When Christians proclaim the unique claims of God to Muslims, it often goes awry when they bring Jesus into the equation, according to Emmanuel Ali El-Shariff, who says it is inconceivable—even sacrilegious—to Muslims to say that Jesus is the Son of God.
At the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) public lecture series, “Proclaiming the unique claims of Christ: Negotiating the Christian-Muslim interface,” that took place last month, El-Shariff, who was born and raised a Muslim in Sudan, examined how Jesus can be extremely offensive, and yet at the same time amazingly moving, to people who practise Islam.
After 26 years of being a Muslim, El-Shariff now believes that changing his view of Jesus from only a prophet was the first step towards accepting Christ as his personal Saviour, and is the first step for most Muslims.
It is important to build off of the Jesus spoken about in the Koran, El-Shariff said; otherwise, Muslims more often than not reject the claims. Verse 3:49 of the Koran is a good place to start, he said, noting that this verse opened the door to Christianity for him. It states that Jesus was a messenger to the people of Israel and that he created a clay bird, breathed into it, and, by Allah’s permission, the clay bird became a real, live bird. Later in the verse, Jesus says, “I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by Allah’s permission.”
“This was the verse that started elevating Jesus Christ, to think of him as more than a messenger,” El-Shariff told the CMU crowd. “If you are really planning on proclaiming the unique claims of Christ to Muslim people, this is your verse,” he said.
Another thing that helps Muslim people understand the Bible, especially Jesus, is the examples it provides, as well as the stories. “The Koran never gives any explanations, and no examples. The Bible has examples and stories,” he said, explaining that the story of Lazarus “made Jesus very distinct to me.”
Another thing that opens Muslims up to the possibility of accepting Jesus as the Christ, he said, is that Jesus was the only one to claim to have authority over sin. El-Shariff thought that he understood the concept of sacrifice because Muslims believe in sacrificing, but the idea that Jesus would die to take away all of his sins made him think, “Hey, I would give him a chance,” he said.
El-Shariff became a Christian in 1995 when Christian missionaries visited him and they had discussions about the Bible and the Koran. When he could ask questions freely, El-Shariff was surprised, as many of his questions about Islam ended with him being punished. When he asked a teacher at school why Muslims need to pray towards Mecca, he said, “[The teacher] thought I was blaspheming and I was suspended for a week.”
When a friend of his wrote a poem about Allah’s laws of punishment years ago (including the line, “You cut off my hands, you cut off my legs, are you God or a butcher?”) El-Shariff said his friend was executed for blasphemy.
Because of these reasons and more, El-Shariff said he became a Christian and his life was changed “without doing the five prayers [toward Mecca], without fasting for 30 days, and without doing anything the Koran asks.”
“Jesus miraculously intervened in my life,” he concluded.
El-Shariff is a teacher and public speaker, and is deeply involved in evangelism and media ministry. He also established the Evangelism by Correspondence Network.