“They hate us for our freedom!”
“Why don’t we just nuke them until the sand glows?”
“Their book tells them to kill us!”
Each one of these statements has been said to me, by good-natured Christians hoping to make heads or tails of the fastest growing religious population on the earth: Muslims.
To the first comment I often want to say that Muslim radicals never say that it is our freedom they despise, but our governments relentless bombing of schools, and the lack of resources they suffer at the hands of any number of factors. Second, to the question, I would simply say that the ground of our identity is not American; it is Christian. And finally, the third remark is made with a major blind spot: the Old Testament! I believe God inspires both testaments but I choose to remember that we have good reasons to process such overwhelming violence in light of the historical arc of scripture. As clinical psychologist Jonathan Haidt says in his book The Righteous Mind (p.69), we are good at finding errors in other people’s beliefs, but not good at seeing faulty logic in our own. This is why we should give Muslims the chance to interpret to us the ninth Sura (chapter) in their book.
Locals in a Christian church in Trinidad had warned us that Muslim radicals would often recruit from the Mosque the student group I had taken had tried but failed, to visit earlier in the day. The warning was stern, “You know,” the business owner assuring himself that he had my full attention, continued, “that these people will kidnap you, tie you up, and pull on your nose until you resemble a pig, or worse, make you dead.” It wasn’t shocking to hear these words from this local man because I had noticed that his very successful business had helped him justify a leisure life that had no time for going to church with his very faithful wife, much less any time to invest in understanding the local Muslim community.
It was the fact that the local pastor we were assisting agreed with him, albeit without making a sound, that had the effect of muting my efforts to defend our radical evangelism. He knew, like I did, that there was some sort of conflict brewing in the things we claimed to believe and the way we actually believed. To my surprise, just after I summoned up the courage to tell the man that I disagreed with his approach, he interrupted my fumbling whispers to ask me the question: “You are willing to die at the hands of these people?” Yes, I thought, I think I am ready.
I was wrong…
One of our students, just as I was about to answer this man, practically kicked open the door. It had the effect of nearly giving me a heart attack. “Jon!” he screamed. The slightly annoyed look on my face barely had a chance to recover when he delivered the good news: “We have been invited by the lay-leader of the Mosque to participate with them in evening prayer, led by the Imam. The look of horror and shock was nearly plastered on the face of the pastor.
“Yes, let’s go.”
As we walked I suddenly heard every word of warning and replayed every video of radicals murdering captured soldiers and journalists in my head. We arrived at the Mosque full of whatever emotion that might be described in the context of a whirlwind. The lay-leader told us how to take our shoes off and how to participate in prayer. While we waited for the Imam to arrive I found out something about myself: I was afraid. And no, it was not the kind of fear you shake off before you step up to take the pitch.
It wasn’t that I had fear; fear had me. Yes, me, the evangelist whose known in his community for encouraging church members to think again about Islam in general and Muslims in particular. I would readily rattle off the following statements to the willing faithful:
- Muslims love Jesus, so much so that they are commanded to be just like Him – going as far to revere him as the only perfect messenger from Allah, born of a virgin, and a capable vessel for performing miracles.
- Muslims are often coming from an honor/shame culture, which often looks silly to a legal/illegal culture, and before you right this off as primitive just remember how good Muslims are at being pro-family, pro-marriage, and pro-hard work; and how bad the common Christian is at any of those issues.
- Muslims will often come to your home for dinner, but many in the West refuse to invite them into their homes, potentially laying the groundwork for a friendship that could last a lifetime.
- Muslims consider the Bible to be a Holy book, full of righteousness and worthy of study.
- Muslims have more visions of Jesus, per capita, than any other Abrahamic religion; which many see as a result of God sovereignly moving, but some of us are guessing it is because millions of Muslims ask God (daily!) to reveal Himself to them.
- Muslims want to study the Bible with you, so invite them to your Bible studies. I was able to do a complete study of the Gospel of Mathew with a Muslim friend who had never read the gospels, and this culminated in a chance to study in his local Mosque, one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had.
- Muslims in America care just as much about their children’s future and foray into consumerism that often plagues many a Christian parent, so please reach out with wisdom, they’ll listen.
- Muslims are often more ready to be prayed for in public than any other religious group, including Christians.
Do I seem confident? Experience, as a teacher, has a way of revealing to us what we really believe, which brings me back to that Mosque experience:
I had to step outside of the Mosque to get some air and shame myself for discovering fear that was buried deep beneath the surface of my zeal. As each guy emerged, we were still missing the one girl student. She emerged with a big smile on her face. As it turns out, she had shared the Gospel with every woman present, and was invited to go to the Imam’s home. As the Mosque Imam came out to greet us, he immediately began to question our motives, saying that Christians never talk to them, nor have any Christians ever visited their Mosque for any time, much less prayer time! We looked at him and said, “Sir, we don’t want to convert you guys. We just want to be your friends.” A smile crept across his bearded face, as he said the words: “Then be friends we shall.”
The harvest, Jesus says, is plentiful but the workers are few (Luke 10:2)! The Harvest is your local Muslim community and they are desperate to not only hear about Jesus, but also to see the “Jesus Way” lived out. I have seen many beautiful Muslim friends come to know Jesus since that fearful evening, but even as the culture escalates the issue, I still wonder: do we find it easier to make enemies or friends?
Please, let’s make friends.