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Friendship can foster witness to Muslims

By Sondra Epley

editorial article

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon made many Americans acutely aware of the Muslims around them -- and created opportunities to share the good news of God's love with them. Now the one-year anniversary of those attacks presents those opportunities again. Extending a hand of Christian friendship could change the lives of Muslim neighbors and coworkers.

Where does God bring you into contact with Muslims? Typical places are at work, social visits in homes or at sporting events. How can you build on the relationships you already have with Muslims?

If you have occasional contact with Muslims, consider how you could get to know them better in natural contexts. These may include talking with other parents waiting for their children to finish school, socializing with coworkers or doing community service work. The birth of a child, the wedding of a family member and the death of a loved one also can provide opportunities for Christians to express their care toward Muslims.

FRIENDSHIP
Muslims generally value friendships with non-Muslims. If you have no contact with Muslims, you may want to take the initiative to visit a mosque or talk with a Muslim shopkeeper. College students can attend meetings of Muslim students. You also might consider inviting Muslim students to your church or home during the holidays.

While most of us in the Western world tend to retreat to our homes at the end of the day, Muslims hold hospitality in high regard and enjoy visiting with friends. It may be even more natural to ask if a visit can be paid to the Muslim's home and, once comfortable there, consider other occasions in which additional visits would be appropriate. Festivals are one example, as are acts of generosity endorsed by Islam, such as feeding the poor, visiting the sick and honoring the aged. As you visit, be sensitive to Muslim moral values regarding appropriate dress, behavior, food and drink.

Just as Jesus' command to love our neighbors precedes the words of the Great Commission, we must first get to know, love and care for Muslims as our neighbors. Understanding begins with listening to them. More can be learned by reading a magazine, tract or book offered by a Muslim friend and by asking questions so that the world can be seen through their eyes. Above all, we must pray for them so God will open their hearts to following Christ.

BETTER THAN DEBATE
As your conversations turn toward spiritual matters, keep in mind that your experiences and relationship with Christ are more powerful than debate. Share your testimony. Additional topics of interest include discussion of the Old Testament prophets, especially Abraham; the titles given to Jesus, such as Messiah and Word of God; the miracles Jesus performed; and the parables and Jesus' teachings in the Beatitudes.

Some Muslims may go beyond what the Koran teaches and consider Jesus as a saint to whom they offer prayers. Others may have heard stories that speak of Jesus' light, love and power. Presenting Jesus as the Messiah and suffering servant who takes away sins may help Muslims relate to him.

Once a trusting relationship has been established with a Muslim and there has been discussion about what he or she knows about Jesus in the Koran, it may be appropriate to ask what he or she personally thinks about Jesus. Your goal is not to tear down Islam, but to encourage an open dialogue about your different religions and to share the basic doctrines of your Christian faith.

BE INFORMED
Knowing something about the Islamic faith will go a long way toward building positive relationships with them. Keep in mind that just as Muslims may vary in their individual beliefs and faithfulness to Muslim practices, they also may share in the pain wrought by last year's attacks.




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