Monthly Archives: February 2021

Where In The World?

We tend to keep track of what we love, right? You know pretty much where your kids are. At a moment’s notice, you could put your hands on your military medals and important documents. I have a pretty good idea what chips and cereal are in the pantry. The cat, on the other hand, could be anywhere!

As people who value Muslims and strive to love them as God does, it’s good to know where they are. 

Of course, you are likely familiar with the counter-intuitive reality that most Muslims are not Arab, don’t live in the Middle East nor speak Arabic. And while I feel far more comfortable paddling around in ethnographic, rather than demographic data, it’s good for us to grow in our understanding of where Muslims are and aren’t.

In that pursuit, the good people at Dimitrov Research Center shared a website with fascinating graphs showing the percentage of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in a given country.

I was particularly struck by the dearth of countries having either a hefty minority or a slight majority of Muslim citizens. There are only five countries with Muslim populations between 18 and 87%! Buddhists and Hindupopulations follow a similar pattern. Christians, on the other hand, seem more evenly spread between none and 100%.

I wonder how this came about and what it might mean. How is the global political and religious situation affected by the reality that most Muslims live where they’re either a tiny minority or an overwhelming majority? How does that shape the broader narrative about Muslims? How does this influence how your Muslim friend sees herself or his world?

One thing it makes me think: The next time someone asks me, “How do I find God’s will for my life?” I’m going to say, “Look at this chart!”

Global research hall-of-famer and Muslim Connect reader, Dr. Todd Johnsonhas said that eight or nine out of every ten Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists don’t have a friend who follows Jesus. May our lives shift that reality.

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Gimme Power! A brief look at “Folk” Islam

Many of our Texan friends might echo the “Gimme Power!” sentiment. Days of rolling blackouts have caused monumental stress and challenge. They have also highlighted the thin line between normal life and desperation.

Throughout history we’ve tried to control that line, pushing desperation back while guarding our safety and increasing our security and comfort. To that end, many Muslims engage in extra-Quranic practices designed to get good things in their lives and hold off bad things. These practices collectively can be called Folk, or Popular, Islam. If you were a Muslim, rather than a Christian looking in from the outside, you’d simply call it Islam.

Such practices include praying to dead saints and seeking power at their graves, marking children to ward off evil spirits and wearing or even eating passages of the Quran to gain power or avoid illness.

Considering this brings up three thoughts:

  1. I might understand my Muslim friends better if I knew more about popular Islam, how it’s practiced, by whom and why.
  2. I’m reminded there is much we cannot control and that reality exists beyond my five sense perception of it. That being true, I might have something to learn from people who live with deeper awareness of that reality.
  3. I’m grateful for the deal we get with Jesus. Although I suspect there are aspects of my faith that could be called “Folk Christianity,” I take comfort and hope in Paul’s vivid word picture in Colossians 2.13, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. . . . 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

To learn more, I recommend this winsome, first-hand account of a westerner in Indonesia. I’d also love to hear what you’d like to know further about folk Islam. Email thoughts, questions or experiences here or comment below. Thank you.

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Chocolates, Roses and Loving Our Enemies

At Men’s Bible Study recently we kicked around Jesus’s command to love our enemies. We wondered if this was an example “log in your eye” hyperbole. We speculated whether or not a Christian infantryman could obey this command when in combat. We wondered who our enemies really are and reaffirmed that Jesus also wants us to do the often hard work of loving non-enemies we live, work and go to church with.

Where do Muslims fit in this? I was a fraidy cat and didn’t bring them up in our discussion, but we’re friends here, right? Recognizing that most of us don’t live in easy proximity to Muslims (If you do, buy a Muslim family a box of Valentine’s Day chocolate this weekend and send me a photo! It would make my day.), how can we actually love them, enemies or not?

1. Pray: Check out the amazing work of the gang at PrayerCast. These are beautiful prayers set to stunning video. Ramadan begins in a couple of months. Grab some copies of “30 Days of Prayer” for yourself, your pastor and some friends.

2. Learn: Here are three books I value: Muslims, Christians and Jesus by Carl Medearis; Connecting with Muslims by Fouad Masri; the Encountering the World of Islam textbook; and one I’m looking forward to reading: Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship by David Shenk.

3. Speak Up: Gently, winsomely, factually take the side of Muslims if someone is spouting nonsense. We’re not everyone’s policeman, but if you’ve got a pocketful of data, use it.

4. Visit: Start planning now to spend some post-COVID vacation time and money in Muslim places. Of course, the Maldives would be the top of this list! Then Saudi Arabia or any capital city in Western Europe. If you can only make it to a town near you, have a meal at a Muslim restaurant. The food will be good and you can do items 1 and 2 while you enjoy it.

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Is It OK to Pray For That?

The Bible is chock full of cool prayers. You’ve got Jesus’s high priestly prayer, Mary’s seditious Magnificat, and Moses’s poignant, but futile, plea, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One of my favorites is Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in I Kings 8, especially the part where he asks God to hear the prayer of non-Jews and “Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you. . . .”

We’d be smart to pirate that prayer and raise it up for Muslims everywhere.

When I said this in a Perspectives class recently, an attentive student pushed back, “Since the Quran is full of verses that instruct violence, should we really pray that God will hear and answer Muslims’ prayers?”

I suppose not all of them! Heck, you should definitely not ask God to do all I pray!

But this far we can easily, hopefully, heartily go: In the first few lines of the Quran, which faithful Muslims pray multiple times a day, God is asked, “It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path.”

That’s a prayer I can get behind, that I deeply desire God to answer. One that I suspect God wants to answer on a depth and at a scale that would stagger us.

Solomon puts no parameters on the foreigners’ prayers he asks God to hear and answer. I don’t think I’m that gutsy, but then I might not be as smart as him either!

I will go this far, though, “God, please hear our Muslim friends and enemies when they pray and ask you to show them the Straight Path.”

Will you pray that with me? May God answer in such a way that, “all the peoples of the earth may know His name and fear Him. . . .”

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