Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Experience With Moderate Muslims

"You shall do good to your parents, and to the near of kin and to the orphans and the needy, and you shall speak to men good words and keep up prayer and give unto the poor."--The Qu'ran

"Repel evil with good; as for those, they shall have the happy issue of the abode." --The Qu'ran.

For those of you who do not know, I am from New Jersey. I could see the smoke rising from the twin towers on Sept 11 from the high school in my town . My aunt was trapped in NYC during the terrorists attacks and several people from my church worked in the towers. The planes that crashed into the towers were hijacked from Newark airport, the only airport I had ever flown out of at the time. It seemed like everyone we knew was somehow affected by Sept. 11. It was a very real and personal tragedy. Within hours of the attacks, terms like "Muslim fundamentalists," "radical extremists," and "religious terrorists" dominated the news. Inevitably, fear, stereotypes, and skepticism about the Muslim community spread across the country like wild fire.

Just a few months after 9/11, my friends and I were driving around looking for something fun to do. My one friend mentioned that her friend from college owned a coffee bar a few towns over. So we went. We walked into a crowded coffee shop, replete with card playing and funky music. However, we quickly noticed that the entire place was packed wall to wall with college-aged Muslim guys and girls. My friends and I are as WHITE and "non-Muslim" looking as they come. It was one of those moments when the music skidded to a halt, cards fell to the floor, and everyone turned to stare at least that's what it felt like. The girl we were meeting rushed over and invited us to sit down. Apparently, this was a coffee/hookah bar for the Muslim youth groups and recreation centers in the area.

We sat down, ordered coffee, smoked the hookah pipe (relax, it's flavored tobacco) and played cards. Once we felt a little more comfortable, we mingled with other people. They taught us new card games and we had long conversations about the Qu'ran, Christianity, current events, and the differences, as well as similarities, between our religions. The coffee shop only played middle-eastern music and some of the Muslim girls got up and danced. The boys came over and offered to teach us! By the end of the night, we were dancing, laughing, singing, and connecting with these beautiful people, learning about their culture, their beliefs, and the diversity within their religion. A few of the guys told stories about how they had been pulled over, yanked out of their cars, and searched, but that they understood this was a fearful time full of uncertainty. Others told stories of the words "towel head," "rag heads," and "sand monkeys" spray painted on their cars, lockers, and homes. Others had their homes egged. And others shared their beliefs about Jesus, and I was SHOCKED how much respect they have for Him.

And while there are obviously distinct and fundamental differences between Christians and Muslims, plenty of common ground exists as a foundation for a meaningful and respectful conversation. These people value community, family, friends, purity, respecting elders, modesty, and truly love each other. We were on their "turf" and they showed us nothing but kindness, good will, and friendship during a time and place where both "sides" had reasons to be wary of each other.

This night will remain carved into my heart for the rest of my life. Those of you who have been to my house know that I bought a hookah pipe to serve as a reminder of the night I hung out with Muslim youth at a hookah bar. This experience kept me from branding all Muslims as extremists, radicals, or sinister enemies, as many have sadly done. It is so vital for Christians to extend a hand of friendship, hope, and healing to the Muslim community that feels alienated, misunderstood, and afraid. It's important to clarify the parts of our religion that confuse them; many Muslims are under the impression that Christians believe in three gods. We should keep in mind that there are MANY sects within Islam and HUNDREDS of interpretations of the Qu'ran, just like there are with Christianity and the Bible. We should realize that it is JUST as easy to take a bible verse out of context to justify HORRIRBLE atrocities in the name our religion as it is with the Qu'ran. We should understand that ALL religions, including Christianity, have been perverted and distorted by corrupt people, extremists, regimes, and governments to gain power and control over people and lands throughout history. We should recognize that although we disagree with the foundation of Islam, there are sincere peace-loving muslims who are trying to serve God, their families, and their communities the best way they know how. We should try to understand the viewpoint of the other to better communicate, to better love, to better reach out and to better live in peace with all people (Romans 12:18).

I came across this video and found it compelling. Watch and discuss.


Mike L. said...

Great video and an even better personal story. Thanks for sharing them both.

nonprofitprophet said...

good blog Tia Lynn. Interesting video. Where I live, the Jewish Synagogue and the Muslim Mosque got together and jointly built a Habitat for Humanity House. Wish that could be the norm. ~npp

trent said...

I found you through blogrush.

I’m astonished that any American in this day and age could be fooled by this obvious attempt at hiding the truth about muslims by inventing this “oh, we’re just like you” propaganda. Muslims only care about one thing: destroying our way of life so they can rise to take over the world. It’s the only path their wicked religion allows. Moderate muslims, bah! Next you’ll be telling me there are moderate Nazis.

Lisa said...

I wouldn’t venture as far as trent, but I do think it’s important to remember that anyone that adheres to any religion besides christianity is in essence worshipping satan. Another name does change this fact. So, since these other religions open themselves up to satanic influences, the people within them are susceptible to extremely evil acts, motives, and mindsets, especially in Islam. They cannot be trusted enough to become social with them. Any christians relationship should be PURELY evangelistic. Standing outside and above, peeling the veil off their false religion. You welcome the people who convert, but keep a distances from those still adhering to another religion. I am afraid that by so casually associating with these people, you will open yourself up to demonic influences. Videos like this perpetuate the lie that muslim people are not a threat to christians. But they are, simply because they play for the other team, and until they get traded to our team, their to needs to be strict separation and boundaries between christians and people in other religions.

musicmommy3 said...

Hey Lisa,
i see your point at not being sucked into another religion or religious thoughts but you said, "They cannot be trusted enough to become social with them. Any christians relationship should be PURELY evangelistic." and my question is...
Then HOW are you going to share the Gospel with them if you don't form relationships with them? Even the missionaries who are overseas in Muslim countries are starting to form relationships before sharing the Gospel.
Sharing the Gosepl is more than just shouting words to people or wearing a Christian T-shirt. Most people are really turned off by that stuff. (I'm not saying that either is bad. I have done street preaching and also wear Christian T-shirts from time to time.) I have noticed however, that those who have better results, many times, are those who form relationships with others.

Plus I'm sure there are Muslims in name only. KInd of like "I'm a Christian cuz I go to church." Or I'm a Catholic but I never go to mass.

DeeAnn said...

oh, I am so torn. It's like I agree with every word each person has typed.

Terry said...

You know I'm not one to shy awayfrom controversy, but on this one I think I'll just see how the comments unfold. Like Deeann, I'm stuck somewhere in the middle. By the way, I started reading the Jim Wallis book today so you'll be hearing from me on that soon.

Michelle said...

I'm just trying to comprehend what I'm reading here...

"they play for the other team?"

Do we really see these people as our enemies? We HAVE an enemy, the devil, yes. But Paul said our enemy is not flesh and blood. Jesus said, "Forgive them, they know not what they do". Their eyes may be blinded to the truth but so were mine outside of grace.

To whom much is given, much is required... we've been taught the truth, we've been blessed with the gospel - many of these people have gone their entire lives without any clear gospel content at all, what they HAVE heard is full of error. Not so with us. We should know better than to return evil for evil.

Tia, your experience reminds me to avoid all forms of prejudice. Standing firm in the truth should be a stance of hospitality, love, and grace... not of hate.

Wow. Take this any way you want, but... it's no wonder they hate us.

Tia Lynn said...

This all comes back to my previous posts about christians isolating themselves. I would bet my life that trent,lisa, and maybe deann (still love ya) have never known a muslim personally, really taken the time to get to know a muslim in the context of their every day life, religious practices, and community. I'll go a step further. I bet none of them have even read the Qu'ran for themselves, let alone studied the historical and cultural contexts behind it. Most christians solely rely on non-muslim evangelical christians to interpret its meaning.

Now, I obviously do not believe the Qu'ran to be the word of God, but it is completely unfair to rely on an outsider's biased interpretation without first considering the text for itself and the different interpretations of the people who live by the Qu'ran. Do you know how many outsiders pick verses out of the Bible to make christianity seem hateful, racist, sexist, violent, and oppressive? Do you know that "christians" misused our sacred texts to justify slavery, racism, genocide, wars, TERRORISM and spousal abuse for CENTURIES?

Of course I do not believe Islam to be of God, but make no mistake, there are people WITHIN Islam who are searching for the true and living God and trying to commune with Him the only way they know how. There are people within Islam who love their families and friends and wish to live in peace. There are muslims who are standing up against oppressive and corrupt regimes, fighting for social justice, the liberation of women, and human rights. Moderate muslims mean us no harm. If all muslims were radical extremists (over the billion that exist) then we would be taken over already.

Michelle could not have said it better. PEOPLE are not enemies. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. Treating LOST people like enemies or lepers to exclude from our pristine existance does not demonstrate the love of Christ. Perpetuating vast generalizations and slander against all muslim people based on the actions of a minority is not love. This is not doing unto others as we would want done to us. Do you we want to be stereotyped because of all the nutbags that blow up abortion clinics, or protest military funerals with "God hates fags" signs, or with "christian" terrorists who wreaked havoc in Ireland during the protestant/catholic wars, or the current atrocities being committed in the name of JESUS in Uganda under the Lord's Resistance Army?

Yes, the rise of fundamentalism in muslim theocracies is alarming, evil, and a very real threat. But that is precisely why we must extend a hand to moderate muslims who do not want their religion used to justify violence, innocent killing, and oppression.

I know I should be used to this, but trent's remarks are absurdly ignorant, and most likely the result of only interacting with people who think exactly alike.

This is long, so I'll stop here. But I would challenge people to befriend a muslim or read the Qu'ran for themselves before becoming an expert on Muslim beliefs and is extremely diverse in each sect.

Terry said...

Tia, for the record, I have known muslims personally and have had cordial interactions with most. One encounter, however, left me a little disturbed.Years ago, I worked with a wonderful young man, a Syrian who was here going to school. He struck a very close friendship with another young guy who worked with us. These two guys were inseperable for months, going out for drinks, picking up girls, playing sports, etc. Then one day the American made mention of his mother and father taking a vacation to Israel to visit family. Since Adam wasn't an observant Jew, the issue of his faith or ancestry had never come up before. As soon as this became known, the young Syrian man broke off the friendship completely. We were all shocked by this turn of events and it wasn't until many years later when I became more educated on the depth of the animosity that Arabs have for Israelis that I understood what had taken place. So while many American born muslims may be more moderate, that is not the case worldwide and as you noted, when people are only shown one side of a religion or culture, they form their opinions based on the only information available to them.

Mike L. said...

Wow! I can't believe the responses you got Tia Lynn.

Lisa, Are you freakin serious? "anyone that adheres to any religion besides christianity is in essence worshipping satan"

That is nuts! Where the heck to you get that? Do you suggest that Moses, Abraham, and Jesus were worshipping Satan because they were not Christians and didn't use the word "God" but preferred the unspeakable word "YHWY"?

I hope that is a joke.

nonprofitprophet said...

amen mike and tia. I recall historically the same statements being made about black people, can't trust them, do not associate with them, they are of the devil. Jeeeezus. Seriously, Jesus. WWJD. Love thy neighbor as thyself?
Yes. Lets try to evangelize them and they will try to Jihad us. Great wisdom there.
Remember St.Francis of Assisi "Spread the Gospel , use words only if you have to".
BTW - the nazis thought our Christian God was on their side, as well as dabbling in the occult.
great response TIA. ~npp

Tia Lynn said...

Yes Terry, that is very disturbing and sad when prejudice destroys friendships. It’s even worse when it destroys families, communities, and countries. I’d also like to point out that the countries with the highest number of radical islamic fundamentalists are the restrictive theocratic countries, whose corrupt leaders keep a vast amount of people poor, uneducated, oppressed, abused, brainwashed, and on a steady diet of strictly controlled hate-filled propaganda. In light of these facts, it’s terribly simplistic to completely fault the Islamic religion for all the violence, outrage, and terrorism. Islam is a TOOL used by corrupt leaders, regimes, and governments that do not care two figs about their religion, but use it to manipulate their people to carry out their cause for power, money, and revenge. After all, if you can convince people that God is on your “side,” you can get people do anything: Much like the church did during the crusades, witch hunts, and slave trading eras. Much like the LRA is doing RIGHT NOW in the name of Christianity over in Uganda.

Again, I don’t believe in this “I’m OK, you’re OK” system, but demonizing an entire group of people (like trent did) is just abhorrent and ineffective. We must find common ground with people to better reach out to them. My husband worked with a muslim man, and when my husband told him the claims Jesus made about himself, the man was shocked! He regarded Jesus has a great prophet but was never taught about his claims of divinity. This opened the door for further conversations and the man began to study about the life of Jesus. Now, had my husband marched up the man with a cross held out shouting “Islam is a false and wicked religion, TURN OR BURN...” (or some other combative evangelistic style), the man most likely would have felt attacked, gone on the defensive and dismissed him. But by showing respect to this man, building a relationship with him, and listening to his viewpoint, a trust was established between them. It was clear to the muslim man that he was not just another notch on my husband’s “got ‘em saved” belt.

raj. said...

I love your blog. I’m thrilled that you shared this story and video! Thanks for keeping it real and taking on tough issues.

brandon said...

Astounding how SOME christians can spew such vicious hatred and stereotypes and then in the same breath wonder why they are disliked.

Anonymous said...

Great blog (and comments). Thanks for sharing this personal and balanced account. I very much agree. I have many friends who are Muslims.
However, I don't think it is only the poor and uneducated in theocratic countries who turn to fundamentalism. See

Some of the other comments (opposing your view) make me really sad. I can only say - don't forget who the real enemy is and ask youself if Jesus would react this way.

Tia Lynn said...

Thanks for the resources! And I agree, it's not only poor and oppressed people who give way to fundementalism, however, it is more common given the fact they most people in those countries are exposed to little else.

Michelle said...

Tia, if you have time I'd love to know your thoughts on this piece by John Piper, on loving your Muslim neighbors:

Tia Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing that. I thought Piper's instructions were purely biblical and it's shame more christians don't do this when they encounter muslims or other people that are not christians.

Michelle said...

Thanks for taking the time to read that, Tia. I don't really have anythign to add. Your site is always thought provoking and I enjoy it a lot.