A billboard greeting commuters along the busy Interstate 95 near the Vince Lombardi Service Plaza in New Jersey has made headlines recently. It bears the message “Muhammad believed in peace, social justice, women’s rights” and invites onlookers to call 877-Why-Islam or visit WhyIslam.org for more information. It is one of 30 billboards that the Islamic Circle of North America has recently bought and added to the 80 such postings with a similar message around the country.
Their hope is that as people become more aware of Islam’s teachings, they will be able to separate the acts of terror perpetrated by groups like ISIS from the true teachings of Islam. As Hannan Adely recently reported, the organization’s president, Naeem Baig, said of the billboards, “People are curious to know about the Prophet Muhammad. They have many questions, and we are experiencing a surge in calls to our hotline and website visits since the billboards went up.”
While such advertisements typically cost in the range of $3,000 a month, Baig explained that they are paid for by donations from American Muslims that want to let their neighbors and colleagues know the truth about their faith. He said that such concerns have only increased in recent months and that some of those who call “ask about the Taliban not letting girls go to school or Saudi Arabia not letting women drive.” Baig went on to say that “Some need to hear that what is happening in any society may be coming from the culture but that is not Islam.”
To that end, the website offers articles explaining their faith and comparing it to that of Judaism and Christianity in addition to encouraging people to call for more information, tour a mosque to see how they worship, and order some of their free literature including a copy of the Qur’an.
While the veracity of some of the information on the site and the claims of the billboard perhaps warrants further discussion, there is not room in this space to do justice to such a conversation. Instead, I would like to talk about the Islamic Circle’s strategy for sharing their faith and what we can learn from it as Christians.
First, the group’s content, from the subject matter of the billboard to the organization of the site, is intended to combat the idea that Islam teaches the kind of violence currently on display throughout the Middle East and in terrorist attacks around the world. Given a choice, it seems likely that the Islamic Circle would rather spend their time focusing on other aspects of their faith but the misguided interpretations of other Muslims have prevented them from doing so.
The same thing can happen for us when believers use God’s truth as a weapon to hurt instead of a salve to heal. To be clear, I am not equating the torture, rape, and murder commonly perpetrated by ISIS with things like the hateful condemnation of the LGBT community or the blanket association that equates all Muslims with terrorists. However, when we or other Christians treat people in ways that are counter to the standard to which Christ has called us, we commit a similar sin that threatens to distract people from the message of love and grace that should be our focus.
God could do so much more through us if we simply shared the truth of his word in a manner that conveys both his holiness and his love by condemning sin while showing love and mercy to the sinner. And if more of us took that approach to interacting with others, we would be able to spend less time trying to explain the mistakes of some misguided believers and more time sharing Christ’s message of salvation.
Second, the Islamic Circle is making it as easy as possible for people to gain a better understanding of the group’s views regarding the true nature of Islam. By allowing people to engage in the discussion on their own terms instead of the groups, whether it be via phone calls, online forums, or simply reading over the website’s material, they are attempting to be as user friendly as possible in order to better share their message.
As Christians, we too need to be more concerned with meeting people on their terms rather than ours. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus going out of his way to speak with people in a setting where they were most comfortable. He ate with tax collectors and sinners in their homes (Matthew 9), went against cultural customs to speak with women and Samaritans in Samaria (John 4), and made time for those who wanted to see him (Mark 1:32-33). In short, he did what he could to make his message accessible to those that wanted to hear it.
If someone wanted to ask you about Jesus, could they? Would they have to do so on your terms or theirs? The kind of availability we’re talking about here doesn’t mean dropping whatever you’re doing to accommodate another person but it does mean breaking down as many barriers as possible to better allow for others to understand the gospel.
Ultimately, scripture is quite clear that one of the things God hates most is when his people, whether through their words or actions, keep others from coming to know him (Matthew 18:6, 23:13-36, Ezekiel 13). We have been given an awesome responsibility by our Lord and Savior to be his hands, his feet, and his light to the world around us. Each day we are given the opportunity to better live out that mission by being accurate and available witnesses to God’s truth.
So decide today that you will live in accordance with that calling and then ask the Holy Spirit to help you do so. Each of us has the capacity to do great things to expand God’s kingdom. Will you?