I have been “evangelized” both by well-meaning Muslims doing “da’wah” (Arabic for “issuing a summons” or “making an invitation”) and Christians who made assumptions about my relationship with Jesus.
One Muslim wanted to “share his testimony” with me. I could not wait for that conversation to end. It did not feel so good to have my faith insulted as “inferior.”
The phrase, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), came to mind and made me question the way many “evangelize” others.
I’ve heard that “the one thing missing from ‘friendship evangelism’ is friendship.” Perhaps that is what prompted a recent conversation I had with a young Muslim woman at the University of Louisville.
“We are not really interested in interfaith dialogue,” she said. “We can’t even get the students to come to mosque for special teaching. It would be hard to get them to come out for more talk.”
I had mentioned that we were trying to organize a Quick to Listen event, a Peace Catalyst initiative that seeks to facilitate understanding between faith traditions.
We were hoping to hold this event on her campus at which an imam and a pastor would answer questions about the respective faith traditions.
“We don’t want to just talk about things; we want to do things together, make a difference,” she responded.
I had heard this before from one of my imam friends – ironically, the same imam I had invited to the Quick to Listen event.
“Let’s get together and build friendships, not by meeting and discussing our differences, but by doing things together,” he urged. “I remember when the tornado came through Henryville. We took busloads of our people up there and worked side by side with the community.”
What would happen if we worked side by side to bless our community?
As the imam said, “You might not even know that the guy beside you is a Muslim; he’s just a guy swinging a hammer.”
I imagined two guys stringing electrical wire together all morning or finishing drywall.
In my mind, I saw them sitting down for lunch. In time it comes out that one of them is Christian and the other Muslim.
Contrast that scenario with inviting Muslims and Christians to gather in a room and discuss our similarities and differences.
Who might show up at a house refurbishing, and who might show up at the dialogue? Apparently the younger people here would rather sand drywall.
I asked the Muslim student what we might do together. Volunteering for house builds, soup kitchens and helping refugees were among the proposals, but then she floated a really bold idea.
“What if we bought one of these closed steakhouses around town and turned it into a training kitchen for the refugees? We could teach them how to run a restaurant and cook. We could even feed the homeless,” she suggested.
It’s a great idea. I had seen a model similar to what she described in New Orleans, but realistically, what church would be willing to partner with a mosque for a project like that? Or what mosque would be willing to invest their money in the project?
I don’t know the answer to either of those questions. Honestly, I don’t know enough to pull off a project like that, but it gives me hope that a young Muslim woman would have such a vision.
She can see Christians and Muslims working together. She can see the homeless fed and the refugees equipped and employed as an expression of faith.
It reminded me of the passage in James 2 declaring, “Faith without works is really no faith at all.”
It’s fine to talk about what we believe, but it is better to see people’s faith put into action.
As we work alongside people and hear each other’s stories of life and faith and family, it makes it a lot harder to believe the stereotypes.
The stereotypes go both ways. We all have blind spots about the “other,” but isolation from each other only enables the myths to grow and love to wane.
A Turkish Muslim friend of mine told me he could get some Muslims to join a church service project.
What would happen at your church if Muslims started showing up to help paint the walls or mow the grass? Can you think of a good project we could do together?
The Muslims in Louisville, Kentucky, are asking.
Martin Brooks is the Midwest regional coordinator at Peace Catalyst Institute and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on Rick Love’s blog and is used with permission. Brooks’ writings also can be found on his website.