Ramadan Ends. World Cup Begins.

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Please see the special note at the end of this post. 

GOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!

Two huge events for many Muslims take place today:

Ramadan ends and the World Cup begins. Can’t you just feel the religious fervor swirling around both of these?

For Muslims who’ve truly fasted this past month, arriving at the end of Ramadan is a big deal. They’ve reached a significant goal and look forward to celebrating the end of the fast. If you know any Muslims, this is a great time to wish them well. If you have sufficient relationship, ask them how it went and how they’ve been affected by the month of fasting. Affirm what you can and share their joy.

If celebrating the end of the fast weren’t enough to launch a great weekend, today also marks the beginning of the World Cup. Six Muslim majority nations will be playing: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. Maybe, just maybe, this is a chance for some good news from the Muslim world. It certainly is a good chance for us to hang out with some Muslim friends. Bonus points if you show up to watch a match bearing halal snacks!

I think a Muslim Connect World Cup Contest is in order! Guess which Muslim nation team will advance the farthest. I’ll pick a random name from those who guess correctly and send you a $10 Amazon certificate. List your name and choice in the comments below or on Facebook by June 20th.

May God find us rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn!

Special Note: The Muslim Connect email and blog is free. Always has been. Always will be. But twice a year I invite you to participate in this effort by making a contribution to offset the costs and push it forward to more people. Together we can encourage many, inform some, and by God’s grace invite Muslims to enjoy the abundant life Jesus offers. If you’re finding value in Muslim Connect and would like to see it go forward, please make a gift here. Thank you very much.

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“Will it be OK?”

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For many of us, and for our friends and co-workers, when we think of Muslims, the growth of Islam and the future of the planet, we just want to know, “Will it be ok?” Will my kids be ok? Will our country, the culture that we value, remain as it is?

Answers to those questions could fill volumes, but can also be summed up succinctly. Will it be ok? No, but yes.

No, it won’t be ok.

No, because it’s not. Many things in the world of Islam, and in our connection to that world, are not at present, ok.

No, Muslims may move into the house down the block and challenge your status quo, your peace and the comfort of “it’s always been this way.’

No, Muslims will be elected to public office, which may cause alarm and concern.

No, Muslims in some places are killing each other. And kids, how can this ever be ok, are pawns crushed in the conflict.

No, evil Muslims will do terrible things to people who didn’t even know they were party to a conflict.

But yes, it will be ok.

Yes, almost no Muslims are motivated to harm you and your family and only a tiny subset of those who are also have the means to accomplish it.

Yes, even if our culture is overrun by Islam, it will not be the first time people following God have suffered on great scale.

Yes, because as in all things, God has this in hand. He loves Muslims fiercely. And for you? He’s got your back. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He loves your heart. Further, he invites you to join him in extending the abundant life of Jesus to Muslims down the block and around the planet.

It will be ok.

Know someone who could use a reminder that it’s going to be ok? Please share this with them and invite them to sign up for Muslim Connect here.

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Good News Like Water for a Weary Soul

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I love good news! Don’t you? I realize it doesn’t sell papers, so most of what we read, see and hear represents various combinations of alarming, distressing and heart breaking. But Proverbs says, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”

If you’re feeling a little weary, drink up:
The distant land is France. And the good news swirls around a remarkable young Muslim man from Mali named Mamoudou (mama-doo) Gassama. On Saturday night, May 26th, Mamoudou was hanging with friends in Paris when everyone began shouting and pointing across the street where a four year old boy dangled from a fourth floor balcony!

After a stunning scramble up the side of the building to rescue the boy, Mamoudou humbly said, “There were people shouting and honking their horns … I didn’t think of anything, I ran across the road directly to save him. Thank God I saved him.”

If you haven’t seen the video of Mamoudou’s climb and rescue, I think you’ll agree it’s worth the thirty seconds! (Tweet this.)

As a reward for his bravery, Mamoudou met with French president Macron who promised to give the “sans papers” migrant legal residency and citizenship as soon as possible.

Without making this a bigger deal than it is or drawing conclusions that aren’t really there, let’s just drop a pin on this and say thank you. Thank you, God, for a young boy who’s getting hugged today and not buried. And thank you, Mamoudou, for countless hours of working out to build your strength, for being sober on a Saturday night and for deciding at a critical time to lay down your life for another.

I drink my Perrier in your honor!

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Learning From The Hungry

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One of the ways we keep people distant from us, keep them “those guys,” is to mostly listen to what we have to say about them. To an extent, this has to happen. (And I deeply appreciate you reading and sharing this email I write about those Muslims!) In some instances, people are so different from us that we literally can’t understand what they say about themselves.

But it’s good to go to the source, to hear about a situation or a society from insiders and stakeholders.

So as Ramadan heats up, here are three Muslims sharing about the month of fasting.

Umar, one of the kindest, smartest guys I know, graciously answered my questions about the basic reasons Muslims fast during Ramadan. I’ve compiled his side of our Facebook conversation here and strongly urge you to take a least a quick glance. Given Muslims are a huge and diverse body of people, Umar doesn’t speak for everyone. He’d never claim to! But I do feel he’s a reasonably orthodox voice on this matter.

Poet Hanif Abdurraqib, who says, “I hardly refer to myself as a practicing Muslim these days,” shares poignantly about why “. . . Ramadan is the act of faith which has endured for me.” While not as mainstream as Umar, it’s good to hear some of the hunger and searching that he shares.

Finally, (Although maybe clicked firstly!) here’s a video in which a Muslim woman, whom I don’t know at all, shares straight up stuff non-Muslims might want to know about Ramadan. And here she shares similar information, but with a healthy dose of humor. These might tweak you a bit! They did me, but I lived!

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Why Do They Fast?

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A Pew survey reports that 80% of American Muslims say they fast during Ramadan. Ever wonder why?

Here you go:

  1. Desire to Please God
    Omar Suleiman says on CNN, “. . .fasting, like prayer, is meant to primarily be an act of sincere devotion to the God who lovingly sustains us. . . .It’s worth taking the opportunity this month to ask how we can feed our souls by building that connection with God. . . .”
  2. Obedience training
    My friend Safwan says, “Ramadan is my yearly boot camp. Can I survive sixteen hours without food or water, while helping my family and community, attending to my responsibilities, all while doing my best to keep my temper in check?” Quick gut check: How would you do? Me? Not so well!
  3. Community Connection
    Again, Omar Suleiman, “People crave a sense of being valued by others, feeling an attachment to a community, and that may be why so many Muslims hold on to Ramadan, even — or maybe especially — when tough times face the community.”
  4. For Show
    Jesus said don’t do good works to be seen by men. (And I’m so glad I never do! I’m probably familiar with that verse because I’m reading through the Bible in a year. And I’m actually a few days ahead. #blessings)

    With a billion and a half Muslims around the world, surely some fast just to be seen fasting. Sadly, Jesus’s words apply to them: They have their reward in full.

Lacking the ability to look into someone’s soul and discern why they’re doing something, I assume 1-3 above motivate my Muslim friends and others in their fasting. Let’s pray they find growing character and great joy in community. Let’s ask God to see their devotion and bless them with deeper revelation of his character, his purposes and the abundant life Jesus offers.

I’d love for you to join me in reading this intriguing, story-based daily prayer guide for Ramadan.

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Sometimes I Wish I Could Do More

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“How’d you get to be so old and not know nothing.” This favorite line from a forgotten movie or book used to be funny. The older I get the more I think it describes me! I wish I knew more. I wish I could do more of what I know needs done.

Some friends and I chatted with Jabi this past week in Sicily. I’d met him there in November, heard some of his journey from Gambia and talked to him a little bit about Jesus. His situation has deteriorated since: He’s living on the street now, has no work, doesn’t go to school and hustles just to eat.

And honestly, he’s a little tired of Christians telling him they care, that God cares, but then not making things different.

What does the “care of God” look like in real life? The Psalms ping pong between “God, why are you killing us?” and “Thank you for giving us no end of good stuff!” Philip Yancey sums up Jesus’s beatitudes with “Lucky are the unlucky!” I snarkily scoff at the “prosperity gospel,” all the while not worrying a bit about where my next meal is coming from, nor the one after that.

What do I know of Jabi’s life? What does God want for him? What can I really do for him? And then there’s this: Jabi represents a few hundred thousand guys in Sicily, who themselves are just a small percentage of the 65 million people, mostly Muslim, currently displaced from their homes.

If this all makes you want to grab a beer and watch a baseball game, I can relate. But somehow, let’s don’t give up. Let’s do what God puts in front of us, extend grace to those who cross our path. Finally this: if you know someone who can train a thousand lay people to do PTSD counseling or help start a thousand small businesses, let me know.

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“Iftar” Means “Oh My Goodness, That’s Yummy!”

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(It doesn’t really mean that!)

It’s hard to have good thoughts toward people you’ve only heard bad things about. Rocket science, right? But that’s our situation sometimes with Muslims. Most of what non-Muslims hear and read about them is unpleasant and negative.

Without judging the validity of any particular negative thing written or said about Muslims, I’d like to make the smallest of efforts to tip the scale in the slightest positive manner.

Here’s my assertion:
Muslims eat some killer great food! I’m serious. Some Muslim meals are the culinary equivalent of riding a roller coaster with your best friend through the Grand Canyon wearing a brand new Apple watch while winning a solo game of Fortnite! It will make you want to live forever just so you can eat. (Tweet this.)

If you read last week’s Muslim Connect, you’re aware that Ramadan starts soon. One of the high lights of the month of fasting is the daily breaking of the fast called iftar.

A billion and a half Muslims inhabit thousands of cultures with countless cuisines. Most, though, will break the fast each evening by first eating dates. If you’ve never had dates, buy the smallest package you can and try them. You may thank me. If you hate them, send them to me and I’ll thank you.

Depending on where they’re set, iftar tables will also be laden with biryani, grilled beef and chicken, falafel, naan, noodles, curries beyond counting and garlic sauce that will reach up and smack you in the face! I wouldn’t advise converting in order to enjoy iftar feasts, but I wouldn’t blame you for considering it!

Here’s some good news, you might be able to join an iftar meal this Ramadan. My bud Jeff is helping coordinate a national registry of meals that are open to guests. If you find nothing near you, take a little risk, call your nearest mosque and say, “I was just wondering. . . .”
You still have time to grab some copies of 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World to help you and your friends pray for Muslims during Ramadan. There’s even a kids’ version!

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