Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors
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:
- “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.
- “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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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,
- to truly come to understand each other from each other’s perspective, and
- 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.