Guidelines For Muslim-Christian Dialogue

One of the biggest goals of this blog is to see Muslim and Christian people (and our Jewish friends too) in honest, sincere, respectful faith dialogue – whether it is in a public setting with an audience, or 4 or 5 people sitting and talking in a coffee shop, or a 1 on 1 discussion at work or after a class.

Why dialogue?

Well, one of my Musim friends from Gaza once said to me, “If we don’t learn how to dialogue and build a friendship between us, our sons might wind up fighting or even killing each other.” That may or not be true but I get his point. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers. . .” I wonder if we can have real peace unless we have real dialogue.

Below are suggested guidelines for faith discussions. See what you think.

1. Relax – Enjoy Yourself!
– Put your stereotypes aside. Do your best to let go of any fear, hate, or suspicion of the other person.
– It’s normal to be nervous but this is a great opportunity to venture out into new experiences and relationships.
– You don’t need to be an “expert” in your faith to dialogue. You don’t have to have all the answers.
– When you cannot answer a question, it’s always OK to say “I don’t know but I will do my best to find out.”
– Don’t walk on eggshells worrying about making mistakes. Just smile a lot and do your best!
– Have fun. You will generally find that this kind of dialogue can be a very fulfilling experience, especially if all parties adhere to these guidelines.

2. Engage In Discussions And Dialogues, Not Debates!
– Discussions & dialogues are for friends; debates are for opponents.
– This is not a competition – it is not the Christians vs. the Muslims or the Muslims vs. the Christians so. . .
– You don’t have to “score points” or “win” or “beat” the other person(s).
– This is about sharing how one’s faith informs daily living. About talking heart-to-heart.
– Don’t argue or get defensive. If it feels like an argument is beginning, remember that you aren’t trying to defeat the other person(s).
– Ask questions – take the humble posture of a learner.
– Don’t lecture. Let there be an equal amount of give-and-take in the conversation.
– Show respect and honor. Listen carefully and sincerely to the other’s point of view and earn the right to be heard.
– Be patient, courteous, and polite.

3. Don’t Put Down The Other Person’s Holy Book Or People!
– This just builds huge walls – or strengthens the ones that are already there.
– Show respect for the other’s beliefs. Where they agree with your’s, you might say something like, “That is great. We have some common ground there.” Or “Our book says something very similar.”
– Build bridges, tear down walls!

4. Practice Honesty, Not Political Correctness
– You do not have to pretend that there are no significant differences between how Muslims and Christians view various points of faith, even very serious ones. (To pretend that there are no substantive differences is either being naive or disingenuous).
– You can talk about the differences but you might do well to find common ground first! What do you agree on about God, Jesus, prayer, sin, judgment, service, ethics?

5. A Note To Christians: Practice Wise, Culturally Sensitive Interaction With Your Muslim Friends
– Do not touch someone of the opposite gender in a dialogue setting (or any setting). If they offer you their hand to shake hands, then you may do so but do not extend your hand first.
– Dress modestly.
– It is fine to talk to members of the opposite gender but not alone. Try to spend more time talking with those of your own gender or talk in larger mixed groups.
– If you gather at your home, do not serve any pork products or alcohol. If you have a dog, keep it away from your Muslim friends.
– Do serve some kind of refreshments. Show hospitality!

6. Build Relationships!
– Build a relationship, don’t just communicate information. Don’t just talk head-to-head.
– Focus on the heart – gently probe how the other person perceives his or her relationship with God in daily living. Don’t just share doctrine or theology.
– Think about exchanging e-mails or cell phone numbers, getting together for a lunch, etc. Be friendly, and be a friend.

To my Muslim friends: what do you think? Would you enjoy talking faith and life with a Christian who followed these guidelines?

To my Christian friends: what do you think? Would you enjoy talking faith and life with a Muslim who followed these guidelines?

(Next time: suggested topics & questions for faith and life dialogues!)

4 thoughts on “Guidelines For Muslim-Christian Dialogue

  1. Dear Mark

    This is the idea you and I discussed that we need a dialogue not a debate. However, the idea of a dialogue seems great but in this dialogue both Muslims and Christians must focus on and discuss matters that can different faiths can do together and NOT discuss religion. Frankly speaking I avoid discussing religion unless someone opens the topic with me.

    But you see religion is a very personal topic and unlike politics it doesn’t tolerate the least of criticism because it will cause emotional scratching if you see what I mean, especially to the ones who are firmly committed to their faith. and that comes from the nature of humans, different people from different faiths naturally by default believe their faith is the best of faiths.

    Therefore, I am in favour of not discussing religion because discussion of religion must include the terms “wrong” and “right”, these terms are unavoidable no matter how much you try to carry on the discussion with an appropriate manner. so discussion should be out of the equation and the focus should be directed towards the similarities and what different faiths can do together in order to make planet earth a better place to live.

    Warmest Regards,
    Hussein

    • Hussein,

      So appreciate your view here. However, I differ with you a bit.

      I think the times when faith discussions between Muslims and Christians become a problem is when they jump right into doctrine and theology. There are obvious differences – even big, big differences – between what we believe. If we don’t admit that, we are being less than honest. And I want to go on record that I think doctrine and theology are important. Absolutely essential. But. . .we don’t have to start talking there, do we?

      Why can’t we start by discussing faith in another way? Why can’t we begin by discussing our faith life in a way that is more personal and less doctrinal? You see, I pretty much know what Muslims believe in their basic doctrines. And you probably know what Christians believe in their basic doctrines. But do we really know what each other’s faith life looks like? In every day practice? Let’s talk about that!

      Let’s talk about who God is to us. Let’s talk about how we pray, how we worship, why we love God, why we love Jesus. Let’s make it more personal and heart-to-heart. Let’s see where that kind of dialogue and conversation takes us.

      That is what the next blog is about!

  2. Hi Mark,

    Interesting post. Agree with much of it. One of my concerns is that we are too careful. Jesus loved people, but was never afraid to share truth – whether that was challenging a belief, a lifestyle, pointing out sin, etc. It seems that one of our great resources is the truth of Romans 1:16. Always sharing and dialoguing in love, we sometimes forget that those who are not for us, are against us. One author wrote that others are not “our enemy, but victims of the enemy”. And while I get his point, and it’s well-taken, I’m not sure that’s exactly true to Scripture.

    Later

    • Bob,

      I agree that we can be too careful when we talk about our faith and that is why I wrote about how both Muslims & Christians need to be honest and not so politically correct. I agree too that we as Christians need to be bold and not be ashamed of the Gospel, as Romans 1:16.

      Jesus said:
      Whoever is not against us is for us — Mark 9:40
      He who is not with me is against me — Matthew 12:30a

      I believe that it takes time and discernment to find out who is with Jesus and who is against him. Too often we make hasty judgments and broad assumptions. God is at work in human hearts. Jesus could see where this was happening. I want to also.

      And too, by the evidence of my own behavior, can I always say that I am truly with Jesus? And for him?

      Much to think about.

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