by Greg Mathias
Muslims are not simply people you meet when traveling to another country. When you walk out of your door, go to work, or play with your kids in the local park you realize Islam is no longer a religion over there in the Middle East. As more and more Americans meet their Muslim neighbors, there is still confusion when it comes to understanding the religion of Islam.
A recent survey by Lifeway Research of Protestant pastors’ views toward Islam revealed that while 71 percent know a Muslim personally, 52 percent agree with Franklin Graham’s statement describing Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion.” In contrast, 36 percent of pastors agree with George W. Bush’s statement: “The Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion.”
Additionally, mainline pastors use words like open (30 percent), promotes charity (58 percent), and spiritually good (47 percent) to describe Islam. However, evangelical pastors tend to describe Islam as promoting violence (54 percent), spiritually evil (52 percent), and dangerous (59 percent). So, which is it?
Another striking statistic from this survey revealed the divide between the beliefs of pastors and the American public. Eighty-three of Protestant pastors believe Islam to be fundamentally different from Christianity, yet only 44 percent of Americans say the same.
The results of this survey demonstrate the differing opinions and confusion surrounding Islam. As more Americans live and work next to Muslims, it’s important to look beyond statistics and sound bites and recognize them as real, flesh-and-blood people.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbors, including Muslims. Loving our neighbors begins with knowing and understanding them. So, where do you begin?
Here are three steps you can take to engage Muslims in your community:
1. Be a learner. As you spend time with your Muslim friends and neighbors, ask questions and listen for the answer. One way to do this is to be a guest. We often want to begin by inviting people into our lives and world, but the first step is to put yourself in a position to be the guest.
Jesus was the consummate guest. He entered peoples’ lives along the way and spent time in their homes. Consider becoming the guest before inviting people. How? Visit a mosque, eat at a Middle-eastern restaurant, go to a cultural celebration. As you enter peoples’ lives you begin to learn their stories.
There are fundamental and pronounced differences between Christianity and Islam, but there’s no need to be constantly on the defensive. Get to know your Muslim neighbors, enjoy these relationships, and trust the Lord that the gospel can and will change lives.
2. Show hospitality. Henri Nouwen reminds us that hospitality offers people “space where change can take place.” We see again in the life of Jesus, that he often gathered with people over meals.
After being the guest, open up your home. This is preferable to the church fellowship hall. Engaging people in real life and in natural places gives them a context for the gospel.
3. Pray. If you currently do not know any Muslims, begin with prayer. Over the next few weeks pray for one or two new Muslim friends. As you pray, expect God to answer that prayer by making you more aware of the people around you and providing you with the possibility of new friendships.
After all, God wants you to love your real, flesh-and-blood neighbors, not statistics.
You can read see the full story on the study, Pastors Grow More Polarized on Islam, at Lifeway Research.
Previously, Lifeway Research found almost 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) see Islam as a threat to religious freedom in the U.S. More than a third of Americans (37 percent) say they are worried about Sharia law—an Islamic legal and moral code—being applied in America.
These may be reasons why, when asked about religious freedom, only 57 percent of Americans said the U.S. was a welcoming place to Muslims, the lowest of any religious group.
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