That’s a Dang Good Trade

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Have you ever made a really good trade? Something you had that wasn’t serving you for something that made your life better or more effective? A classic worship song says, “I’m trading my sorrow. I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.” That’s a sweet exchange.

If I could wave a wand over Christians in America and beyond to bring about a trade, it would be this: We’d trade our apathy, angst and anger toward Muslims for love and engagement.

Apathy
Most Christians don’t care about Muslims. Of course, God’s not asking everyone to care the way we do. (I write a weekly email about Muslims and you read it! How bizarre!) But what if 100 times as many began to care. There’s room for that multiple among those who follow Jesus.

Angst
A super-sized truckload of money and effort has recently gone into making the likes of us worry about the likes of them. Money and effort on the part of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims angling for a sweet political seat. Since God seems never to tire of telling believers not to fear, I think he’d extend that “have a peaceful, easy feeling” toward Muslims.

Anger
If a Muslim shot you, shot at you, shot or shot at someone you loved or took your job away and that made you mad, I get it. Of course it did. And I want us to empathize heartily with people in those situations. I suspect the anger, when present, is often more ethereal than that.

Of course there is no magic wand that trades these for love and engagement. But there is prayer and hard work. Let’s diligently pray Luke 10.2, asking God to raise up and send out laborers into this white harvest. And let’s work to dispel apathy, dampen angst and diffuse anger.

I plan to share more about each of these in upcoming Muslim Connects.
A hearty thank you to those who’ve sent gifts recently to keep Muslim Connect going and growing. I’m deeply grateful to you. I’ll soon stop asking, but if you were thinking about sending a gift, now would be a great time. Click here and choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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Standing. Crying. Begging for Forgiveness

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Got plans for this Sunday? Well, on July 18th, some 60,000 Saudis do. They’ll be standing in 100º+ sunshine on a broad plain a few miles outside of Mecca, commemorating the Day of Arafat. This gathering is an essential part of the Hajj, the once in a lifetime pilgrimage required as one of the five pillars of Islam. In most years there would be upwards of two million, but COVID has caused Saudi officials to limit the number of pilgrims and exclude anyone from outside the Kingdom.

The place is important as it is believed to be where Adam and Eve reunited after being cast out of Heaven, and where Muhammad delivered his final sermon.

Muslims believe the day is important because, finishing his divine revelation, God said, “This day I have Perfected your religion for you, Completed My Favor upon you And have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (Quran 5.3)

The Day of Arafat is focused on forgiveness. Pilgrims spend the day standing, crying in repentance for their sin and begging God to forgive them. Muslim who are not on the Hajj, basically the whole rest of the ummah, are encouraged to fast and seek forgiveness. Muhammad is reported to have said that those who fast on this day atone for their sins of the previous and coming year.

I have a hunch that God wants to say yes to many, even most, of the prayers prayed this Sunday at Arafat and beyond. God’s desire, his very nature, is to lavish forgiveness on his creation.

Will you join me in asking God to move in such a way that many, even numbers beyond counting, find the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring. The thief has stolen, killed and destroyed for long enough.
Once a year I ask all the readers of Muslim Connect to donate some hard earned capital to keep these brief emails going and growing. Muslim Connect is free and always will be, but for the past 35 years, I’ve paid the bills (more or less!) with the kind gifts of friends, family and churches. If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, please consider sending a gift today. Thank you. Click hereand choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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A Muslim is a Muslim is (not) a Muslim

Please see the important note at the end of today’s email. 

Todd Johnson is the co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and a faithful Muslim Connect reader.(Clearly equally impressive credentials!) Mustafa Akyol is a Turk who writes extensively about “the intersection of public policy, Islam, and modernity.” (Sadly, it would appear he doesn’t even know about Muslim Connect!)

In a recent Christianity Today article, Dr. Johnson interviewed Akyol about his latest book, “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.”

Akyol asks this key question: Can Muslims be Muslims and participate in the modern world without abandoning who we are?

Notice this question is asked by an insider. Akyol describes himself as “a ‘born-again’ Muslim, [having rediscovered my faith] in my college years.” He’s asking his tribe, but we can listen in and wonder.

You may have heard someone say, “If a Muslim isn’t committed to the dominance of Islam even to the point of killing those who won’t follow, they’re not a real Muslim.” This conviction is espoused in different parts of the Muslim world and in varying quarters in the US.

Toward answering his question, Akyol goes back to the early days, scholars and approaches to Islam to see if that is really true; if it is indeed the only way. Read the article or the book to get a brief or fuller answer, but as you’d guess, he thinks there are options.

Smart people are always thinking and writing about God. (Unless God is you or a trinket in your garage, how can you not? He’s God!) That said, I lack the context to understand the degree to which Mustafa speaks the heart language of other Muslims. Clearly he doesn’t speak for all. But I’m glad he’s speaking out. . .to his tribe and to us.

 

Once a year, in the height of summer, I ask all the readers of Muslim Connect to donate some hard earned capital to keep these brief emails going and growing. Muslim Connect is free and always will be, but for the past 35 years, I’ve paid the bills (more or less!) with the kind gifts of friends, family and churches. If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, please consider sending a gift today. Thank you. Click here and choose me from the staff drop down. Thank you.

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The Nerdiest Thing You’ll Read Today

You have to be a pretty big nerd to get jazzed about a publication called, “THE AMERICAN MOSQUE 2020: GROWING AND EVOLVING, Report 1 of the US Mosque Survey 2020: Basic Characteristics of the American Mosque.” Trust me, if you make it past the title, it’s pretty interesting.

(For the slightly less nerdy, check out the Key Findings, an abridgment of the full report.)

As you may have guessed, I read the whole thing! (But to be fair, there were several pictures, graphs and what not!) Three issues seemed particularly worth sharing with you.

  1. Younger Imams
    Although not exactly a Muslim version of a pastor, imams usually oversee the spiritual life of a mosque. The report says the average age of an imam in the US is 48, compared to the average age of a Christian pastor at 54. Perhaps more telling, nearly 40% of imams are 40 or younger, compared to 15% of Christian pastors! This younger age might contribute to the reality that though mosques are also losing Millennials and Generation Z, they’re doing so at a slower rate than churches.
  2. More Mosques in the Suburbs
    This is good news for the many of us who don’t live in the inner city: Muslims are moving into our suburban neighborhoods. Seems many are following the well worn pattern of immigrating to the U.S., landing in the city, making some money then moving out for the sake of kids, costs and crime.
  3. Increasing Resistance to New Mosques
    However, trouble often awaits when they relocate. The report states, “. . .35% of mosques encountered significant resistance from their neighborhood or city when they tried to obtain permission to move, expand, or build.” I imagine this coming from areas with pretentious names like “The Preserve at Hawk Creek Garden” or “The Estates at Shadow Lake Pointe.”Even so I wonder if I’d take the trouble to attend a planning meeting and stand in favor of Muslims. I don’t know. Would you?

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FORKS Open Lives

Summer’s most explosive holiday is just around the corner! For Americans, Independence Day is a big deal: A chance to thank God for the great privilege of living in this country, to gather with friends and family and to blow stuff up!

It is also prime calendar real estate in which to invite over Muslim friends, or those you’d like to become your friends. (I still owe a fireworks related debt to an Afghan family in England who years ago graciously invited my family to join their Bonfire Night celebration.)

Imagine that you invited a Muslim family to your 4th of July BBQ and they showed up! Happily, you’re grilling halal chicken instead of some tasty, but haram pork product and it’s Pepsi not PBR in the cooler.

Having nailed the food, a fresh panic arises in your mind, “What do we talk about?!” Blake Glosson’s article, “The Neglected Ministry of Asking Questions”gives us a memorable and super helpful rubric: FORKS. Ask your guests about their:

Family: Most people feel comfortable talking about kids and siblings. If you venture deeper to share about a deceased parent, some real bonds form.

Occupation: It’s the classic, “What do you do?” Shallow? Maybe. But imminently answerable and pregnant with follow up question possibilities.

Recreation: What do you and your family/friends do for fun?

Knowledge: Everyone is at least a little bit of an expert on something. “Can you tell me about that?” “Can you show me?” Or the best, “Can you teach us about that?” Tons of honor rolls across the table with these questions.

Spirituality: If you’re going to talk, you might as well talk for real. If you’re at all like me, spiritual conversations might be a little scary, but worth it.

The next time you have a chance, pick up the FORKS and take a stab at this. I’d love to hear how it goes.

As you probably already considered, this rubric works great on most people, from Hindus to father-in-laws.

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Not the Sort of Muslim Who Usually Comes to Mind

In an act of bold defiance, Huda Sha’arawi stood in front of the Cairo train station and pulled off her veil. . . in 1923! And she encouraged other Muslim women to do the same!

Born into a wealthy Egyptian family in 1873, Huda’s 142nd birthday is next Wednesday. At thirteen years old, she was married against her will. Feisty, even at that age, she insisted on a monogamy clause in her marriage contract. When her husband, 40 years her senior, continued to consort with his first wife, Huda walked. Their seven year separation gave her opportunity to feed her appetite for education while growing an appetite for independence.

Huda began her work by organizing the first secular, female led philanthropy organization in Egypt. They helped poor women and children with medicine and education.

Bowing to family pressure, she rejoined her husband in 1900. Together they spent two decades advocating for Britain to leave Egypt. Shortly after winning independence, he died and Huda began to focus on women’s rights.

She established the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923. Serving as its president until her death from cholera in 1947, Huda advocated for women’s suffrage, a minimum marriage age of 16 and education for women and girls.

She and her colleagues made solid strides for women, but much of their progress has been rolled back in recent decades.

Three quick observations on Huda Sha’arawi’s life:

It often helps to be born into prosperity. (Like most of the Muslim Connect tribe, if we’re honest.)

Too few Muslim women today enjoy the freedom Huda worked for. Many, perhaps most, live in oppressed domestic, political and spiritual situations.

At the same time, I welcome the helpful reminder that Muslims are not “all poor and powerless.” There are Sha’arawi-esque rock stars in the mix!

Read more about Huda at insidearabia.com and wikipedia.org. Watch a short and sweet BBC video. There’s even a pretty fun rock song about her!

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Quick! Steal This Alliteration

In the wise and winsome way of a church statesmen with decades of research and relationship behind him, Bert de Ruiter pulls back the curtain on seven trends he sees shaping the Islam of Europe (He says “Islams!”)

If you are European, perhaps you see dynamics similar to those Herr de Ruiter describes. If you are American or from somewhere else, you may wonder if similar dynamics are emerging in your country. (Even if your country is Muslim majority!)

I was directed to Bert’s insightful essay by a pleasingly long and balanced article recently published by Christianity Today. In it, Jayson Caspar, writer, pray-er and my new favorite author explores how Europe is reacting to its growing numbers of Muslims and whether or not the U.S. should try a different approach.

Being a pragmatist at heart, I Ioved Caspar’s recounting of de Ruiter’s closing advice for European Christians, and presumably the rest of us, in light of the growth and changes afoot with Islam.

Research: Matthew 10.11 speaks of finding the worthy person in a village you come to. Likewise, Christians must learn the real situation of actual Muslims, not media-driven images.

Reflect: Psalm 139.23,24 invites God to search our hearts. Anti-Muslim prejudice is often unconsciously ingrained, and with humility Christians can repent and develop attitudes of compassion.

Relate: In 1 Thessalonians 2.8 Paul describes how he shared his life with those he was trying to reach. Christians must develop relationships with Muslims, in hope of also sharing the gospel.

Relax: In Psalm 46.10 the Lord reminds believers to “be still, and know that I am God.” Whatever changes happen in Europe [and elsewhere] are according to God’s sovereignty, and he will be exalted among the nations.

That’s the alliteration I’m inviting you to steal (Please credit Caspar and de Ruiter.) for your Facebook status, your Twitter feed, your church bulletin or bulletin board or as the ready made outline for your next sermon. I just might do that!

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“My Team Hired a Woman?! And She Wears a Hijab?! We’re Doomed!”

The Philadelphia Eagles football team made headlines this past week by promoting Ameena Soliman to Pro Scout. The move stirred up controversy among Eagles’ fans and beyond. I could see it if they made her quarterback, but scout?

Was it a smart move? Well, on the one hand, the Eagles won fewer games than almost every other team last year. On the other, Soliman’s credentials are legit. I suspect she’s forgotten more about football than any random dozen fans will ever know.

While some detractors questioned her ability to perform her job, clearly some of the issue is her gender and maybe even more so her religion.

Can women really work in football? Many do successfully.

But Muslim women? Of course, most wouldn’t think of her as “Muslim” so much if it weren’t for the darn hijab! You might wonder about her background, but the head covering seals the deal.

But why care about her religion? I suppose some might wonder if the Eagles’ management is placing a misguided desire for diversity above the sacrosanct pursuit of wins. Maybe she got the job, not based solely on merit, but also because she’s a Muslim?

I wonder if there’s also some of this: “I’m ok with Muslims over there, but this is my team, my tribe. It’s always been a reliable place of big, familiar, black and white men. I’m not ok with Muslim women diluting it. They’re getting too close. Heck, they’re getting into everything.”

It looks a little silly when you write it down.

But what about me? What if my kids’ new school bus driver was a bearded, keffiyeh-wearing Muslim dude? Or one of their teachers a hijabi with a heavy accent? I love Muslims, but I’ve still got issues.

Jesus, renew our minds. Transform us to the core of our souls.

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Storms A-brewing! (What happens with hot and cold climate cultures mix?)

The large, meaty hand extended to me from a mountain of a man. “Khalid,” he boomed. “My name is Khalid. You need anything, ANYTHING, you let me know.” He said the second “anything” in such a way it seemed likely to include finding suitable matches for my daughters and getting rid of a body!

We were unloading the moving truck at our newly rented home in England when Khalid, my Pakistani neighbor came out to meet me. I felt small, white, but very happy.

Sarah Lanier helps us understand a fascinating social reality in her book Foreign to Familiar. She says some cultures, usually those from warmer climates, tend to be warmer in relationships, prioritizing them over time. (This includes most Muslim cultures.) Other peoples, often from chillier regions, value good planning and keeping appointments over hearing the rest of a long story.

Of course there’s much more to it. I think you’d love the book. My experience moving from Holland, the poster child for “Cold-Climate Culture,” to a mostly Pakistani neighborhood in another cold culture, England, was like a case study from the book.

Coming from a cold culture myself, life in Holland felt mostly normal. Direct communication. Punctuality. “You’ve got your bubble. I’ve got mine!”

But I’ve grown to love the blessings of warm climate cultures. Hugs and hummus. Three cups of tea and talks that aren’t time limited. Heaven will be richer for the inclusion of many from such people groups.

For an Indiana boy there are challenges though: Sometimes I just want to yell, “Would it kill you to just say what you mean? To show up when you said you would? To stop bringing me baklava before I’m as big as a battleship.” TBH: I would never say that last one!

Got a great, “dizzy in the opposite culture” story? I’d love to hear it. Thank you.

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Fears That Strip Life from Life

How’s your fear level these days? At the moment, mine’s pleasantly low: I survived a (relatively easy) bout with Covid, finances are fairly stable and I have a reasonably strong sense that both God and my tribe love me.

As you’d guess, none of those things are always clipping along at 100% and it doesn’t take much introspection for me to recall crippling, awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night, fear.

I don’t know where you are right now, but I think we can all agree that fear is no fun. And it’s a wrestling match between what you see and feel and what you believe to be true about God.

PRAYERCAST.com released a beautiful video recently about the fears Muslims experience.

I don’t know if Muslims generally deal with more fear than Christians, there’s so much diversity and so many variables. I do know, however, that some fears are felt more in some Muslim cultures than they are in mine, and probably yours.

The narrator shared his own fear as he grew up regarding others’ perception of him, including the disapproval of God as he understood him from the Quran.

He then prayed for other Muslims who fear. . .

. . .for their own safety, 

. . .being attacked, beaten, raped, 

. . .the future, poverty, suffering, arranged marriage, 

. . .the authorities, secret police, government, 

. . .what might happen if they speak their mind, 

. . .of not conforming to the expectations placed on them, 

. . .asking for help and being vulnerable with people around them, 

. . .asking questions about their faith because of potential consequences, 

. . .rejection, of being disowned, of disapproval, of disappointing the people they love, 

. . .evil, darkness, demonic powers, curses, sickness, accidents, misfortunes, 

. . .the darkness they see inside themselves, 

. . .their own sin being revealed, 

. . .being discovered as a fraud or hypocrite, 

. . .God: his rejection, disapproval, condemnation, 

. . .not measuring up, 

. . .what will happen after they die, 

. . .death itself.

We’ve felt some of these, haven’t we? Others are beyond my imagination. May Muslims all over know Jesus’s reassurance from Luke 12.32, “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

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