Beth was a single college student living far away from home. She and Tahira met in Biochemistry class, and were fast friends. They were both shy and not into partying. Tahira lived at home, and invited Beth over the first week of classes to have dinner with her family. Beth was a bit nervous the first time she visited. Should she cover her head like Tahira? Beth was a Christian, and Tahira and her family were Muslims. Beth decided just to be herself and try to be as respectful as possible. From the first minute, Tahira’s family showered Beth with love and called her daughter. They took her under their wing and became her family away from home.
Over the next four years, Beth grew to love them deeply and had many sincere conversations with them about her faith in Jesus the Messiah. Tahira was eager to read the Injil, and they often talked until late at night about the way Jesus removed the shame of women, replacing it with honor and value.
When Beth and Tahira graduated, both their families celebrated together. A connection had been made and continues to grow today.
Connect Through Family
Family is a natural way to connect with Muslims. Muslims value family and the roles each member fills. Honor is attached to the family group.
Whether you are single like Beth in the story above, married, young or old, take a moment to think about what role in a family structure you best fit according to your age and circumstances. Anthropologists and sociologists call this an age set, which is a term for a social category that consists of people of similar age who have a common identity.
Would you relate to your neighbor as a mother or father? As a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a brother? Is your neighbor in the age set of a father, an uncle, a sister? Evaluating through this framework will help you communicate more effectively.
Talk with an older neighbor with the respect due a mother, father, or grandparent. Enjoy conversation about work with a Muslim your age who is in a similar life stage as yourself. If you are younger, ask for wisdom on something they know how to do and you do not. Engaging with Muslims through the reference point of family roles will make sense to them and enhance your communication.
Many Muslims live far from their extended family. Loneliness is a reality for them and your kindness and consideration could be a great encouragement. Always ask how their family members are; be sincere in your interest in their health and life. Muslims are not our projects; they are people made in the image of God. May our love be genuine.
If you both have children, gather them to play together while you chat over a cup of lemonade or coffee. Children often begin the connection for us with our Muslim neighbors.
Connect Through Common Tasks
Common tasks are another easy way to connect with Muslims in your community. Do you only see your Muslim neighbor as she drives her children to school in the morning? As he mows his lawn? As she lugs her backpack to the local coffee shop to study? What do you have in common? Maybe you have the same routine in the morning. A friendly wave as you pass each other every day might be the beginning of a carpool or an after-work cup of coffee in months to come.
Be observant and discover where Muslim communities live. (See resources at the end of this article for tools to find communities in your area.) Shop where they do, go to the parks and libraries they frequent, take an exercise class in a Muslim community. Pray for opportunities to start a conversation with the ones you see regularly. Exchange Facebook information. Facebook provides a noninvasive means of communication in the early stages of getting to know each other. Texting and messaging are easy ways to meet up casually again at a park or gym.
Connect Through Community
You may be highly aware of the Muslims in your community, or you may live in an area where you know of no one. Begin praying for God to bring a Muslim into your life. Ask Him to make you aware of Muslims who may be in your region and how to get to know them.
If you are aware of refugee or immigrant communities in your area, a simple basket of baked goods equips you to knock on the door and welcome them to your city.
One woman from the Midwestern United States shares that she bakes huge stacks of cookies with her children and walks the neighborhood, handing out cookies and invitations to church or community events. These might include moms' groups, exercise groups, resource distribution events, library events, anything that might help or encourage them. Invite them to the event and offer to meet up there. This could be an especially helpful way to meet those Muslims who you know live nearby but do not often see in public spaces. The feeling of marginalization is acute and real for many such Muslims, especially those who are immigrants or refugees.
A college student from New England shares that he intentionally studies at the local coffee shop where Muslim students hang out, and posts English and writing tutoring help on the shop’s bulletin board. He reports that conversations and study groups come naturally out of just being a regular customer there.
Cookies and coffee, a smile and hello. Meeting your Muslim neighbor is really not more complicated than this. Sincere friendship over a common task can bring you together in mutually helpful ways. Take a deep breath and walk across the divide between you. Whether that space is your street or the cubicle wall in the office, you’ll find the distance worth it as you connect and grow in friendship.
Learn about the local refugee population through your local World Relief office and see if there is a way you can plug in and connect to a family needing community and friendship.
Ask a pastor at your church about opportunities to connect with refugees or international students. Perhaps there are people at your church with the same heart to reach out.