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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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Comments Are Closed

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Brent Vermillion

May 09, 2012  1:57am

First, the sons of ishmael would only include a percentage of today's Muslims in a small portion of the middle east. Many middle eastern peoples are not blood descendants of Ishmael. Certain, Indonesian and Pakistani Muslims have no blood relation to Ishmael. Second, we should win friends but we also need to dialogue to win. I mean, win people's minds and hearts to Christ through dialogue and Gospel proclamation. We cannot accept the Coran as equal to the Bible for example nor can we lightly gloss over very strong differences. Further, this will not always be peaceful especially when dealing with many less- moderate muslims who literally hate Christians and Jews. Christians homes and churches are being burned daily by Muslims in Nigeria, Pakistan, etc... We cannot pretend this is not happening. We cannot pretend that biblical principles teach that Mohamad a false prophet and that the Bible does not teach that the coran is false. The coran teaches the bible is erroneous... Real problems

Steve Skeete

May 08, 2012  10:47pm

I firmly believe that the gospel calls us to win friends and not arguments. Therefore, respectful,knowledgeable dialogue is always helpful. Someone said that,'a friend is someone who knows the worst of you and loves you anyhow'. Believers in Christ must put aside all that is negative about Islam and love its adherents if the Muslim world is to impacted by the gospel. People deeply immersed in their faith are always hard to reach with the gospel. Love is the only way to bring them to the surface. This, and being able to disagree without being disagreeable. Christian presented with the opportunity should befriend Muslims, with the intention of bringing them to Christ, yes! But also with the desire to learn about them while at the same time graciously exposing them to what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Duane D Watts

May 08, 2012  10:31pm

So the author never did talk about "Trinitarian Theology" with her friend. It was too close to sounding like "global jihad" eh? (The author did address them in the same tone) "So, for instance, in our series on personhood and marriage, Ephesians—containing the central Christian inspiration for self-giving marital love: the cross of Jesus—could not be avoided. The text itself placed the gospel conversation on the table." So when cultivating a relationship with people of another faith, we should only talk about the Christ, about a Triune eternally relational God who became one of us (incarnate) to establish a relationship with us, if we are backed into a corner?

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