Some Christians think that they can help Muslims by affirming them in their faith, and encouraging them to be good Muslims. That is more or less how Christians in the interfaith movement operate. But there are other Christians who think that the only really helpful thing we can do for our Muslim friends is to tell the wonderful news about Jesus Christ.
One great example of the latter is a 75-year-old Coptic priest who uses television and the Internet to reach out to Muslims. And for his efforts he receives numerous death threats, sees many conversions, and has a global following. I refer to Father Zakaria Botros who is making waves right around the world with his fearless approach to reaching Muslims.
Indeed, his story is so powerful and amazing that a biography of him has just been written by Rev Dr Stuart Robinson of Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne. Entitled Defying Death, it tells the astounding story of this resilient and courageous Arab-American who has been named Islam’s “Public Enemy #1” by an Arabic newspaper.
I encourage all of you to get this book, but to whet your appetite I here refer to three recent articles about this mighty man of God. The passages from these articles should give you a pretty good idea as to what this guy is up to, and encourage you to get the biography (which is available in Australia from Koorong Books).
World magazine describes the television show this way: “At 20 minutes before air time Botros, his guest, and crew pause to pray. It is 9 p.m. on a Thursday evening in Cairo, 10 p.m. in Riyadh, and 10:30 in Tehran. Botros, an Egyptian, will host the live show about to be broadcast via Cyprus-based satellite channel Al-Hayat, which will last 90 minutes and may have an audience of up to 60 million viewers across the Arab world and beyond – from the Middle East to Europe to North America to Australia. And most of the viewers who sit down to watch the televised ruminations of a 75-year-old Christian will be Muslims.”
“Botros has been hosting Truth Talk since 2003. The weekly show grew out of an internet chat room attended by thousands where the Coptic priest engaged Muslims on the inherent contradictions of their own religion and found that he was leading many to faith in Jesus Christ. As the geographic scope of the show has grown, so has its reach into the lives of Muslims. It is broadcast in Arabic, and this year began also to be translated for Turkish audiences and into Farsi to be aired in Iran.”
Botros may be elderly, but he is right up to date as he utilises the latest technologies: “Father Zakaria, as he is known to millions, has won his enormous following not by borrowing from the toolbox of the televangelist. For someone whose ecclesiastical tradition began in a.d. 100, his tools are decidedly 21st century: satellite uplinks, Wi-Fi connectivity, a late-edition Vaio laptop that is with him at all times, and a trusted reference tool he refers to as ‘St. Google.’ He can spend 14-hour days on research for each show, and for this episode emailed the final script to producers at 4:30 a.m.”
“The result is less a preaching ministry and more like battlefield strategy. It’s the late-in-life culmination of a conscious decision, Botros says, to move away from apologetics and toward what he calls polemics: ‘My program is to attack Islam, not to attack Muslims but to save them because they are deceived. As I love Muslims, I hate Islam’.”
His approach is not that of the interfaith movement: “Last month King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted a UN interfaith dialogue in New York, which was preceded by similar meetings in Madrid and at Yale, as well as a dialogue that included discussion of theological distinctives at the Vatican. Botros believes such rapprochement can succeed only for a short time. But he says his methods won’t work unless the motive is ‘nothing else but love.’ Despite his confrontational style, he says: ‘I am not against Muslims although I am against Islam as a false religion. I don’t want to disgrace Muslims but to expose Islam. My ultimate intention is to glorify God and to save people, especially Muslims. Muslims are victims. Muhammad deceived them as he himself was deceived by Satan. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the best prophet, that the Quran is the only proper book from God, and Islam is the only religion from God. Muslims are in bad need to be saved from these false beliefs’.”
And this certainly keeps him busy: “So besides the weekly program, Thursdays find him seated with his laptop to sign into the ‘Truth Talk’ chat room. He quickly clicks through his admin passcode and finds hundreds of attenders already signed in online. When username ‘Father Zakaria’ shows up, they begin to ask him questions about Islam and Christianity, all behind the safety of their screen names. Botros will spend six straight hours this way, answering questions and having conversations while anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 chat room guests show up.”
The National Review online article reveals some of the reasons for his success: “Botros’s broadcasts are in Arabic – the language of some 200 million people, most of them Muslim. While several Western writers have published persuasive critiques of Islam, their arguments go largely unnoticed in the Islamic world. Botros’s mastery of classical Arabic not only allows him to reach a broader audience, it enables him to delve deeply into the voluminous Arabic literature – much of it untapped by Western writers who rely on translations – and so report to the average Muslim on the discrepancies and affronts to moral common sense found within this vast corpus.”
Another “reason for Botros’s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme – from the pressing to the esoteric – often expressed as a question (e.g., ‘Is jihad an obligation for all Muslims?’; ‘Are women inferior to men in Islam?’; ‘Did Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?’; ‘Is drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?’). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes – always careful to give sources and reference numbers – from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet – the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present – the illustrious ulema.”
“But the ultimate reason for Botros’s success is that – unlike his Western counterparts who criticize Islam from a political standpoint – his primary interest is the salvation of souls. He often begins and concludes his programs by stating that he loves all Muslims as fellow humans and wants to steer them away from falsehood to Truth. To that end, he doesn’t just expose troubling aspects of Islam. Before concluding every program, he quotes pertinent biblical verses and invites all his viewers to come to Christ.”
Finally, a Joel Rosenberg blog tells us about the very great dangers associated with this type of ministry: “Last week, I had the honor of interviewing Botros by phone from a secure, undisclosed location in the United States, where he now resides. He told me that he had just learned that an al Qaeda website had posted his photograph and named him one of the ‘most wanted’ infidels in the world. The Radicals have even put a bounty on his head. The Christian Broadcasting Network reported the figure was as high as $60 million. Botros does not know for certain. But just to put that in context, the U.S. bounty on Osama bin Laden’s head is ‘only’ $25 million.”
But despite all this anger and the many death threats there is a hugely fruitful ministry: “Millions hate him, to be sure, but they are watching. They are listening. They are processing what he is saying and they are talking about him with their friends and family. When Botros challenges Radical clerics to answer his many refutations of Islam and defend the Qu’ran, millions wait to see what how the fundamentalists will respond. But they rarely do. They prefer to attack Botros than answer him. Yet, the more the Radicals attack him, the more well-known he becomes. The more well-known he becomes, the more Muslims feel compelled to tune in. And as more Muslims tune in, more are coming to the conclusion that Botros is right and in turn are choosing to become followers of Jesus Christ. Botros estimates at least 1,000 Muslims a month pray to receive Christ with his telephone counselors. Some of them pray to receive Christ live on their air with Botros. And this surely is only the tip of the iceberg, as it represents only those who are able to get through on the jammed phone lines. There simply are not currently enough trained counselors to handle each call.”
His persistence provides an example to us all: “He vows to keep preaching the gospel so long as the Lord Jesus gives him breath. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’ That verse – John 3:16 – is the verse that drives Botros. He believes passionately God loves the whole world, including each and every Muslim. He believes that ‘whosoever’ believes in the Lordship of Jesus Christ – Jew or Muslim – will, in fact, receive eternal life. He does not believe all Muslims are Radicals, but he does believe all Muslims are spiritually lost, and he wants desperately to help them find their way to forgiveness and reconciliation with the God who made them and loves them.”
Partly because of the efforts of Botros, more Muslims are coming to Christ right now than at any other time in history. That is tremendous news. Yet Christians involved in interfaith dialogue are missing out on all this. As long as they think all religions are more or less equal, they will see none of the fruit which Botros is experiencing. Yes, we can dialogue and talk with Muslims. But our aim should always be to set them free from the shackles of Islam by bringing them into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.