A New Heart For Muslims
- Wednesday, November 06, 2002
I don't know what I expected when I wandered into the Saudi Arabian exhibit at the World's Fair, but I wasn't there long before I wanted out. Brown-uniformed guards watched our every move. Even before leaving the oppressive atmosphere of the exhibit I determined Muslims weren't anywhere in my future. Let other people with different hearts reach out to these lost people -- I didn't want anything to do with them.
Within a year, however, God changed my prejudiced heart. My husband and I wanted to befriend international students, so one Friday evening we visited an international Christian coffeehouse at a nearby university.
As soon as we walked in, a friend motioned us over to where he was visiting with two new acquaintances. We sat down opposite this couple and I found myself greeting a friendly man and his traditionally dressed wife. We chatted and found out that not only were they Muslims, but Hamid and Fatima were from Saudi Arabia. Not only were they from Saudi Arabia, they were from Mecca. They were very Muslim of very Muslim.
Despite my former vow, we pursued what was obviously a divinely arranged appointment. Rebuked by visiting relatives for their lack of American friends, Fatima and Hamid were thrilled to meet another couple with children at the coffeehouse. We began to spend time together as friends. That winter, we took their family to the mountains to go inner tubing. The next summer, we spent a delightful day at the beach. We ate American meals together and enjoyed Fatima's wonderful Arabic cooking.
We began to see Hamid and Fatima not simply as "Muslims," but as unique individuals. Fatima practiced her faith devoutly. She often excused herself to the other room if it was the hour to pray. She followed Islam's rules precisely. While she might lounge in casual clothes when I visited her alone in her apartment, Fatima quickly snatched up a scarf to cover her hair before answering a knock at the door. Yet this was the same woman who once went to a studio specializing in "glamour shots!"
My friend obeyed her husband, but she also had an intelligent mind and will of her own. She completed her doctorate before her husband partly because she was waging a private competition to see who would finish first.
While his wife was devout, Hamid seemed to follow Islam out of custom, not conscience. He was opinionated and-by American standards-quite chauvinist, but he was not the tower of rage we expected from watching militant Muslims on the evening news.
Through their friendship we learned to love Muslims the way God did-one at a time.
As Fatima candidly shared with me about her life and family back home, I began to separate the Islamic governments from the individuals who lived, loved, argued and died under their rule. I also came to see that the veil-a powerful symbol of oppression to us-is to them a symbol of their society's fierce commitment to protect their wives and daughters. I could disagree and even argue that "it didn't work," but knowing another motive melted my instinctive repulsion.
But we chose not to argue. It was a small price to pay for the right to live our Christian lives as close to them as possible. Together we watched the newscasts as the Persian Gulf conflict unfolded. We managed polite discussions about politics and bit our lips when Hamid criticized American policies. If we needed to vent about it, we did it later at home. After all, we were not their friends to win them over to the American way of life. We wanted them to become citizens of the kingdom of God. So we simply let them know we were praying for their relatives back home during those uncertain weeks and months.
After we had become good friends, I took the initiative to ask Fatima if she would be willing to study the Koran with me. Not only did I learn the teachings of the Koran, but Fatima took an honest look at her own religious beliefs.
"Traditionally, we do not think about the Koran," she told me at one point. "We just memorize it." Thinking about the Koran raised issues she had never considered. As we went along, I was able to explain how different stories and teachings coincided or compared with the Bible. And because I was willing to read the Koran, she accepted the Arabic New Testament (Injil) I gave her.
Three years after we met, Fatima and her family returned home to the Middle East. We still correspond and I pray for her often. She made no profession of faith, but I know that there is now one woman in Mecca who knows where to go to find Jesus. And when I hear testimonies of Muslims seeking Jesus Christ -- who have heard His name via radio or literature and who want to read God's Word -- my old fears give way to renewed hope.
God has not called me to go abroad and live among Muslims, but He has opened my heart to care about these people He so dearly loves.
Reneé S. Sanford is co-author of the 400 pages of devotional application notes in the Living Faith(tm) Bible: Tyndale House Publishers
To request a free excerpt, write to Renée at firstname.lastname@example.org
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