When a Muslim family moved in down the street, Katie Jackman, a Christian woman, decided to reach out to them. When she knocked on their door and introduced herself, the family seemed delighted. They invited her in for tea and later invited her whole family to come for dinner, which they did.
But no matter how many times Katie invited her Muslim neighbors to have dinner at her house, and no matter how often they promised to do so, they never actually came.
Although Katie did not know it, there was a religious reason behind this family's refusal to enter her house.
Patrick Sookhdeo, a Muslim convert to Christianity who is also an Anglican priest, is the author of Islam: The Challenge to the Church. Dr. Sookhdeo writes that many Christians are confused by the seemingly capricious way in which their Muslim neighbors relate to them. This is because they are unaware of the many Koranic teachings that regulate relations with those outside the faith.
For example, hospitality and the exchange of gifts is the linchpin of relationships among Muslims, and many Muslims also invite Christians into their homes and give them gifts. But this seldom works in reverse. This is more than simply a concern about eating non-halal food, Sookhdeo writes. "There is also the cultural concept of Christians as being religiously 'unclean,' arising from the discriminatory laws against them in sharia. There's also the fact that accepting a meal means owing a favor to the host."
Another problem may be your family pet. Religiously observant Muslims may refuse to enter a home that contains a dog, since dogs are considered unclean.
As for gifts—many Muslims will be eager to give a copy of the Koran to Christian neighbors, but they will refuse to accept a copy of the Bible in return. "Muslims are always on the alert for opportunities for mission," Sookdeo says, "but they guard themselves against anything that might serve to deflect them from the way of Islam, such as the scriptures of another faith."
In their efforts to reach out to Muslims, Christians must beware of taking part in one-sided events that benefit Islam at the expense of Christianity. For instance, a Christian pastor may invite a local imam to speak from the pulpit as part of a cultural exchange. But all too often, Sookhdeo says, "the pattern is that the imam preaches in the church and the minister merely prays in the mosque." Muslims view this as a victory. As with the attempted exchange of scriptures, Sookhdeo writes, "Muslims will use every opportunity to promote their faith and to prevent the similar promotion of Christianity." Christians end up doing all the learning while Muslims do all the teaching.
When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, He warned them, in Matthew 10, to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This is clearly the approach we need to take as we interact with the Muslims among us. Patrick Sookhdeo's book, Islam: The Challenge to the Church, will help you reach out to Muslims without compromising your faith.
Because lovingly reaching out is something we must do. We are to preach the saving knowledge of Christ to all the world—including, maybe especially, our Muslim neighbors. But beware of all that may hinder you as you witness.