I’m embarrassed to say that I often need to remind myself that the heart of my faith is loving my neighbour. Yes, loving God comes first, but Jesus said that that this, combined with the call to love my neighbour, summarizes the commands of Scripture. Today, it’s easier for people to be annoyed by their neighbours, threatened by their neighbours or not even know their neighbours. Part of loving our neighbours involves understanding them. On Saturday, I learned much from Dr. Amal Gendi on how to love the Muslim neighbours that are more and more a part of our community.
With almost 20 participants, there was lots of interaction over the course of the 7-hour seminar we hosted here at Grace. The instruction focused on the history of Islam and its teachings as well as some religious and cultural aspects to be aware of in building friendships with Muslims today.
Religion in Muhammad’s Day
Context can often be crucial in understanding a different perspective. I was greatly helped by understanding the religious setting of the Arabian Peninsula when Muhammad first claimed to have received his revelations. At the time, both Judaism and Christianity along with Zoroastrianism were dominant religions in the region that we now associate with Islam. But in addition to these, there were also many Christian cults that existed. There were Ebionites who believed Jesus was the Messiah but denied His deity and virgin birth and followed Jewish laws. There were Gnostics who sought salvation through knowledge, Arians who believed that Jesus was a creature “begotten” by God the Father, and Nestorians who separated Jesus’ human and divine natures. Why all of this is important, is that the understanding of Christianity that Muhammad and his early followers had would have been shaped, in part, by these cults and their diverse teachings about Jesus.
The Mecca Period vs. The Medina Period
The Qur’an is claimed by some to promote a religion of peace. By others it is used to justify war. There are some verses that appear very moderate and others that are far more aggressive. Islamic scholars debate how to deal with the apparent tension of these verses. Dr. Gendi explained that one of the ways to resolve this is to understand that the teachings of the Qur’an developed over two distinct periods in Muhammad’s life. The Mecca period from 610-622 AD was the time from when Muhammad claimed to receive his first prophecy to when he left Mecca. During this period, he faced much persecution for his beliefs and was largely rejected by his own Qurayshi clan. It was during this period that Muhammad’s teachings stressed peace and moderation. In 622 AD, he was invited to Medina and became their religious and political leader. It was here that the first Islamic state was established, and plans were made to eventually seize control of Mecca and root out the paganism of that city. The prophecies related to this period describe the basis of holy war and subduing the enemies of Allah.
Was Muhammad prophesied of in the Bible?
I was unprepared the first time I got the question. A Muslim asked me what I thought about the verses in the Bible that prophesied the coming of Muhammad. I said that I had been studying the Bible for most of my adult life but couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. Dr. Gendi explained that many Muslims are taught that Moses prophesied about Muhammad in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” The problem in applying this to Muhammad is that he wasn’t Jewish and the prophesy clearly says that this prophet would be raised up from among “your brothers.” The other verse that is often used is John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” This ‘helper’ or ‘counselor’ is understood by Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit but Muslims are taught that it points to Muhammad. One of the problems in interpreting it in this way though is that Muhammad died in 632 AD and so couldn’t be said to “be with you forever.”
In addition to this, Dr. Gendi stressed patience, genuine friendship, and cultural respect in building relationships with Muslims. He encouraged Christians to ask questions about life, listen carefully and share their own beliefs without arguing. He also reminded us that answering Muslim objections to the Christian faith is not the same as sharing the gospel. We haven’t shared the gospel until we’ve invited our neighbours to enjoy the bread of life and living water that are offered in Jesus Christ alone.
Are you showing love to your neighbours? Are you learning to show love to your Muslim neighbours? May God give us help in representing Christ to those He brings into our neighbourhoods!
In awe of Him,