26 June 2015
A new UK phenomenon: churches working together to reach Muslims
by Gordon Hickson
The Muslim population in the UK has increased by 70 per cent in the last 10 years. It's time we introduced Jesus to these people searching for God, argues Gordon Hickson from the Mahabba Network.
Something remarkable is happening. Over the last 30 years Jesus has been appearing to Muslim people world-wide, particularly in dreams and visions. From Iran to Indonesia, and Sierra Leone to Egypt, millions of Muslims have come to know Jesus as "IsaAl Masih" – Jesus the Messiah – and for the first time they have experienced a personal relationship with God as their Father. Yet in this country, many Christians are unaware of what God is doing. Christians often find themselves alienated from the Muslim people around them, fearful of offending them, or even angry at the Islamisation of their cities, and the rapid growth of radical Islamists.
But young Muslims like Khalid or Maryam are desperate to find a sense of belonging and a purpose for life. Then there are many like Mohammed and Noor, a young married couple, who long for a sense of peace and joy in their home, yet are constantly arguing and feeling a million miles from God. Today however, there are millions of Muslims living in western nations, and many of them are longing to know God personally. Mosques are now common in our neighbourhoods, but do we see the precious people who go there seeking God? They seek the same God, but sadly haven't found Jesus.
The number of people identifying themselves as Muslim in the UK has grown by almost 70 per cent in 10 years, from 1.6 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011, and estimated to increase further to 5.5 million by 2020. Islam has found a home in the UK.
"Millions of Muslims have come to know Jesus as "Isa Al Masih" – Jesus the Messiah – and for the first time they have experienced a personal relationship with God as their Father."
Increasingly, Christians across the UK are being confronted by an escalation of radical Islam, with stories of terrible atrocities and bloodshed in Iraq, Syria and beyond. What has shocked us even more is that English Muslims are pouring out to these war zones to lend their support to ISIS and other radical groups. A BBC poll of 1,000 Muslims in Britain found that a quarter of Muslims in Britain say they have sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks,and feel that acts of violence are justified against people who mock the Prophet. Even more disturbing, it found that 45 percent of Muslims believe that Muslim clerics are justified when they preach violence as a response to the West's interference in Muslim Nations.
Conversely, it is actually this violence that is discrediting Islam and is a major factor in them turning to Christ, as many Muslims begin to question their Islamic identity. This real threat can't be ignored, but it also presents Christians with one of the greatest opportunities of our time - to unveil Jesus to Muslim people in the western world and lead them to Christ.
The seeds for a ministry called "Mahabba" were planted in 2005, when a missionary family returned to Oxford from Pakistan after 18 years of ministry. Together with a local parish vicar with years of missionary experience, they began a weekly prayer meeting for those with a passion to reach Muslims. From these humble beginnings, Mahabba has now grown to become a cross-denominational ministry situated in 35 cities around the UK, and with an increasing presence in Europe.
Historically, many Christians, have focused on the effects of Islamisation and on the persecuted Church, responding with fear and alienating themselves from face-to-face interaction with their Muslim neighbours. However Mahabba, which means 'love' in Arabic, has flourished and Christians across the UK are being inspired to reach out in love to the thousands of Muslim people who are now living here.
Mahabba's overriding vision is to see large numbers of Muslim people turning to Christ, becoming disciples and being involved in a local church. Mahabba helps thousands of Christians to "face the facts but not fuel the fear", resulting not only in Muslims coming to faith, but also in improved social cohesion, especially in cities with a high Islamic presence.
Mahabba's approach has been to establish local groups built on unity and prayer – two key factors that release faith and love for Muslims – and to mobilise ordinary Christians to be informed and, more importantly, to be involved. Perhaps Mahabba could one day be the equivalent of the Alpha Course for Muslims, helping to engage the broader Church in ministry towards Muslims; a carefully defined, replicable model enabling ordinary believers to make a significant difference among Muslims in their community.
Mahabba is also helping church leaders understand how to respond to the current situation: the programmes establish a learning environment for sharing resources, testimonies, and encouragement. They equip local churches with mentoring and training materials, which help church leaders to train lay members of their churches to relate to Muslims in love and to explain the Gospel clearly – always starting with friendship.
Too often churches in Britain are ill-equipped to assist Muslims who wish to explore the Christian faith, but across the UK many city-based Mahabba groups are stepping up to witness to these groups. In Manchester, in just one week, a young man from Pakistan entered the Cathedral asking to convert; a Saudi woman walked into a church and asked to become a Christian, and a Somali man shared with his Christian friend that he wanted to become a follower of Jesus.
God is on the move. Mahabba Networks have been now been launched in 35 cities across the UK, as well as spreading to France, Belgium and Norway, with groups waiting to develop in Denmark and Austria: the model has also been shared in the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
In the UK there are now 75 cities with more than 5,000 Muslims and Mahabba's goal is to establish prayer groups in every one, replicating Mahabba Networks across Europe and beyond.
If you would like help in setting up a Mahabba Network, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org