Soul Doubt: The Other Face of Muslims

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Other Face of Muslims

There was a guest speaker at my church the other night, a doctor slash Middle Eastern traveler who, because of security reasons, did not give his full name. I'll refer to him as Dr. John throughout this writing.
At the morning service, our pastor urged us to show up that night to hear this guy speak, as he was purported to be very good, very powerful. I knew my husband was going to be on his way out of town by then, and my mother had already offered to watch the baby that night, so I figured, 'why not? should be interesting.'
The Other Face of Muslims was what was written on my program, so I thought, 'okay, a missionary? a sociology guy? a convert? what's he gonna be?' And it wasn't exactly a huge crowd that showed up to hear him speak, either- maybe fifty or sixty people all told.
I took a seat near the front by some folks I knew, and pulled out my pen and scratch paper in case I wanted to take notes (old habits die hard: in college I must've taken my weight in notes; it's the only way I know I'll retain information). I'm very glad I was prepared, as once Dr. John began to get going I was scribbling furiously, not wanting to miss a thing.
He was introduced as being a star in his field of study, one who could've had all the fame and fortune he wanted, but after finding Christ forsook it all and set off to teach English in the most difficult, dangerous countries there are: Iran, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern Muslim-populated states, finally settling in Azherbazhan (sp?) where he's resided the last ten years or so.
A quiet speaker with an open, kind face, I immediately liked him, sensing his innate dignity and heartfelt desire to convey what he'd learned about the Islamic culture. The Muslim people to us, an audience of North Idaho Christians, were so foreign and far away... most of us considered ourselves fairly open-minded and well educated, but as Dr. John continued to speak, I for one realized just how ignorant I truly was in regards to this faith, one that I rarely even thought about, although he informed us it was the largest growing religion in the United States today.
He explained to us that it would be almost impossible for a culture like ours to really understand how their religion and traditions are so intertwined, practically inseparable. It was difficult to distinguish who truly believed, though, as it was considered dishonorable to one's family (a major no-no) to profess to be anything besides a follower of Islam. There was a lot of disenchanted people- youth in particular- but the social stigma for speaking out was so great that most kept it to themselves and became the equivalent of Christmas and Easter churchgoers. Even taking that into consideration, the Muslim people have by far the highest number of atheist/agnostics in the world: about 1/3 of the population. With those statistics, you'd think the missionaries would be flocking to spread the Word and convert all those unbelievers to Christianity, right? Well, think again. Because of the past dangers (Christians being beheaded and all that), the fact that they seem to always be at war, and the unattractiveness to your average missionary (the land of Osama bin Laden and his ilk!) Muslims are by far the least ministered people in all of Christiandom. There are one to two missionaries for every one million Muslims. One percent of all the money collected for mission work, foreign-language Bibles, etc- probably millions- goes to Muslim/ Middle Eastern people. Eighty-nine percent stays right in the United States! Now, just to clarify this statistic, I'm not referring to general collection plate money. I'm talking about money specifically donated in the name of people leaving the U.S. and traveling overseas to try to bring people to Christ. The other amazing thing Dr. John said in regards to this unbalance was the fact that there are more missionaries sent to Alaska than those sent to the entire Muslim world. Wow.
Okay, I thought all that was pretty sad stuff, but in order for it to really hit home, Dr. John began to give us some background on the Islamic faith: Muhammed, the Quran, and the many parallels between our beliefs and theirs.
Apparently the Quran, their holy book, was written entirely by Muhammed, a man from Mecca- a great one, to be sure, but still just a man- around 600 A.D. In doing so, he managed to unite and bring prosperity to the Arab people, who were going through great upheavals at the time. So not only was he a godly prophet and author, he was also a political animal and military man. This is reflected in his writings, especially the later parts of the holy book.
What's too bad, however, is that the devout followers insist that every single word of the Quran is absolutely true and must be obeyed, although Muhammed himself had denounced certain parts of his book as untrue, claiming to have been possessed by an evil spirit while writing (ever heard of the Satanic Verses? those are the ones). I think that the bin Ladens of the world are using angry, violent later portions of the book to fuel their fires of aggression, and in doing so, alienating us from all Muslims, although most are pacifist and hold values similar to ours.
The parallels are startlingly similar to ours, really. It's a monotheistic religion, the Quran and the Old Testament of the Bible having many of the same historical events, as well as directives. Dr. John quoted quite a few suras in which Jesus was mentioned, up to and including His birth (from a virgin) in 3:38, and death (in which Allah raised Him up to Himself) in 4:158. Isaac, Abraham and Ishmael are all mentioned as being prophets as well. There was a lot more, but I just wanted to touch upon a few of the big ones.
So the bottom line was this- there's a lot of good stuff in the Quran, and that's what almost all of the Muslim people have been taught. On the whole, they're a peace-loving people, just looking to improve their quality of life. Aren't we all? And back to the statistics, as far as quality of life goes, almost all of the top thirty countries rated as having the best were predominantly Christian nations. I think the exception was Japan. And at the other end of the spectrum, those thirty countries with the lowest quality of life were ALL Muslim. Now that's sad.
I'm sure there's other factors besides religion- political upheaval, poverty, disease, government or lack thereof... but it's no wonder these guys are losing their faith. With that low of a level of general happiness, wouldn't you doubt the religion of your parents (and their parents) after awhile? Especially if all they ever did was go through the motions, too.
It's too bad that most of America lumps all these good people in with the extremists, the suicide bombers and the hate-mongers. Especially when, according to Dr. John, the Muslims he's met are the exact opposite: considerate, open to new ideas, generous and caring. He's had the opportunity that we have not- to discuss things with them face to face, be invited into their homes and introduced to their families, and share his beliefs.
So he left us with an entreaty: to keep an open mind, to pray for those less fortunate than we, and to remember that Muslims are this- reasonable, relational and reachable. Are we?

By the way, I'm still not smoking! Day 4 and counting... hooray!

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Thanks for taking the time to read what I ramble about- I consider it an honor to get feedback from you guys, so please tell me what you think, feel, if you have a similar story... whatever you'd like! Thanks again and God bless.