With All The News About ISIS, How Can Muslims & Christians Talk To Each Other About What They Believe?

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 Muslim 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 until we have real dialogue.

With all the horrible news from the Middle East about ISIS, we need to be able to talk to one another without all the negative emotions that the media stirs up in us. So. . .below are suggested guidelines for faith discussions. See what you think.

1. Relax!
– 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?

10 thoughts on “With All The News About ISIS, How Can Muslims & Christians Talk To Each Other About What They Believe?

  1. What I would like to see is for my questions to be taken in good faith, including questions about what is and is not within the bounds of “not giving offence”.

    • Largo, I do take your questions in good faith and really appreciate them. Just so sorry to be so terribly slow in responding!

  2. Mark Vanderput:

    If you gather at your home, do not serve any pork products or alcohol.”

    Is it an offence to serve it to my non Muslim guests — i.e. offering a variety of food and drink that includes plenty that is halal for a Muslim to consume?

    • Largo,
      First of all, thank you so much for reading my blog post. If I may ask, how did you find it?

      Regarding pork and alcohol, here’s what I wrote to a Muslim friend who also responded to this post:
      “As for us, related to serving pork products or alcohol, we rarely eat pork and we don’t drink alcohol, so this is not a problem for us when a Muslim friend comes to our home. And even if we did eat pork or drink alcohol, the loving thing to do in this situation is to do as much as possible not to disrespect and needlessly alienate a Muslim friend.” So for us this would mean that we would not have pork or alcohol at a gathering where both Muslims and non-Muslims are present. We want to set an example of what love means.

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

    I would want to dialogue with Christians—as a Muslim,…I would be particularly interested in the messages/sayings of Jesus Christ (pbuh) in terms of social justice, ethico-moral principles, Wisdom teachings for daily living….etc…

    Some Christians have a habit of quoting bible (NT) verses when they try to make a point….while this may be informative…bible quotes without interpretation or explanation can be difficult to understand to those who are not familiar with a Christian world view. It would be helpful to point out how the quote is relevant to the point being made….(This is not an issue with this blog…I am speaking of other Christians….)

    @ Largo
    pork products/dishes—I would refrain….because a Muslim would not want to eat pork even by accident and so, they might avoid eating altogether at a gathering that serves both pork and halal at the same table. You could put pork dishes at a different table which is clearly marked as pork….but that would be awkward and it would also create discomfort among guests both Muslim and Non-Muslim…?….

    Alcohol—depending on your geographical location—light alcoholic drinks such as beer (in cans) can be ok in a Western setting….if this is needed to facilitate friendly discussions…if it is not needed….it would be more polite to avoid….

    • Dear anonymous Muslim friend,

      So great to hear from you. And so sorry that I am always so slow to respond to any who make comments about my blog. As usual, I must ask your forgiveness.

      I surely don’t want to sound condescending but I wonder, do you have any Christian friends in your life for the kind of dialogue we are talking about? One of the biggest blessings for me is to have Muslim friends that I can sit down with and talk to. Responding back-and-forth by email or text or blog responses is helpful but has a lot of potential – as you well know – for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. When you sit down with someone across a table of food, face-to-face, it is so wonderful. You can not only hear their words but all the nonverbal communication that is just as important (or possibly more important). You can see the facial expressions, hear the tone of voice, watch the posture, etc. You can ask clarifying questions in a way that is better able to come across as sincere so as to not make the other person feel defensive or on their guard.

      When my wife and I speak at churches, we encourage Christians to make Muslim friends where they live or work or go to school. And generally, we really encourage this kind of interaction to be same gender – man to man and woman to woman. We want to be holy before the Lord and not allow anything to interfere. We hope you have this kind of Christian friend where you live. If not, we will pray for it!

      As for us, related to serving pork products or alcohol, we rarely eat pork and we don’t drink alcohol, so this is not a problem for us when a Muslim friend comes to our home. And even if we did eat pork or drink alcohol, the loving thing to do in this situation is to do as much as possible not to disrespect and needlessly alienate a Muslim friend.

      Finally, most people believe that some of Jesus’ greatest moral and ethical teachings are found in what is commonly called “the sermon on the mount.” Because you’re a very knowledgeable person, I am sure you have heard of that or have at least read many of those verses. They can be found in the Good News according to Matthew, chapters 5 through 7. In these teachings, Jesus does what he does so often: he aims right for the heart of his listeners because he knows that the heart of most problems is often a problem of the heart.

      God bless you!

  4. I think people should be free to talk about the historical evidence of the different religions. Facts should precede feelings in certain matters. For example, you would clearly not want to follow a guy whose goal was to get you to honor him so much that you committed suicide. At least I hope not. Life is a fact. Creation is a fact.

    • Mert,
      Yes, we desperately need to be able to talk face-to-face and heart-to-heart. There is too much debate and arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong. And all of this comes about in head-to-head conversation.

      As a Christian, I want to know the heart of my Muslim friends. I want to know what they really believe about God, about Jesus, about heaven, about how to live in this world in a righteous way. I want to know what my Muslim friends think is the most beautiful thing about God, why they love Jesus, what they look forward to about heaven, and what they fear about hell. These are heart-to-heart conversations that bring us close together. These conversations build bridges and tear down walls.

      And that is my heart.

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