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Guest Blogger: Joel is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and is preparing for ordination in the Presbyterian Church of America. His ministry focus is the Arabic-speaking world, and he writes about life, the gospel, and the books he’s reading at http://joelws.com.

I’ll never forget the first time I met a Muslim. I was a teenager, in New York City on a large crowded street, and a man with a beard as large as my face came up to speak with me. I didn’t get a chance to talk with him very much, but I will never forget how different he looked from me and how greatly what he said about Jesus and the Bible varied from what I had always known and believed.

Fast forward several years to the first time I entered a mosque. I can also never forget the room full of men who looked very different than me, with writing on the walls that did not look anything like English, and filled with worship that looked nothing like what I had ever seen. But what I will always remember, far more than the beards or the Arabic script, are the conversations about deeply held convictions about God and the world, along with conversations about deeply held convictions about such things as sports, computers, and food.

Since that time, I have been developing friendships with Muslims in a variety of ways, and I have consistently been drawn to think about how the American church can get to know her Muslim neighbors. What follows are a few brief thoughts about how those of us who want to be known as followers of Jesus can effectively develop relationships with the Muslims who inhabit our cities.

Dialogues / Meetings for Better Understanding

The primary way that I have been involved in getting to know Muslim neighbors in the cities in which I have lived is by participating in Christian-Muslim dialogues, sometimes called “Meetings for Better Understanding” (see Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting Biblical Understanding Among North American Muslims for a book-length treatment of this subject).

Before I explain exactly how to start something like this, let me address two objections:

  1. “It sounds like this is just a way to make us sound like we’re all the same, that Islam is just as valid of a path to God as is Christianity.”
    Certainly dialogues take place where this is what happens. But if we simply state from the very beginning that we have significant differences, and that we want to explore them together, the right tone can be set from the start.
  2. “Muslims won’t want to get to know Christians.”
    While this may be true of some Muslims, it is often the case that Muslims in America are very concerned about stereotypes about them, and that in fact they yearn to get know people in America who will shower them with interest, love, and friendship.

Now how can we actually bring about meetings between Muslim and Christian communities? In reality, it’s much easier than one might think. There are basically two options:

  1. Pick up the phone, call the local mosque or Islamic center (easily found online), and ask to speak with the imam (Islamic religious leader) or another leader in the community. Tell him you’re from a local church, and that you want to promote understanding and friendship between the two communities, and ask him if he would be willing to get together over coffee to talk about how that possibility might become a reality.
  2. Go to the mosque during their Friday afternoon prayer service, observe their service respectfully, and then afterwards, introduce yourself to the imam and talk to him about the possibility of arranging a meeting for better understanding. Hopefully he will be interested, and you will be able to start regular (hopefully monthly) meetings between the two communities.

It’s really that simple. Perhaps that particular mosque will not be interested. But you will never know until you try. As I have been involved in and started such dialogues, I have tried to communicate three reasons for holding these meetings between our two communities:

  1. To lose the stereotypes about each other—e.g., that all Muslims are terrorists and that all Christians are immoral and ignorant—that pervade media sources,
  2. to truly come to understand each other from each other’s perspective, and
  3. to develop positive relationships so that even when we disagree, we can still remain friends and coexist peacefully in our communities.

Those are noble goals. Now certainly, both communities would be exceedingly happy if some from one or the other would convert and join the other community. But the reality is, Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and whether our Muslim neighbors ever come to acknowledge his Lordship or not—and certainly we can pray that they would—simply being willing to open our homes for discussion, food, and friendship will go along to showing them who Jesus is and what he has called us to do.

These meetings can range from formal—selecting a specific topic and having speakers from each side address that topic—to informal—getting together to have a meal and just converse over whatever happens to come up—to everything in between. You’ll find that there is much to talk about with our Muslim neighbors: who God is, who Jesus is, how to be right with God, how to raise children, the rising attitude of secularism, the shared story of Abraham, and so on.

The point is this: it is possible to get to know your Muslim neighbors, and there is much to talk about with them. If we will pray that God would fill us with his love and the courage to contact Muslims in our area, perhaps he will bless us with great conversations, wonderful food, and incredible friendships. That would at least be a start in loving our Muslim neighbors as ourselves.


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8 thoughts on “Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors”

  1. Christiane says:

    “Love not just those of your own tribe,
    your own class, family or people,

    but those who are different, those who are strangers,
    who are strange to your ways,

    who come from different cultural and religious traditions,
    who seem odd, those you do not understand.

    Love as the Samaritan loved the man he found
    beaten up by robbers,
    somewhere on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

    To love is to open our hearts to people
    to listen to them,
    to appreciate them
    and see in them their own unique value,
    to wish deeply that they may live and grow. ”

    Jean Vanier ‘The Body Broken’

  2. Keith says:

    Biblical love does not include fellowship for its own sake, if it’s with those who reject the Lord whose temple we are.

    Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
    “ I will dwell in them
    And walk among them.
    I will be their God,
    And they shall be My people.”
    Therefore
    “ Come out from among them
    And be separate, says the Lord.
    Do not touch what is unclean,
    And I will receive you.”
    (2 Cor. 6:14-17)

    “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

    Jesus visited with the lost for the sole purpose of calling them to repentance (Luke 5:30-32). That was His reason number 1, 2 and 3. By His instruction (Matthew 10:14), if the people to whom we reach out do not receive the Gospel, we must move on. It is Christ’s command that we cannot “remain friends” with those who reject Him.

  3. Christiane says:

    Keith, I think our comments represent two very different viewpoints.

    I’m wondering if you might have ever thought that people come to Christ because they are drawn to Him when they see Him pointed to by those who love them in His Name? And sometimes, this happens over many years . . . hence the needs in Christian people for the fruits of the Holy Spirit when being with those of other faiths: patience, love

    There was a kind of love shown by the Samaritan that didn’t ask the beliefs of the man who was beaten and left for dead, in order to care for him with compassion . . .

    If there is to be a ministry to those of other faiths, it has to be to ‘share Christ’ with compassion towards them as people who also need friendship and kindness if they are in a land where they may be so quickly ‘marginalized’ by those who see only a ‘label’, and not the human face and heart that needs Christ’s love.

    We cannot convert anyone if we are filled with ‘contempt’ for them. But if, in the way we treat them and relate to them, they can see the Love of Christ, they will come to know something of Him in the kindness of Christian people towards them. This understanding of His Love has great power in the hands of the Holy Spirit to point them further towards Our Lord.

  4. Keith says:

    Kindness and compassion are wonderful, and of course we should help those in need, and of course we should not act in contempt or hatred or unfounded prejudice.
    But there’s a difference between that and friendship, where we spend time with people in a social setting of fellowship. That is to be reserved for our brothers and sisters of the faith.
    The Samaritan helped a man in dire medical need, and then he went his way, telling the innkeeper that he would return to reimburse any expenses. It was not a social call.
    The issue is not an either/or between contempt and friendship. There is much middle ground. God’s people are to love the world but still be set apart from the world. We must not substitute what we think love means from what the word of God teaches.

  5. Christiane says:

    In my faith, we follow Our Lord’s example with people . . . we know of no better way to relate to anyone than the way He did.

    A Christian community can and should be a welcoming community;
    but not if it regards itself as an exclusive social club . . . country clubs are a dime a dozen . . . Our Lord’s Church recieves all who need Him, as the Great Physician, He came for those in trouble. And so His Church must do as He did when He was here among us, and reach out to those who need His friendship and His love.

  6. Keith says:

    As I said, Christ’s example, and His teaching, was to call people to repent, and move on if they didn’t.

  7. I have not experienced group settings to discuss differences between Islam and Christianity. I am intrigued, and would be interested to see what fruit this would bear. I suspect it may help some Muslims to be interested and less defensive about Christians and possibly Christian information. If their mental doors are slammed shut against us they will never hear the gospel.
    I find Joel’s description encouraging.
    In Albuquerque there is a wide open field to assist refugees and immigrants who happen to be Muslims. People new to our country are open to help from many sources (need it desperately) and can form friendships more easily in such a time of transition.
    If individual Christians are to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) we have to be living out our faith clearly enough in proximity with those who are not followers of Jesus that they would ask.
    Yes, I am built up in fellowship with Christians. I’ve been simmering and growing for 30 years. It’s time to get out of the salt-shaker and also influence the world.
    We Americans are shaped by our culture to have limited interactions- we’re individualistic. God is broadening my heart to find more time and love for friends. And what a great thing when someone does ask ‘why are you like this’. Wow, Jesus, just help me love you and them very deeply.
    Find out how to take the first step- find a class like Bridges, check out a local outreach group.

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