In the final post of this series on engaging in gospel-directed conversations with Muslims, I want to respond to one of the most common questions we get from our friends in the US regarding ministry to Muslims: Where do we even start?
Before offering some very practical ways to begin, I want to first emphasize the importance of prayer as foundational to engaging with Muslims. Begin praying, as an individual or, even better, as a group, that the Lord would allow you to meet Muslims and to make inroads into Muslim communities. Pray that the Lord will give you eyes to see those around you that you may have missed previously.
It may seem a trite suggestion, but restaurants run and staffed by people of Middle Eastern descent can be wonderful, neutral places to meet and engage with Muslim people. Besides the fact that the food is delicious (Try the chicken tikka, shawarma, or anything from Lebanon!), the staff likely will be more than willing to spend some time proudly explaining their dishes and culture to you. The beauty of Middle Eastern culture is that it is so permeated with religious concepts, phrases, and associations that even a conversation about food can open up opportunities to share the gospel and to begin relationships.
2. Mosque Visit
Many mosques in the U.S. have visitor’s centers attached to them, in an effort to explain their faith to those who are curious. Furthermore, some also host community dinners or open-houses for the public, in an effort to relieve the perceived tensions that often accompany an Islamic place of worship in a Western setting. While this may not be the ideal setting for sharing one’s faith, it is a point of contact whereby one might begin a relationship with Muslims and families.
3. Volunteer to Teach ESOL
Many larger cities in the U.S. host ever-growing populations of refugees. While the issue of refugees is politically charged in the contemporary context of the U.S., the American church has an opportunity to share the gospel freely with refugees from some of the hardest-to-access places on the globe. One way to serve these vulnerable populations is by teaching English as a Second Language through any number of venues that offer these services. While the classroom may not be the most conducive environment for sharing the gospel directly, the relationships formed through this venue can lead to fruitful conversations outside of class time.
4. Hellos and Hospitality
Perhaps the easiest way to meet Muslim people is the most obvious: Just introduce yourself! When you meet someone named Muhammad or Ahmed, ask them about their lineage. When you see a covered woman at the mall with her family, introduce yourself and ask about the family’s nationality. If you are a man, speak with the man; if a woman, speak with the woman. And for either gender, acknowledge and introduce yourself to the children. One of the best things about Middle Eastern culture is that children are beloved and readily engaged in conversation along with the adults. Reversing the roles, don’t be surprised if your Muslim friends pay attention to your children when they are around, playing with them or even picking them up. Further, don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to have a meal or to visit the family in their home. It is more of an honor to host someone than to visit someone, so if you are invited, feel free to accept.
5. Remember to Love
Muslim populations in the US are often fearful, due to both real and imagined prejudices. This makes it all the more important to begin a relationship with a Muslim or a Muslim family from a posture of genuine neighbor love, recognizing the dignity with which they are endowed as image bearers, and being sensitive to the fact that they may have encountered negative reactions from others in the community. Our message of Jesus’ ultimate expression of God’s love should be exhibited in the way that we relate with our neighbors of all backgrounds. While the system of Islam is a sinister distortion of the saving gospel message, Muslim people themselves are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive restoration in Christ. May the Lord be glorified as we display evidence of His great love for us by loving our Muslim neighbors and share the message of Christ with them!