Islamic Culture: Love and Respect Muslims, Locally and Globally

“If Christians are to understand their Muslim neighbors (locally and globally), love them as Christ commanded, and share with them effectively, it is necessary that we grasp how they understand themselves.” – Zane Pratt

Religion & Ethnic Identity.

Have you ever traveled overseas, and been stamped as a Christian immediately when they realize you’re from America? We’re tempted to do the same with people groups from the Arab Peninsula (and everywhere else). Not every Arab person is Muslim, and not every Muslim is of Arab descent. The two are intricately connected, but we (American Christians) must learn to patiently build relationships with individuals before characterizing entire people groups with a certain identity.

The only accepted version of the Qur’an is in the Arabic version, as well as the Hadith writings that explain the meaning of the Qur’an. So, without a doubt, there is a certain Arabic identity that pervades throughout Islam. Just like Christianity is more than merely a chosen religion, Muslims consider their Islamic heritage to be deeply rooted in their identity (both communal and individual). Others don’t even speak or read Arabic and follow Islamic traditions merely out of a commitment to family and community. If you’re interested in learning more about the historical background of Arab ethnicity and how it affects Muslims, read Zane Pratt’s article: Islam and Ethnic Identity.

“Do not assume that every Muslim you meet is an Arab. The majority of all Muslims are not, and they will appreciate you knowing the difference. Realize that for many Muslims, Islam is a religion they practice in a language they do not know, and their commitment to it is based more on ethnic identity, cultural practice, and familial ties than on theological understanding.” – Zane Pratt

Honor & Justice. Community & Individuality.

So, what’s important to Eastern Muslims? How can we better understand our immigrant neighbors? Faith, family, and community are the core values that drive most people from the Eastern world. There is even an Arabic term, “ummah” that is used to describe the global community of those who follow Islam. More specifically, Muslims battle enormous tensions in their hearts that push back against converting to the Gospel—we must be patient in our friendships and love them well regardless.

Because of our culturally individualistic nature in the West (Europe & North America), we feel great freedom of decision when it comes to which religion we subscribe to. This is not the case for anyone from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. To moms, dads, and children of Eastern descent, choosing “what’s right” feels much less important than how their decision will shame the ummah. When a Muslim trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior, they commit treason against their community, their ethnicity, and their culture—severing all of their closest relationships. They aren’t picking a new religion, they are leaving the ummah—the protection and love of the community.

The Qur’an literally allows and encourages the killing of apostates from Islam. Not every Muslim interprets this passage literally, but this knowledge helps us understand the gravity of any Muslim who is struggling with the cost of following Christ. We must show them that Jesus is supremely valuable above all else, and show them the gift of the local church.

Look for an article coming later this month that will be focused on ways to love and welcome Muslim-background believers through the context of the local church.

Is it really possible to love and respect someone who has nothing in common with you?

Jesus left His place of honor, to bring us out of our shame

Ed Stetzer, in Islam & North America: Loving Our Muslim Neighbors, recommends four foundational commitments that Christians can make to foster inter-faith dialogue—that leads toward authentically engaging people with the Gospel. This is a fantastic, simple list that equips us with confidence to engage Christ’s image bearers who don’t yet know Christ as their Savior.

  1. Let each religion speak for itself.
  2. Talk with and about individuals, not generic “faiths.”
  3. Respect others who hold to different beliefs, just as you would want them to respect you for yours.
  4. Grant each person the freedom to make his or her faith decision.

Christian love doesn’t just end with learning about someone’s beliefs and letting them know they have the right to believe that way. The foundation of the Gospel reminds us that Jesus Christ is the only Way to be reconciled with our Creator. We are not just people who’ve sinned—we are, at our very core, sinners with hearts that are ruined and sinful (Psalm 51:5). Each of us must repent and believe in the righteous sacrifice of Jesus (the God-man) on the cross, and rejoice in His resurrection.

We who are found “in Christ” have the overwhelming joy and responsibility to share the reality of sin, and joy of Christ, to those who are perishing. Respectful conversations about serious things are necessary, but we must first move deeper into friendships with our Muslim neighbors. As the Holy Spirit teaches us to love and respect our Muslim friends, we must make sure the message of the Gospel rings true in both word and deed!

Here are some simple encouragements from Afshin Ziafat on how to effectively build deep relationships with Muslims. His testimony of leaving Islam and coming to faith in Jesus is worth hearing (or reading). You can find it in chapter 12 of Islam and North America.

  1. Focus on a few.
  2. Be deliberate in establishing friendships.
  3. Be on the lookout—and pray for—folks to befriend.
  4. Finally, show respect.

The Bible teaches us, soberingly, that Muslims who do not turn to Jesus will spend their eternity in hell—suffering and separated from God forever. Hell is real and our time is short. Brothers and sisters, let us never become numb to the urgency of the Gospel!


Prayer:

“When we pray for Muslims, not only does God work on their hearts; He works on our hearts. We begin to see Muslims the way God sees them—with compassion and love. One of the best things we can do is to ask Muslims how we can pray for them.” – Afshin Ziafat

  • Ask the Lord to help you see people with His eyes. Every person has been created in the image of God but separated from their Creator until they hear and respond to the Gospel. Black, white, yellow, brown—we are all broken image bearers that need to be reconciled to Christ Jesus. Everyone you pass during the day is an eternal soul that is either walking in the light of the Gospel or the darkness of a lie from Satan.
  • Pray for a Muslim you know…and pray for them every day. If you don’t know any Muslims, then ask the Lord to help introduce you to someone of Eastern descent today.

Go & Do:

God is bringing the nations to our home state, North Carolina. And, He’s bringing the nations to your home as well — especially if you’re near a city:

“An unreached people group is defined as a grouping of people who share the same ethnicity and language and whose home country is less than 2 percent evangelical Christian. Currently, at least 154 unreached people groups have been identified with sizeable populations here in North Carolina. Today, upwards of 15 percent of North Carolina’s population — that is 1.5 million people — are foreign-born or are the children of foreign-born immigrants. Almost all of these people have never heard the gospel clearly presented either in their home countries or since they planted their lives in North Carolina.” – Peoples Next Door (30 Days of Prayer)

  • Notice people. Keep your eyes open as you walk through your day. Find a bench somewhere and sit down to watch people around you. Do whatever it takes to fight the American urge to check off your task list, and allow the Holy Spirit to give you a burden for the lost around you.
  • Love people. Have you been ignoring those around you who speak with a different accent or have different skin? Rest assured, Jesus Christ wants to rescue them. If you’ve been given new life in Christ, then there is no reason to carry the guilt of silence or inaction. Christ has already paid the price. Our role is to look forward, identify those with little or no Gospel influence in their lives, and build authentic relationships with them. Today, you can start by simply introducing yourself to the people that most others ignore—that’s a great way to be more like Jesus.

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Resources:

Islam and North America: Loving our Muslim Neighbors – Edited by Micah Fries & Keith Whitfield

Islam and Ethnic Identity – Zane Pratt, SBTS

Understanding the Veil: A Primer in Women’s Head Coverings – IMB

Why I Kept Loving a Muslim Woman that Didn’t Accept my Cookies – IMB