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Engaging Muslims starts with understanding

Palestinian men pray in front the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan July 20, 2012 (Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad)

We are a nation divided. Divided by political parties. Divided by state borders. Divided by neighborhoods and subdivisions. Divided by race and religion. Divided by socioeconomic status and privilege.

Our pledge of allegiance reads, “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But we’ve found ourselves divided and seeking liberty and justice only for those like us.

In many ways, this divisiveness has seeped into our church culture. We are divided by denomination, worship style, and preferred translation of the Bible. That, too, has created a lack of justice—spiritual justice.

This spiritual injustice has led us to build a wall between Christians and everyone else.  We’ve let “in the world, not of the world” become our excuse for not understanding those outside the Church and for perpetuating misconceptions that keep us from loving them.

When we engender division, we instill fear and injustice. It’s in unity that we demonstrate love. It’s in unity that we foster understanding, and it’s in unity that we engage people’s hearts.

Jesus showed us the importance and the power of unity in this prayer to the Father, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

The season of Ramadan is an ideal time for us to unite in prayer for Muslims worldwide and to challenge our preconceived notions about their faith and culture in order to better understand them. So in an effort to help you engage Muslims in your own community, I want us to attempt to dispel some common misconceptions that Americans often have about Muslims.

Misconception #1: Muslims worship Mohammed.

Reality: Mohammed was merely a messenger, and Muslims consider him as such and nothing more. He is no savior or deity. In fact, it would be blasphemous for a Muslim to worship him instead of or in addition to Allah—the equivalent of Christians worshipping an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah.  

Misconception #2: Jesus is unknown to Muslims.

Reality: Jesus is a well-known figure to Muslims. He is mentioned over 100 times in the Koran, as are other biblical figures. Jesus is thought of highly in the Koran as a prophet and even called the “Word of God” and “Messiah.”

Misconception #3: The Koran is a book only about killing and war.

Reality: 60% of the Koran has its origin in the Bible. While there are many very disturbing statements about how to treat non-Muslims, you’ll also find that it includes the stories of Adam, Moses, Abraham, and the virgin birth and perfection of Jesus.

Misconception #4: All followers of Islam are ultimately jihadist and working to overthrow all democratic governments in order to install Sharia worldwide.

Reality: There are 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide, and the majority of that population wants precisely what Americans desire and even fight for: freedom from oppression, a peaceful society to raise their families, and an end to systems that teach religious intolerance.

It’s time that we focus less on our differences, and instead, focus on God’s call to reach the world—even the Muslim world—with the gospel of Jesus Christ. His plan includes bringing salvation through faith in Jesus to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.

It’s time we act like one Kingdom, one people under God, and seek spiritual justice and deliverance for everyone by sharing with them the message of grace that could make them more than our fellow Americans or world citizens … it could make them our brothers and sisters in Christ forever.


Dr. Kurt Nelson is President & CEO of East-West Ministries, a missions organization dedicated to multiplying followers of Jesus in the world’s spiritually darkest places. Through their ministry in unreached and restricted-access nations, people of many faiths—including Muslims—are encountering Jesus Christ and finding eternal hope. You can learn how to reach Muslims in your own community through their specialized IMPEL training. Register or learn more at www.eastwest.org/impel.