A former Pope rightly said: ‘Wherever truth is found, it is the Lord’s’. It’s thought that 23 of the 26 “prophets” mentioned in the Qur’an are biblical. In this guest blog, Jan Pike – a pioneer of an innovative way of Christian engagement with Muslims – shares how the lives of biblical prophets become a point of connection with Muslims.
I hosted a conversation in our living room between a Brazilian woman of Japanese origin who lives and works in Norway and a Somali friend , who as a child had learnt Arabic and Italian in her home country but lived in Sweden so could understand my friend who spoke Norwegian! International and cross-cultural or what?!
This made me think about the wonderful facility we humans have of picking up language and how the drive to connect with others is simply (and yet profoundly) a reflection of the character of God who longs to connect with us.
Somehow this gives an even greater urgency to making the meaning of the Bible clear for all who would seek it.
The holy texts of all religions are read worldwide but this doesn’t mean that they are understood. The Ethiopian Eunuch’s cry in Acts 8: ‘How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?’ supports this.
We know that Muslims may be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic but ask them what it means and he/she may not be able to tell you. And so the signs which each prophet is said to bring with them are lost to the reader.
It’s not just the “denseness” of the text that’s the problem, our actions also don’t always tell the story we think they are telling. Christians understand social action as being an outflow of a Christian community to the injunctions of Jesus. However, Muslims may not be as familiar with this idea and don’t always pick up on the fact that practical action are ways of expressing truth claims.
So while Christians are busy leading community outreach activities thinking it demonstrates the love of God, there may be little if anything, which speaks to the Muslim of the love of God. Engaging in integral mission requires there to be both the ‘showing’ and the ‘telling’ of the good news so that everyone can understand where our motivation comes from and even have the opportunity to meet the source of love Himself.
Perhaps there is a key lying in the “signs” of the biblical prophets of which, incidentally, Christians and Muslims share over 20. Moreover, the Bible and Qur’an share themes such as Creation; Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son; Resurrection; and a final Judgement and many more. These points can make for fruitful joint-exploration via story-telling.
This is just what I have seen neighbourhood groups of women from Christian and Muslim communities doing through following The Prophets’ Stories[i] in venues around the country over the past year.
Using an approach which encourages discovery of new things (rather than a so called “expert” telling it) helps women to listen to each other and learn together about how these stories and themes teach them of God and what they say to us as people of faith today. Myths about ‘the other’ get dismantled in this environment; fear and suspicion are turned to love and appreciation; deep things are shared heart to heart; new insights are gained and strong bonds formed.
There have been meaningful exchanges and moment when God meets us in the ‘third space’[ii]. Despite our differences He mediates His presence among us and reveals Himself at particular points in the discussion. Women who would normally reject ‘Christian teaching’ have opportunity to hear God’s word speak into their lives as it tells of the lives of biblical characters found in both Bible and Qur’an.
As we “story” we look at similarities and differences. In this way we discover what the sign of Jonah; Joseph; Noah; Adam; Abraham and Moses might be. We ultimately arrive at Jesus who perfectly communicates God’s extravagant love and provision reaching across boundaries to anyone – Muslim or Christian – who seeks for a “home” in Him.
[i] The Prophets’ Stories – a new resource for use with Muslim/Christian women in grass roots dialogue is published by the Bible Society in June 2017. Training days are offered during the June – September. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
[ii] This term relating to the “third space” comes from the worlds of sociocultural and psychology and refers to an area of ‘new/neutral’ ground where people from opposite sides meet through dialogue. This is not just a physical meeting but an invisible, yet tangible sense of connection/understanding
Steve Bell is the National Director at Interserve GB & Ireland. A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised cross-cultural communicator with 35 years’ experience in 100 countries. Steve is author of Friendship First, Grace for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims and co-edited Between Naivety & Hostility. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and they are “owned” by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.
You can find Steve's blog at graceformuslims.org