Saturday, November 03, 2012

What does 'Christian' mean in a Muslim context?

A rather arcane (1938) document has recently come to my attention. It is the Riggs Report from the Near East Christian Council (NECC) meeting in Beirut back in the day. They were trying to figure out why so few Muslims were converting. (Though most people are interested in how this relates or does not relate to the whole Insider Movement debate, several other interesting points are made.)

Anyway, here is a section I thought was quite interesting and wanted to share with you:
[...] the name Christian, in the Near East, has almost exclusively a racial, political and social group-connotation, and does not suggest either a new way of life nor a spiritual rebirth within. If a group of believers is to grow up as indigenous and not alien, they cannot take on themselves that particular name. Some other terminology must be developed.

So what do you think? Can we toss out the word 'Christian' because it is misunderstood by Muslims? If so, what should we use in its stead?

The whole document is HERE, if you are interested in reading it. He followed this up with a 1941 article in Moslem World on the topic, but to my knowledge that is not available anywhere on the internet.

6 comments:

Mme Scherzo said...

This reminds me of the bible translators who wanted to drop the Father/Son terminology from the New Testament for fear of offending Muslims. What if we took a different approach, altogether and make boldness with the truth the standard, offended sensitivities notwithstanding?

M & C said...

It shows one thing: Nothing is new under the sun. I have actually been looking for older documents dealing with "insider" type stuff, though this is still more recent than desired, proves that it all comes around again.

Regarding Christian being used, one could argue just as well that the term "Muslim" has come to have a very political and specific social tag to it in the States, but I have not met many Muslims to change their status for the sake of others or attempting to be relevant.

In India, when I am asked, "Are you a Christian?", I have an opportunity to deny such a filthy label and start clean right? Well, sure, you can, but be prepared, for you will confuse the heck out of the person asking. One situation where I was with another believer, he said he was not a "Christian", but a follower of Isa, and the Muslim turns to me and I say, well, I am a Christian. He then looks at us bother confused and says, "Ohhhh, like Shia and Sunni??!" ... I have found it way more rewarding to strive for redemption of things, whether it be a label or physical thing. Especially when this "Christian" label is attached to millions of our brothers and sisters worldwide, are we really wiling to so easily disassociate ourselves for the sake of potentially helping the Muslim mind, but to what degree even?

Abu Daoud said...

Both of you make fine points, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Scherzo: you are correct in linking together the two things. People who are 'followers of Isa' rather than Christians are often the ones who advocate not translating huios theou as son of God.

Abu Daoud said...

M & C: Yes, I have come to more or less the same conclusion. I prefer to clarify what the word 'Christian' means rather than toss it out altogether. I mean, Muslims assume that we should try to know what Islam is, so out of respect, we should expect them to do the same--to try to learn about, and be able to understand, what a Christian is.

In any case, I don't know of anything older than this document, but if you dig up anything please just comment on the most recent post on the blog and let me know.

moving2gether said...

In some countries,such as Finland, "born again" Christians do not call themselves Christian in order to distinguish themselves from nominal Christians. Instead they refer to themselves as believers. Just because the Roman Catholic Church used to only have liturgy in Latin does not mean I must accept this and so also just because most of the world is using the word Christian does not mean I must use that word to label myself. Besides the earliest followers of Jesus called themselves "The Way". I think there is room for other ways.

Abu Daoud said...

moving2gether, thanks for chiming in. Evangelical Christians in my town also call themselves, simply, 'believers', but that word is also used a lot in the Qur'an to refer to Muslims/followers of Muhammad, so it can lead to some confusion.