I was talking today with a couple that is hosting a Muslim friend in their home. They mentioned that they got a bit frustrated with their conversations with this Muslim friend. Even though they had been careful to point out the differences between the two faiths, the Muslim friend would always end the conversations by saying how similar their two faiths were.
Why was their friend doing this? As frustrating as it was to the couple, it was possibly a communication device meant to diffuse any tension that may have arisen from this highlighting of the differences in order to preserve the relationship.
This couple was in their late fifties or early sixties. So, I mentioned to them that their inculturation into the Christian faith happened in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time the cultural trend in the church was to highlight the differences between the world religions and even between Christian denominations. Highlighting the differences was the way we showed our faith (or our particular brand of the Christian faith) was true. In addition, we demonstrated its truthfulness by the historical verifiability of specific data in the Scriptures and by well reasoned philosophical arguments.
Times have changed; and the US culture has changed. More and more people find this approach objectionable because it feels too confrontational. So, I suggested to them that they try a different approach. I suggested they try building bridges. Open the relationship by highlighting how our two faiths are similar. The similarities in the faith will build relational bridges with their friend and create a safe environment for him. In that context of safety maybe he will free enough to discuss and explore more about our faith.
When we think about it, we actually have much in common with Muslims. We both believe in only one God, we both believe that people are sinners, that they fall short of their own moral standards. We both think it is right to honor our parents, we value faithfulness in marriage, we would like our societies to be just, equitable, and fair. There are so many things that we agree on. Sure, there is significant disagreement. However, by highlighting the things we agree on we build bridges and create a safe environment for meaningful interaction. Once a safe space has been created, it is possible then to talk about the person of Jesus. Most of the key differences in our faiths center around the person of Jesus.
I then mentioned to them that there is more in the Qur’an about the Messiah Jesus than there is about the Prophet of Islam. The Qur’an has many incredible things to say about Jesus. Due to this, there is a good reason to talk about Jesus. They may find it helpful if they knew some of the stories or statements about Jesus in the Qur’an.
By saying this I was not saying that they should read the Qur’an with their friend. That isn’t at all necessary. We have so many incredible stories from the life of Jesus in the Gospels. So, I suggested that they talk about some of these stories and show how these stories shape our lives. For example, why don’t we worry about evil spirits? I know of few Christians who live in fear of evil spirits. Why? Whenever Jesus encountered evil spirits he cast them out of the person. Talk about some of those stories with their friend. These stories teach us that Jesus drives evil spirits away. Since we live in the presence of Jesus, Jesus keeps the evil spirits away from us.
And there is so much more about Jesus that is so wonderful. Since we have given our allegiance to Jesus, when any of our loved ones fall ill, we do not get frantic and pray to the saints or go to shrines of deceased holy men and beseech them for help. Why? Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He consoles us and gives us his peace. This peace is what he gave to his disciples when he was on the earth, and he gives this peace to us. And, since Jesus is still alive, we pray to him for healing. What he gives, we receive. If he doesn’t heal us as we ask, our full allegiance remains with him. Our desire is to remain loyal to him and to him alone.
If we talk about the stories of Jesus when he was alive, stories about which we have no real disagreement, this may create an interest in this student to learn more about Jesus. After all, Jesus was and is an incredible person. He alone is the Messiah; he alone is Immanuel.
Highlighting similarities and then pointing to the unique stories and deeds of Jesus, can open their friend’s heart so he would like to learn more about Jesus. If that happens, I told the couple, well, they have a New Testament. I encouraged them to take the time to read the Gospels together and talk about what they read. They will discover that God does remarkable things when we look into his Word.