I recently endured a gruesome situation at my ministry job.
My supervisor was appropriately leaning hard on me to repent for a mess in which I was complicit. I felt, before God, that I had repented but could not figure out how to convince my supervisor of this. I didn’t get where he was coming from nor what he was looking for.
It ended with me being forced to resign.
All along, I was in pain, thinking, I don’t understand, and I’m sure not being understood.
Ever felt that lack of understanding?
Hurts, doesn’t it?
Much of my career has been given to helping Christians learn about, love, and connect to Muslims in the US and abroad. I’ve led trips, taught classes, and facilitated experiences. I’ve talked to hundreds of Muslims and tons of Christians. I’ve asked a bunch of questions and answered a few.
One of the things I’m left wondering is whether Muslims in the US largely feel misunderstood. I think maybe so. With many of us having no Muslim friends, but at the same time being bombarded with negative information about them, it’s no surprise.
If some of the following things reflect your thinking, you’re not alone. But we don’t have to stay where we are. There’s better information out there, and there are Muslims all over the place to befriend.
Here are six important things Christians get wrong about Muslims.
1. We assume Muslims are all the same.
Now, to be honest, Muslims do have a global unity narrative they try to uphold.
In my early days as an ethnographer trying to understand differences among subcultures, I must have been told a thousand times, “There are no differences in Islam. We are all the same.” You don’t have to be super discerning (lucky for me!) to see that’s simply not the case.
Muslims differ from one another in many and dramatic ways: Ethnicity, language, culture, interpretation of Islam, understanding of the Quran, modernization, and faithfulness.
You know, lots of Muslims only go to the mosque on holidays! Sound familiar?
Even so, many of us may tend to think, All Muslims are very religious, violent, backward, and hell-bent on establishing Islam as the global religion. And throw in there Arab.
The truth, as it usually is, is far more complex.
The world of Islam is every bit as diverse as that of Christianity. Of particular note: Many Muslims bear the name but simply don’t practice, nor maybe even believe. Because of the relatively higher degree of integration of religion and culture in Islam, they may defend it vehemently, but they don’t live it.
2. We think Muslims don’t like us because we’re Christians.
Odds are good I’ve met more Muslims than you. (Although I’m happy if that’s not true!)
I’ll tell you this: Very, very few have not been kind to me. I was just a normal guy; they were normal guys. We weren’t at war with each other. We were people. Which honestly still describes most of the Muslim and Christian world despite the preponderance of news stories and Facebook posts!
Most Muslims are not angry with most Christians. They may be angry that an American drone killed thirty farmers resting after a day’s work. But they’re not angry at you. Even if you voted for a particular political candidate, no one’s consulting you on national defense policy. Most Muslims get that.
While the Quran does have verses calling for violence against Christians and Jews, there is disagreement among scholars regarding their meaning and scope. Your Muslim internist, rather than wanting to kill you for your faith, would rather you pay your bill for her services!
3. We assume they don’t like Jesus either.
Muslims do not agree with Christians about Jesus on a very important issue: that Jesus is God. Muslims say God alone is God. This issue gets deep in a hurry, but, clearly, we see Jesus differently.
However, Muslims view Jesus with tremendously high regard. He comes up often, and favorably, in the Quran. Muslims believe he’s one of the best prophets—just not the final one. They believe he didn’t die, that he was sinless, and that he healed, cast out demons, and raised the dead to life.
You could do worse than having a conversation with a Muslim in which you just talked about how great Jesus is!
4. We believe our posture should be combative.
On both a national scale and a personal one, there is a sense that Muslims need to be thwarted, opposed, and defeated. Do you feel this?
If so, how does this square with the Bible and with what you see and hear from Jesus in the gospels?
The space limitations of this article and, honestly, my intellect prevent a worthwhile look at how this works out on a state scale. I’m not arguing that we watch Netflix while Vienna falls. I am saying we might want to chill at the level of personal interaction.
You never see Jesus operating out of fear and rarely in anger. But he frequently works from compassion and love. I think this is a good model for us generally and in particular with Muslims.
Given the global scale of suffering Muslims experience, I believe compassion is our best approach. Jesus, through you, would reach out to Muslims the way he did to the Samaritan woman in John 4.
Two qualifiers: If you’ve literally been shot at by a Muslim or you’ve suffered as a result of the war on terror and that made you angry, I get it. That’s legit. Please don’t let it eat you alive.
Also, very, very few people are argued into the kingdom. The power and love of Jesus, along with the authority of the Bible, has had much better effect.
5. We think all Muslim women are oppressed.
Have you ever tried on a burka? I have. It’s not fun.
Ergo, anyone who wears it does so against her will and is oppressed.
Ah, would that the world were so simple!
Muslim women wear a variety of head coverings for a variety of reasons. Likewise, Muslim women are oppressed sometimes in some places but perhaps not in other times and places.
Many Muslim women see Muhammad as a liberator of women. He gave them the right to inherit property. He gave them protections from divorce and abandonment. Many Muslim majority countries have had women presidents and prime ministers.
At the same time, some women face nearly unimaginable mistreatment, at least somewhat, in the name of religion. It’s complicated.
What I want to avoid is growing comfortable with the insidious notion that I’m better than Muslims because they oppress women. This is troublesome on a number of levels and entirely contrary to the gospel.
6. We assume Muslims are resistant to the gospel.
Of course, some Christians are too!
And I’ll grant it’s probably more difficult for most Muslims to declare faith in Jesus than for you and me.
But here’s the stark reality: Most Muslims, in the realm of 80–90 percent, do not have a friend who follows Jesus.
We say they refuse to come to the party when most have never even been invited!
Yes, most Muslims have a deep loyalty to Islam. Yes, Muslims, in many cases, have stronger familial and cultural bonds to their religion.
But this, from my experience, is also true: Muslims are often willing to be prayed for. I mean full-on, right now, hand-on-the-shoulder, “Jesus, help my friend” sorts of prayers.
Let’s give Jesus a chance to do his stuff!
A healed body tends to get the attention of a questioning mind. Muslims wonder what it means to be a Christian. For many, it seems to be equated with sinful Western lifestyles. Seeing your life to be different calls that into question.
Throughout the Muslim-majority parts of the world right now, many are engaging in Bible studies, and disciples are multiplying in amazing ways. The prayers of many for many years are being answered in our days.
Please wrestle with these ideas. Poke holes in them. Challenge what I assume to be our common assumptions. We grow when we engage with each other in civil and God-honoring ways.
I want so much for Muslims all over to experience the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring.
Are you with me?
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