Many years ago, a young college student in Pakistan confided to me that he was intrigued by stories of Jesus in the Qur’an. He said his mother prayed seven times a day and read the Qur’an to him. What impressed him most were the miracles of Jesus–healing the sick, cleansing the lepers and raising the dead. “Who is this Jesus?” he asked. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to study Scripture together.
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”
This battle between fear and love was clearly demonstrated in several experiences when I visited churches wearing a headscarf. An older gentleman at the first church visited, who was a greeter at the church, was not able to recover from his fear after seeing a woman wearing a hijab approaching the church. As a result, he blatantly ignored me, which came across as very unloving. In this instance, fear drove out love. On the other hand, at the second church visited, a woman was hesitant at first and kept her distance. She was uncertain as to how to react, but eventually she made the decision to allow love to triumph over fear. Although she initially sat at a distance from me, she eventually moved down to sit directly beside me, engaged her in conversation, and hugged me before leaving. In this case, love drove out fear. In another scenario, I walked into a large lobby and was clearly confused as to which direction to go for the service. At least three greeters and volunteers stood around and watched me, clearly lost. Evidently the volunteers were scared or unsure of what to do, so they did not help, and instead let the me wander around. In contrast, at the fourth church visited, I was once again lost, but this time a greeter overcame fear and helped. He personally gave me a tour of the entire church so I would know how to find my way around. Lastly, at the first church, when instructed to greet those nearby, a woman half-turned toward the me, but upon seeing the the hijab she hesitated and almost turned back around. Fortunately, she managed to overcome fear and made the decision to greet the me despite her initial uncertainty.
If this were not enough, Acts 17 tells that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places, that they should seek God…” We forget that God is sovereign in all, the migration of people across borders no exception. Though awful, we must not forget that God is not surprised by what is happening in Syria or Iraq, and has purposed the church to meet needs and bear the message of hope in the midst of tragedy.
Certainly there are political issues, national security issues, and legitimate complex concerns that ought to be discussed; I do not seek to downplay their importance. The responsibility of the Christian towards the foreigner in our midst is however not one of these debatable matters.