There seems to be an element of our human nature that treats that which is foreign as something to be feared. This protective instinct against potential threat certainly has its place, but the Christian’s call to go to all peoples and places with the Gospel summons us to push fear aside and move toward those who may be different.
News headlines and soundbites tend to stoke our fears, so Muslims are often avoided more than other groups. But what if our gut-level fear and distrust is unfounded? What might we be missing without a Muslim friend, both personally and missionally?
The three stories below offer honest and surprising accounts of how meeting Muslims has changed perspectives and enriched lives.
My husband and I went to East Africa as missionaries. We received a book about Islam in orientation class, and I immediately dropped it off at Goodwill. I was a missionary, but I had no desire to reach Muslims. I had painted a really broad stroke after September 11, that if Muslims did that in the name of Islam, they must be terrorists. That’s their belief system.
It was ugly and embarrassing, but that’s where I was at the time.
A good friend of mine in Africa was a doctor, and she invited me to go with her to a clinic in our city. Her first patient was a large Muslim woman. And she was exactly like my family - loud, boisterous, opinionated. It wasn’t at all what I expected.
Through her, the Lord started humanizing Muslim women. I remember leaving there thinking, “Man, we’re not that different.”
Another perspective change came through understanding that, because of what Islam teaches, Muslim women predominantly live in fear: fear of never knowing God, never knowing if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re doing enough. And simply because of being a woman, feeling a persistent sense of shame.
I had a bit of a Saul of Tarsus moment while driving downtown in my city. I stopped at a stoplight and saw a woman in hijab standing on the corner. As she began to cross, I could see that she was in a panic. I wondered what she might be worried about, because I’d learned that, while in the city, if someone looks concerned, pay attention. Something’s happening. But it was just a vacant intersection.
Then she looked directly into my windshield and our eyes connected. It was just a second, but it was like the Lord put everything on pause. Somehow the fear I suspect she felt was superimposed over my heart. The things I’d learned, about all the pressures Muslim women are under and the things that can happen to her, started clicking in my mind. Suddenly the Lord said, “Heather, she lives there. She lives in that fear. And there’s no hope for any way out.”
That was the ultimate injustice: that she has to live in that position. No assurance of hope, of heaven, of a relationship with God, of love of any kind. She’s constantly afraid of being cast off. It was a powerful moment, and I knew that the Lord was calling me into this long term.
Heather lives in the southeastern United States, and has served in the US with Crescent Project for three years.
Before I started connecting with Muslims, I didn’t feel hostility; more unfamiliarity and curiosity. It was a foreign world, and the differences in how they lived life fascinated me.
When I lived in Australia (in 2008-09), I met a practicing Muslim from Bangladesh. He asked difficult questions that challenged my faith, and I realized that, to be able to respond well, I needed to know my Bible better.
In one sense, it was refreshing to meet someone like him. He thought regularly about spiritual questions and about God. In another, sadder sense, I could see a lot of darkness and obstinance toward other belief systems.
When I came back to the US, I lived in an apartment complex alongside a number of Muslim people. Deeper friendships began to grow through meals, conversations, and time spent just sharing life with them.
It often takes numerous Christians, and years, for Muslims to come to faith in Christ. They’re not just changing religion; their culture is entrenched in that particular faith. So it’s a serious thing to choose to follow Jesus, and a lot of sharing Christ with them is through friendship. It’s a friendship building opportunity.
Patrick recently married and hopes to find work that will enable he and his wife to live as marketplace missionaries in the Middle East.
I grew up associating “Islam” with “terrorism.” The Lord started to change my heart on a trip to a Muslim-majority country, where I was able to meet Muslim families and see people behind my stereotypes.
I’ve learned to see a Muslim as someone created in God’s image that has never heard that Jesus loves them and died for them. He’s changed my heart of fear to a heart of love.
As I started working with Muslims in the US, I noticed that, in Muslim culture, men are more dominant and have more rights. So I wanted to create an atmosphere where Muslim women could be themselves. Someone had the idea of a sewing class. I didn’t know how to sew, but I went for it and fell in love with it. That’s a place where they can take off their hijab, laugh or cry, and be relaxed. They’re able to be real. We pray over each other regularly, and our friendships have grown so deep.
After starting this sewing class, my husband and I had a miscarriage. As I was on my way to the sewing studio, I was weeping, asking God “Why? Why would this happen?” And I really felt like God was telling me, “This is why. Look where you’re going. You’re going to a group of ladies, whose only identity is being a mom. They have no idea what an identity in Christ looks like.”
I was able to share how, even though my husband and I longed to be parents, I would be ok because my identity is in Jesus Christ. It’s then that we went from teacher-student to sisters.
Megan has been befriending and sharing her faith with Muslims for three years in a Midwestern US city.