The disruption of Easter festivities, liturgies, and church gatherings due to COVID-19 this year left many Christians disappointed with their inability to properly celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Now, during the Islamic month of Ramadan (April 23–May 23, 2020), many Muslims are experiencing a similar disruption of their annual religious holiday.
Fouad Masri, the founder of Crescent Project and author of Connecting with Muslims: A Guide to Communicating Effectively, believes the pandemic is a unique opportunity for Christians to find common ground with their Muslim friends and neighbors. Originally from Beirut, Masri founded Crescent Project in 1993 with a desire to “nurture transformational relationships” between Christians and Muslims.
Throughout the past decade, the organization estimates that more than 321,000 people have been involved through their ministry experiences and have held 1.5 million conversations about Jesus. CT asked Masri to share how he believes this is a unique opportunity for Muslims and Christians to build relationships.
Can you tell me a little bit about Crescent Project?
Today there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims. Roughly one out of five people is a Muslim. Many Muslims today are seeking—they’re hungry, they’re curious to know about God, eternity, Jesus. Yet many of them live in countries where the gospel is not accessible. Their governments forbid accessibility to the Bible. So in the last 15 years, there has been a huge increase of curiosity for Muslims to know [about Jesus], but there’s no accessibility, or if there is, it’s usually minimal.
On the flip side, most Christians today don’t know how to communicate in an effective way, in a respectful way with their Muslim friends. Our dream is to see followers of Christ moved from avoidance to hospitality. From fear of Muslims to loving Muslims. And from silence to sharing.
Our vision at Crescent Project is that every Muslim has an opportunity to respond to the gospel. We want to see every Muslim have a connection with a follower of Christ because that’s how they can see the true message of Jesus. We started Crescent Project to help Muslims understand the teachings of Jesus and equip Christians to begin a conversation and share the good news with their Muslim friends, neighbors, colleagues.
What is Ramadan, and why is it especially significant to Muslims?
Ramadan, or Ramazan, is the third pillar of Islam that must be practiced by every Muslim. Ramadan is a lunar month and ranges between 28 to 29 days. Ramadan is the month of fasting and feasting for the revelation of the Qur’an because that’s what they believe was revealed during Ramadan.
Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink as long as there’s daylight. Once sunset happens, Muslims are allowed to eat as a community celebrating the coming of the Qur’an. During this month, Muslims spend time listening to the reading of the Qur’an, visiting each other, praying as a group, and eating delicious, exotic meals.
According to Islam, performing the rituals during Ramadan will give you good works that will aid in your attainment of salvation on judgment day. The month of Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, a celebration where Muslims give gifts and end the monthlong fast.
A lot of Christians felt impacted by the shelter-in-place recommendations during Easter due to the coronavirus. How is the pandemic impacting Muslims during Ramadan?
The COVID-19 pandemic has really rocked this planet. It has devastated the country. On top of that, Christians had to deal with it during Easter because we could not congregate. Yet for our faith, it’s about the relationship with Jesus. I can still celebrate Easter. It’d be great to be in a family setting or a church setting, but I can celebrate Easter because it’s my relationship with Jesus. I’m remembering that he rose victorious from the dead, defeating sin, defeating Satan, and defeating death.
However, the same pandemic is hitting the Muslim world. In this month of Ramadan, in many Muslim countries Muslim families are dealing with, How do we practice Ramadan during this month of fasting? Many Muslim families are not gathering together. Many mosques or places of worship are not open or available. Many countries have put curfews on people and forbid travel. It’s disrupting not only the social fabric and communication with each other but also the religious sense of attaining salvation by doing the good works that come with Ramadan.
Added to that, the shelter-in-place regulations in the US are restricting travel. As Christians, we feel for this predicament the Muslims are in. As Christians, we love to be with our families. We like to rejoice together and in our faith. Many Christians have Muslim friends who might be frustrated, anxious, and concerned about this pandemic. As believers with a Savior who loves and cares for all people regardless of background or ethnicity, we are burdened to show the love of Jesus to them.
So how can Christians reach out to their Muslim friends and neighbors during this holiday, especially given social-distancing measures? Can we empathize with them based on our experience of an isolated Easter?
Today more than ever, the Christian virtue of hospitality and welcoming the stranger among us is needed. Christ the Redeemer of all compels us to see Muslim neighbors, colleagues, and classmates as people who need kindness and hospitality in this time of pandemic. We feel for Muslims that their greatest need is for a friend who listens, encourages, and prays for them.
At Crescent Project I’ve seen many Christians rally to show hospitality to Muslim friends. We have been encouraging Christians to pray for Muslims in the month of Ramadan and we have seen an increase of people joining us in prayer through Facebook, through emails, and through chat rooms.
A couple in California took a picture of their family, added their phone number and email, copied it, and put it on the door of every house in their neighborhood with the message that they are willing to help any needs the neighbors have. This family discovered there were five Muslim families in the community who reached out to them, thanked them, and began a conversation with them. Another American couple started praying for the mosque down the street and they reached out to neighbors who needed some groceries.
Hospitality is the best response to reach Muslims during this pandemic. Hospitality begins with a kind word or a request to pray for someone if they have a need. Hospitality can be seen as we greet Muslims—we could use statements like “Ramadan Mubarak” or “God bless you this month.”
Hospitality is also a willingness to share a meal or experience together—welcoming a conversation and a friendship with our Muslim neighbors, friends, and classmates. In some places, we’re allowed to have five people in the house and some places you can’t. But the idea is that we need to be people of action.
What kind of gospel opportunities are there for Christians during this time?
Christians today have a great platform to show Christ’s power during this pandemic. According to Islam, judgment day is coming. All people will be judged by God according to their good works. The Qur’an teaches that on judgment day, a scale will weigh the deeds of all humans, the good works on one side, the bad works on another. Whichever way the scale tips you, that will determine if you are going to live with God in paradise or going to hell, which is a burning fire. The Islamic faith is built on attaining as many good works in your lifetime so then when you arrive on judgment day, you can attain paradise through your individual good works.
A religious system that has work-based salvation demands of its follower complete adherence to the rituals; hence Ramadan during a pandemic creates problems for Muslims who are trying to attain more good works if they cannot perform all the rituals. This failure of performing all the rituals of Ramadan results in fear of being punished by God now on this earth and on judgment day.
This is a stark difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Qur’an. While the Qur’an stresses human rituals and healing works to please God, Jesus says, “I will redeem you.” All humans have sinned regardless of religion. And rituals cannot produce righteousness in the sight of God. Christ the Redeemer can change us sinners to be righteous in the sight of a holy God. Therefore, the gospel message today for our Muslim neighbors is that redemption has come in the Savior Jesus.
How can people who don’t have any kind of connection to Muslim communities care for them during this holiday season?
Crescent Project is challenging Christians everywhere to take a step of faith to begin a conversation with a Muslim. You can commit to pray for Muslims every Friday at noon. Friday is when Muslims pray [together], and noon is an easy hour to remember. Why don’t you commit right now as you read this to pray for Muslims, not only in your country but around the globe—that God will send someone to tell them about Jesus.
Crescent Project has online outreach opportunities for people to build bridges with Muslims. We have a couple of testimonies of people talking to Muslims in Iraq, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia—even during this time of Ramadan because they’re thinking about God.
Another way Christians can reach out to the Muslim neighbor is prayer walking. Some Christians have been walking the neighborhoods, praying for each house, especially if they are from Muslim backgrounds. God has opened conversations many times as people walk. An American couple has been walking and praying every day in their neighborhood during quarantine and found that they had a Muslim neighbor from Jordan who had lived there for many years. They kept to the six-feet distance rule but they were able to talk for an extended time. And that led to more conversations as they’ve walked in the neighborhood.
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