Dreams & Visions: Muslims’ Miraculous Journey to Jesus
by Rick Kronk
Folk Islam, which is defined as a popular expression of a combination of formal religion and local custom, has become the dominant force in the lives of Muslims throughout the Islamic world. In fact, in many Islamic settings, some of these unwritten local (Folk Islamic) practices and traditions have the force of social law alongside Islamic law (shari’ah), and the civil code. Because of the tangible, practical nature of such beliefs and practices, Folk Islam serves as the framework within which the individual Muslim views the world, collects and processes information, and explains reality. So pervasive is the role of these mystical, natural or animistic elements in Islam that, despite its deistic view of God and the necessity of adherence to the tenets of the formal faith, much of the religious element of the Muslim worldview has been established upon the basis that “faith is a conviction (that comes through) direct experience and not the result of a process of reason.”1 In light of this, it is evident that supernatural and superstitious phenomena, of which dreams and visions are a part, are prominent sources of religious significance for the Muslim.
So what does this mean for the Christian, and in particular a Western Christian, who desires to explain his faith to a Muslim? If the evaluation of the Muslim worldview provided above is accurate then the Christian who desires to engage in evangelistic activity designed to bring Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ cannot afford to ignore the unique pattern of Folk Islam adopted by his Muslim friend. For unless the Christian can explain to his Muslim friend the person of Christ and His finished work on the cross from within the context of his particular Folk Islamic worldview via the appropriate means, symbols and language, the gospel may not be fully or accurately understood and a genuine opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel cannot be said to have occurred. In his popular book, Honor and Shame, Roland Muller describes the ease of miscommunication across worldviews when he says,
“The danger comes, however, when we (that is those of us who hold primarily to a western worldview) take our Roman understanding of the Gospel and apply it to those who do not have a Roman-based culture. We fruitlessly spend untold hours and incalculable amounts of energy explaining to our contact that he is guilty of sin, and needs to be justified before God. The poor person, on the other hand, may not even have a word for sin, or perhaps even the concept of sin, in his language. He struggles to understand guilt, and sees no need for justification. When he doesn’t respond, we label him as resistant. We feel good about having given the gospel, because we analyze our own efforts by the meaning of right and wrong (the dominant paradigm of the western worldview and the basis of the Roman understanding of the gospel), and if we did all the right things, and he did not respond, then he must be resistant.”2
Due to their largely unrepeatable and unverifiable nature, supernatural phenomena, which include dreams and visions, are viewed skeptically and considered largely inconsequential to the rational, logic-oriented diagnosis and decision making of recent Western thought. Musk observes that, “To western thought, ‘dream’ connotes reverie rather than reality, imagination rather than objective truth, fancy rather than fact, misty vagueness rather than understanding.”3 And yet, as we have already seen, the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, record incidents in which dreams played a significant role in the lives of saints. How are these incidents to be understood in our 21st century, modern setting? Though Western Christendom has often equated its worldview with that of the Bible, is it possible that the Western man’s worldview has departed from, or at least fails to include, all that the biblical worldview entails?
Across the Muslim World today, God is at work bringing Muslim men and women to Himself through amazing dream and vision encounters. This use of supernatural phenomena however is neither recent nor limited to Muslim experience alone. The examples of Saul (Acts 9) and Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) are striking examples of how God used dreams and visions in the New Testament era to accomplish the same things. Is it possible that God is at work in ways that we had not considered? What should be our response?