I’ve always known that God loves Muslims and I should too. But, to be honest, loving those who adhere to a religion that inspires heinous atrocities around the world has always been tough for me. It’s not that I harbored hatred toward Muslims. Truth is, I never really knew any Muslims all that well. I just simply didn’t find the stereotype particularly attractive.
However, the past couple weeks have dispelled those negative stereotypes. First, I read, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Dr. Nabeel Qureshi and grew to love his Muslim family, even though I’ve never met them. The Muslims he described were kind and compassionate, smart, and full of integrity. Though their religious convictions are very different than mine, they’re much more like my own family than many nominal Christians or secularists I know. They’re passionate about their beliefs and live according to those beliefs. I respect that.
Secondly, I had the privilege last week of spending time with one very prominent Muslim — Dr. Shabir Ally, an imam and president of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International. Dr. Ally participated in the debate I moderated with Dr. Qureshi at Wayne State University. And, truth is, I really liked him. Either he’s an incredible actor or he’s a genuinely gracious and endearing person. I choose to believe the latter.
Equally important, though, reading Qureshi’s book dispelled several myths for me. I think these myths are pretty common among American Christians, so I decided to outline them in this post:
Myth #1: The Only Peaceful Muslim is a Nominal One.
There’s no doubt the Quran appears to advocate violence. One verse, for example, says, “Slay the infidels wherever you find them.” However, I learned reading Qureshi’s book that some Muslims sincerely believe that this violent verse only applies to a very specific circumstance — “when the polytheists of Mecca had breached a contract with Muslims.” The general principle of Islam, these Muslims believe, is peace. In fact, the Quran also contains another verse that says “there is no compulsion in religion.”
“Many Muslims, even devout ones, don’t know these stories…. They are genuinely deceived into believing Islam is a peaceful religion — and they are genuinely peaceful people.”
But, as Qureshi recounts, many Muslims, even devout ones, don’t know these stories. And, when they are confronted with them, they desperately try to explain them away. Likely, given the strength of their devotion to Islam and how integral it is to their identity, they believe their own rationalizations. To do otherwise is simply unthinkable. They are genuinely deceived into believing Islam is a peaceful religion — and they are genuinely peaceful people.
Myth #2: Arguing Religion With Muslims is Pointless and Will Only Cause Division.
I’ve heard this argument numerous times applied not just to discussing religion with Muslims, but with any adherent of another faith or even no faith. In fact, I once hosted a program on whether apologetics helps or hurts our Christian witness. Arguing that apologetics actually hurt our witness was David Fitch, author and B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. Reiterating his blog post, Fitch said Christian apologetics simply alienate unbelievers. Plus, apologetics create “over defended Christians unable to listen.”
Now, I’ve never really bought this argument. In fact, I have found that some of the best listeners I know are Christians trained in apologetics. Yes, they are good at offering a defense of the gospel, as 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts us to do. But, most know the answers to the questions because they’ve heard them repeatedly in their close and caring relationships with their non-Christian friends.
However, before the past couple of weeks, I didn’t realize how much Muslims truly relish debate, and how going toe-to-toe with them actually engenders respect. My family background is almost entirely Western European, so I’m not sure why this is the case — but we are much the same way. We love passionately debating religion, politics and hot-button issues. Until recently, I never realized that I had such affinity with Muslim people. I’m really hoping now that God brings some Muslims into my life. This brings me to my last myth . . .
Myth #3: Muslims Don’t Want Relationships With Christians
I don’t know that I ever really thought about this last myth – at least, not consciously. My parents were missionaries, so they taught us to always be open to people from other cultures. But, of all the people I would expect to be open to relationship with me, Muslims would probably be near the bottom of that list. I admit, that’s probably pretty sad and inexcusable, but that’s what I thought.
“I’m convinced Muslims are worth our best effort. Many of them are open and waiting for relationship with us; are we open and welcoming with them?”
Qureshi may never have come to faith in Jesus had it not been for David, a fellow student and passionate follower of Christ, who befriended him. Had David kept to himself, Nabeel Qureshi would have never been confronted with the truths of Christianity. Last week’s debate would have never happened. And, all those who have been strengthened in their faith or believed in Christ because of Nabeel Qureshi’s testimony would have missed out. Building relationships and sharing Christ with Muslims may take a bit more effort than building relationships with people just like ourselves. But, I’m convinced Muslims are worth our best effort. Many of them are open and waiting for relationship with us; are we open and welcoming with them?