The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, coincides with September this year [See 30-Days prayer focus for daily online prayer items or a downloadable calendar]. Historically, much Muslim – Christian interaction has been negative and detrimental, with the Crusades being the most glaring example that impacts relationships to this day.
However, there are those who are building bridges of honor, respect and love with Muslims. Mazhar Mallouhi’s life and teaching provide us with a powerful example of how Christians can effectively relate to Muslims in a way that reveals the love of the Savior. Mazhar is a follower of Christ from a Muslim background whose appreciation of and love for Muslims has communicated the gospel with obvious impact. Paul-Gordon Chandler provides the English speaking world with an introduction to the life and teaching of this Arab author through his book, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road [Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: exploring a new path between two faiths. Plymouth: Cowley Pub. 2007]. In the book, Chandler explores some of the ways Mallouhi has broken down barriers between Christians and Muslims through showing honor.
breaking down barriers … by showing honor
During the time Karen and I were living in Pakistan many people would come to talk about spiritual things. However, few religious leaders ever stopped by and I generally did not seek them out. Mazhar Mallouhi, on the other hand, has been known to seek out respected Muslim spiritual leaders in order to ask them to become his spiritual mentor! He explains to them that the Bible is his guidebook to live according to God’s will, and he then asks, "Can you please read these Scriptures in order to help me live up to them? In other words, I would like you to observe me as I live in your country and am accountable to you" (Chandler: 80). This vulnerability in asking to be watched and corrected based on interaction with the Scriptures demands humility and openness. It also has great potential toward the development of significant relationships and spiritual conversations.
One of first people to come to Christ during our ministry in Pakistan was a young Muslim man studying at the local university. After his baptism he went back to his home only to return and announce that his father, the spiritual leader of his village, had thrown him out. Because I had never met his father, I was not in a position to develop a relationship with him at that stage and ease the situation. It took two years before I finally met the man so that his concerns were eased and his stance towards his son was softened.
In contrast to this error on my part, Mazhar’s cultural sensitivity causes him to honor Muslims by first approaching the father to ask permission if someone has requested an opportunity to study the Gospels. Mazhar’s experience is that the father, and others in the family, may also want to be involved when approached in this way. Because of expressed concern for the honor of the family, the seeker is not alienated from their family, and the whole family can be introduced to the person of Christ (Chandler: 81). Muslims live in many of our Canadian communities. An attitude of respect and honor towards the leaders may run counter to our easy going egalitarian culture, but it will serve to break down barriers and can create lasting and significant relationships.