Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Muslim risks his life shielding Christians from terrorists

Roland Clarke

Scripture instructs Christians to be full of grace as we encounter unbelievers in our daily lives, being alert to make the most of opportunities to engage them in seasoned-with-salt conversational witness. (Colossians 4:2-6) One way of doing this is to be aware of headline news stories so that we can weave them into our conversations making us relevant, as Jesus did in Luke 13:1-9.

A modern example of a widely circulated story that can open a door of witness is the courageous story of Salah, a Muslim who shielded Christians from an attack by Al Shabab terrorists. His heroic action was highlighted on BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera on January 20th 2016. One may ask, “Why did it take so long (four weeks) for the mainstream media to pay attention?” Interestingly, this story had circulated several weeks earlier in less prominent media circles, but mainstream media only felt it was worth publishing a whole month later when Salah had died from the wounds he had sustained on 21st December 2015 at the hands of the terrorists.

When Salah's story made international headline news, certain details were not yet known. Since then vital clues have come to light explaining why Salah was so brave. Three days before Al Shabab attacked the bus he was riding on, Salah had finished reading a three hundred page book, God's Apprentice that explains from the Bible how to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Not only so, Salah told Ishmael, a fellow passenger on the bus, that he was deeply impressed to learn how Jesus courageously stood up for the weak and oppressed.

An appropriate way to begin talking about this with a Muslim friend is to make a comment coupled with a simple question, “I saw an interesting story on the news about a Muslim who shielded a group of Christians from an attack by terrorists. Did you see it?” After finding out whether your friend is aware of this story, it may be necessary to explain what happened or perhaps better still, you may encourage him to read it himself. As the conversation moves along you will naturally want to explore how he feels about this so-called Muslim hero, Salah Farah.

Then you can explain how you admire him and how this story reminds you of something Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Furthermore, you may observe how this story highlights the incredible courage Salah showed by resisting evil, so much so that he was willing to risk being killed. Resisting evil to this extent, brings to mind a similar virtue in Jesus, as described in Hebrews 12:3-5, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

These two Scripture passages which show similarities between Salah and Jesus are the first steps toward revealing the fuller version of the story which contains even stronger clues suggesting Salah himself admired Christ's bravery and was inspired by him. Before we explore these stronger clues that enable us to clarify the Gospel further, it is important for us to see Salah's resistance against evil terrorists in the wider context of the war on terror.

The fact is, Muslim terrorist attacks have become more frequent and severe around the world over the last 15 years and more-so in the last few months. Corresponding to this trend many moderate Muslims have denounced Jihadist groups such as ISIS in various ways. However, Salah didn't just denounce terrorists, he resisted them in a more powerful and dramatic way, by laying down his life.

The article on CNN highlights Salah's heroic act as a peace-loving Muslim who did not accept the safety which the terrorists offered to Muslim passengers on the bus. Instead, Salah boldly defied them, saying, “Kill us all or leave.” They shot him but his intervention caused them to abandon their mission. Salah survived but tragically died four weeks later while undergoing surgery.

Undoubtedly Salah knew that defying these terrorists meant he would risk losing his own life. And as it turned out, he paid the ultimate price while saving many lives. Not surprisingly his brave and selfless act has captured the attention of many people around the world.

As Christians we should ask ourselves, “How would my Muslim friend or acquaintance respond if I broached this topic with him by saying, “I read an amazing story about a Muslim who showed incredible bravery and selflessness. Did you see it?” Undoubtedly he would respect you and perhaps even warm to you.

There are many questions you may want to ask as you discuss this story with your friend, not forgetting to show how it points to Jesus. In this way, you will “make the most of every opportunity” to share the Good News (see Colossians 4:5, NIV).

We have already looked at John 15:13. Based on this verse, you might suggest that Salah's example challenges us all, whether Muslim or Christian, to ask, “What would I do if I were in his shoes?” “Do I love my brother (or neighbors) enough to die for them?”

When it comes to exploring the theme of resisting evil one might consider looking at John 8:42 which is an interesting example showing how Jesus resisted evil, regardless of the cost. He boldly rebuked the Jewish leaders for their murderous motives, even going so far as to accuse them of being like their father the devil, who is a “murderer from the beginning.” They became infuriated and as the conversation (confrontation?) ended they picked up stones to throw at him. (John 8:59)

You may want to read an article I recently wrote which alludes to John 8:42. It encourages Christians to help their Muslim friends not only to feel anger against extremists, but ultimately to channel their hatred against Satan. Bear in mind, that militant Muslims are not unlike the Jewish leaders whom Jesus described as being like their father the devil. Two articles that explore this are available online. One is titled, Save the Children and the other one, God our Savior, Redeemer.

According to the initial version of Salah's story as seen in most media reports, he is the hero figure, however, as more and more details come to light, it is evident that Salah's courageous shielding of Christians was actually inspired by Jesus Christ. It seems more fitting, therefore, to honor Jesus as the real hero.

Salah's bravery inspired by Jesus

Six days before Salah was shot by terrorists, he received a copy of God's Apprentice which thoroughly explains the Gospel. In fact, moments before boarding that bus Joe talked on the phone with the evangelist who gave him this book. During the phone call Joe learned that Salah finished reading the book three days earlier. He thanked Joe for giving him the book and said, “Although the Qur'an portrays Jesus as a good person, it doesn't describe His attributes. This book has taught me the character of Jesus, He's Lord and Saviour. He's a brave man who stood up for the poor and weak.”

Joe and Salah concluded the phone call by agreeing to meet after Salah returned from his trip to Nairobi. He was eager to talk further about Jesus. But that meeting never happened. Salah was shot and airlifted to Kenyatta Hospital where he was under treatment until he died. (17th Jan)

Of course, his death was a great disappointment, especially to Joe who was praying earnestly for his recovery, so that he might come to Christ. We don't know for sure whether Salah accepted Christ in his heart while reading the book but we do have some clues as to what was going on in his heart and mind.

Joe's ministry co-ordinator, Aaron, reported that,

In the midst of that disappointment, there was an appointment. Somebody by the name of Ishmael called Joe. He said he was a friend to the late Salah, and that they were travelling in the same bus and sat next to each other on that day of December 2015. He told Joe that the late Salah had told him about the teaser which led him to get a book that had opened up his soul. ... Ishmael accepted Christ as his Saviour and is now baptized.

Aaron continues by explaining,

There’s an online campaign called #HeroSalah to raise funds for his 5 kids and wife. Joe confirmed to me that in Rabitta, people are not talking about the late Salah as a brave man, but as a betrayer standing for the kafir. Through Ishmael, who’s a new convert and knows the family of the late Salah, we’ll attempt to reach his wife to minister to her and the children and also to learn if funds from this campaign really reach them.

If you want to see the Gospel “teaser” that prompted the late Salah to call Joe and ask for the book God’s Apprentice, email me here and I will send it to you. Also I want to encourage you to write me if you feel prompted by God's Spirit to send a donation in support of those who are sharing the Gospel in Rabitta as well as providing comfort and practical help to Salah's bereaved family.

Conclusion: Spicy conversation, teasers & door-openers

We began by reminding ourselves that we need to season our conversation with unbelievers so that we may answer their questions. We suggested that one way of seasoning our conversation is by using current news stories to illustrate our message, thus making it more relevant and interesting.

However, there are other ways we can spice our conversation, making it stimulating, curiosity arousing and even thought provoking. As seasoning makes food tastier and whets our appetite to eat more, likewise Jesus spiced his conversation with the woman of Samaria in John chapter four. He mentioned the gift of God, describing it with a fitting word picture, as living water. This sparked her curiosity making her thirsty for more.

Applying this to Luke 13:1-9, we see that Jesus illustrated his message using two pictures, a much-talked about news story and a parable. The first one involved 18 people who died when a tower fell. He asked a thought provoking question challenging his audience to think outside the box of their preconceived notions regarding who were worse sinners. Then he reinforced this with a parable which can stimulate people to probe the inner meaning the story and thus challenge them to repent.

How does this principle of seasoning our conversation relate to Salah? And how does it correlate with the “teaser” that prompted Salah to ask for God's Apprentice? I trust you see that the story of Salah's heroic bravery can arouse the curiosity of people, especially Muslims. At this time when increasing numbers of Muslims are denouncing violent Jihadist Muslims, here is a story that resonates with peace-loving people – a story of a Muslim who was so committed to peacemaking that he risked his own life. Salah's heroic intervention on behalf of Christians is prompting many people to ask, “What inspired him to be so brave?”

Peace-loving people are inclined to see Jesus Christ as a man of peace, in fact, the prophets called him Prince of Peace. After pondering various clues in Salah's story, anyone who who earnestly seeks the truth will realise that although Salah's selfless act faintly reflects Jesus, ultimately, Christ is the only person who lived a perfect life and qualified to give his life sacrificially to atone for the sins of others. Jesus is the one and only mediator who is able to reconcile man and God. His death was the ultimate act of redemption/rescue. As the Scripture says, “God was pleased ... through him [Jesus] to reconcile all things ... making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:20, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, NIV)

I trust this article helps you understand why Joe used a “teaser” to arouse Salah's curiosity and how it became a stepping stone in Salah's spiritual journey. If you want to know more about teasers read more here.

If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me here.

Al Bible quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated. A couple details in this story have been changed as a safety precaution.

[ Update, 29 June 2016: In the last months new information has come to light, and many things happened which could not be told publicly until Salah's wife was in safety. But now you can read more background on what really happened and how the story continued: Salah Farah — a true present day martyr. ]

[First published: 12 February 2016]
[Last updated: 29 June 2016]