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A Holy Conversation: Should Christians Seek to Bless Their Muslim Neighbors?

A Holy Conversation: Should Christians Seek to Bless Their Muslim Neighbors?

How Christian-Muslim dialogue in Richmond is bearing fruit amid rancorous national debates.

On a Friday night in January, we lingered in the home of Sheikh Khaled. The sheikh is a professor in Muscat, Oman, where for two weeks I was studying Christian-Muslim relations. In the sheikh's majlis ("sitting room"), we were treated to a sublime meal—including an unforgettable sesame dipping butter for Omani dates, the best of which come from the region where frankincense has long been native.

As the evening progressed, the conversation drifted to Muslim-Christian dialogue. But neither global jihad nor Trinitarian theology were on the menu. Instead, the sheikh offered this main course: Several years ago, he had read the entire Bible. He then grabbed his Arabic translation of it, turned wide-eyed to the Gospel of Mark, and pointed out, for him, one of the most compelling stories about Jesus. The moment was image-defying, a testament to the sheikh's Qur'an-induced respect for the Christian holy book.

Can American tables withstand such conversational weight? I thought. If so, what are the common-good possibilities for peacemaking? And, as American Christians, what might it mean to genuinely contribute to our Muslim neighbors' flourishing?

About three years ago, at Virginia Commonwealth University in the heart of Richmond, the Virginia Baptist collegiate ministry began to answer this question by launching Holy Books Conversation (HBC)—a biweekly, scripture-centered dialogue between Christian and Muslim students. Together students read a selected text from the Bible and the Qur'an, seeking to discover commonalities and to clarify differences. Our conversation humbly attempts to marry curiosity and openness toward the other’s scriptures (like a thoughtful guest) with a passion to share and discuss our own scriptures (like a generous host).

Formed with key leaders within the Muslim Student Association at VCU, often I facilitate the HBC, which provides a table for an experiential encounter between the Shanes and Waleeds, the Amandas and Kairshmas. On average, six to eight students participate—the locations for our interactions varying from a Lebanese café to the Student Commons to our current space, the living room of a red row-house recently converted into the Virginia Baptist student center, which we call the Center at VCU.

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Displaying 1–5 of 18 comments

John W. Morehead

August 20, 2012  5:07pm

Great to connect via Qideas.org and Facebook. I hope we might be able to connect you to our work with the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and the Evangelical Chapter, as well as our Loving Our Religious Neighbors educational material at the university.

Mark Cannon

July 13, 2012  12:05pm

Nathan, Great article that captures your heart for Muslims. I appreciate your balance between reconciliation and friendship.

Steve

June 23, 2012  9:55am

Should Christians Seek to Bless Their Muslim Neighbors? Yes, of course! We desperately need to learn to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves.

A Christian in Arabia (con't)

May 11, 2012  10:47am

The goal is simply to help each party to more fully understand the position of the other from the other’s perspective. For a Christian, dialogue with another faith is as much about explaining one’s own faith in Christ as the very revelation of God who is alive today, shows us God’s will and accomplishes salvation for sin, as it is about listening to and learning from our Muslim brothers and sisters about what Islam means for them. As a Christian our motivation to dialogue comes from scripture. In Romans 12:16-18 we read, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud…Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:16-18 NIV

A Christian in Arabia (con't)

May 11, 2012  10:46am

...To build a bridge of understanding does not mean creating the illusion of a unified faith between Islam and Christianity, or glossing over our differences. While our two faiths share some things in common, we are also quite distinct in our understanding of Christ and the differences are important. Dialogue leading to a bridge of understanding also should not mean compromising even slightly one’s own faith convictions. The purpose of dialogue is simply to gain more accurate understanding of the other and to share one’s own view to correct his/her misunderstanding. Dialogue should also not be confused with debate. If you are entering a dialogue with the intention of winning an argument or convincing the other of the truth of your position, what you are engaging in is not dialogue but persuasive argument or apologetics. Of course there is a place for apologetics when presenting the Gospel. Dialogue however has a different goal...

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