Prayer targeting Muslim conversion during Ramadan draws criticism


By Hannah Elliott
Published September 27, 2006

http://www.abpnews.com/1394.article 

DALLAS (ABP) -- A worldwide coalition of evangelical
Christians is urging prayer for Muslims during the
month of Ramadan. But the idea has met some resistance
from Muslims -- and even some Christians.

Ramadan, which this year began Sept. 24, is a
significant time for Muslims. They spend the month
fasting, praying and doing good deeds.

The Christian prayer effort is the 15th annual
"30-Days of Prayer for the Muslim World," which lasts
for the duration of Ramadan. During the holiday,
Christian churches and groups fast, pray and learn
about "Muslim peoples of the world," both as a form of
solidarity and as an outreach tool.

According to the project's website, people participate
so Muslims "may at least have an opportunity to
consider God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ, and
that we may live peaceably and respectfully side by
side." Major contributors to the project include Youth
With a Mission, Frontiers, Evangelical Alliances of
Europe, Transformations Africa, and major churches
worldwide.

Some critics of the event have said it patronizes
Islam and portrays Muslims as targets. Others, like
Baptist seminary professor Ronald Smith, say they're
not opposed to prayer and evangelism but would prefer
to use different methods.

"From a Muslim point of view, it looks like targeting
during a particularly holy season for Islam, and that
tends to be resented," said Smith, a professor of
theology at Logsdon School of Theology at
Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. "I think
it would be better for this kind of effort to be done
at a different time and out of the public view."

The last thing missionaries need is defensiveness from
people they're trying to reach, Smith told Associated
Baptist Press. And while he agrees with the
motivations behind the effort, he said, it's being
handled in a way that doesn't necessarily demonstrate
sensitivity to Muslims.

"I think to do it in this mannerůsounds crusade-ish,"
he said, referring to the medieval conquests of Middle
Eastern lands, during which Europeans slaughtered
Muslims, Jews and others in an effort to claim the
Holy Land for Christianity. The Islamic memory of
resentment for the Crusades is long, and radical
Islamic terrorist groups have used the term
"Crusaders" to refer to Christians, Americans and
Westerners in general.

Because many Muslims still suspect Christians of
harboring crusading desires, Smith said, "I think some
of the publicity that has come out will work against
what the proponents [of the Ramadan prayers] are
attempting to achieve."

Nonetheless, in the United States, the National
Association of Evangelicals has asked its member
churches to participate in the effort.

Mostafaa Carroll, a board member of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said he welcomes
Christians' interest in his faith. He told an
Associated Baptist Press reporter that he has worked
in interfaith efforts with Christians for the last 20
years but had not heard of the Ramadan project until
recently.

"There is nothing wrong with prayer whenever you can
get it. I encourage it," he told ABP. "I see the
prayer as something that is good -- that can help
people to understand. Everything counts" when it comes
to understanding Ramadan, he said.

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a
season for the world's 1 billion Muslims to
concentrate on their faith. During Ramadan, Muslims do
not eat or drink during the day. They also abstain
from smoking and sex.

Each evening after nightfall, Muslims break their fast
with prayer and a meal called the iftar. The fast is
resumed each morning.

Leaders of 30-Days International, organizers of the
prayer program, say it is a proven tool for connecting
with Muslims. The coalition also distributes a prayer
booklet that details 30 specific Islamic nations or
communities to help participants better understand the
religion and culture. Produced in 42 languages, the
30-Days Muslim World Prayer Guide goes to participants
in 149 countries.

"It is not our intention with this prayer focus to
disparage Islam or Muslim sentiments in any way," the
group's website says. "We recognize that humans and
the Muslim world are far too complex to simply or
easily condense, explain or take lightly with a mere
booklet."

That said, CAIR's Carroll said the fasting and praying
comprise a good beginning for breaking barriers
between Muslim and other groups.

"It helps when people get together to try to
understand each other, so definitely that project is a
good start," he said. "If they want to pray for us
even in that way [to convert], that's fine if they
want to do it. You can't convert anyone by force."

Ramadan ends on Oct. 24 with the festival of Eid
al-Fitr, or "Festival of Breaking the Fast."








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