I’m going to be posting here some letters I’ve been writing to a Muslim friend. It will be one-sided, with only my side represented. But you’ll get a sense of what we’ve been discussing. I began by writing to him to re-establish contact as it had been a few years.
May the peace and blessings of God be upon you, and your family.
It has been a while since we were in touch, but I am grateful for the time that you were able to meet with my World Religions class at —- Community College.
I am no longer teaching at —-, but I am still involved in interfaith dialogue. I returned to service in the Texas National Guard as a chaplain, and thought you might be interested to know that I am currently in Kuwait (until December), and am having some wonderful experiences getting to know Muslims in the heart of the Islamic world. My conversations made me think of you, and I did so with fond memories.
He responded with grace, and I wrote a longer summarizing my thoughts and experiences so far.
It is good to hear back from you so quickly! We live in a world with so much uncertainty and fear, and I think that we must each do our part to build understanding and friendships.
My first Muslim friend was a college roommate from Egypt. I gave him an Arabic copy of the Bible, and I had an English translation of the Qur’an, and we had many good discussions.
Now that I am here in middle of the Arab world, in the very birthplace of Islam, building partnerships with Muslim leaders, I see both the need for this dialogue, as well as the commonalities we share.
I am in the middle of the desert here in Kuwait, and our camp is surrounded by Bedouins with their camels, sheep, and goats. They drive pick-up trucks today, but otherwise the scene is little changed from the world of four thousand years ago when Abraham first heard God speak to him. He was from Ur, less than 100 miles from where I sit, and on a quiet starry night, or even when the hot shamal blasts us with dust, I think of him, and the break he made with the religions of his day.
Abraham did not search for a divinity to call his own–God chose him, and revealed himself to him, and made promises to him. He revealed himself as the Creator of all, the only one who has life in himself, the one who has compassion on men, the one who wants us to live in justice and peace, and the one who will come in judgment.
This is the heart of what we share. We both pray to the God of Abraham. We accept by faith that he is the Creator, and that he has a will for us. We seek to live now, as he has taught us. We look beyond the transient things of this world, to God’s eternal kingdom, to the judgment that will sift the hearts of all men, and to the paradise he has promised to believers.
This is the message that God spoke to Abraham and his sons, to Moses, to Elijah, to John the Baptist. We read of these same themes in the words of Jesus, and in the book of Revelation in the Bible. And I am happy when I read the Qur’an to see these same themes, and the affirmation of these prophets. I appreciate the Qur’an’s teaching that “there is no compulsion in religion,” but that we are called to use reason and persuasion to draw the hearts and minds of men to God. I also appreciate the Qur’an’s respect for the People of the Book, and it’s call (Sura 109) for us to live in harmony, worshipping God according to the revelation he has given to us in the prophets.
The religions that call Abraham “Father” thus have important truths that bind us to one another as cousins, if not brothers. Together this word of God stands against the atheism and materialism of the World. I read the Book of Revelation 14:6-7, where God sends three angels to the world in the last days, saying,
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
If we are calling people to worship the Creator, the God of Abraham, and giving the glory to him, and are calling people to repent of their sins, to prepare for his judgment, then we are doing the work he calls us to.
So I praise God for those things we share.
Do we have differences? Of course. I as a Christian see Jesus as the fullness of God’s revelation; I see him as the one through whom God Created the world. I look forward to him coming as the bearer of God’s judgment (and I understand some see that the Qur’an affirms that last point as well).
I have disagreements with other Christians, too. I have explored much among the different Christian churches. I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and turned aside when I was in college. I studied different religions and different churches. I worked for the Lutheran church, and then for the Catholic church. I returned to the Adventist church six years ago.
As an Adventist, there are teachings where I agree with Muslims and disagree with many other Christians.
1. I believe God created the world in six days (not through evolution). I keep the Sabbath (a day mentioned in the Qur’an) as the day to rest and worship him.
2. I believe that God’s law, in the ten commandments, is still binding. He created male and female, and called us to be fruitful. This is the only marriage he blesses (not homosexual unions that are being advocated today).
3. I believe he calls us to worship him, and not to bow down to images, or to the state, or to earthly powers, or to wealth.
4. I believe he has called us to live in health, to avoid pork and alcohol and tobacco.
5. I believe we can respect all of whatever nation, and live in peace as we submit to God’s will, and that we should do no violence to others.
6. I believe he calls us to dress simply, and to live in modesty, and to keep our daughters and wives unsullied from the world.
That is more than I expected to write, but you can tell I have been thinking a lot about these things over the years.
It is Saturday evening here, and time for me to have supper.
I look forward to talking further with you, and again, I pray that God’s peace be with you.