Posted by: Titus Presler | May 15, 2011

“Missionary” as interpreted by one prominent Muslim

The word “missionary” as an adjective evoking a particular quality of intention and activity was used in an especially interesting way by a prominent Muslim here in Peshawar this past week.  Readers of this blog – along with my books and articles – will know that I have a keen interest both in the intrinsic meaning of “mission” and in how the words “mission” and “missionary” are commonly understood in various parts of the world, so this comment is another in a long series of anecdotes and reflections on such understandings.

In this instance the speaker was the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province along the northwest frontier, the setting was his office in the palatial colonial-era governor’s mansion, and the occasion was a courtesy call on the governor, Syed Masood Kausar, by Peshawar Bishop Humphrey Peters and myself.  The governor chairs the board of Edwardes College, so it was important that I as the new principal meet him.

Edwardes is well known as an institution founded by missionaries, in particular the Church Missionary Society, so that was doubtless in the governor’s mind.  But then there was the fact that I noted that the history, theology and practice of Christian mission is my particular academic field.

Picking up on that, the governor mused aloud, “Ah, yes, I have always thought that education and medicine are themselves missionary activities, because people are conveying a message and trying to help others.  I mean, no matter who you are” – read, regardless of religion – “these are missionary activities.”

That is what Dickens would call a perspicacious comment: perceptive, insightful and true.  It was striking coming from a Muslim.  It felt to me that the connotation he attached to the word “missionary” was one informed by the long history of Christian mission activity in this part of the world.  Especially in light of inter-religious tension in Pakistan and Muslim-Christian tension on a global scale, this positive and sympathetic connotation is one that Christian churches and missionary societies – certainly the Church Mission Society, as it is known today – can be proud of.

The governor quite rightly highlighted the outreaching impulse of mission, the conveying of a message, the desire to help.  He was doubtless aware of the propagating sense of mission that is shared by Christianity and Islam – evangelism as understood by Christians, dawah as understood by Muslims – and my guess is that he assumed that sense as well.  His stress was on unpacking the meaning of “missionary”, especially as suggested by educational and healthcare outreach.

It was a resonant conversation.



  1. This article shows the similarity between the two major religions of the world, in terms of mission and missionary. The idea was very well expressed without bringing in the religious basic beliefs and doctrines. As we live in Pakistan and we are in contact with our Muslim neighbours on daily basis, this sort of thinking is very necessary and is very helpful in religious tolerance and in accepting the otherness of others.

    Thank you for posting.

  2. Dear Sir, It sounds very good that you and bishop had a great meeting with the Governor. And yes it is very much true that missionary institutes are performing their duties effectively. Thanks, Sajid Masih, from Landikotal.

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