How I broached a touchy topic with a Muslim friend
In June 2014 Robert Spencer, an expert on terrorism, described the stunning advances by ISIS in Iraq/Syria as setting the world ablaze. Subsequent events have shown this was no exaggeration as the bloodshed and atrocities intensify. ISIS has executed 13 Sunni clerics in Mosul showing that they aren't just killing Shias. They also regard Sunnis, who won't toe the line, as enemies. Meanwhile the death toll in Syria from Muslim-on-Muslim violence has reached a new high, 700 were killed on July 17-18. This is the highest toll in the 3 year Syrian conflict according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In addition ISIS is openly advertising to solicit (conscript) unmarried women in Mosul to serve the cause of Jihad, by gratifying the sexual “needs” of their fighters. Meanwhile, last week Human Rights Watch reported that the death count from Boko Haram's terror campaign has reached a new level. The number killed in the last six months (2053) far exceeds any other similar period in that 5 year conflict. These reports come barely two months after the abduction of nearly 300 school girls which outraged the world – a crisis that is still unresolved.
As people around the world are bombarded with shocking news headlines it is only natural that people want to talk about these stories. I recently broached this topic with a number of Muslim friends and pen-pals, i.e. by letter. I was curious to ask how they were feeling without stereotyping them or implying they were complicit with radical Muslims. So I concluded my letter by asking a question: “When you see the resurgence of Jihadist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram along with many Muslims being killed by Muslims, are you concerned that this is damaging the peaceful image of Islam?”
I received some interesting responses. Here is how a Nigerian woman who we'll call Aysha, replied, “It appears you are an avid reader of the Bible because you come out with refreshing interpretation of familiar verses. I have serious concern with Jihadists, more so with the groups in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and here in Nigeria. ... Why is it that women and children in refugee camps are not returning to the areas conquered by these Jihadis? Why are people fleeing them? Does the Sharia rule have to come through the barrel of a gun in this age. Personally I believe it is a conspiracy to self-destruct Islam...”
I responded by pointing her to an eye-opening chapter in Nabeel Qureshi's book, Seeking Allah Finding Jesus. Chapter 43 shows how modern Jihadists, such as Boko Haram, who abduct and enslave girls are simply following the example and teachings of Muhammad and his companions.
Nabeel admits that when he made this discovery “it might as well have been dynamite”, coming as it did, after he had investigated the transmission of the Qur'an and concluded it was by no means as reliable as Muslim scholars claimed.
I was encouraged to hear that my pen-pal read the chapter I recommended. Interestingly, she describes herself as an “avid” follower of David Wood, Sam Shamoun and Jay Smith. (Men who I respect as being among the foremost debaters today.) Although she did not find Nabeel's arguments convincing, she did conclude on a cordial note, “Let's continue our conversation.” I was also encouraged that she agreed to read my recent article, A Longstanding Legacy of Violence. May the Lord open her eyes to the truth and draw her to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Engaging (or rather confronting) these sensitive issues has not been pleasant but it is reassuring to know from reading Nabeel's testimony that there are times when a Muslim needs tough love. As the proverb says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
John the Baptist illustrates this principle, as we read in Luke 3:18, “John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.” (see also verses 15-17)1 Unfortunately many Christians today can't wrap their heads around the fact that stern warnings of judgement are compatible with Good News. Let's not forget that Jesus also gave loving rebukes, in fact, it was he who combined truth and grace perfectly. (John 1:17)
We see an example of this in Luke 14:1-24 where Jesus exposed the duplicity of the lawyers and Pharisees who were invited, along with Jesus, to a meal. (v. 1-6) Several verses later, Jesus exposed the shallow spirituality of the host – a prominent Pharisee – whom Christ challenged to show true hospitality by inviting the poor and marginalized. (v.12-14)
It is significant that this story begins with Jesus being invited to a meal. The atmosphere around a meal inclines us to expect a pleasant, courteous tone of conversation. And we know it would not be out of character for Jesus to engage in friendly 'small talk', though we aren't given these details. What is all the more striking is that the conversation which follows, contrasts starkly with what we would expect. Notice that the tone in this passage was relatively mild compared to the much sharper rebuke Christ gave in Matthew chapter 23!
It is interesting to see in Luke chapter 14 how the theme of hospitality unfolds naturally in the conversation around the table. Also, it is noteworthy that Christ not only admonished the religious leaders, he gave a strong corrective to the guests! How many of us have this kind of courage? Yet we are indwelt by God's Spirit who raised Christ and we know that, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
We've considered how John and Jesus exposed evil and gave a loving rebuke. Now let's look at Ephesians 5:6-16 where the apostle Paul tells us to respond wisely “because the days are evil.” (NIV) He speaks of evil doers evoking the “wrath of God” and urges us to not only avoid doing these things but also “expose them.”
No one denies that there is a time and place for giving a word of warning, loving rebuke, correction, etc., but one might ask, “When is it appropriate?” Paul provides a clue when he says, “because the days are evil.” If we reflect carefully on the growing momentum of Jihadist groups over the last 14 years we can see how relevant Paul's words are today. We are certainly living in evil days. Therefore, let us not be timid or cowardly. Let's take a stand for truth by exposing, refuting and even rebuking falsehood and evil.
Practical suggestions for applying this principle
I was saying earlier that it is natural for people to respond to shocking headline news stories by talking to each other and expressing their feelings. Perhaps you are a Christian and you are considering a neighbor or friend with whom you want to broach this “touchy” topic of violence perpetrated by radical Muslims. Here are a couple suggestions for raising the subject without evoking a defensive response. Remember that the vast majority of Muslims regard themselves as peace-loving people. Almost intuitively they want to distance themselves from such atrocities.
Why not say something like this, “I've noticed a lot of violence on the news lately. And I don't mean to put you on the spot, but would you mind telling me what you think of the way Jihadist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram seem to be gaining ground?” … “As a Muslim, are you concerned that they are damaging the peaceful image of Islam?”
Before starting a conversation with a Muslim neighbor that you hope will gently nudge open a door of witness, you would do well to ask yourself: “Have I shown my neighbor genuine love? Have I greeted him/her in a warm, friendly manner as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:46-47? Have I opened my heart/home by showing hospitality as Jesus taught in Luke 14:12-14?”
Does this mean one needs to spend weeks or months building trust and winning the right to be heard? Not necessarily. In John chapter 4 we see Jesus bridging a deep divide between Samaritans and Jews without needing to take a long time to build rapport. After a fairly brief conversation Christ probed some sensitive topics, including this statement, “You Samaritans worship what you don't know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22) This amounted to a gentle but firm rebuke. You can read more on this in my article, Wounds from a sincere friend are better...Wounds from a sincere friend are better ...
Here's something else to keep in mind which I trust will encourage you to probe this touchy topic with Muslim friends. David Garrison reports in his carefully researched landmark book, A Wind in the House of Islam, that unprecedented numbers of Muslims are being repulsed (put off) by the widespread violence that they see in their societies and are turning to Christ. In fact, he says this is “one of the greatest recurring motivations for Muslims coming to Christ.” (p.58)
In closing, let me recommend that you read Nabeel Qureshi's book, Seeking Allah Finding Jesus. You may also want to read these articles:
If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me here.
All Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.
1 We should not underestimate the sharp edge to John's preaching as he warned of a coming fiery judgement which correlates with a prophecy of the Messiah coming to purge the Levites with fire, i.e. priestly leaders. (Malachi 3:16-18; cf Luke 3:15-18) Note also that Jesus described his mission in terms of setting the world ablaze. (Luke 12:49)