The Quran Says What?

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In this week’s Muslim Connect I chat with long-time friend, James Wright, an author, academic and cross-cultural practitioner, who’s lived most of the past 30 years among Muslims in various countries. He’s smart, edgy and a little prophetic. His latest book is “A Christian Reads The Quran.”

Tell me about your background professionally and academically.
When Germans smashed the Berlin Wall in 1989, they also sparked radical change in my life. Collapsing Communist regimes opened access to many Muslim peoples. Our young family moved to Kazakhstan to plant churches. Circumstances made us relocate, first to Cyprus then 16 years in Turkey. Over the years I finished a missiology PhD at Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne. This is my sixth book.

Why did you feel it was important to for there to be another book about the Quran written by a Christian?
I’ve never seen a book about the Qur’an speaking mainly to Muslims. Sprinkling in fresh dialogue and stories, I write to Muslims primarily. I simply read and respond to the Qur’an from Surah 1-114, letting the Qur’an guide our discussion.  I ask honest questions without attacking.

How will it help Christians relate to Muslims?
It made me more compassionate and patient when I realized, “My Muslim friends aren’t just being stubborn or difficult. This stuff is all they know. It’s deep in their bones.” My book shows how to introduce Muslims to Jesus through Bible characters they already know from the Qur’an.

How does it help Muslims understand Christians?
Muslims seem particularly misinformed about the nature of Jesus. In addition to correcting caricatures of our faith, I’m hoping that Muslims can sense God’s love and ours as we take time to respectfully read their book and listen to their questions.

What have you heard from Muslims about the book so far?
A North African Arab artist wrote, “I like the conclusions especially the ultimate one in chapter 55. I would say, ‘Yes it’s perfect for the audience…’” 

Please go to Amazon and get a copy of James’s book. (The Kindle version is a steal at $.99!) It will enlighten and encourage you and help you connect with Muslims. Plus, your buying a copy will facilitate books being given to Muslims who lack the resources to get their own. Contact James for more information and bulk discounts.

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What Makes A Muslim Love Islam? #1

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Do you, like me, have a tendency to impugn the motives and character of people who think differently from you? If someone favors the New England Patriots over the Denver Broncos, they definitely approve of cheating. If someone dislikes Indian food, they’re a cretin. If they say “irregardless,” they’re illiterate.

Sadly, for me this often extends to how I think about other Christians and other faiths. Calvinists are rigid. Mormons legalistic. Unitarians adrift.

I think this happens to Muslims, too. We don’t understand the way they think, so we assume they’re dumb or maybe even evil, for thinking as they do. We might ask, how could a rational person believe that stuff? Why would they follow a religion like that?

Why indeed? Some Muslims have told me they love Islam because it thoroughly lays out for them how to live their lives. Between the Quran and the Hadith, most questions of thinking and behavior are answered. They find comfort in the completeness, reward in the rigidity.

I’m sure that’s not true for all Muslims, but for some it feels good to know the rules; to believe that if you follow the rules, God will reward you. I suppose there’s a pleasurable measure of control there, as well.

Even while not agreeing with the tenets of Islam, we can understand some of its appeal. We can acknowledge the logic, while disputing the conclusions.

If we do the admittedly hard work of understanding, acknowledging, even empathizing, we open ourselves up to relationship with Muslims in a way that’s impossible otherwise. And, doing so, we take steps toward loving our neighbor as ourselves. Those are good steps to take. (Tweet this.)

What have you heard, experienced or simply guess motivates Muslims in their adherence to Islam. Please share your thoughts here.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I’ve recently connected with a long-time hero of mine, author, entrepreneur and Jesus follower Greg Livingstone. Greg has famously said, “No country is closed to missionaries if you’re not worried about getting out.” Today I want to share a snip of a related conversation we’re having about civil disobedience.

Greg: Is this the time for those called to peoples who have no access to biblical witnessing believers, to practice civil disobedience if ordered to stop and leave the country?

Me: Well, I. . .uh. . .

Greg: Here’s what I’m thinking: If a long term worker fails to have their visa renewed, should they continue staying and sharing? Would that build courage in new local believers? Would that follow the teaching of Jesus and the example of many, including Gandhi and MLK?

Me: I can see that, if the person is a single, older man. I’m unlikely to advise a husband and father of three to risk imprisonment and the resulting implications for his family. Does that mean I’m shaped more by Focus on the Family than the New Testament?

Greg: Well, Jesus did say hard things like, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” and “I send you forth as lambs among wolves.”

Me: Right, but he does go on to say, “. . .be smart as snakes and innocent as doves.” I wonder if snake smart sometimes means, in the immortal words of Top Gun, “It’s better to retire your aircraft and live to fight another day, than to push a bad position and lose.”

Greg: Could be, but here’s my point: If God has called you to teach the way of Jesus to a people who’ve not heard, maybe you should not too readily empower their government to say if you can obey or not.

Please weigh in with your thoughts, agreement, pushback, “Wait, what about’s?” and additional issues that matter in this ongoing conversation. Thank you.

 

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Pray for Your Enemy

ATFP

This much is clear: There are people in the world hell-bent on wreaking havoc. Some have earned the label terrorist and some of those direct their terror-inducing energy toward the U.S.

Jesus is equally clear: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

This might be different for you, but I find it easier to get going on the second part of that, with the first part taking greater effort. But even praying for enemies can be a challenge. (It’s not just me, is it?)

There must be better prayers than, “God bless the terrorists and help them not be so terroristic.” And who are they anyway?

I was reminded yesterday of friend of mine who’s gone to great trouble, effort and expense to help us obey Jesus in this regard. He’s developed a website and Facebook page called Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.

When you go there, you’ll find a gallery of people who’ve been accused of terrorism with some information on each one. You can choose one and register your commitment to pray for them. This is a great way to obey Jesus.

But what do you pray? The site also has a wonderful list of Bible verses to guide in “how” to pray, along with a list of what to pray, complete with examples. Super helpful.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of adopting a terrorist for prayer and actually praying is the transformation this will work in our hearts and lives. I suspect we’ll find that praying for those who persecute us will actually help us love our enemies.

I just adopted someone for prayer. Will you join me?

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What’s Got Us on Edge?

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A friend texted me an emoji yesterday I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was the “apology” emoji and not the “Geesh, you’re a dope. I’m never talking to you again” emoji as I had imagined. Apparently I’m not real emoji-intuitive.

I lack intuition in other areas as well, particularly compared to my capacity to assume! It’s way out of balance.

I want to help people move from apathy, anxiousness and anger regarding Muslims toward love and engagement. This desire makes the big assumption that some people really feel these things. If this is true and we further assume most of us are more or less rational, there must be stuff behind those emotions: data, experience, belief, etc.

Would you help me understand this? Take maybe sixty seconds to weigh in with your thoughts about what’s behind apathy, anxiousness and anger toward Muslims. Think about yourself, but also what you sense is going on for others and in the broader culture.

  1. Apathy: We can’t care about everything, right? There are big issues facing us that I give virtually no mind time to. Beyond that factor, why might we be apathetic toward Muslims?
  2. Anxiousness: What causes our apprehension toward Muslims? If we drill down below the surface, what are we really afraid of? Or maybe “concerned about” more closely reflects what more people feel.
  3. Anger: Why are people angry at Muslims? I often say, “If you’ve literally been shot at by a Muslim and that made you angry, that’s legit.” But there are lesser or non-personal things that might also make us mad. What are we angry about?

Please click here and respond to one or more of these questions. I’ll be grateful to learn from your experience.

 

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Sola Qurana?

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American evangelical Christians are big on Sola Scriptura, the idea that the Bible contains all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life. At least a growing number of us are. At least in theory. We hold to the Bible and don’t let anything sneak up next to it; not Oprah, not “how Grandma used to do it,” and not even Max Lucado books (usually).

We listen to preachers, we read commentaries and if it didn’t look so Catholic, we’d probably make C.S. Lewis a saint. But the Bible stands alone.

So if you find yourself chatting with a Muslim (And I cannot say how strongly I hope you do!), you might assume they think similarly about the Quran. I tend to think that. Sola Qurana!

But it’s really not the case. Muslims see the Quran as supreme, but also give significant consideration to the Hadiths and Sunnah and probably additional things I don’t even know about. (I only act like I understand this stuff!)

The Hadiths are collections of the sayings of Muhammad. The Sunnah, as I understand it, is the agreed upon path, the tradition passed down from person to person, from generation to generation. These both provide considerable input on how a Muslim believes and lives.

I’m not writing this to throw shade on Muslims because they get direction from multiple sources or to imply that Christians are oh-so-cool because we just believe the Bible. I’m writing to remind myself, and you if it’s helpful, that Muslims view the Quran highly, but not solely. If you’re in a theological conversation, that can be a huge and frustrating reality.

Read more about the Hadith and Sunnah here.

 

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Let’s Buy the Ice Cream

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You know what you don’t expect to see at Baskin Robbins in Indianapolis*? A Muslim woman buying treats decked out in a full length niqab with only her eyes showing. But that’s just what my friend Hannah saw. Of course the Holy Spirit saw the woman too and promptly whispered to Hannah, “Pay for her ice cream!” Ahhh! Granted, buying ice cream is a little easier than some things the Holy Spirit may have said, but still.

Hannah’d been learning about Muslims and is by nature a little daring, so she did it! (Full disclosure: She used her boyfriend’s debit card!) The awkward purchase soon morphed into a lively conversation and culminated with Hannah being invited to dinner the next day!

Names and numbers were exchanged, locations and times agreed upon and Facebook stalking commenced. Hannah was alarmed to see her burka buddy’s page hosting a number of videos not too complimentary to Christians. But she knew the food would be great and God had her back, so she went.

The food was delicious, the conversation warm and heart felt. Rachel’s simple hopes were met: Her new friend got to know a Christian who liked her, she felt welcomed in the U.S., and Rachel learned a ton about her friend’s culture and beliefs.

Just that would have been pretty cool, but then Fatima capped the evening with this, “My husband owns a number of resorts throughout our country. We would love to have you be our guest at one with a penthouse suite, free food and your own driver! Can you come for a vacation or maybe for your honeymoon?”

Wow! Sometimes the simplest act, the smallest step across the divide that separates us leads to things we would not have imagined.

Let’s buy the ice cream!

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