Conversing with Three Arab Imams

Three Islamic imams sat down next to me in the middle row of four seats across on a long nine-hour flight to Indonesia. They were well dressed in the typical Arabian Peninsula white garb. Their groomed beards indicated that they were moderate, not radical Muslims. From other conversations, they knew I was fluent in both Arabic and English, but initially they assumed that I was a Muslim.

Conversing with Three Arab Imams

They quickly shook hands with me and interacted with warmth and respect. All three of their names were derived from Mohammed, the name of their prophet. (I will refer to them from the older to the younger as M1, M2, and M3.)

They asked for my help to fill out their landing cards in English and to translate a conversation with the stewardess. I readily agreed. So, they became quite friendly and I silently prayed for the Lord’s wisdom and grace in relating to them.

Special Mission

Quickly, they volunteered that they were excited about their special mission—to take part in the opening of a small, new mosque. They made a point of asserting that they were travelling at their own expense. The three of them, together with other friends, sponsored the entire cost of the project— purchasing the land, building a mosque, and educating a local man for Islamic service in order to become the new mosque’s imam. They also volunteered that every year they sponsor a new similar project in one of the countries of the Far East.

In time, I learned that the three owned businesses and are quite well-to-do. They love to use their money to help needy Muslims in other countries. What surprised me was the fact that they were travelling in tourist class when they could afford the more comfortable business class.

People of the Book

In a friendly fashion M1, leading member of the three, probed to find out whether I was Sunni or Shiite. M2 and M3 listened intently. At that very moment the stewardess arrived to ask for our choices of free pre-meal drinks. And it was my chance to give a quick response to the question and open up a long discussion—I asked for a glass of red wine!

So they looked at each other, assuming that at best I could not be a practicing Muslim. I quickly said, “Please do not be offended, but I am neither Shiite nor Sunni; I am a Christian teacher of the Bible.”

Again, they looked at each other and there was a long silence. Then, M3 (age 32) said his father had indicated that in his business, the best workers were the Lebanese and other Christians. M1 (age 51) spoke again, this time agreeing with the youngest one that he respected Christians, adding, “according to the Koran, you are the people of the Book.”

We talked about families, and I learned that the oldest and the youngest had only one wife, but M2 (age 42) had four wives and, so far, 17 children.

M1 spoke again, this time saying that even though he respects Christians he could not agree with their belief about ‘Issa’ (Jesus). He could not understand how Christians attribute to ‘Allah Ta’ala’ (God Most Ascendant) the unimaginable—coming to earth in human nature! M2 added emphatically, but politely, “This is impossible.” The three again looked at each other and then gazed at me, wondering how I would react.

Who Is Allah?

Expressing agreement that Allah is indeed totally transcendent above all creation, I added that He is also the Almighty and perfectly holy. They happily agreed, eager to hear more. So I asked if they agreed that nothing is impossible to Almighty God. They quickly agreed. Expecting another positive, I asked if man is Allah’s most special creature on earth and the only one created in His image. Again, they agreed.

Then I asked them if Allah desires man’s loyalty and intimacy with Himself and whether He is able to accomplish whatever He desires. After a bit of silence and another exchange of looks among them, M1 expressed agreement and the others consented, all three gazing and wondering where I was going next.

At that moment, I asserted afresh that Allah is free and able to choose the way in which He would bring man to full submission and intimacy. Sensing that there was no objection, I added that the Torah and the Gospel, from beginning to end, speak of a divine plan to gradually work out Allah’s wish for intimacy with man. This included Allah’s use of His infinite power and wisdom to draw near to humanity in full human form in sinless Issa.

All Things are Possible with God

To this, M1 responded, “This is not what we believe and cannot be the case.” M3 interjected to say to M1, “but our friend is right that all things are possible to Allah.” M2 nodded in agreement and M3 looked sad, and all, including myself, kept silent until M1 spoke again.

This time he asked, “For how long have Christians had this belief?” I replied, “From the start they had to accept what God revealed to the prophets and the apostles which Issa al-Masih (Jesus the Christ) fulfilled.

Again, M1 said he would have to study this more. I gave him the link to MERF’s Arabic media site and encouraged them all to study the original inspired and preserved Scriptures. To my surprise, M3 consented and thanked me.

Please pray for these imams, and the many like them, to have opportunities to understand what the Bible really teaches.