How can Christians witness to Muslims with authenticity and in a way that honors Christ? Over 250 students and members of the community gathered on September 27 at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ont., to grapple with this question and learn more about Muslim culture and spirituality. Hosted in partnership with Christian Reformed World Missions, this was not an interfaith event but rather a panel discussion that looked at barriers that prevent Christians from reaching out to their Muslim neighbors.
“When we don’t understand something, the result is conflict, avoidance, and even fear. A panel like this can address these issues and help us come to a better understanding,” explained Ken Herfst, professor of religion and theology at Redeemer and panel moderator.
Because some panelists work in sensitive areas, their identities were protected for this event. They brought diverse experiences to the discussion, including backgrounds of missions in Muslim communities, urban missions in Hamilton, Ont., teaching ESL, and involvement with post-conflict liaisons.
The two-hour discussion explored practical topics such as initial interactions, cultural differences, and similarities. A panelist cautioned against missions that hyper-contextualize, when biblical principles are compromised in an attempt to bring Christianity and Islam closer together.
Although using the same words, the concepts of sin, judgment, and atonement differ greatly between the two religions. Panelists explained that Muslims do not believe in original sin. In the Qur'an, Jesus is a prophet born of a virgin but didn’t die on a cross to bring salvation. Muslims believe Jesus will return but to preach Islam. The discussion highlighted the differences of being a child of God to being a subject of impersonal Allah. While Muslims can be terrified of Allah’s judgment, Christians are secure in the covenant promises of a loving, just God.
A prevalent theme was the importance of relationship building and getting to know Muslim neighbors as individuals, not merely as subjects of conversion.
“We need to see them as imagebearers of God,” said one panelist, “making Muslims feel welcome, not estranged.” In interactions with Muslims and all non-believers, panelists emphasized the importance of hospitality and the privilege that Christians have in showing Jesus’ love to others.