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23 December 2016

How Christians are well placed to connect with Muslims

How Christians are well placed to connect with Muslims

Featuring Alliance members SAT-7 and Mahabba Network

In our survey, 84 per cent of evangelicals thought they should gain some understanding of other faiths before sharing the gospel with their adherents. So, how do we, as Christians, understand Muslims? Are there any similarities in how Christians and Muslims see the world? In our secular society, where religious literacy is low and most people have very little time for organised religion, how are we as Christians positioned to relate to and connect with Muslims?

Here, two of the Alliance's member organisations who work with Muslim communities help us to consider some of the ways that we can better engage with Muslims. 

SAT-7 is a network of five Christian satellite television channels broadcasting across the Middle East and North Africa. Alongside proclaiming the gospel, they are also working hard to encourage and increase mutual care, tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and different worldviews, seeing them equally as people made in the image of God. 

As citizens who live in mixed religious communities or close to different faith communities, SAT-7's Christian presenters know and respect their concerns – to love their neighbours. Christians are experiencing persecution in parts of the Middle East, yet in most communities in the region, the different faiths live peacefully side by side and Christian-run schools and hospitals are open to all. SAT-7 is very much committed to encouraging and increasing this mutual care,tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and different worldviews.

Mahabba Network works here in the UK, helping Christians to engage positively with Muslims through care, prayer and understanding. They produce evangelistic resources for Christians to use during the season of Ramadan, and have a network of 40 prayer groups throughout the UK. Although there are clearly huge differences between us as Christians and Muslims, there are also common themes that we can draw on while speaking to Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours, to find shared ground on which to build a relationship. 

Both these member organisations see the importance of understanding our Muslim neighbours in order to express the love of God and to share the good news of salvation in His son, Jesus. Finding common ground is often the first place to start. 

Mahabba say: "Christians and Muslims share belief in a creator God, who sustains His creation and who will hold people to account for their lives on earth, but who guides people through revelation." 

For Christians, it's the Holy Spirit and the Bible that provide the source of revelation. While for Muslims it's the Qur`an. While we know the Bible to be sacred and don't see the Qur'an as a holy book, Mahabba finds helpful comparisons for engaging Muslims in conversation: "The Bible and Qur`an talk about Abraham who did the will of God, and one of the Qur`an's terms for Jesus is, 'the Word of God'. Both Muslims and Christians interpret the world through these texts, to try to discern the will of God in their life."

Sat-7 agrees: "Although Islam sees the Qur`an as superseding the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures, it reflects many aspects of them. Christians and Muslims share many of the same moral concerns and there is also a desire among committed believers to honour and serve God above all else."

On their channels, they tackle this by clearly explaining what it is Christians believe and how this impacts their lives - without criticising the beliefs of others. This is great way to start a conversation about faith with your Muslims friends, discussing the application of these texts to 21st century life. 

Living in what some in the UK describe as a post-Christian country, it can be difficult at times to try to answer questions and address the problems of the day from a position of faith with non-believers. But for those with a religious faith this is a starting point to form a common foundation to think about how to live together in peace, said Mahabba. "The secular/anti-faith world don't accept religious answers to the questions that face the world. They discredit reasons that are based on faith in God, and often ridicule them so that it is difficult to talk together about what is good for society." 

And that rejection of faith isn't just a European phenomenon, say SAT-7. "Religious scepticism is a growing phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa. This has partly been a reaction among the young against authoritarianism and in favour of independent thinking, and partly a result of dismay and questioning prompted by sectarian violence and the actions of extremists in the name of religion." 

But this has given the channel an opportunity in the region, as there's a growing openness to learning from Christians who are seen as being people of peace and forgiveness. SAT-7 has identified new trends of critical thinking and enquiry. What can we learn from this? Are we always open to questions about our faith? 

The social status of women is another topic that could be useful when finding a connection.

"Christians may reach out to any woman because they believe that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. The Bible tells us that humans look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the human heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Christian women can therefore help their own communities and Muslim women to discern the real issues behind clothing and lifestyle which are merely external things," say Mahabba. 

As Christians, when we demonstrate the dignity and equality of women in our own communities, we're well placed to support and encourage the Muslim women around us, growing friendships and showing the value and respect Christianity gives women. While we must always acknowledge the  profound differences between our faith and Islam, it is helpful to be aware of areas that position us to build relationships in which we can share our  faith. You might find others in your context.

WHAT SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE PRAYING FOR?

Pray that our Muslim neighbours would see in Christians a friend as people of faith that would allow the building of friendships and relationships in a divided world.

Pray that many Muslims will have an encounter with the living God through the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus to them, and that the body of Christ will be ready to receive them when they do commit their lives to the Lord. 

Pray for the young people in the Middle East and praise God for the growing openness to learning from Christians who are seen as being people of peace and forgiveness.

Pray for the work of SAT-7 and Mahabba.

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