Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saint Francis, Fellowship & My Muslim Neighbors

Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken out against Muslims: wanting to ban them from entering the country and stressing that Islam hates Americans and our country. When questioned about this at the GOP Debate in Miami if all 1.6 billion Muslims  hate us, he flippantly replied, "I mean a lot of them."

In our current political climate things have become very heated on issues of Islam, race, white privilege, and the disparity between the wealthy and the rest of America. Yet Trump's words on Islam got me wondering about the Islamic religion and I realized I knew very little about the Qu'ran. I also had to ask myself, "Do I even know any Muslims?"

We live in a country full of fear and distrust (neither of which are from God).

In polls done in late 2015, more than 50% of Americans have negatives views of Islam. 6 in 10 don't want to know more about Muslims or their faith.
The poll broke down those who had negative views towards Muslims:
76% of Republicans (who said Islam was "at odds" with American values).
73% of evangelical Christians
67% of white working class had "high animosity" towards Muslims
57% of Independents
42% of Democrats
So this distrust is across the spectrum of our culture.

How must our Muslim neighbors feel when they see the results of just such a poll?

How would I, if I was on the receiving end of a national poll where the majority feared and hated me?

These are our neighbors and Jesus called us to love them as ourselves. I don't see that reflected in those poll results. I do, however, see his love in the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. In the 13th century, during the Crusades, Francis set sail from Ancon headed for Syria. His goal was to visit the court of Sultan al-Melek-al-Kamil (which means "the perfect prince"). Mind you, he is doing this all the while the 5th Crusade is happening. Compelled by the love of Christ, Francis cared little about his own safety or welfare but only that he might share the Gospel. As he told the companions he took with him, "Place all your trust in God, because the words of the Gospel will be fulfilled in us."

The Sultan Al-Kamil was known to exemplify the Islamic laws of war. An example of this is when he defeated the Franks during the Crusades supplied their army with food. He ruled Egypt, Persia, and Syria. He was not only a powerful man but a devoutly religious one as well.

Francis and his companions were caught by the Sultan's army. They were insulted, beaten and put into chains. Dragged before Al-Kamil, the Sultan asked this poor monk about who had sent him and for what purpose. Saint Francis replied, "By God, not by men, to show you the way of salvation  and proclaim the truth of the Gospel." Bold words considering he was standing before a man who had decreed that any man who brought him the head of a Christian would be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece. Yet the Sultan was so impressed by Francis that he allowed him to stay for a week. During that time, the two of them held deep theological conversations. Al-Kamil also allowed Saint Francis' companions to travel throughout the country to share their faith with the Saracens. Many were converted.

Saint Francis disarmed the Sultan by his enthusiasm, courage and conviction. According to the story, Ali-Kamil did not convert out of fear that his doing so would cause his people to rebel against him, but that he offered Francis great treasures to take back with him (which Francis rejected as he did not have a love for wealth or possessions) and his friendship. Saint Francis moved beyond the hatred and fear of his age to reach out in compassion and the love of Christ.  Am I?

Syria is once again in the midst of war, but I can just imagine Saint Francis still risking his life to go there in the spirit of Christ: of peace, compassion, mercy, grace, love and a desire to share the Savior who had so filled him with these fruits of the Spirit. Saint Francis left his land to travel to a distant land to show Muslims the love of Jesus, do I even do this in my own community?

In better to understand Islam and Muslims who practice it, I have decided to read the Qur'an myself. Now I know this is not a popular thing to say in this cultural climate and that there will be many Christians who would question my decision. But the fact is, I cannot pray for that which I do not understand.  How can I share my faith if I don't have any comprehension of theirs? Many missionaries say that one of the biggest mistakes Christians make is not knowing anything about Islam. Frank Decker, Vice President at The Missionary Society, stated that a key way to reach a Muslim is not using the Bible initially. He suggested coming to them first through the Qu'ran. "You can show a Muslim in the Koran that Jesus is born of a virgin, that he is Jesus the Messiah, that he was sinless, and that he is a word from Allah. And during the course of a faithful Muslim's five prayers, the Muslim cries out to God, he says, 'Please show me the straight path to God.' That path is Jesus."

When we reach out to our Muslim neighbors, we must understand the seriousness of religion in an Islamic context. Their coming to belief can get them ostracized and rejected by their own families and can even cost them their lives. Spiritual talks are a serious matter and one should not joke during them. Men should talk to men and women should talk to women.

One way to reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors is through hospitality. Now this is not one of my spiritual gifts at all, especially being an introvert, but I am aware that scripture calls us to be hospitable. And the hospitality the Bible is referring to is not the Southern variety where you invite friends and family over to share a meal or watch a football game. Biblical hospitality is welcoming the stranger into our homes. the Apostle Paul stressed hospitality as one of the characteristics of a church leader. This means I have to move out of my comfort zone. That is never easy for me. I know it will be a real struggle. Yet I have Christ to guide me: Christ who shared meals with others in order that he might share himself. Through fellowship he often brought others into fellowship. Am I doing the same?

I'll admit, that when it comes to reaching out to Muslims, I have been grossly negligent. Why? Because of my own fears and prejudices, as well as my introversion and shyness that keeps me from reaching out to my other neighbors as well.

It means that I cannot be so afraid of what my house looks like or worrying what others will think of our home. That's a pride issue. It also means I have to move beyond myself and my wheelhouse. It means inviting others in to have fellowship and share with them. This requires listening. Too often Christians are better talkers than listeners. Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head when he said:

If we do show hospitality to our Muslim neighbors, we need to be aware of conduct and customs. Be guided by modesty. Never serve alcohol, pork, bacon, or anything cooked with lard.

As I said before, be a good listener. Ask questions. Be respectful. Reach out in love.As Frank Decker said, "Jesus comes to us where we are, in our own cultural and religious context, and takes us from that point into a saving knowledge of who He is."
Russell D. Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, stated that Christians should spend time with Muslims in their community. Like Saint Francis, Moore believes we should be kind to them and share our faith.

Before we undertake reaching out, we must always be prayerful and led by the Holy Spirit and not just out of good intentions. Like Saint Francis, we need to pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Saint Francis understood what Martin Luther King, Jr. would later state so eloquently, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." We need to do likewise. We are called to build bridges, not walls. We are called to love the stranger because we are all strangers in a strange land. We are not to be guided by fear because God did not give us a spirit of fear, but let all of our actions stem from love.

Good articles to read on the subject:

Mistakes Christians Make When Trying To Reach A Muslim by William Wagner:

Reaching Muslims With The Gospel Of God by Abdul Saleeb:

Bridge-Points To Reaching Muslims:

1 comment:

  1. St Francis is an excellent example of how Christians should lead in love. Great post. Very insightful. #LoveRevealed