Like many extroverted female Millennials, I filter my breaking news through my Facebook newsfeed. I gauge the intensity of people’s reactions and look at who’s posting what and why. Having grown up as a Christian in the Middle East, probably 30-40 percent of my Facebook friends are Arab and predominantly Muslim, but there’s a significant Christian percentage too. I’m always curious to compare what my Muslim friends talk about to the evangelical voices of my family, church and college networks. As a global nomad, it’s a good way to gauge what people are feeling and thinking.
I’m particularly transfixed by issues that hit close to my heart: Muslim and Christian relationships, social change and conflict resolution. This year alone I’ve watched spikes of commentary around Charlie Hebdo, the ISIS Paris attacks, and now Donald Trump’s comments about not allowing Muslims into America. And mostly, I’ve been silent. What can I really say in a world filled with so much chatter and opinion? How can I help?
Life As a Religious Minority
Growing into adulthood as an American Christian in the Middle East, I was definitely aware that I was the religious minority. That awareness was pressed home not only during Ramadan and Muslim religious feasts, but every day when the call to prayer came multiple times a day through loudspeakers, reminding people to prioritize godliness.
Of course, there are stories of Christians in the Middle East being misunderstood, passed over, mistreated and violently persecuted — I have heard the gamut. But I have also known many experiences of warm connection and friendship with Muslims. For example, there was my neighbor Hassan, a gap-toothed man who talked nonstop about his kids, his bodily ailments, his neighbors and their ailments. Then there was Abd-al-Rahman, the one-armed small business owner who was unfailingly happy, kind and generous.
Although people like Hassan and Abd-al-Rahman are safe, I know that the world is dangerous. But I also know that Muslims are afraid too.
Just like evangelicals in the United States, devout Muslim Americans struggle against a culture of consumerism; they resist immodesty; and they choose a life of religious piety, which is unpopular in the United States regardless of whose faith is being practiced. But for Muslim Americans, not only is their faith misunderstood, but they’re left to wonder if their coworkers and neighbors suspect them of becoming violent extremists.
As followers of the Christ, we know something absolutely essential about our God: He is love (1 John 4:8). And in a time of rising fear, I think God will give us opportunities to demonstrate His true character.
Christ’s love carried Him into contact with the alienated so that they might experience His healing. His love was so complete that He was willing to suffer torture and death at the hands of His beloved. He did it so that He could show His love for the whole world, and that includes the Muslim world (John 3:16). So here are some thoughts on how we can model Christ’s character as we engage with our Muslim neighbors:
1. We can demonstrate Christ’s courage by opening our mouths. Yes, we must acknowledge tragic realities. But we can also point out that adherents of Islam have a wide range of views, and we can suggest approaches that help Muslims feel loved instead of ostracized. We may face criticism, but we can remember that Muslim Americans do not have the voice that we do, and “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV).
2. We can demonstrate Christ’s compassion by opening our hearts. Perhaps we might demonstrate Christ’s compassion by Googling service providers in our cities and offering practical help to refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East or Nigeria, and by praying for ISIS and Boko Haram. Although the dangers of terrorism are real and require caution on the part of national political leaders charged with our protection, we Christians should affirm that our first commitment is to love the stranger (not remain safe from him), and that we are willing to face some risks in that process.
3. We can demonstrate Christ’s love by opening our minds. The Apostle Paul became familiar with Athens so that he could speak with wisdom to its people’s deepest needs (Acts 17:22-23). We can demonstrate Christ’s love by learning about our Muslim neighbors’ language and culture and respectfully building life-giving relationships that help them to see and feel God’s love.
In daily life around the United States, we will often set the cultural tone that Muslims experience. Hopefully, in those moments, we will help Muslims experience the courageous love that God has for them. It is only that love that can draw them into the resurrection life of Christ.
Diana Welkener lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Craig (who helped write this article), and they attend the Church of the Resurrection.