Day 6: What’s so radical about loving Muslims?
By John Becker
Walter Casper IV reads to students tutored by C4C Indonesia. (Photo by Gary Fallesen, Mission: Indonesia 2007)
Some evangelicals are building bridges into Muslim communities as they willfully refuse the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has proliferated public media and opinion post-9/11. What’s the motivation? Simply taking seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as our self. Loving our Muslim neighbors should be no more radical than loving any other neighbor; it’s the most fundamental aspect of being a follower of Christ. What is radical is the nature of that love.
First of all, it is a love that refuses fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…”
(1 John 4:18
). The love that motivates “bridge building” refuses the recoiling nature of fear. In place of fear is an active, embracing love. Richard Sudworth states this well in the title of his book about Christian presence in a multi-faith society, Distinctly Welcoming: Christian presence in a multifaith society
. Sudworth writes:
“The events of 9/11 and 7/7 [in London] have brought to the fore our deepest fears, and we could be excused for being paralyzed by inaction…How do Christian communities appropriately reach out to those of other faiths in such a time as this? The challenge is to walk on a journey of interaction with others which somehow enables us to be true to our faith yet appropriately shaped by our experiences and the people we meet…The background noise is alarming, yet we are called to be witnesses to the world, to offer hope and distinctiveness centered on Christ.”
The past two decades of terrorism, by Islamic Fundamentalists, has victimized the world like never before by its nature of being unsuspecting, irrespective of persons, and catastrophic in violence. When it hit our home turf in the United States on 9/11, it became an issue every American had to deal with. Before that time, I would imagine that most Americans didn’t spend much time thinking about Muslims. Yet after 9/11 the USA was awakened to a new enemy, one it had to put a face to, and that unfortunately, was a Muslim face.
For many American Christians, ambivalence towards Muslims awoke to hostility. According to the Pew Research Center, one-fourth of Americans say they know “nothing at all” about Islam, and of non-Muslims polled, 58 percent said they don’t know any Muslims. The research also found that Evangelicals are more likely to view Islam as a violent religion than others. Even among Christian leaders the majority have an unfavorable opinion of Muslims.
Joye Cantrell, left, and Elaine Fallesen, yellow top, join a Kurdish wedding dance in eastern Turkey. The bride is seated in the green ruffled dress at left.
(Photo by Gary Fallesen, Mission: Ararat 2014
Radical love refuses alienation and therefore seeks reconciliation. Bridge-building is only effective if it gives birth to genuine relationships. In our divided world marked by slogans such as “War on Terror” and “Islamic Fundamentalism,” Christ’s followers must be committed to a reconciliation that seeks to embrace Muslims as individuals, who display the image of God, are worthy of relationship and who will enrich one’s life.
Too often Muslims and their Islamic faith are seen as one monolithic entity. As I interact with Christians globally, I hear Muslims being referred to as, “They” or “Them,” when in fact Muslims who make up roughly 25 percent of the world’s population, represent enormous diversity in ethnicity, culture, language, religious practices and beliefs. One fact that seems to surprise American Christians is that the majority of Muslims are Asian rather than Arab.
This enormous population accounts for 2,118 distinct people groups, all of them with less than 2 percent of Christ-following, Bible-believing populations. More than 50 percent of these are unengaged – meaning they have no resident Christian workers seeking to see indigenous churches emerge.
My own journey with Muslims began in Nairobi, Kenya in 1994. Our family shared living space with a Muslim family in a growing Muslim majority neighborhood full of South Asians, Somalis and Swahili Arabs. In a short time our network of friendships with Muslims became rich.
I will never forget the first wedding we attended of a Pakistani family. Because of their deep appreciation for hospitality our new friends made us the guests of honor — trays of savory food, video cameras filming our every move, attentive hosts. We felt like celebrities receiving more attention than the bride and groom!
Many of our relationships with our friends of Muslim faith became endearing and meaningful. Our neighbors were exceedingly generous with us, inviting us into their lives. They were kind to our children, concerned for our well-being, and vocal in their appreciation of our values as they shared their burdens with us. We were free to speak of our love for Jesus and discuss both the common and conflicting tenants of our faith.
In this same neighborhood we were shaken by a massive explosion just one mile away. It wasn’t until we were in the midst of swarm of blood-stained people running helter-skelter and saw the plume of smoke rising from the U.S. Embassy that we realized what had happened. It was Aug. 7, 1998, three years prior to 9/11, and hundreds of people were killed in simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The date of the bombings marked the eighth anniversary of the launch of Operation Desert Shield after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. These attacks by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, brought Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to the attention of the U.S. public.
The recent terrorism in San Bernardino, CA, USA; Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium, remind us of how we were swept with emotion, full of righteous anger at the needless bloodshed to innocent bystanders. Is this Islam? Is this what Muslims do? Why do they hate the West?
These were the questions running through our minds as we were sobered by the reality that the world was not a safe place. The truth, though, was that we all felt victimized – every single resident of Nairobi, including Muslims. We all lost something to terrorism and it was not fair for us to vilify Muslims by association. Radical, reconciling love chooses forgiveness and seeks redemption. These acts of violence could have brought alienation to our relationships with our Muslim friends, but instead allowed for greater depth as a result of our common pain.
A greater understanding of our role as ministers of reconciliation can “lead Christians beyond church circles to vigorously analyze, engage, and influence our local communities, nations, and world as witnesses for reconciliation and just community. Without sacrificing our Christian convictions, we should seek to partner creatively with people of good will to promote peace, including with people of other faiths.”
Radical love expressed through reconciliation is a powerful weapon against the violence of our day. Currently, there are nearly 1 million refugees living in the Americas. The vast majority of these are from war-torn Muslim majority nations. Due to two decades of civil war, Somalia is the third-leading country producing refugees. In the USA, Minnesota alone hosts more than 70,000 Somalis. What does radical love do in welcoming such people desperate for reconciliation?
What’s so radical about loving Muslims?
It is the radical nature of the love we love them with. You may be wondering if these efforts are bearing fruit. Where are the stories of conversions and church growth? Or maybe you are skeptical about inter-faith dialogue and reconciliation.
I want to remind you of the promises we have from Jesus, “He who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit”
). As we abide in Jesus, His love compels us as ministers of reconciliation who pursue peace. And the Scriptures promise that “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness”
). Those who are stepping out with radical love, are not only finding their efforts of bridge building, reconciliation and peace-making effective in engaging Muslims, but also in giving definition to their faith.
What is your role in both loving Muslims and praying to the Lord of the harvest in sending out more love bearing laborers into the harvest field of these 2,118 Muslim people groups?
John Becker, the director of ministries for Africa Inland Mission, has been a member of Climbing For Christ since March 2006. He coordinates an international network of ministries focusing on unreached Muslim people groups of which C4C is a part. Much of this article was previously published under the same name in Prism Magazine (Nov. 23, 2011).