This article was published at Christianity Today on August 26.
During the 2013 terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen paused for a moment and made an announcement in Swahili: All Muslims could come forward and leave.
Among those trying to escape was Joshua Hakim, who covered up the Christian name on his ID as he showed it to the gunmen.
“They told me to go,” Hakim later told The Guardian. “Then an Indian man came forward, and they said, ‘What is the name of Muhammad’s mother?’ When he couldn’t answer, they just shot him.”
Other terror attacks by al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, have followed a similar pattern. Those who could prove they were Muslim—by reciting a prayer in Arabic or answering questions about Islam—were allowed to go free. Those who couldn’t were killed.
As a result, some Kenyans have begun to share tips online about how to pretend to be Muslim, just in case. This includes learning to recite the shahada—Islam’s main creed—in Arabic.
This pragmatic response to terror attacks is understandable. But is it biblically sound? Kenyan Christian leaders are divided on the issue.
No, says David Oginde, head of Christ is the Answer Ministries, one of Kenya’s largest parachurch organizations with 45,000 members. “A true Christian must be ready to live and to die for the faith,” he said.
But two professors at St. Paul’s University, a conservative Anglican institution in Nairobi, say the answer isn’t that clear-cut. Reciting the shahada doesn’t amount to denying Christ, says Samuel Githinji, a theology lecturer.
The article also included Arab theologians, who mostly responded that pretending to be a Muslim is not acceptable, but forgiveness should be offered to those who succumb. It also touched on similar themes in Christian history, during the Roman era.
Here is the conclusion:
The persecutions of old backfired, bringing many into the Christian fold. It is too early to write of the impact today. But Ajaj is hopeful, and counsels faithfulness when called upon.
“I hope they give a good testimony, and glory to God’s name.”
Of course nothing is certain. Martyrdom may not change a hardhearted terrorist. Pretending may not save your life either.
But for the record, the mother of Muhammad is Aminah bint Wahb.
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