Controversy has been brewing among a group of Southern Baptists after a former Muslim-turned-seminary president criticized a Muslim outreach strategy, called the Camel, as being “deceptive.”
David Garrison, global strategist for evangelical advance at the International Mission Board – the missions arm of the Southern Baptist Convention – spoke to The Christian Post last week to set the facts straight on the Camel method. Garrison helped edit the book The Camel: How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ, written by Kevin Greeson. Both Garrison and Greeson were missionaries with IMB in South Asia.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: Can you briefly explain what the Camel method is?
Garrison: It’s an acronym but we spell it both lowercase and all capitalized. We use it as a memory device to help us remember some of the key points in a particular passage in the Quran. The passage in the Quran that we use often in starting a conversation with Muslims is found in Surah (that’s their word for chapter) Al-Imran, which is the third chapter in the Quran. And we look at verses 42 to 55 and those are the passages that speak specifically about Isa, or Jesus. What it says about Isa we remember through this acronym.
“C” reminds us that Mary was chosen by Allah to give birth to Isa Al-Masih, or Jesus the Messiah. The “A” stands for angels announced it to her.
With each of these letters and phrases we point out to Muslims, isn’t this interesting: Do you know any other prophets who were born of a virgin? Of course they don’t. Do you know any other prophets whose birth was announced by angels? And Mary said to the angel, “How can I have a child when no man has ever touched me?” So it affirms the virgin birth. So they say, “No we don’t know any other prophet who has ever been born by a virgin or angels announcing it.”
What we are doing is lifting up Isa. We are not attacking or condemning anything in their religion, but we are simply lifting up Jesus.
The “M” reminds us of the miracles. It says in that passage that Isa would heal the leper, caused the blind to see, lame to walk. It says he would even raise the dead. Of course this is very unusual and we point out once again, do you know any other prophets who had this kind of power given to them by God? They say, “No we don’t.”
And what we are doing is pointing out that Isa is extremely holy, he’s very powerful. And then the last two letters in the Camel acronym are “E” and “L,” which stand for eternal life. In this passage it says there are those who did not believe Isa and plotted to kill Isa. It says Allah also planned and Allah is the best of planners. Then it says what Allah’s plan was. It says Allah’s plan was to cause Isa to die and raise him up to himself and separate him from those who do not believe until the day of judgment.
So we point out there, that’s interesting that Isa, unlike any other prophet, Allah caused him to die. And that Allah raised him up to be with him in heaven. And of course they don’t know any other prophet like that. In the midst of that passage, there is a little verse that says (Isa is speaking) do your duty to Allah and obey me. That’s in verse 50 of that Surah.
So we ask them, according to the Quran what is our duty to Allah? And according to that passage it is to obey Isa. They say we don’t know what Isa has commanded. Well we can show you what Isa has commanded – the Injil, the New Testament is filled with the commands of Isa.
So it provides a bridge. For us, it is not about a tool for arguing or beating up a Muslim verbally, but it is a way to begin a conversation that clearly leads to Jesus and then invites them to come into our holy book. From there they can read enough about Isa to find that he is in fact God’s gift of salvation for everyone.
One of the last things we ask a Muslim is if you want to go to heaven. “I want to go to heaven,” a Muslim says. Well, who would you want to show you the way to heaven? The answer is the one who is already there. We’ll contrast this sometimes with Surah 46, verse 9, in which Muhammad is instructed by Allah to say to the people that, “I do not know what will become of me or of you.” The beginning part of that verse says, “I’m nothing new among the prophets of God. I don’t know what will become of me or of you. I am only a warner.”
And we contrast that with Jesus who says, “Don’t be afraid. If you believe in God also believe in me. In my father’s household there are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you.”
So the contrast there is striking. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” And Muhammad says even in the Quran that he is nothing new and he doesn’t know what will happen to him when he dies and what will happen to his followers.
And that’s a good lead to say “if you want to go to heaven which prophet do you think is in the best position to know the way to heaven: one who is there or one who has never been there?”
So if a Muslim is under conviction, we can’t argue him into the kingdom. But if the Holy Spirit is stirring their heart, or if they are having some of these troubling dreams which are so prevalent in the Muslim world, then this is a wonderful opportunity to make a conversation with them. And we can walk away from a conversation like this without having to hide or pretend we are afraid or can’t carry on a conversation. We can say “here’s my phone number, here’s my address where I live. If you want to get together to talk about this again sometime I would love to talk to you more.” It is respectful, it’s clear, it doesn’t compromise the Gospel, but at the same time it is sensitive to where they are. It doesn’t beat them up just because they have a different beginning point than we do.
CP: I read that the Camel method came from the legend that there are 100 names for Allah and only camels know the 100th name, which is Isa. How does this tie into the Camel method?
Garrison: That is what one of the critics said. He pulled that off of the book jacket I think because if you read the book you would know that is not at all what the book is about. What the book is about is what I just told you. The Camel method is using that acronym from that passage.
But on the back cover of the book, and probably that is the only thing he read, there is that popular little Muslim proverb that God has 100 names and 99 of these have been revealed to men and the camel knows the 100th name. It goes on to say, “Today, Muslims are learning the camel secret in discovering in Jesus Christ the name above all names.”
So that is off the back jacket of the book.
CP: What is your response to Dr. Ergun Caner’s (president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) criticism of the Camel method as using deception by suggesting that the God in the Bible and the Allah in the Quran have something in common?
Garrison: It is incorrect. One of the things he has done is misrepresent the Camel significantly. In fact, the Camel is very explicit about not using deception. It is never right to use deception. In the book, it discusses the situation where Muslims, because you are using the Quran, they may ask you if you are a Muslim. At that point it is very important for you to be honest because deception is never the right course to take. At that point if you are a Christian background, you should say no, I’m a Christian who loves Muslims. That is what we do. We never pretend to be a Muslim.
So he is either misguided or misrepresenting the book.
CP: Have you personally used this method? Where? How was the reaction?
Garrison: I’ve used it many, many times. What I found is it is wonderful at the beginning of a conversation with a Muslim. I’ve used it in mosques, all over South Asia, Southeast Asia. I’ve used it in conversations with Muslims on airplanes. For me, the comforting thing about it is that it equips me to know what to say to a Muslim so that I am not flustered or groping for words. It’s simple. And they all seem to appreciate the fact I’ve been reading their book. Because one of the first questions that Muslims will often ask you if you do get into a conversation with them is “have you read the Quran.” And when you can say, yea, I’ve been reading the Quran, it is easy and natural to follow-up with “have you read the Injil,” which is the New Testament. But if you haven’t taken the time to step into their world or understand who they are, to ask them to come into your world is a little bit of a stretch.
CP: What other methods have been used to introduce Jesus and the Gospel to Muslims? How effective are they compared to the Camel method?
Garrison: Well I need to back up a little to answer that question. I need to tell you where the Camel method came from. Even though Kevin (Greeson) is the first person to write up the method, he actually learned it from the thousands of Muslims who came to Christ in South Asia. He found himself in the middle of a multiplication of new believers. What he found was even though we were trying just about every method we knew to try we were not seeing anywhere near the response rate that these Muslim-background Christians were having. So when he asked them “how are you winning your family and friends to faith in Christ” they said come with us and watch. He spoke their language and lived among them and he spent time with them.
What he found that they do is go to their family and friends and use passages all throughout the Quran to draw that person somehow out of the Quran and into a conversation about Jesus or reading the Injil.
When Kevin heard this, his thought was, “My gosh, I don’t want to know the Quran as well as these guys know the Quran.” That was just not his life’s goal. But he did want Muslims to come to faith in Jesus Christ. So one passage he kept hearing come up again and again was Surah Al-Imran verses 42 to 55. So he thought, “You know, I can learn that passage.” It was from that passage he came up with the acronym to help him remember it.
Most of these Muslim-background believers don’t know what the Camel is. They don’t use the term. But they do use Quranic bridging. The most effective witness to a Muslim is a former Muslim.
That is where the Camel came from and that is by far the most effective method we have seen.
Some of the least effective we have seen is arguing and debating. You can do it. The Quran is full of contradictions and errors and problems, but if at the end of the day all you’ve done is won an argument, is that really your goal? As missionaries, that is not our goal. Our goal is to save people, see them born again and see Jesus Christ transform their lives. That is why we use the Camel.
If there is a single other approach that is having a tremendous harvest among Muslims, which is beyond our control, it is the role of dreams and visions. Everywhere we are going, I don’t know if it is their culture or what, but Muslims seem to listen to their dreams. In their dreams, they are having these disturbing images that are leading them to something new. In many cases, they will see a being glowing in white reaching out to them or beckoning them to follow or giving them a book. They are not getting enough from the dream to save them, but what we have found is if we are sensitive and have a relationship with these people when these dreams are revealed then we can point them to Isa.
Our role is to be there to help them, to point them to where they can find answers to their restless hearts.
CP: How widespread is the use of the Camel method? Is there only a region or a few countries that use it?
Garrison: No. It spread sort of virally. We’ve been surprised to get e-mails and contacts and responses all over the world from people who have picked up [the book] and run with it. Again, it is not an end in itself but a little tool. We had people report back to us from North Africa, from West Africa, East Africa, Europe, America. Of course there is Central Asia, China.
One fellow from Kurdistan up in north Iraq talked about using the Camel to win a woman to Christ. We get these reports and they are wonderful to hear, but we are not pretending that the Camel is the silver bullet that is going to magically transform the whole equation. But there are many wonderful principles in this book that Kevin has written that really help us understand how we can get past the current impasse that we are at. What we are seeing, especially since 9/11, is a lot of fear-based anger and fear-based hatred towards the Muslim world. You can sort of understand that hostility, but that is an impasse that is not going to change the hearts of individuals.
The Camel is like a little yeast that is sprinkled all around and people are able to relate to Muslims in a different way that is respectful but rock-solid on the commitment to teaching Jesus as the only way to salvation. You do it in a way you don’t go in looking for a fight, but a friend and an opportunity to lead them to Jesus.
CP: Do you think the Camel method would be effective with Muslims in the United States or in other Western countries?
Garrison: Yes, in as far as what it does. The Camel only gets you into a conversation about Jesus that leads to the plan of salvation. The Camel doesn’t save anybody. As a bridge it has been very effective. And as a bridge it would be very effective in the United States as well.
CP: What do you think is the most important thing Christians should understand and keep in mind when sharing about Jesus with Muslims?
Garrison: Probably what I said earlier, at the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit is in the world convicting the lost of sin and judgment and the need for righteousness and salvation. So before going into any conversation, ask the Holy Spirit to go before you to be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit is at work, to try to be on mission with God so we are working with the power of the Holy Spirit and not relying on our own cleverness or abilities.
The Holy Spirit is at work in the Muslim world. The joy we have is jumping on board and being a part of it. That has been a great thrill for all of us who have been involved in this kind of work, to see the radiant, wonderful, born again Muslim-background Christians. We’ve seen exemplary ones.
There was one fellow who came to Christ earlier that was just beaten and mistreated terribly for his faith. He was left for dead one time and after he recovered he said, “They can cut my body into a thousand pieces and every piece will cry out Jesus Christ is Lord.”
When you meet people like that it inspires you to move forward.
Another fellow, he was actually one of the first martyrs in the movement in South Asia. We later met some people who had known him. One guy was a Muslim in the village that this brother, Majanur, was from. He said, “I was there when they were torturing and killing him and they cut his fingers off one by one, trying to get him to renounce Jesus Christ. What I remember was hearing him cry out from the mosque where he was being tortured, ‘Jesus save me. Jesus save me. Jesus save me.’ Until he bled to death and died.” The guy telling me the story said he was a Muslim at the time but he became a believer too.
The radiance of their faith, the power of their testimony, that is one of the reasons why one of the allegations against the Camel really saddens me. The allegation is these guys don’t have any converts. They say that the converts are all underground and they don’t know who they are, they’re all hidden. That is simply not the case. These guys are well-documented. In 2002, the survey identified 125,000 baptized believers, most of whom were adults, most of whom were male.
And these are not guys who are hidden away where you can’t tell whether he is a Muslim or believer. These guys will say Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that the Bible is the authority in their life.