Samuel Marinus Zwemer

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Samuel Marinus Zwemer
Samuel Zwemer.jpg
Born April 12, 1867
Vriesland, Michigan, United States
Died April 2, 1952
New York City, New York, United States
Education Hope College[1]
New Brunswick Theological Seminary[1]
Spouse(s) Amy Elizabeth Wilkes

Samuel Marinus Zwemer (April 12, 1867 – April 2, 1952), nicknamed The Apostle to Islam, was an American missionary, traveler, and scholar. He was born at Vriesland, Michigan. In 1887 he received an A.B. from Hope College, Holland, Mich., and in 1890, he received an M.A. from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, N. J.. His other degrees include a D.D. from Hope College in 1904, a L.L.D. from Muskingum College in 1918, and a D.D. from Rutgers College in 1919.

After being ordained to the Reformed Church ministry by the Pella, Iowa Classis in 1890, he was a missionary at Busrah, Bahrein, and at other locations in Arabia from 1891 to 1905. He was a member of the Arabian Mission (1890–1913). Zwemer served in Egypt from 1913 to 1929. He also traveled widely in Asia Minor, and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.

In 1929 he was appointed professor of missions and professor of the history of religion at the Princeton Theological Seminary, where he taught until 1937. He had married Amy Elizabeth Wilkes on May 18, 1896. He was famously turned down by the American Missionary Society, which resulted in him going overseas alone. He founded and edited the publication The Moslem World for 35 years. He was influential in mobilizing many Christians to go into missionary work in Islamic countries.

Zwemer retired from active work on the faculty of Princeton College Seminary at the age of seventy, but continued to write and publish books and articles as well as doing a great deal of public speaking. Zwemer died in New York City at the age of eighty-four.

According to Ruth A. Tucker, Ph.D., Samuel Zwemer's converts were "probably less than a dozen during his nearly forty years of service" and his "greatest contribution to missions was that of stirring Christians to the need for evangelism among Muslims"[2]


In his biography of Raymond Lull, Zwemer divided Lull’s ministry threefold[3] and we may use the same broad categories to examine Zwemer’s own ministry: Evangelism, Writing and Recruitment.


In 1889, Zwemer co-founded, with a classmate at the Seminary, the American Arabian Mission.[1] Zwemer saw his first milestone in his ministry as leaving for Arabia in 1890 to work directly with the Muslim community.[4] At this time, his main mode of evangelism was distribution of literature[5] and personal conversation.[6] He combined models of confrontational and a more irenic approach of presenting the love of Christ, ‘characteristic of the student volunteers’.[7] Stories of his spontaneous interaction with people suggest that he was a capable and creative personal evangelist.[8]


In the tradition of Lull,[9] Zwemer ‘left behind a mighty highway of print almost a book a year in English for over half a century.’[10] As part of this great literary undertaking, he settled in Cairo in 1912 to work with the Nile Mission Press to make it ‘a production point for Christian Literature for Muslims.’[11] As an outcome of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910, he established the quarterly The Moslem World in 1911 because ‘If the Churches of Christendom are to reach the Moslem world with the Gospel, they must know of it and know it.’[12] He edited it until 1947, paying for much of it out of his own pocket.[13] He founded the American Christian Literature Society for Moslems (A.C.L.S.M) which raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the production of evangelical literature.[14] Its Constitution expressed Zwemer’s belief that the printed page ‘has a unique value as a means of carrying the Gospel to Mohammedans... [it] finds an entrance into many doors closed to the living witness and can proclaim the Gospel persistently, fearlessly and effectively.’[15] Zwemer saw printed page as ‘the "leaves for the healing of the nations" in his program of mission strategy.’[16]


Zwemer’s third milestone was accepting a professorship at Princeton in 1929 and marked an era of equipping and recruiting for the missionary movement, though this had been a significant aspect of his career from the beginning. In an extended period of furlough he was a traveling representative for the SVM and his speaking ability in motivating for missions was legendary.[17] His itinerary was herculean: in America in 1914 he gave 151 addresses in 113 days across the country.[18] W.H.T. Gairdner called him ‘a steam engine in breeches’.[18] His talent for fundraising was equally impressive, one year raising $32,886 for the Reformed Board of Foreign Missions, when the salary of a missionary on the field at this time was $900 a year.[19] J. Christy Wilson Jr. summarises: ‘Speer and Zwemer probably influenced more young men and women to go into missionary service than any two individuals in all of Christian history.’[18]


As a result of his direct pioneering work, four mission stations had been set up, and though only small in number,[20] ‘the converts showed unusual courage in professing their faith.’[21] The resulting church in Bahrain of the National Evangelical Church of Bahrain continues to this day. It is impossible to know how many people were affected by the large volume of tracts and scripture that he helped distribute. His books continue to make a significant difference today and his quarterly journal remains in publication as a significant scholarly journal. Through the work of the Student Volunteer Movement, with which Zwemer was strongly connected, 14,000 young people went out to the mission field.[22]



Zwemer’s theology, following the Calvinism of his parents,[23] was that he saw the supremacy of God in all things.[24] The Bible was programatic in his faith and his thinking of his ministry, and emanated in his vocabulary.[25] He studied Islamic Doctrine of God, initially drawing stark contrasts with the God of the Bible, then nuancing his view over time.[26] He praised the all encompassing idea of God in Islam, seeing it as the ‘Calvinism of the Orient,’[27] and even placed the Bismillah on his study wall in Cairo[28] and on the cover of his journal "The Moslem World". He saw Islam’s grasp of Monotheism as its great strength[29] and yet also its great deficiency.[30] For him, without an understanding of the Trinity,[31] God was unknowable and impersonal.[32] Hence, he cherished the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement, writing major works on the topics: The Glory of the Manger[33] and, his favourite,[34] The Glory of the Cross.[35] Though a stumbling block for Muslims, he saw them as crucial in evangelism.[36] Zwemer’s God was glorious and all-encompassing: ‘never be satisfied with compromise or concessions’, demanding instead ‘unconditional surrender’.[37]


Zwemer’s all-encompassing vision of God was the driving force of his missiology: ‘The chief end of missions is not the salvation of men but the glory of God.’[38] He sees this grand vision as coming directly from Calvin: ‘God has created the entire world that it should be the theater of his glory by the spread of his Gospel.’[39] It was this unshakable belief in the infinite power and supremacy of God that drove Zwemer to the ‘cradle of Islam’ as a demonstration of the ‘Glory of the Impossible’.[40] His confidence of the victory of the Gospel in the Middle East was equally unshakable.[41] Still, this missiology of victory is fundamentally shaped by the cross: ‘Christ is a conqueror whose victories have always been won through loss and humiliation and suffering.’[42] This was hardly academic for Zwemer, since he had lost his brother and two daughters in the field.[43] Dr. Lyle Vander Werff describes Zwemer’s missiological approach as ‘Christocentric-anthropological’, that is, the Gospel message is the greatest need of the Muslim as opposed to Western Civilisation or ‘philanthropic programs of education’.[44] Zwemer summarises his theology of mission: ‘With God’s sovereignty as basis, God’s glory as goal, and God’s will as motive, the missionary enterprise today can face the most difficult of all missionary tasks—the evangelization of the Moslem world.’[45]


For Zwemer, the Church was precious because it was indeed ‘the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.’[46] His view on denominations was ecumenical and generous and far from the parochial tendency occasionally demonstrated in the Reformed tradition. The Arabian Board he set up was expressly ‘undenominational.’[47] He is able to praise Popes Gregory VII and Innocent III.[48] He longed for the day Orthodox churches would join in with Muslim evangelism.[49] His opening editorial for The Moslem World stated that it aimed ‘to represent no faction or fraction of the Church, but to be broad in the best sense of the word.’[50] His slogan was: ‘In essentials it seeks unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.’[51] Yet, he was clear and precise about what the essentials were.[52] Such desire for ecumenism was fed by his all-pervasive passion for mission to Islam: ‘the issues at stake are too vital and the urgency too great for anything but united front.’[53]


Besides editing The Moslem World, a quarterly scholarly periodical – 37 vols.(1911–47), and the Quarterly Review (London), he wrote the following books:

He also wrote an article describing his travels in Oman and the Trucial Coast (now U.A.E.), which famously features the earliest known photograph of the Qasr al-Hosn in Abu Dhabi:

  • Three Journeys in Northern Oman (1902), The Geographical Journal, Vol XIX, No1

See also[edit]

Works in Print (2007)[edit]


  • Wilson, J. Christy, Apostle to Islam. A biography of Samuel M. Zwemer, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1952.
  • Wilson, J. Christy, Flaming Prophet: The Story of Samuel Zwemer, New York: Friendship Press, 1970.
  • Greenway, Roger S. (Editor), Islam and the Cross: Selections from "The Apostle to Islam", P and R Publishing, 2002.
  • Ipema, P. (Peter), The Islam interpretations of Duncan B. Macdonald, Samuel M. Zwemer, A. Kenneth Cragg and Wilfred C. Smith, Thesis (Ph.D.) - Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1971.
  • The vital forces of Christianity and Islam: six studies by missionaries to Moslems / with an introduction by the Rev. S. M. Zwemer, and a concluding study by Professor Duncan B. Macdonald, Oxford University Press, 1915.


  1. ^ a b c "Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country: Arabia in Picture and Story". World Digital Library. 1911. Retrieved 2013-09-22. 
  2. ^ Ruth A. Tucker. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. p. 241.
  3. ^ ‘Lull’s lifework was three-fold: he devised a philosophical or educational system for persuading non-Christians of the truth of Christianity; he established missionary colleges; and he himself went and preached to the Moslems...’ Zwemer, Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1902), 63-64.
  4. ^ He settled at first in Basrah and then he moved with his wife Amy to Bahrain, where they stayed until 1905. Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 240.
  5. ^ ‘The distribution of the Word of God always holds the first place. It has always proved its power.’ Zwemer, ‘A Call to Prayer’, 152.
  6. ^ Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 239. He thought personal interaction was always the most effective mode: Samuel Zwemer, ‘Broadcasting our message’, The Moslem World 29/3 (1939): 217.
  7. ^ Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 241. cf. Zwemer, ‘A Call to Prayer’ in Islam and the Cross. Edited by Roger S. Greenway. Original year 1923. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002. 147. Two methods stand out in clear contrast: the polemic and the irenic; the method of argument, debate, contrast, and comparison on the one hand, and on the other had the method of loving approach along lines of least resistance.’
  8. ^ e.g. The story of the Cretan Tavern keeper and asking the fruit vendor for ‘fruit of the Spirit’. Jesse R. Wilson, ‘One of a kind’, Christian Century 84/21 (1967): 687-688.
  9. ^ ‘It was said that of Raymond Lull that he wrote an unbelievable number of books - hundreds of manuscripts of his works may be found in European libraries to this day. In this particular, as in others, Zwemer ranks as a disciple of his famous precursor in missionary work for Moslems.’ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 193.
  10. ^ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 205.
  11. ^ Lyle Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims, 226.
  12. ^ Zwemer, ‘Editorial’, The Moslem World 1/1, 2.
  13. ^ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 182.
  14. ^ Wilson Sr. Apostle, 14. cf.188-9.
  15. ^ Cited in J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 186-7.
  16. ^ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 13.
  17. ^ J. Christy Wilson Jr. ‘The Apostle to Islam: The Legacy of Samuel Zwemer’, IJFM 13:4 (1996): 165. ‘Certainly no missionary of our time has been more widely quoted’ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 14.
  18. ^ a b c J. Christy Wilson Jr. ‘The Apostle to Islam: The Legacy of Samuel Zwemer’, IJFM 13:4 (1996): 166.
  19. ^ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 69.
  20. ^ ‘At the great Tambaram Missionary Conference of 1938, the most moving of all the speeches was that of the veteran Dr Paul Harrison, who, having told the story of the five converts that the mission had won in fifty years, sat down with the quiet words: ‘The Church in Arabia salutes you’. Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (2nd ed.; rev. Owen Chadwick; Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1986),311.
  21. ^ Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 240
  22. ^ Wilson Sr. ‘The Significance of Samuel Zwemer’, 54. Kenneth Scott Latourette says that only on the last day ‘will it be clear how many countries have been touched by them or how many thousands have been introduced to eternal life by their witness.’ Kenneth Scott Latourette in J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 5.
  23. ^ ‘His father taught him the Heidelberg Catechism as a boy and he remembered many of the answers all his life.’ Wilson Sr. Apostle, 241.
  24. ^ ‘His theology was conservative Calvinism and he believed with all his heart in the whole of the Bible as the Word of God, and in the Reformed Faith.’ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 241.
  25. ^ ‘The Bible was so much a part of his life that thought and word seemed naturally to take the form of Biblical phrase’ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 241.
  26. ^ Hubers, ‘Samuel Zwemer’, 118. See Samuel Zwemer, Arabia: The Cradle of Islam, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), 171 and then Samuel Zwemer, ‘The Allah of Islam and the God of Jesus Christ’, The Moslem World 36/4 (1946): 66-67. e.g. ‘The ninety-nine excellent names of Allah can also (with one or two exceptions) be found as attributes of Jehovah in the Old Testament Scriptures.’
  27. ^ Samuel Zwemer, ‘Calvinism and the Missionary Enterprise’, ThTo 7/2 (1950): 212-214.
  28. ^ J. Christy Wilson Sr. Apostle to Islam: a biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), Frontispiece.
  29. ^ ‘Islamic theism is so great and so strong that it often puts our Western theism (timid of transcendence, shy of miracles, and confined to second causes) to shame.’ Zwemer, ‘The Allah of Islam and the God of Jesus Christ’, 67.
  30. ^ ‘Moslem mysticism was a revolt against the orthodox doctrine of Allah. The human heart craves a God who loves; a personal God who has close relations with humanity; a living God who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities and who hears and answers prayer.’ Samuel Zwemer, ‘Surat al-Ikhlas’, The Moslem World 26/4 (1936): 328.
  31. ^ ‘The doctrine of the Trinity is not only fundamental but essential to Christianity.’ Samuel Zwemer, ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity’, The Moslem World 35/1 (1945): 2.
  32. ^ ‘The God whom men know outside of Jesus Christ and apart from the Holy Spirit is a nebulous thing an idea not a reality’ Zwemer, ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity’, 2.
  33. ^ ‘The Incarnation was the greatest miracle of human history.’ Zwemer, The Glory of the Manger, 11.
  34. ^ J. Christy Wilson Jr. ‘The Apostle to Islam: The Legacy of Samuel Zwemer’, IJFM 13:4 (1996): 167.
  35. ^ ‘If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything—the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.’ Samuel Zwener, The Glory of the Cross, (London: Marshall, Organ & Scott, 1928), 6.
  36. ^ ‘The Cross of Christ is indeed the missing link in the Moslem creed.’ Zwener, The Glory of the Cross, 89.
  37. ^ Zwemer, ‘Editorial’, The Moslem World 1/2, (1911): 97. He wrote: ‘there is a sense in which Christianity is as intolerant as Islam;’
  38. ^ Samuel Zwemer, Thinking Missions with Christ, (London: Marshall, Organ & Scott, 1934), 67. See Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims, 260.
  39. ^ Calvin quoted by Zwemer in ‘Calvinism’, 208.
  40. ^ Samuel Zwemer, ‘The Glory of the Impossible’, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. (4th Edition; ed. Ralph D. Winter & Steven C. Hawthorne. Orig. year 1911; Pasadena: Paternoster, 2009), 329.
  41. ^ ‘I only hope that when Christ’s gospel has conquered Arabia, the name of Jesus will be written on every mosque and in every heart;...’ ‘ Samuel Zwemer & Amy Zwemer, Tosy-Turvy Land: Arabia pictured for children (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1902), 71. the twentieth century is to be preeminently a century of missions to Moslems’, Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1902), xxi.
  42. ^ Samuel Zwemer, ‘A Call to Prayer’ in Islam and the Cross (ed. Roger S. Greenway; orig. year 1923; Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002),144.
  43. ^ The gravestone for his daughters reads ‘WORTHY IS THE LAMB TO RECEIVE RICHES’. J. Christy Wilson Jr. ‘The Apostle to Islam: The Legacy of Samuel Zwemer’, IJFM 13:4 (1996): 165.
  44. ^ Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims, 235, 236, 243, 249, 251. cf. Samuel Zwemer, ‘Our Evangel and Islam’, The Moslem World 26/2 (1936): 112.
  45. ^ Zwemer, ‘Calvinism and the Missionary Enterprise’. Theology Today 7:2 (1950): 214.
  46. ^ Acts 20:28, quoted by Zwemer: The Glory of the Cross, 16, 95, 105 & 107.
  47. ^ Samuel Zwemer & James Cantine, The Golden Milestone: Reminiscences of Pioneer Days Fifty Years Ago in Arabia, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1939), 32, 151, 153.
  48. ^ Zwemer, Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1902), 9. Also: ‘In spite of its objectionable doctrinal features, what Protestant can read Dr. Cole’s admirable translation of the Stabat Mater without being deeply affected?’, Raymond Lull, 11. Though, as a good Protestant, he wasn’t above making the odd joke about Catholicism: ‘if all the Popes had been married, like Peter, whom they claimed to be the first Pope, they would never have dared to claim they were infallible.’ Wilson Sr., ‘The Significance of Samuel Zwemer’, 58.
  49. ^ ‘When their [Oriental Christians] hearts are set aglow by the love of Christ they will make the Church a home for Moslem converts, not only, but run to meet the prodigals and welcome them to the Father’s home and the Father’s heart.’ Zwemer, ‘Our Evangel and Islam’,112.
  50. ^ Samuel Zwemer, ‘Editorial’. The Moslem World 1/1, 2.
  51. ^ Zwemer, ‘Editorial’. The Moslem World 1/1, 2.
  52. ^ e.g. ‘All Christians are agreed that belief in the return of our Saviour is of the ecumenical faith.’ Samuel Zwemer, The Glory of the Empty Tomb, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1947),158. Also: Samuel Zwemer, ‘The Dynamic of Evangelism’, The Moslem World 31/2 (1941): 110.
  53. ^ Cited in Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims, 235.

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