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From other to friend

Amy Frykholm posted yesterday about Muhammad Musri, the Muslim leader who met with Terry Jones and helped defuse last week's Qur'an-burning situation. If more Christians and Muslims knew one another personally, the whole furor may not have occurred in the first place.

It's a lot harder to adopt anti-Islam rhetoric when your family doctor is Muslim, or your daughter's college roommate is Muslim, or your congregation has worked with a mosque to build a Habitat for Humanity house. Many of the troubling statements I've read in recent weeks—and heard in my pastoral ministry—would never have been said if folks simply got to know their Muslim neighbors. Conversations about Islam could shift from a focus on the unknown other to one on knowing one another better.

Recently, I've heard of many Christian pastors participating in interfaith services, posting supportive statements regarding Islam to their Web sites and teaching Sunday School sessions on Islam. NPR recently ran a great piece on "bridging the Christian-Muslim divide." This is all positive and helpful, good steps on the journey from fear to understanding. But nothing beats personal relationships.

Have relationships or experiences with Muslims affected you personally? How can Christians promote positive relationships with our Muslim neighbors? How can churches help connect congregants to those of other faiths?

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Interfaith friendships

Friendships with Muslims and those of other faiths and cultures have definitely affected me in that I have a higher tolerance and understanding for those different from me. Rather than speaking in an ill-informed manner about someone else's practice, a friendship has allowed me to see things from their perspective rather than insisting that my way or the American way is the only way of looking at things.

As for how churches can help congregants connect, I say the best way is to model it. The pastor and his or her staff having some of these relationships themselves and choosing to speak intelligently to their congregations is a start. Mostr congregations will not advance much past the pastor. Then advancing to doing things with these congregations like cleaning up the neighborhood, feeding the homeless, etc. I think where most people get tripped up is thinking that if they don't share theology with another group they can't possibly socialize or associate with them. It's a real eye-opener for people to find out they don't have to compromise their beliefs. We're all human being sharing some of the same basic beliefs. Focusing more on our commonalities and less on our differences helps.

friendship with neighbors

My neighbors on both sides are Muslim. One family is devout, regularly attending prayer services, though also fully assimilated into mainstream. I went to the school when their 4th grade daughter was selected to write the speech for Flag Day. My wife and I have care for their children so they could have a date night. I have had many conversations about faith questions, but the most bracing have been around Israel. My Muslim neighbor and I have different views on this but truth-be-told we have been able to hang in there with each other because we are friends.

My other Muslim neighbor is, by his own admission, no longer practicing Islam. He is fiercely opposed to what he considers the more rigid religious practices, the "abuse" of women and the involvement in terrorism. I told him I wanted to learn more about Islam from him and he rejected the notion. We are friends and neighbors, joining together last year to rebuild the fence that we both share. That's the truth.

So, Adam, yes; the more personally you know Muslims the better perspective you have on the latest irruption of fear and hatred.

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