I know God has a heart to bring Muslims and Christians together – not to create some kind of “Chrislam” where there are no important distinctions between our faiths, but to break down walls and build bridges so we can really talk and learn from each other. So our faiths can be expressed conversationally with one another in an honest, personal, non-threatening, and mutually respectful way.
Not long ago, I felt the Lord said to me (not in an audible voice – just in my heart), “I want you to bring Muslims and Christians together and watch what I will do.” About the same time, I woke up one morning with an idea: the “Good Will Tour.” The idea was to take Christians to visit and observe a Friday afternoon gathering at a mosque (or at least a jummah prayer time) and to take Muslims to visit and observe a Sunday morning church worship service – all in the same weekend and all to show “good will” toward one another. (Again, this was not to meld our theologies together. It was to bring our hearts together.)
Like with the “I Love Muslims Day” concept, I went again to our friends in leadership of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Michigan. The Islamic Relations Chairperson and the larger Executive Board were enthusiastic to do the tour. On two weekends – one last fall and one last spring – we went to each other’s place of worship and prayer and then set aside time for Question & Answer sessions afterwards. (My wife even provided halal food for the Q & A time at one church for our Muslim visitors which we all enjoyed!)
For those of you who might question the value of such bridge-building events, please listen to the honest response of a Christian who went with us to take part by attending one of the Muslim jummah prayer times:
“I want to tell you how moved I was by the experience, and how it has affected me.
The service itself was foreign to me; however, the young man (a student) who gave the sermon (yes, that’s what it is called), gave a stirring message (half in Arabic) on CHARACTER. It roughly paralleled what we in Christian circles might hear preached from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). The bowing and kneeling, though cumbersome, seemed an apt attitude of humility and adoration. (Just think, if we adopted that practice, we wouldn’t have to be moving chairs around in the sanctuary all the time.)
We were greeted and welcomed by many, and invited to stay for a Q & A afterward. Others who came had to leave. . .so it was just Mark, Mary Jane and me. At first we gathered with just 5-6 students plus a very articulate (and friendly) Muslim chaplain. But the crowd grew over the course of the next hour to more than 20.
The exchange and dialogue was non-stop. One question seemed to lead to another…to another…to another. You would be (pleasantly) amazed at some of their “theology”. We dwelt at length on a concept of theirs called “presence”; it’s an idea much like what Brother Lawrence (the 17th century French monk who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God) taught. It’s being in the moment. . .in the constant awareness of God, His blessings, etc.. . .and how integral prayer is to maintaining that.
Another thing that struck me was their understanding of God. Yes, I know for them it’s Allah and for us it’s YHWH. But I have always been taught that Allah was not a God of love or mercy. Yet in answer to one of my questions, one of the respondents gave a powerful testimony to God being gracious, loving and forgiving. WOW, I didn’t realize that.
I have a whole new respect for the Muslims. After that dialogue, they are more real to me. Maybe a better way of saying it is, they are real people – very “cool people”, no less. I have to confess that I’ve related to them (even if in my own mind) according to the stereotypes; this experience served to humanize them for me. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m still as firmly rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus as ever; and I’m not pulling up stakes on Biblical truth. But I am glad for this experience. . .for deeper understanding. . .for the beginnings of friendship with people I have to confess I didn’t understand as well as I thought I did.
I’ll tell you this, they are articulate; they can speak very intelligently about their faith. And they are highly devoted to it; they take it seriously. I’m impressed by that. We might have a little something to learn from them on that score.”
To my Chistian brother’s comments, I can only shout, “Amen!” or “Amin!”
Muslims, please come with me to a church worship service. Christians, please come with me to a mosque jummah prayer time. And together, let’s watch what God will do!