Little Ali is proud to be an Arab. He knows he lacks much learning, but tries to hide it by talking as though he knows a lot. He runs a little shop nearby, and loves to have people see us in discussion. Ali inevitably seeks to turn our conversations into a points scoring exercise of Islam over Christianity, yet he’s terrified if I open my Bible. Here’s a couple of our recent exchanges:


“Don’t you have a daughter you could give me in marriage?”

“I have one daughter who is happily married,” I replied. “But why do you ask? You have a wife don’t you?”

“Yes indeed, I have two. Ten children by the first and three children by the second.”

“Well, that sounds to me like you have plenty to be going on with. Don’t get greedy!”

This set him off. He passionately explained what Islam teaches and how it is good to have up to four wives.

“OK,” I said, “Please listen carefully. I don’t want you to misunderstand or be offended”.


He listened intently. “If I had an unmarried daughter, I would not give her to you because you have two wives already. I would want her to have a whole husband, not one third of a husband. You expect to have a whole wife, not a shared one. A wife should have an undivided husband.”


To my surprise, he looked thoughtful and said “That is true. Those are wise words.”


He started quoting and explaining the words of Muhammad, saying, “He said a rich man should obtain up to four wives if he can afford them, and a poor man should fast.” “Fasting,” Ali explained, “reduces desire, thereby reducing the chances of falling into sin.” This is typical of Islamic thinking. The great debates in Islam have always been about laws and procedures, not about truth and theology. Right behaviour, and how to enforce it, is what they love to talk about here.


I cut across what he was saying. “Women are not commodities. They are human and have value because they’re created by God. We shouldn’t think of them as things to be bought and sold.” This led him to talk about the immense respect accorded to mothers. Most Muslim men love and honour their mothers far more than their wives and daughters.


“Is your home a happy one? Do you have peace in your house?”

He pulled a face. “Not really. No.”

“In that case,” I said, “you should be more careful about telling other people how to run their homes. What you have is not working. May God give you peace in your home.”

“Amen,” he replied.


Another time, he opened the Koran on his phone to show me the Islamic version of the birth of Christ. He was keen that I should see how the Koran clearly shows that Jesus was not the Son of God.


The screen was small so I patiently went through it frame by frame. Eventually we got to the bit where Gabriel addresses Mary as the sister of Aaron. I asked him to stop and explain that expression. “Tell me,” I said, “What is the tafseer (interpretation)?”


“Well,” he said, “You know Aaron. He was the brother of the prophet Moses. Mary is their sister.”  “Are you sure?” “Yes, of course – same parents and everything.” “But Moses and Aaron lived hundreds of years before Mary became the mother of Jesus. They grew up in another country, in Egypt. She must be very, very old to be their sister.”

He was stumped for a moment. “OK,” he said. “Be patient. I have a whole library in this phone. I will look up the tafseer.”

Eventually he found it. “Look,” he said. “You’re right. She was not literally his sister, but her worship was like that of Aaron!”

“So,” I pressed on, “when it says ‘sister’, it doesn’t mean sister in the same way it might somewhere else?” “Exactly.” “And if I said so and so is the brother of so and so, it might mean something other than having the same parents?” “Yes,” he said, “You’ve got it.” He seemed quite pleased. “And so,” I continued, “if someone is described as the son of someone else it might not mean the same as you would normally expect – it depends on the tafseer.

His face changed abruptly. “But,” he said “God is one. And God was not begotten nor does he beget. And some people say that Jesus is his little boy! That is a grave error.”

“You’re right, if people say that, it is a grave error,” I replied. He started to look more cheerful – though still a bit uncomfortable. “The thing is, the Angel Gabriel called him the Son of God, and personally, I don’t believe in arguing with angels. Instead, we need to ask about the tafseer. What does the expression mean in this case? Certainly not that Jesus was God’s physical offspring. No, it means something else.”  As I went on my way, he thanked me for teaching him something new.


There are parts of the world in which people seem to flock to the Gospel. This isn’t one of them. Treating people as real people and meeting them “where they are at” is one thing that authenticates the Gospel. If you don’t really want to connect with them, they can tell. Is there any hope for Little Ali? That’s in God’s hands. But I do know that all those I’ve led to the Lord were people I “wasted” time with.



Tags :

Leave a Reply