In a world where the fear of Muslims is very high most of us are not sure how to respond to the Muslims we meet from day-to-day. Increasingly Muslims live in our neighborhoods. You almost have to live in a small rural area or a remote place to not see Muslims on a daily bases. They live in many of our neighborhoods and I deal with them on a regular basis. What are we to do?
I suggest the first and most important thing we are to do is not be suspicious of our neighbors unless there is clear and obvious reason to become so. Most have the same hopes, dreams and fears that we do. And most will be good neighbors just like non-Muslims. Our job, as Christians, is to build bridges to our neighbors, not react with fear and enmity. Such bridges can foster harmonious community relationships based on mutual respect, which is always the starting point for our witness as believers. We best engage Muslims when we engage them as human persons made in the image of God just as we are. They have joys and trials just as we do and it is natural to share in these as fellow human persons.
We can look to Muslims as neighbors who want to solve problems just as we do. They want safety, good schools, good jobs, etc. If we know them as people we can share a great deal with them. This means we are called to practice hospitality. "Inter-faith hospitality" is always appropriate. We should allow, indeed encourage, other faiths so that they feel welcome in our midst. My friend Gerald R.McDermott says there are striking lessons Christians can learn from Muslims, truths that are not absent in our own tradition but truths which we too easily forget. I agree.
When my friend Brian McLaren recently announced that he was going to fast during Ramadan thousands of Christians jumped on him with incredible opposition. I was not one of them. I do not always agree with Brian, especially when he speaks about social solutions to cultural problems, but I found his actions and statements in this instance completely consistent with radical hospitality and Christian love of neighbor. He did not say he fasted because he thought Islam was equal to, or parallel with, Christian faith. He clearly said he did this to show solidarity and to join his neighbors in something that was important to them. I frankly see nothing wrong in his approach unless he said or did something I missed along the way.
I am reminded that a study undertaken by Fuller Theological Seminary revealed that the number one reason Muslims who converted to faith in Christ gave for becoming Christians had to do with the reality of the love they saw in their neighbors who were Christians. I am not surprised by this in the least. Must we turn every Muslim into a potential terrorist or enemy? Must we fear Muslims because we do not understand them or know them? What ever happened to building bridges for the sake of the gospel? Whatever happened to love, period?