Muslims in America: Mission Field or Mine Field?
- Thursday, July 22, 2004
To many Americans the word Islam is synonymous with terrorism, violence and extremism. And yet six million or more Muslims live and work within our borders. They're our neighbors, co-workers, physicians, fellow businessmen and colleagues.
Should these people whose worldview is so alien to American culture be considered friend or foe? Should Americans view Islam as a fanatical religion that threatens our nation, or welcome it as a rich addition to America's diverse cultural landscape?
For a growing number of Americans in urban and rural areas across the nation, these questions are more than theoretical. And for Christians who believe that God superintends all of history, the presence of Muslims in our neighborhoods and workplaces raises the question: "What is God doing?"
"Despite the fact that it is creating a lot of chaos in the our society and in the world in general, I believe God's purpose in bringing so many Muslims to America is so they can be reached with the Gospel," said Jeff Marlowe. Marlowe is a missionary trainer with Enterprise, an Atlanta-based church planting initiative affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.
Marlowe, a former missionary in Senegal and Quebec, said most Muslims come to America seeking economic opportunity. "Many come because they are very highly skilled, including many hi-tech workers and physicians. In a global economy, American industry is very ready to employ people from nations such as Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia," he said.
Still other Muslims follow opportunities in the service industry such as hotel or convenience store management, according to Rev. Ashton T. "Tat" Stewart, director of Persian Ministries for World Witness in Colorado. Stewart said service jobs are taking more and more Muslims into smaller towns and rural areas across America.
Political refugees from countries in war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East make up another significant group of Muslims coming to the U.S. Marlowe said his family recently shared their home with one such family from Somalia. The family had lived for 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being relocated to Clarkston, Georgia, through a program of World Relief, a Christian organization.
Although Islamic terrorists in our nation are an obvious reality, Stewart contends that the number of Muslims who come to America with hostile political intentions is extremely small. They are generally identified with militant extremist within countries such as Saudi Arabia, he said.
Reflecting the scope of Muslim cultures across America, statistics from the Hartford Institute for Religious Research indicate more than 1,200 mosques in the U.S. They are attended by South Asian Muslims (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani, 33 percent); African-America Muslims (30 percent); Arab Muslims (25 percent); Sub-Saharan African Muslims (3.4 percent); European Muslims (Bosnian, Tartar, Kosovar, etc. 2.1 percent); White American Muslims (1.6 percent); Southeast Asian Muslims (Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino 1.3 percent); Caribbean Muslims (1.2 percent); Turkish Muslims (1.1 percent); Iranian Muslims 0.7 percent); and Hispanic/Latino Muslims (0.6 percent).
"It is also important not to stereotype Islam as a simple religion that promotes violence," writes Abdul Saleeb (pseudonym) in The Dark Side of Islam, a book co-written by Saleeb and well-known Christian teacher R.C. Sproul (Crossway Books, 2003). "In fact, Islam has a rich tradition in its intellectual history and in its cultural achievements .... We must take Islam seriously as a coherent, systematic faith that presents strong challenges against the Christian faith."
Privilege and Price of Sharing Christ
For Stewart, fluent in Persian and Turkish, the motivation to take the Christian gospel to Muslims is found in the Bible. He cites: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each of us" (Acts 17:26, 27, NIV).
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