Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Talk to Muslims -- not at them

I have a Muslim friend named Alaa who arrived in America with his wife and four children last year.

They escaped Iraq about half a step ahead of death.

Alaa celebrated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Later, he aided a U.S. soldier who was shot during a skirmish with Iraqi insurgents on Alaa’s street in Baghdad. Within 72 hours, Alaa had been targeted for revenge by local militia thugs. His second son was kidnapped. The kidnappers crushed the boy’s hand with a trunk lid as they tossed him in the back of their vehicle. They beat the child daily while demanding a small fortune for his life.

Desperate, Alaa ransomed his son with his life savings and the help of relatives. He went into hiding with his family. His house was destroyed by insurgents. Three months later, the family fled Iraq. After two years in another country, they finally entered the United States as refugees.
Alaa and his family have received a lot of practical help since they got here, from lodging and transportation to medical and job assistance. Most of it has come from Christians — and Alaa is very thankful. “They help me every time!” he says with amazement, smiling broadly.

The family is struggling to learn English and make ends meet, but they love America. The kids make good grades in school. Better days lie ahead.

Does Alaa sound like the kind of guy who secretly plans to take over America for radical Islam?

He experienced his fill of radical Islamists in Iraq: They nearly killed him. Today he’s mainly interested in becoming an American citizen. He also welcomes discussions of the Gospel, because he’s seen it lived out by people who care about him and his family.

I thought about Alaa as 3,000 or so Muslims gathered to pray Sept. 25 near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The event was billed as “Islam on Capitol Hill,” an opportunity to “illustrate the wonderful diversity of Islam.”

Various Christian groups expressed concern about the event, which failed to draw anywhere near the 50,000 Muslim pilgrims organizers had anticipated. National Muslim organizations reportedly declined to participate. Questions were raised about the motives of the sponsors, who proclaimed “Our time has come” as the event’s theme. One organizer, Hassen Abdellah, was part of the legal team that defended one of the attackers in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The public-relations timing of the rally also was less than ideal, coming as new plots by homegrown Muslim terrorists to attack U.S. targets, foiled in recent days, grabbed headlines.

Most of those who actually showed up for the Washington gathering quietly prayed in the shadow of the Capitol. The colorfully dressed crowd appeared to be a mix of U.S.-born and immigrant Muslims.

One of the main speakers and organizers, Imam Abdul Malik of Brooklyn, N.Y, made no secret of his ambitious agenda. “America, I announce to you it is my intention to invite your children to the worship of one God (Allah),” said Malik during a 40-minute address. “It is my intention to remove every idol from every place. Nothing physical — it is a confrontation of ideas.”

He also paid tribute to the freedom of speech and religion America affords: “What we’ve done today, you couldn’t do in any Muslim country. If you prayed on the palace lawn there, they’d lock you up.”

Many Christians living in Muslim lands would heartily agree with that statement.

Some Christians who came to the Washington event protested it — and Islam — with banners, chants and at least one blaring megaphone. Others watched, listened, prayed and sought opportunities to engage Muslims in conversations about God and faith.

The second approach is a more effective mission strategy — if you’re interested in talking to Muslims rather than at or about them.

“I say for people to get out and interact with people, to get to know Muslim people,” said Daryl Thomas, a Muslim carpenter from New York who attended the Washington gathering. “That’s basically what it is, just not knowing. So whatever’s in front of you, whether it’s the media or someone who doesn’t like Muslims, you start to believe it. So you’ve got to get to know (us) for yourself. Get out and visit mosques just a like a friend would invite you to another church.”

He’s right.

Like it or not, we now live in the crossroads of the world. America has become a fragmented, chaotic marketplace of ideas, cultures, religions and philosophies. It’s frightening and frustrating at times.

It also presents one of the greatest mission opportunities in the history of the Christian church.

Chances are Muslims live, work or go to school near you — or soon will. Befriend them. Help them. Listen to them. Share Jesus with them.

That’s what I’m doing with my friend Alaa.


Elijah Elkins said...

Great article! The statements made are very true. I'm in the process of doing a research paper on Islam and what it's like in a specific country in the world. My friend and I are going to travel to an Islamic center to talk to some students who go to school near there... America is ever-changing and as Christians we must be adapting our ways of doing things. A group that is trying to equip Christians with the knowledge to befriend and share Christ with Muslims is Crescent Project. Check it out if you're interested... God bless.

Marti Smith said...

Thanks for your article, Erich! Appreciate your perspective. We took advantage of the reprint permission we have from Baptist Press to use this as a news feature in our Missions Catalyst e-Magazine. Published it under a different title and made some minor style changes, but otherwise left it intact. See http://www.calebresources.org/node/280.

Brian, the old man said...

Excellent story. I agree with you about getting to know them and talking with them and not at them. Many times it is ones ignorance which causes fear and discrimination. There is no reason to hate someone you don't know or understand. I pray everyone will learn to do as Jesus does and love one another.