Talk WITH, Not ABOUT

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What do Muslims believe? Why do they dress/act/talk the way they do? Is it true that they (fill in the blank)? In my last post about 'loving past our fears' I wrote about how the greatest barriers to relationship with people of other cultures/religions is within our own hearts. But what's next after "Hello"? What about all the crazy things we've heard about these people? What about the tragedies we see everyday in the news?

I recently ran a weekly gathering of people at my house that wanted to learn about Islam. Amidst a rising culture of Islamaphobia around them, this group wanted to be better equipped in reaching out in friendship across faith traditions. It was a genuine assortment of people who were ready to change themselves for the sake of others. In the first meeting I asked them what they knew about Islam. There were few who said with confidence “(fill in the blank) is what Muslims believe”. Mostly people just wanted space to ask questions.  After filling a small whiteboard with what they knew and what they had questions about, I asked them (gently), "Where did you hear these things? Have you ever asked a Muslim what they believe? Have you ever spoken to a Muslim? Have you ever watched a YouTube video of a Muslim explaining what they believe?
   
I shared with the group about what love could look like. “Let’s try putting ourselves in their shoes. Wouldn’t you want someone of a different faith to ask you about your beliefs—and then really listen—before making any assumptions about you? Wouldn’t you want them to come to your place of worship and read your holy scripture in order to understand you better? If that’s the case, and you’re wanting to love your Muslim neighbors as yourself,” I said, “then here’s your homework”:

  1. Watch a YouTube video of a Muslim telling you what they believe.
  2. Meet a Muslim and ask them what they believe.
  3. Go to a mosque and ask for a Quran and say you would like to understand Islam better.

I thought afterwards that for sure I’d handed out too big an assignment for our first meeting.

The next week we met together and to my surprise more than half the group had done all the homework. One guy who had gone to a mosque was my neighbor, John. He's in his 70's, British, and had never intentionally spoken with a Muslim. He asked me to come with him, so together we walked the 2 blocks from our houses to a new mosque up the street. Three surprised men were there to welcome us warmly. After exchanging names, we found ourselves sitting and listening to the Imam share about his faith. But before he said anything about his beliefs he greatly honored us by saying, ”You guys are really brave. Thank you so much for coming and listening to us. Most people are afraid of us. You guys are really different.” From there he did his best to explain the Quran, different traditions, and Muhammad. There were no questions off the table. John was able to honestly ask questions about some of the negative things he had heard and seen. The Imam graciously and patiently shared his heart about these topics, and we ended up with new friends as well as an invitation to bring along anyone from our churches to a community BBQ the mosque planned to host. As we were leaving the Imam kept expressing his astonishment and gratitude for our coming. And John and I walked away with a whole lot more context for building friendships with Muslims in our community.

I was told when I was a kid that it's better to talk with someone than to talk about them. It’s something I'm still learning. Let's listen. Let's Love.

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