In 2014, I made a very close non-Christian friend. A beautiful Muslim woman, deeply spiritual, and full of compassion for others; we spent our days together eating snacks, discussing our religions, and debating some of the intense happenings in our world. Despite the fact that almost all of the rest of my friends are typically not only Christian, but deeply involved in ministry, if not training to be pastors (you have to remember the circles I run in), there was something unique about this young woman. Her vigour and passion for life, topped with a desire to love and serve others, instantly directed me at some of the deepest longings of her heart. Sharing in a similar interest in developmental disabilities, the two of us united, eventually welcoming in several other members to what later came to be known as the “The Weekly Snack Club.”
Spending time with this young woman not only proved to be fun and entertaining for the most part, but also opened my eyes to several things about the Muslim faith, which I would like to share with you here. You see, I think it’s so easy for us as Christians to get caught up in our own version of spirituality that we can forget how to truly connect to those around us who may view the world differently than we do. That’s why whether you consider yourself fundamentally Christian, ecumenical, or even inter-faith, I believe that before we truly are able to start hearing one another, we need to really begin a dialogue with the other person and get to know them first on a friendship level. Below are five things that I have learned as a result of having a Muslim friend:
- Christianity and Islam are actually quite similar. Now, before those of you who are hard-core Christian roll up your sleeves and get ready to engage in a debate with me, hear what I said a second time: Christianity and Islam are actually QUITE similar. That doesn’t mean they are the same thing. That doesn’t mean that we believe or follow the same practices or theology. What it does mean is that at the core of who we are, we have more similarities than differences. AND YET, how easy is it for us to only focus on what makes us different? At the very root of both our religions is a desire to serve and love others. At the very root of both of our religions is the desire to bring peace to this world.
- Muslims are deeply committed to their faith. When you consider how many Muslims actually take the injunctions not to eat pork or to drink alcohol seriously and how important prayer is in the Islamic faith – dare I say it, but we Christians could certainly learn a lot from them. Now, of course, there are Muslims, just as there are Christians, who choose not to follow these laws, but for someone truly following the core convictions, they are truly living counter-culturally. Now, ask yourself: what if Christians had that same amount of courage? What if Christians also chose to live just as counter-culturally? Of course, there are many, many Christians who do live differently than society… I’m just saying in general, as Christians we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that we are the one religion that takes our faith so seriously. No! There are so many other rich and vibrant religions who also care deeply about what God is leading them to do.
- Muslims Come in Many Different Shapes and Sizes. Before I made my first Muslim friend, I actually had a rather skewed belief about how “all” Muslims dressed or acted. The problem is: that just as there are many forms of Christians and yet we are all one body in Christ Jesus, so it is with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Many Muslim women are highly educated and are contributing so much to their professional fields. Not all Muslims wear the hijab, and very few Muslims actually fit the stereotypes that so many Western Christians seem to think they do. So, don’t be so quick to put your preconceived ideas of Islam onto someone who actually practices that religion.
- Muslims Typically Have the Same Core Values That All of the Rest of Us Do. They love their family. They love their pets. Some of them even love celebrating the Western holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas. Many Muslims enjoy the same music that we like to listen to, they enjoy the same types of activities, and they enjoy just having a good time. That’s right, everyone needs a Muslim friend 😉
- Just Like With Many Other Religions, Just Because Someone Is Muslim Does Not Mean They Aren’t Interested in Your Religion. When we make friends with someone of a different religion, whether that be Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that they won’t be interested in learning about our own beliefs and practices. And we shouldn’t necessarily enter into the friendship trying to convert them either. You see, the more I spend time with my Muslim friend the more I become aware of just how culturally rich and vibrant her faith really is. As we begin to dialogue and share questions with one another, we move into a closer understanding of one of the most fundamental things in our lives. Every time I learn something about her religion, it also gives me a chance to look deeper into my own faith. Why I believe the way I do and why I practice the way I do. It challenges me to become a better Christian. To become more faithful. To become more holy. Therefore, I have learned that some days I can be closer to God in the presence of a Muslim friend even than when I am at church or sitting in a chapel.
Why am I sharing these thoughts on Islam and Christianity on a blog so clearly devoted to the Christian faith, you may ask? What am I trying to get at here? Am I saying that Islam and Christianity are the same and we should just mold into one religion? Not at all.
I believe that while there are similarities between the two world faiths, there are also profound differences. There are differences in how we view certain characters in our Scriptures and how we view the role of God and His reign in our world. I do not want to change those differences firstly because it would be impossible to “force” everyone in this world to believe as I do, but more importantly, because I believe that it is in these differences that the beauty truly comes out. Ignoring these vital differences in and of itself is a form of marginalization. Rather, every day, I seek to grow closer to my own understanding of who God is and I encourage my Muslim brothers and sisters to do the same. I encourage both religions to not passively accept what they have been taught, but rather to ask questions and to seek answers. It is only by doing so that we can truly begin to co-exist as one.