Saturday, August 23, 2014

Being Friends with Muslims

…..but he offers his friendship to the godly.  Proverbs 3:32b

The word friendship can be confusing. When we were in Pakistan a mature Pakistani Christian woman explained to me that our western idea of friendship with Pakistanis is not the same as theirs’. In that situation she was referring to Pakistani Christians. Friendship with Muslims was not even brought up.  I was pretty shocked. Today I understand better where she was coming from but at that time it left me disappointed and confused. Looking back I believe she was probably referring more to the expectations of friendship being different; not so much that friendship was wrong. It is true that eastern and western understanding of friendship does have different boundaries, expectations, and duties. Western friendship is more compartmentalized while eastern friendship involves intense engagement in every compartment of life.  A major observation over the decades is that Muslims are people-oriented not so much event or program-oriented.

That was clearly observed a few weeks ago when the mosque put on an Eid party for children. Ed and I decided to go. I didn’t see any other non-Muslim woman there in the crowd of about 1,000. There was one Caucasian teen-ager who had a Muslim friend. As a country Christians and Muslims have largely become separated psychologically, spiritually, and socially from one another. That day we had no agenda except to mingle with them, chat, and enter into their joyful spirits. Outside on the mosque grounds children enjoyed bouncy inflatables, pony rides, and dunk tanks. Balloon artists, a fire juggler and fire works were major attractions. It was a time to enjoy our common humanity. Inside the general meeting room abayas and hijabs, tasbeehs and Qur’ans were for sale, along with pizza and pop. There was no program. Men and women sat in segregated groups chatting while children enjoyed the fun activities offered. They were friendly and welcoming. The question “what do you do?” came up frequently at which I replied, “I work with the church, or I teach the Bible to anyone interested.” My background of living in Yemen(born), Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, USA, Canada and a short time in Tunisia caused a quicker connection than would normally happen. “What did your parents do in those countries?” “They were with the church and translated the Bible into Somali,” I answered. “Why did you come here today?” was asked a few times. “I like being with you. I like going to community things.”

Recently a pastor asked me, “Do you have any friends among your Muslim contacts? I mean friends?”  “Yes, I do. I feel comfortable among them. I really like many of them. But…I know we cannot pray together. Our spirits are not united in Christ.” There are levels of friendship and not to be pursued with all, of course. There are individuals with whom it is not advisable. I don’t believe that retreating from Muslims is the best way to move forward but to be engaged with the community. The friendship I pursue most and guard more than any other is my friendship with God. It is to this prized and treasured friendship that I endeavor to point all my friends to.

Dear heavenly Father, thank you for how Jesus showed he was a friend to all kinds of people. Amen.