Saturday, February 18, 2017

My View of Muslims

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the finer points and details of current and/or future United States government policy on immigration and refugee resettlement.  Neither is it to discuss exhaustively the differences between Christianity and Islam.  I'd like to tell you my story.

Since 2004 my wife Julie and I have had relationships with a large number of refugees resettled from Somalia (after years living in camps in Kenya) who are Muslim.  Julie's experience far outweighs mine but in my limited interactions I have come to love them.  It's not that I  initially had overt hatred or prejudice toward them but I didn't know how to relate to them, and the change in my heart and mind did not come overnight.  

Obviously in the beginning I knew our new friends were Muslims but didn't know much about Islam, so I began some reading and study. I found there is a wide variety of belief and practice among Muslims, much like you find in Christianity. There's no doubt there are Islamic extremists of different degrees around the world, and one should never assume that all people of one religion are like-minded in every way.  In either case - Islam or Christianity - there is a danger in painting everyone with the same brush. However, through spending time with the Somali Bantu and getting to know them, it became clear that our new friends did not come to America to institute Sharia law, they came for refuge from a war torn country for survival and opportunity.  

Getting involved with the Somali Bantu was a totally new experience for me.  I was far out of my comfort zone, and still am. Language barriers and cultural difference can sometimes be both comical and uncomfortable.  In our early days we helped them with simple things to acclimate them to their adopted country. Kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners were totally new to them.  Learning English, looking for work, finding healthcare ... there were so many things for which they needed guidance. In spending time with them we heard their stories from life, both young and old.  Some of the stories were horrible and  nearly beyond our comprehension as white middle-class Americans.  They weren't 60 Minutes reports or the wide screen edition of Black Hawk Down, they were flesh and blood accounts. I was able to see them as more than some abstract "Muslims", I could see their    humanity. 

With time we were called friends, and one man who was only a few years younger than me actually said that Julie and I were like parents to him.  A few baby names were chosen on our behalf so there is actually a young boy in New York now named Bill Hussein!  Our friends learned to trust us (and we them).  We've rejoiced with them over births at the hospital, walked through legal issues with them and accompanied them to their swearing in ceremonies as US Citizens, among many other things.  However, like most relationships things have not always been fun or easy, but as friends we have attempted to help the best we can when needed and sometimes just spent time with them (like "regular" friends do).  

It grieves me when I hear or read derogatory blanket statements made about Muslims, refugees and immigrants.  Perhaps the statements are made by people whose viewpoints are shaped by fear of what they don't know or understand.  Do you have such fears?  If so, I'd encourage you to get to know a refugee, Muslim or immigrant and take the time to discover that they too are human beings with similar feelings and goals as you and I.

However, acknowledging our similarities is only half the story.  As a follower of Jesus,  I'm to be a peacemaker,  an ambassador of reconciliation,  a witness to the truth of the gospel,  the good news that those who were once far off can be brought near to God.  The Scriptures tell us that God has ransomed a people for Himself from every tribe and language and nation.  Not just some, but all, even the ones that you or I may not be so comfortable with.  If God so loved the world, can we do any less?

A special thank you to my wife Julie for assistance in writing and editing this post