had a sick donkey and if the doctor could make him better, he would allow his people to go to the clinic. We don’t know how he did it, but the donkey returned to good health, so the Sheikh kept his word. The first person he sent to the clinic was my new friend Ahmed who was six years old at the time. He had a very serious ear infection that was draining and extremely painful. With antibiotics and loving care, he recovered after nine days, but one thing remained deeply ingrained in his memory. Several times a day, the nurses had whispered in his ear, “Jesus loves you.” So even though he was in his sixties when I met him, our open conversations about Jesus brought back that good memory. Since he was open to dialogue about Jesus, I invited him to a weeklong retreat later that year in the Colorado Rockies, and he accepted on the spot.

He flew into Denver, and we drove up to the C-Lazy-U ranch, which is the only 5-star dude ranch in America. Talking about Jesus (Isa/eesa) to an Islamic person is easy because He is mentioned by name 25 times in the Quran plus many other times by inference. It calls Him a great prophet and affirms His virgin birth, second coming, miracles and frequently refers to Him as Messiah. By the way, Mohammed is mentioned only four times. I knew that the most respected Mullahs teach that you cannot be a good Muslim unless you believe in Jesus. However, by that, they mean, believe that he was a great prophet whose mother was a virgin. But when you move beyond that, you quickly run into a big problem. Both the Quran and the Mullahs insist that he was not the “Son of God,” was not crucified so did not rise from the dead. I also knew that when we use the term the “Son of God,” most followers of Islam are filled with righteous indignation because they think we mean that God had sex with Mary and Jesus is the son. Some would even want to cut your throat for insulting God.

So in the beginning, I told Ahmed, while we are together I will likely refer to Jesus as the “Son of God,” but I want to quickly tell you what I do not mean when I use that phrase. I do not mean, “Allah and Mary had sex and Jesus is the son. Let me share a metaphor that might help you understand what I mean when I use that phrase.

I said, Ahmed, I have a thought right now, can you tell me what it is? Of course, you can’t until I put it into words. Then I could say, the word is the son of the thought or the thought and the words are one. I could also say the words represent the thought or they are the expression of the thought. The Bible uses these very same ideas to help us understand Jesus. It says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) It says He is the full expression of God; “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…” (Heb. 1:3) Jesus himself said, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30)

So Ahmed said, I can believe He is the “Son of God,” like that.

We dialogued quite a bit about the death, burial, and resurrection and then the Holy Spirit did what only He can do.

Questions and denials seemed to melt away, and Ahmed said if that is really true then I am ready for God to help me believe it.

So on the third morning, he told me that he believes that Jesus is God’s son and had paid the penalty for his sin.

For the remaining days, our conversation changed to more of discipleship content. At the end of that week, he asked if I would spend time with his family and tell his sons about Jesus.

A few months later, I traveled to ______ and spent three weeks with him and his family. I was with them every day but spent my evenings as his guest in a seven-star hotel. After a couple of days, I asked Baqir, his 32-year-old son to show me around the area. As we were riding around, I told him how much I loved his dad and that I was glad we had a chance to get to know each other. I told him; in preparation for my visit I read the Quran and developed some questions.

He quickly said, have you really read the Koran?

I said yes, I’ve read the English version twice.

He asked, do you want to become a Muslim? My answer shocked him, as it will most people who read this.

I told him, I’m already a Muslim. When he looked at me with a puzzled look, I said; Muslim is an Arabic word, what does it mean?”

He said it means, “One who submits to God.”

So I said that’s my understanding as well. If you were speaking Arabic and introduced me to a friend, I hope you would say “Glenn is a Muslim,” (meaning, submitted to God) but he’s a disciple of Jesus, not Mohammed.

Then I offered, if you could help me be a better Muslim (more surrendered to God.) I’d like that.

He quickly said, if you want to be a good Muslim, you must understand that Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac, he sacrificed Ishmael.

So now we could have a debate with me saying, it was Isaac, and he saying, it was Ishmael. We would likely not resolve that quickly, so I sidestepped the issue, and said, don’t you remember, neither boy was sacrificed. God provided a sacrifice out of the bushes, and it was a ram, and he said, “oh yeah.” In fact, you still sacrifice animals during Ramadan at the Kaaba (Cube) in Mecca. Why don’t you ask your Mullah, (Head of your Mosque), what is the purpose of a blood sacrifice? So over the next two weeks, we had several conversations about this.

I also knew that if you tell someone that you have read the Quran, they want to know if you read and write Arabic. If you do not, they make if clear that you have not read it because the language and the Quran are one. So I said, I read an English translation of the Quran, and I want to check with you to see if things I found in my English translation are in the original.

He said okay, of course.

So I asked; the Quran mentions the “Injeel” (Gospels) many many times and it is clear that Mohammed read them. Is that true in the Arabic version?

He said yes that’s correct.

So I asked, have you read the Injeel? The Injeel is Arabic for what we call the Gospels.

He said no, I have never seen them.

When I asked why his answer was.

The Jews corrupted the Old Testament, and the Christians corrupted the New Testament, so they’re not trustworthy. If I had the Injeel that Mohammed read, I would definitely read it.

When he said the Injeel was corrupted, I said I guess that’s theoretically possible. I personally do not believe it was changed because I believe the Holy Spirit of God protected it. But to be intellectually honest I must admit the possibility that the New Testament could have been changed. That’s because I am aware that we do not have any originals of the New Testament. All we have are copies of copies of copies, and the oldest complete copy we have is 300 years after Jesus. Nevertheless, I can take you to the British Museum in London or the Vatican in Rome and prove that it has not changed since about 300 AD. So if it was changed, it was changed in those first 300 years. I told him, you can’t believe how excited I got when I learned from the Quran that the Injeel was still trustworthy to Mohammed in 625 AD. He gives me a 300-year overlap to help me trust my Bible. He seemed unconvinced about that, so I gave him a challenge. Why don’t you call your pilot and tell him to prepare the Gulfstream V jet, and let’s go to the British Museum?

He said no, I believe you, so I gave him a copy of the Arabic New Testament, and he committed to reading the Injeel. (Gospels)

I can’t give you the eventual result of this conversation with Ahmed’s son because I don’t know the end of that story. My only reason for writing this is simply to report a memorable conversation I had with an Arabic man and his son. Actually, I think I will relate a bit more about Ahmed.

A couple of years before I visited Ahmed I spoke at a ten-day retreat at a beautiful old castle near Brighton, England. It was called the Third Arab World Congress and included 200 attendees from seven Middle East nations. It had been put together by a group of friends and extended families who were both followers of Jesus and followers of Mohammed. There I met a number of amazing men who had secret house churches in their home countries. One was named Yusef, and he was from Ahmed’s country so a few days after I arrived, I made contact with him and introduced them to each other. Twice Ahmed and I went to Yusef’s secret house church after very covert arrangements. They became friends and could meet publicly because Yusef was a very prominent businessman. Ahmed was eventually baptized in Washington DC. by my mentor Dick Halverson.