Born and raised the son of a Muslim Imam. Most of us can’t make that claim. Most of us probably don’t even know what an “Imam” is. I was privileged to spend some time with him at dinner, as well as the drive to and from his hotel.
His name starts with A. That’s all I can give you. It’s not safe to use his full name or where he’s from. You won’t find his sermon on Vimeo this week, even though he did preach all four services this weekend. To protect his family, his friends, and his church, I refer to him as A.
A. told us his story of growing up the son of a Muslim Imam, the equivalent of a preacher’s kid here in the U.S. His experience sounded similar to most clergy households, until he got to the part where he questioned his father’s faith. His father warned him, long before A. seriously considered converting, “If you abandon the Islamic faith, I must kill you.” He wasn’t kidding.
His father wasn’t alive to witness A.’s conversion to a follower of Christ. But, it’s not to say the rest of the family wasn’t disappointed. His mother tried to sweet talk him back to Islam. Then she tried to scare him. Eventually, she learned to accept him rather than lose him. It wasn’t so easy for his uncle, his father’s brother.
A. spoke about persecution in a 100% Muslim nation. Twelve of the fourteen members of his Christian church were hunted and killed. It was his country’s scare tactic for anyone else considering jumping ship from their Islamic faith. It didn’t work, though, he told us. It actually did the reverse. Wherever their is more threat and persecution, the message of the gospel spreads with more intensity.
His stories continue. Stories of terror, torture, abuse, and negligence. Enough to make me feel disgusted. Enough to make me ready to put up arms. And then it hit me. His message is causing a negative response in me. The opposite effect he was hoping to cause. A.’s sermon easily led to thoughts of judgment and defensiveness. Instead of responding with love and peace and mercy, it boiled up an urge to fight back.
So, in a private conversation, I asked A., “Is every Muslim out to kill all Christians?” He replied, “No. If that’s what I’m causing people to think, then I need to change what I’m saying.”
In hearing him say this, I wonder, “Maybe we (meaning “I”) need to change how we react to what we’re hearing?” Maybe instead of reacting out of fear, anger, and superiority, we need to let surrender, mercy, and peace be our cry. Maybe instead of seeing Muslim people of faith as our enemy we need to start seeing them as our neighbors.
Jesus didn’t come to earth wielding swords or guns or weapons of war. He didn’t preach hate or fear of one’s enemies. Jesus’ interaction with tax collectors, the sick, the demon possessed, and the poor teaches us to risk friendship with those who need it most. His death on a cross speaks nothing less than total surrender. There’s no room for hate or judgement. Jesus’ (and our) only message is good news.
Let’s be honest. It’s tough, post 9/11. I pray God changes my heart. I pray God changes our nation’s heart. I pray Muslim’s around the world know the difference between a citizen of the United States and a Christian living in the United States. I pray it starts with our reaction and interaction with Muslims here and everywhere. Everyone needs to hear the good new. Yes, even Muslims.
What will it look like for Christians to bring the good news to Muslims?