Earlier this week, my children, who had become friends and playmates with the new neighbours came home and told me that their new friends' grandparents would be coming to visit.. That evening I went over again and told my new neighbour that he should bring his parents over for dinner as well. So, after church today, I spent the afternoon making a dinner suitable for Muslims, making sure that all the food was Halal. At 6, my new neighbours arrived and much to my surprise, the elderly gentleman who accompanied them exclaimed, "It is my friend who likes spicy food!" I took a double take when I recognized my friend from when I taught at the university in Halifax. It was Ahmed! The man who owned and ran an Arab restaurant and food stand in the city! We hugged and laughed. He clapped me on the back and said to his son, "Jamal, this is my friend that I told you about, the Chinese Christian who would come to our restaurant. He is the one who would get my spicy beef sausage from my hot dog stand for lunch! We had many good conversations about God." It had been over 10 years when I was teaching in one of the five universities in Halifax. Ahmed used to sell his special Halal hotdogs from his stand in the park across the street from where I worked. Over time, we had struck up a friendship and when I learned that he also operated an Arabic restaurant, I became a frequent customer spending many hours there eating his wonderful food and conversing with him late into the night, often till after closing.
The evening went splendidly as we talked and reminisced over old times and getting to know my new neighbours. They had emigrated to escape the violence and constant unrest in their homeland. They were moderates and did not agree with the extreme and militant actions of their fundamentalist Muslim brothers. They had many Jewish and Christian friends and as a result became the targets of harassment and threats themselves even though they were devout Muslims. My friend Ahmed is one of the few who openly admitted that Jesus is mentioned in the Koran and that although Jesus is considered a minor prophet is the only prophet who is prophesied to return in the end days. I had spent many nights exploring that and many other things with him and while we disagreed on many things, we remained fast friends. We happily admitted that I was trying to convert him and he, me. The both of us had spent many hours praying for each other, he to Allah and I for the Holy Spirit to make a breakthrough. Little did I know that God would open a renewed opportunity for me to witness to this man and now his family as well.
Towards the end of the evening, my kids had gone to bed, and my neighbour's wife and her mother-in-law had gone home with their children, leaving me, Ahmed, and Jamal in my living room, sipping tea and talking. In the end, I think that I made some headway but I am still a long way from a breakthrough. My friend made some very good points that I could not refute. None of them have any real bearing on theology or religion, rather, they were all reflected in the actual practice of our beliefs. Rather than repeating the entire conversation, I summarize his top three here.
- The Christians God is not true because the vast majority of His believers are not openly committed to Him. My friend has lived in Canada for over 25 years and in that time, he has seldom seen Christians pray openly to God, even over meals. If what we claim is true, why are so many of us ashamed to pray to God. My friend concedes that he knows a few Christians who are not so inhibited, but he has only seen a handful of the Christians who frequent his restaurant really pray. On the other hand, I recall vividly how my friend would spread out his prayer mat, face Mecca everyday to do his noon-time prayer regardless of how good business was or many customers were waiting in line. He would often say with a smile that he found it amusing that we would tolerate his behavior, but raise loud protests when our fellow Christians did the same, even going so far as to ban prayer in schools, eliminate God from our legislative assemblies, government, and courts. Christianity, in his mind is uncommitted and a religion of convenience. He freely admits that his fundamentalist brothers have gone too far but at least their actions are true to their belief in as much as they see it.
- The Christian God is not sovereign and His followers prove it. My friend argues that Christianity believes in a powerless God who is not in control. When things go bad, we blame the devil as if God can be thwarted by the evil one. When someone is killed or dies either in an accident or disaster or even naturally, when there is a disaster (natural or not), when misfortune befalls, Christians are prone to say, "It is not God's will." If it is not God's will and it happens anyway, then, according to him, the Christian God is not really God or the true god because, the one true God is in perfect control. Muslims do not make such claim, they freely acknowledge that Allah is in full command and while they may not understand why, they acknowledge that it is the will of Allah.
- The Christian God is unbelievable because His followers do not truly believe and do not live as He teaches. This point my friend makes is similar to the first point and related to the second. He observes that Christians are quick to preach a God of love, grace and mercy, but seldom show these to fellow believers, let alone others. He also observes that other Christians are quick to be judgmental but do not reflect the justice of God.
My Muslim friend attests to this saying, "If what you say about Christianity is true, then the true Christian is truly a threat to Islam. It is fortunate that there are so few of you."
Please continue praying for me as I try to witness and reflect Christ to my neighbours.
In His Name,