Tips for Showing Hospitality to Muslims
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Written by: Mateen Elass
Licensed for use by Creative Commons by Flickr user Shazron.
As we near the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, many of us may be thinking more about our Muslim neighbors and how we can share with them the love of Jesus. For a little help, we turned to Rev. Mateen Elass, a man who was raised in a Muslim environment in Saudi Arabia. Today, he is a board member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a think tank that monitors and reports on issues affecting the Christian church, as well as the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Okla. It was while he attended Stanford University for his B.A. that he began exploring other religions and found Jesus Christ. Elass is the author of The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammed (eChristian, 2010).
How important is it to start with hospitality when wanting to befriend and witness to Muslims?
Hospitality is an important first step when we desire to befriend and witness to anyone. It is the primary form of love for strangers, and demonstrates that those we wish to befriend are loved by God and have value in God’s eyes whether they respond to the gospel or not. Hospitality is especially important when interacting with visitors from other countries, for at least two reasons: often in their home culture, hospitality is a deeply held value—natives are expected to treat foreigners with kindness and generosity. When individuals with this value come to the U.S., they feel marginalized or unworthy because Americans are not extending hospitality to them; secondly, many foreigners are lonely and very interested in fitting in with American culture—they yearn for the opportunity to become friends with Americans.
Add to this the fact that for Muslims, love for those outside Islam, particularly those traditionally seen as enemies, is an alien thought not taught by the Quran and religious tradition. For Muslim immigrants, the experience of love from Christians in the name of Christ does not easily mesh with their beliefs and expectations, but it impacts their heart tremendously. Simple acts of kindness and care from Christians often cause Muslims to wonder why they are receiving such love from enemies, and the Holy Spirit uses this cognitive dissonance to break through longstanding barriers that Islam has erected against the message of the gospel.
What should a Christian do if a Muslim moves next door?
The same thing, I would hope, that he or she would do when anyone new moves next door: take the initiative to meet and greet them. Bring him or her a welcome gift—something simple and inexpensive. As you begin to build a relationship, invite the individual or family over to your home for tea and dessert, which less formal than a dinner, to begin with. Be careful until you have gotten to know your neighbors well to speak male to male and female to female. If your neighbor is a woman and you are a man, bring a woman with you so you can befriend her together. Equally important, if you are a woman and your new neighbor is a man, your individual attempts to befriend him may be misunderstood, so be sure to include another man when you meet your Muslim neighbor.
If we want to bring them a meal, what are the food considerations we should follow?
Everyone loves to receive homemade foods of good quality! If you create a dish, make sure it has been made without lard or other pig-products (anything to do with pigs is forbidden for Muslims to eat), and assure them that the food is halal. If you have any doubts, you can pick up from a large supermarket or a special deli food items that are labeled as halal or kosher. You are safest to avoid meat dishes as most orthodox Muslims pass up even permissible meats that have not been slaughtered by proper ritual with the name of Allah being pronounced over the animal as it is killed. Likewise, Islam prohibits the use of intoxicants, so the gift of wine or some other alcoholic beverage would result in an awkward scene.
What’s the biggest no-no that we should avoid when welcoming our Muslim neighbors?
Aside from crossing gender barriers or bringing a forbidden food item as a welcome gift, I would say the biggest no-no would be treating your Muslim neighbor as if he or she were an alien from outer space. Remember that Muslims are human beings just like you; they have the same physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs that every other human being has. They love their children and yearn to grow and develop as everyone else does. Many are eager to learn better what it means to be an American, and are grateful for the privileges and freedoms this nation affords. Though there will no doubt be things mysterious to you about Muslim practices and ethnic identities, do not view your Muslim neighbor as a laboratory specimen or zoo exhibit, but rather as a fellow human being to be love and befriended in Christ’s name.
Once we start the initial conversation, what’s a good way to continue the relationship?
Consistency of contact is the first thing that comes to my mind. Many Muslims will consider it an anomaly that an American Christian would show them any positive attention, and will wonder if your motives are pure, or if you have ulterior motives. This is natural, but will be dispelled by the consistency of your friendly interactions. Friendships are often nurtured over food, and you can’t go wrong inviting your new friend into your family life over tea or coffee. It is a great honor to be welcomed into your home; your new friend will no doubt quickly want to return the favor.
What one thing would you like to tell Christians when it comes to showing Muslims hospitality?
Do not be afraid. God has not given us a spirit of fear. Ask Christ to fill you with love for Muslims; trust that His love will break down barriers. Remember that love is the one force that conquers all other powers. Muslims are trained to view life and relationships in terms of dominance and control—who has the power and who doesn’t, and what steps are needed to flip the power into one’s control. Sacrificial love does not fit into their system of thought very well. As such, it is this biblical love—agape love—that in the end, captures the hearts and minds of those Muslims who turn to Christ. Persist in showing your Muslim friends a love that refuses to quit pursuing their best interests.