January 04, 2013

South Asia: The Men in the Cave

A welcoming encounter with a Muslim holy man and his disciples leads to an open and friendly conversation about Jesus.

  • Encouraging Encounter

    A meeting in a cave with a Muslim holy man and his disciples leads to an open and friendly conversation about Jesus.

My friend, a believer from a Muslim background, had several conversations with the followers of a local pir (Muslim holy man) who lives on the outskirts of our town.

He made contact with some of the pir’s disciples and told them about a film about the prophets that might interest them. On hearing this, the pir told his disciples to invite us to his shrine to show them the film.

This particular pir had chosen to live in a cave as a way of withdrawing from secular life and as a matter of personal discipline. The cave ran some distance into the side of a hill, with a single electrical wire running in to power the VCR and the television on which the pir watched other religious videos. The pir, a middle-aged man with a white beard and a level gaze, sat in the middle of his disciples. There were seven men of various ages, all wearing crisp white shalwar kameez and simple white caps as most religious Muslims do. They greeted us hospitably and waited calmly for what we had to say.

After exchanging some friendly greetings, we settled down to show the film. Almost straight away, the television stopped working: spiritual warfare or just another rural power outage? We had come prepared for both and showed the film on the laptop we had brought with us instead. While it was playing, there was total silence; every eye in the room was fixed intently on the film, which tells the story of the prophets from Adam to Jesus – perhaps the first Christian message they had ever heard.

When the film stopped, there were expressions of appreciation for the way the film depicted the lives of the major prophets. I didn’t know what other response to expect. Although I had been told that these men were of a relatively peaceful, folk-Islamic tradition, I was still apprehensive. How would they react?

Finally one young man leaned forward. He started speaking about how as a Muslim, he regarded Jesus positively as a prophet who had an important message from God. He said he believed that each prophet’s work was valid for a certain period of time, but that once their period was finished, their message was superseded by a newer, more relevant, revelation from God. He said as Mohammed came after Jesus, his message supersedes Jesus’ message, so he is the one who should be followed. I politely put forward an alternate proposal: that each prophet sent by God had a work to do. For instance, Moses brought the law to the Israelites, David brought us the beautiful Psalms, and Jesus came to do the work of salvation from sin by dying as the perfect Lamb in place of all mankind. I went on to say that we still read and learn from all of these prophets and benefit from each of their works. However, we must remember, that without the work of Jesus’ death, we can never know forgiveness and salvation.

At this, the pir leaned forward, stared straight at me, and said: “This is right. We must read and learn from all four of the Holy Books [the Taurait (Torah), Zabur (Psalms), Injil (Gospel), and Quran]. There are no time periods for prophets. Each of their messages are the eternal word of Allah!”

After chatting some more, we politely made our farewells. We were encouraged by the open and honest questions we had encountered and by the spirit of the discussion, which was friendly and positive toward our Christian message. This encounter reminded me of two things: firstly, of the importance of Christian media in getting the message of Jesus into the hands of people we meet, and secondly, of the importance of individual workers by whose hands that same message can begin its work of changing lives.

-Written by a worker in South Asia