Abu Atallah grew up in Cairo as an ordinary Egyptian Muslim. He was deeply embedded in his family, religion and country. In his last year of high school, his best friend joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative group in Egypt that believes should be an Islamic state, complete with sharia law and caliph. In order to socialize with his friend and his family, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood too. He hoped doing this would not only bring him closer to his best friend and his family, but also that Allah would reward him with good enough grades to qualify for Cairo University. For him, it wasn’t a formal or religiously motivated event. He simply thought he was tagging along with his friend and father, and taking up their practices.
As he came of age, he started encountering people who followed a different way, who called themselves Christian and it radically changed his life.
In Atallah’s book, “From Cairo to Christ” he shares how he was drawn to the Christen faith, and how he later becomes an ambassador for Christ with a ministry in the Muslim world. In his book, he describes the moment he was taken to a Christian prayer gathering. He had no idea that this experience would change not only his perspective on Christianity but also lead him to Christ.
At this meeting, these Christians were praying and studying the Bible. The women there did mingle openly with men and wore no veils. They also walked freely among the young men, who seemed to think nothing unusual was going on. The men and women treated one another as if they were brothers and sisters, not like the characters he had seen in Western soap operas, which is what he had expected. The people gathered at this prayer meeting were just as surprised by his presence as he was by theirs.
One person at this prayer meeting got up to pray and thanked God for helping him with homework. Atallah’s first thought was that he was foolish. Why would he expect the Lord of the universe to care about his homework? He had been taught that Allah is the master, and we are the slaves. Islam means submission so a Muslim’s duty is to submit to the will of Allah, not try to influence it. The servant must please the master; the master never serves the slave. He also wondered how he dared to bring God down to his level and give Him an earthly title like Father.
Allah demanded submission and obedience, whereas the Christian God asked for love. He explains that there are ninety-nine names for Allah in the Qur’an that Muslims commonly recite. One of them, Al-Wadud is sometimes translated as “Loving God.” But a more accurate translation is “the Concerned or Friendly God who visits us.” The actual Arabic word for love, mahaba, is not a name for Allah, and even Al-Wadud is but one of the ninety-nine names. The nature of Allah is not revealed in the Qur’an; his will is. He explains that this is why so few Muslims will say that they know Allah himself. They only know what he demands. He soon learned that the first letter of John simply says “God is love.” This was the difference between the Christian God of love and the Muslim God of law and justice. The difference between the two changed his life.
Jesus’ final instruction to His followers was “go and make disciples”. Jesus made disciples, the disciples made disciples and their disciples made disciples. Jesus’ method of making disciples was focused more on relationships and action and less on information and knowledge.
By definition, a disciple is a follower, one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. A Christian disciple is a person who accepts and assists in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more Christ-like. Discipleship is not knowing more information about Jesus, but knowing Jesus and being transformed into His image through the constant exposure of the Gospel of grace. Discipleship calls us to live by faith in Him in the everydayness of life by the Holy Spirit’s power. Atallah felt a calling to discipleship and followed that call.
Over the years, Atallah has personally helped hundreds of Muslims come to Christ. Bringing people to Jesus does not happen simply by imposing the message of Christ upon others. It happens by offering the Gospel respectfully, through Spirit-filled witness and caring relationships. We are thirsty people who have discovered the well spring of life. Our task is to lead and bring others to the Water of Life. Atallah discovered that spring and is calling others to be filled.
Despite the challenges facing believers from Muslim backgrounds, God is at work, bringing incredible numbers of Muslims to Christ. The Good News of Jesus Christ is transforming lives in communities around the world. It is important that we too show the way to others.