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Fireworks: Friend or Foe?!? 🧨

I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. If you’ve ever been in an Indian city for Diwali you might relate. Mind numbing cacophony with ‘round the clock explosions. If I lived in India, I’d definitely visit Pakistan during Diwali!

Later though, while staying in England, an amazingly kind Afghan family invited us to shoot off fireworks with them to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. Two immigrant families commemorating a guy who failed to blow up Parliament: A tad surreal, but the relationship begun that night lasted the entirety of our stay.

July 4th is just around the corner and provides a plum opportunity for us to connect with Muslims.

Is there a family in, or just outside, your sphere of relationship you might reach out to with one of these invitations:

  • Hey, we’re having some friends over for food and games for the Fourth. We’d like you to join us.
  • We’re planning to attend the fireworks show down on the Riverwalk (or where ever!). Can you come with us? I’ll bring some snacks. 
  • We’re going for a short hike on Monday. If you have the day off, we’d love for you to do that with us. Will you?

Here’s what I’m considering: There are two boys in my son’s karate class named Yusef and Islam. Going out on a limb and guessing their parents are Muslim, I’m going to try to initiate a conversation with them that will lead to a July 4th visit of some sort.

Does anyone come to mind for you? If yes, let’s do it. If no, please say a prayer for the rest of us.

If you think yes, but hurdles immediately pop into your mind, please take 30 seconds and jot them down here. Maybe together we can find ways to tap the power of God so we can be the people of Jesus.

PS: Let’s continue to pray for Afghans as they wrestle with yet another tragedy. May God have mercy. 

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🧠 What Shapes Our Brains?

I so want to think I approach life based on what the Bible says and not Facebook, but I’m not sure the data supports that conviction. The Zuckerberg siren woos me in and pretty soon I’m all feisty about memes, ideas and ridiculousness that neither help me nor help me help others.

If you take a minute to consider what shapes your general thinking, as well as specifically regarding Muslims, what do you come up with?

Here’s an incomplete list of possibilities. I’m wondering for each if I should aim for an increase or decrease.

  1. Personal experience: You may have Muslim friends who are warm, funny and caring. Alternatively, you may have been shot at by a Muslim. Both leave a mark, if not physically, certainly psychologically.
  2. News: Watched, listened to, and read. Revenue driven, largely fear-based. Decreased consumption would probably benefit my relationships with Muslims.
  3. Media: Facebook, podcasts, Twitter. For me: Less Facebook, better podcasts and don’t start trolling Twitter!
  4. Books: Yes, books are media, but I want to make special note of them. I’m trying to read more and better. Some of you are amazing readers. If you’d be willing to share a book you’ve read about Muslims or connecting with them, I’d be so grateful. Let me know the title, who you think it’s for and share one great thing about it.

Writing today’s Muslim Connect has helped me decide to quit Facebook for a season. I may float out a question or idea from time to time, but I’m killing the “spurious scroll!” During a short break this morning I read a couple pages of a Bob Goff book instead of cruising Facebook. It felt like real nourishment, solid goodness, rather than another handful of digital potato chips. So I’m done, and telling you to help seal the deal! Let me know if you’d like to join me in this. If you’ve already kicked Facebook to the curb, just smile smugly and wonder what took me so long!

 

If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, please take advantage of the soon ending Spring funding drive to help it go and grow. Donate here, choosing “Bennett Vision Trip.” More details here. Thank you for considering this.

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This’ll Be a Kick!

Got plans for Thanksgiving this year? Let’s spend it in Qatar at the World Cup! For the first time ever the quadrennial global football/soccer championship will be held in the Arab World. It runs from Nov. 21 until the final match on December 15th. (We don’t have to stay the whole time.)

Why does this matter to us? 

  1. Positive attention on a Muslim country and Muslims in general. Yes, Qatar has its issues. Their choice as host was mired in a global-level sports scandal soap opera that makes my eyes cross! They’ve also been officially terrible to the laborers building stadiums, but that act seems to have been cleaned up a bit.
  2. Tons of reasons to chat with Muslims. Do all Muslims love football? Do all Christians love potluck dinners? No, but the ratios are probably similar. (Low hanging fruit question: “Got a favorite for the World Cup?”)
  3. Legit reason to watch sports! This isn’t just for fun. This sports thing has purpose! (Like a church Super Bowl party on steroids. The last World Cup final gathered half a billion viewers. The last Super Bowl 150 million.)

What can we do: 

  1. Choose a team to be your team. I’m not going to tell you who to pick, (The U.S. is in!) but here are the current Muslim majority countries who’ve qualified: Qatar, Senegal, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Morocco. (Who’s your fav? Comment below.) Senegal is my side. (Unless someone convinces me otherwise.)
  2. Make a commitment to pray for your team’s country. (Here’s a good place to start.)
  3. Enter the Muslim Connect Final Four Contest. Predict (Guess?!?) what four teams will reach the World Cup Finals. I’ll choose one correct entry and help you host a finals watch party with food and decorations for you and your Muslim friends.

 

If you’ve found value in Muslim Connect, I’d like to invite you to contribute to a special project that will help Muslim Connect stay fresh and get better. You can read the details here. The short version: A ministry trip to connect with Muslims in north India in February. Donate here to keep Muslim Connect popping.

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Simple Tip in a Tough Week

It’s been a hard week, hasn’t it? Ongoing war in Ukraine, new evidence of Uyghur genocide, the Uvalde shooting, the Southern Baptist sex abuse report. Dang.

Even though all over cookouts are being planned, smart kids are graduating, and last-minute wedding details are falling into place, the sad gapmight be large for you right now. It is for me.

If you need to sit in the sadness for awhile, I’m not going to scold you. Wise women and men of God have done so over the years. If you tend to want to do something about something, I get that too. I sure do. Here’s my possibly crazy idea in response to the Uvalde tragedy.

If you’d just like one sort of normal thing to do, here’s a question you can use to connect with a Muslim immigrant you hear speaking. With a kind and slightly quizzical look on your face, ask, “Where’s that accent from?” You can practice this on non-Muslim people if that helps!

Depending on the answer, here are some follow ups:

“It’s from Africa.” “Really, what country, what city?” (Some immigrants assume, not without reason, that Americans might not be geography rock stars!)

“It’s from Irbil, Kurdistan.” “Wow, is it beautiful there?”

“From Cairo.” “Fascinating. Have you lived here long?”

One caveat: Some people don’t like to be noticed for what makes them different. (Of course, some don’t like to be noticed at all!) If you’ve got a better way to initiate a conversation with someone, maybe a comment relative to the immediate context, use it. But we’ve got to find ways to bridge gaps somehow, and this one often works.

Given kind hearts and pure motives, God is honored by our efforts. And I’ve found most immigrants are as well.

If you haven’t seen this special announcement, I’d be grateful if you took a look. I’m rallying interest in a challenging, upcoming project.

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Dr. Oz Goes to Washington?

As this Muslim Connect email goes out, Dr. Mehmut Oz is leading the Pennsylvania Republican senate primary race by one tenth of a percent, with around 17,000 votes still to be counted. Should he win the primary, he’ll become the first Muslim to run for the U.S. Senate.

This is a fascinating story on several levels. For starters, Dr. Oz has an amazing medical pedigree. Although he’s been roundly excoriated for some of his views, he’s well credentialed, extensively published, and he’s operated on a lot of hearts.

If you know him, it’s probably through his appearances on the Oprah show or his own tv Emmy winning show. He’s America’s doctor!

He’s also the American born son of Turkish parents with a dual citizenship he’s pledged to surrender if elected. He grew up with a dad who followed a rather traditional Islam, while his mom favored the secular Turkish identity of Kemal Ataturk. Dr. Oz has said he’s drawn to the more mystical, Sufi form of the faith.

If he wins his primary, it will owe in part to Donald Trump’s late game endorsement. Therein lies another amazing layer: Dr. Oz is a Muslim and a Republican, pushed forward by the most anti-Muslim U.S. president in history! Strange days indeed.

What do you think? Could a moderate Muslim, a first generation Turkish senator be a good thing for Pennsylvania, for the U.S.? Is it possible in the role, Dr. Oz could help us navigate an increasingly tenuous relationship with Turkey and a feisty President Erdogan? Would he serve as inspiration and representation for other American Muslims?

I’d love hear your thoughts and opinions here.

If Dr. Oz were to follow Obama’s path, serve a term in the Senate then jump to the White House, I would both eat my hat and chuckle at the irony!

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Tim Keller Strikes Again!

When I grow up, I want to be a wise, old dude. You know, sort of like Kevin Kelly or even better, Tim Keller. Although I am wise enough already to think that may be setting the bar a little high!

Tim (@timkellernyc) recently advised on Twitter, “Never describe the view of an opponent in a way he or she will not own. Rather describe their view so they say, “I couldn’t have put it better myself.” Only then should you proceed to refute the view. If instead you caricature your opponent– you persuade no one.”

My wife just jumped into a seminary apologetics class. Her first assignment requires making a statement contrasting a key point of worldview from another religion to its counterpoint in Christianity.

She quickly realized she could easily, though for a less than stellar grade, simply cite what other Christians said about the Islamic idea she chose. But to really begin to understand, she’d need to read what Muslims say about it. One of her first landing places was “The Quran, With References to the Bible,” by Kaskas and Hungerford.

Doing this will help us get to the starting line Keller advocates. It might also discourage us from passing along statements, statistics and other back stabs that paint Muslims in the worst light possible and create an artificially big and easy target. The results of which Keller claims, “persuade no one.”

If Jesus is who he says he is, he can handle the best Islam has to bring, presented in the best light. Our speech and posture are important in this regard, though they may sometimes be misread as endorsing Islam.

Perhaps it helps if we train ourselves to want Muslims to find fullness of life in Jesus more than desiring to prove Islam wrong. The two choices are not necessarily opposites, but without hesitation, I want to want the first one more.

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Muslims and the Unborn

The Supreme Court of the United States intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, giving back the opportunity to legislate abortion to individual states. There’s no bigger story in the news this week.

This landmark possibility gives us opportunity to consider again some of the challenging questions on which this debate hinges: When does life begin? Whose rights come first, the mom’s or baby’s? And how do we love people who answer the questions differently from us, both those who love Jesus and those who don’t?

Since this is Muslim Connect, I’m also wondering how abortion is viewed in Islam.

Like we see with Christians, Muslims think differently about abortion and each group or school or jurist thinks their view is the right one. Muslims living all over wrestle with allegiance to their faith, the forces of modernization and shifting social mores.

The closest I can find to a general understanding of Muslim thought regarding abortion is this:

  1. Islam values life. 
  2. The Quran doesn’t speak about abortion, but condemns the practice of burying of female babies. 
  3. In a Hadith, Muhammad is recorded to have said, “Every one of you is collected in the womb of his mother for the first 40 days, and then he becomes a clot for another 40 days, and then a piece of flesh for another 40 days. Then Allah sends an angel to breathe the soul into his body.” This leads scholars to say that “ensoulment” happens 120 days after conception. While abortion before that is generally viewed as wrong, it’s much worse after. 

Given the enormity of this possible decision, we have a wonderful opportunity to talk about real stuff. Not just with our Christian sisters and brothers, but Muslims as well. Let’s keep our eyes (and hearts) open.

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“You Know What’s Right With You?”

You can really gut someone by asking, “You know what’s wrong with you?” Especially if you’ve got a ready-made list to lay on them when they shrug in response. For fun, I’ll sometimes queue up a compliment for my wife by asking the opposite, “You know what’s right with you?” Then I’ll pick something from the rather long list of options to share with her.

Although I haven’t ever actually asked it of one, I think it’s good to ask this about Muslims. For instance, something right with my friend Issa is that he had the courage to challenge me to fast for a day during Ramadan last year. I appreciated that!

Given there are a couple billion Muslims, it’s tough to lay out too many blanket “right with you” statements that cover the whole lot. I think we can all agree with this one, though: Muslims bear the image of God.

In a beautiful, brief article called 10 Principles for Muslim-Christian Relations, Trevor Castor, the director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, says:

All Muslims, including Muhammad, are image-bearers and therefore have inherent value and the potential to reflect God’s character and glory (Gen. 1:26-28). We should consider our interactions with Muslims (or any human) as a divine encounter. Your speech and actions are an opportunity to demonstrate Christ both in and through you. We should avoid the temptation to curse any image-bearer with the same tongue that we praise whose image they bear (James 3:9). 

Castor goes on to exhort us to, “Spend more time seeking the image of God and less time seeking where the image might be distorted.”

I think Jesus was a master of this perspective. In fact, he was probably doing just this when the  Pharisees busted his chops for “eat(ing) and drink(ing) with tax collectors and sinners” at Levi’s house in Luke chapter 5.

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How to Slip Out of the Sad Gap 😕

Hank Green, of the crazy popular Vlogbrothers, put words to an experience with which I’m quite familiar. He said the nature of media and the proliferation of access in our days brings to our attention so many troubling situations. Think: Ukraine, Covid, inflation, political polarization, and the all too frequent fall of Christian leaders. Hank says we learn about these, but have very little we can do by way of response. He calls the space between knowledge and inability to fix a situation the Sad Gap. I feel it. Don’t you?

In his response video, Hank’s brother John suggests one way to survive the Sad Gap is to prioritize. I’m honored that you prioritize Muslims enough to read this. (And probably so much more.)

Laylatul Qadr, a potentially sad gap inciting event, takes place next Thursday, April 28th. This “Night of Power” is in many ways the climax of Ramadan. Read more about it here.

I feel the sad gap because so many Muslims will seek forgiveness this night, but so few have had opportunity to consider the claims of Jesus. The Night of Power also reminds me that we live in a world in which we cannot necessarily see everything that is real. Spiritual stuff, for good and ill, will go down next Thursday.

What can we do?

Fill the Night of Power sad gap:

  1. Talk to Muslim friends. Ask them what they’re hoping and praying for this night. Ask them for stories they’ve heard of what happens on the Laylatul Qadr.
  2. Pray for Muslims all over. Watch this short John Piper clip to remind yourself prayer matters. Ask for dreams, visions of Jesus, and kingdom welcome.
  3. Download the “Night of Power Prayer Points.” Share it with your friends and church.

By God’s grace may you and I honestly assess the sad gap, receive God’s direction and power and move through it.

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Holy Day Hat Trick ✡️ ✝️ ☪️

Something unusual happens tomorrow. As Christians around the world commemorate Good Friday, Jews begin the Passover celebration. At the same time Muslims are mid-way through their Ramadan fasting.

Maybe this is just interesting. I don’t know. It hasn’t happened in 30 years. But maybe it does call for special attention. If you live in Jerusalem, regardless of your religious affiliation, I wouldn’t blame you for being a little nervous. It’s not a big leap of logic to imagine wackos who’d like to perpetrate evil on an auspicious day.

Here’s my hope for the holy day hat trick: That God would restrain evil, release revelation and reinvigorate commitment to loving Him and loving people among all who trace their faith lineage to Abraham.

Prayer for Jews
Adonai, may the sons and daughters of Jacob, those in Israel and elsewhere find the Exodus freedom they desire. May you liberate them from sin and cycles of hatred. In the absence of worldly security, give them the shalom they seek in your loving arms.

Prayer for Christians
Father, help us, along with our sisters and brothers around the globe, to humbly recognize we’d have likely called for Jesus’s execution. Give us the faith, hope and perseverance to see his death and resurrection bringing about the reconciliation of all things. Help us to love our older and younger cousins in the way that Jesus did and does.

Prayer for Muslims
Allah, as Muslims deny themselves pleasure and devote themselves to holiness, please meet them and answer their prayers. Keep zeal from morphing into violence. Enable many to honestly consider the claims of Christ and in doing so find the abundant life he came to bring.

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