I never really got into the TV show 24, but I seem to recall somewhere that one of the plots evolved around some bad guys that had ties to the Middle East.
Because I didn't watch it, I don't know how the villains were dressed. But I wonder if they had some type of clothing that would cause a North American like me to say, "I bet those guys are from the Middle East!" Or maybe they had accents different from ours. Maybe they were dark-skinned. Maybe they had non-North American names.
Maybe you fans of the TV show can make sure I have my facts straight on whether there were in fact Mid-East malcontents at all. But the reason why I even mention this is to talk about how easy it is to fear the unknown. And a lot of people, especially after 9/11, began looking at the Muslim world as that "unknown" that warranted our fear.
After interviewing Thabet Megaly, founder and director of St. Catharines-based ministry Pathway Of Peace, one big takeaway for me (among many) was that we don't have to fear Muslims. And by "fear", I don't only mean quake-in-our-boots-type fear. I mean, we don't have to regard any Muslim we may happen to meet in the course of our lives as a person who cannot be reached by Jesus. And by extension, we don't have to regard them as people who can't be loved by Jesus, or feel the compassion of Jesus, through me. Let me share two reasons why.
First, the Bible says we don't have to fear, in 1 Timothy 1:7. The verse states that God hasn't given us a spirit of fear. So, there's answer number one-- what some might call the Sunday School Answer (the answer we all kinda already know, or should know). But the other reason? It's the stories I heard from Thabet of his past interactions with Muslims.
These were stories he told me before, during, and after our formal interview time. I also heard a few more while attending a public discussion at Conversations Cafe in Beamsville in July. All that time, as I heard the passion in his voice while he shared these stories, I couldn't help but feel that Muslims can know Jesus too.
Thabet didn't look for fights. I don't recall him saying that he ever argued with anyone. He usually asked questions, instead of making reactionary statements-- statements that could escalate tensions and destroy any possibility of dialogue that could lead to transformation. He almost always quoted our Scriptures... or theirs... or even both, when making a point. At times, he explained to me how he would verbally lead his listeners to a place where they would want to investigate the claims he'd make about Islam or Muhammad, and Jesus, on their own. In other words, they would continue to seek out truth after having a discussion with Thabet; and seeking truth would sometimes lead to them finding Truth.
Prior to meeting Thabet, I had a strong impression that Muslims were really hard to lead to Christ. Not the type we're seeing on TV a lot these days, doing unspeakable acts to Christians and others, but rather, the ones I'd see while growing up in metropolitan Montreal. The ones living in downtown Toronto. Because the type I saw on TV seemed loud, idealistic, fundamentalist... and they defined, in my mind, a devoted follower of Islam.
Then there's this memory from when I would go on missions trips with an organization that sent out many mission teams to many parts of the world, at the same time. We'd do ministry training at their headquarters, then scatter to the farthest parts of the earth to tell people about Jesus. It was pretty neat, actually. We'd then reunite in two or three weeks, or a month, or even two months later (depending on trip length), with reports of what God had done.
Those short-term missionaries that went to countries inside what's referred to as the 10/40 window, seemed to always come back with much fewer stories of leading people to Jesus. That made it easy to reinforce that belief about Muslims. Until I met Thabet.
The way he seemed to do evangelism to Muslims was to ask very sensible questions about their beliefs. And as I state in my article on Thabet's ministry, he knew the Quran better than just about any actual follower of Islam that he met. He'd gently challenge them to read their own religious text, which they would obviously trust, right? But the passages he led them to, would actually be used by Thabet to point them to Jesus.
That may sound almost impossible to some of you reading this, but many examples of such passages were given at that public discussion. The atmosphere in the room as the evening started, from my perspective, was curiosity. The general public has lots of questions about this religion, and this people group. I'm sure I wasn't the only Christian that was wondering, for instance, how to share Jesus with a Muslim. So we came, wanting answers to these and other questions. And we got them.
I, for one, felt optimistic as I left the venue, and I'm sure I wasn't alone. I think it's safe to say that we collectively felt more equipped to share the gospel with a group that many of us didn't really understand beforehand. Don't get me wrong, I can still learn much more, but the first lesson that had to be learned, for me, was that evangelism to Muslims is not as daunting a task as it has looked in the past.
Let me invite our Faith News readers to Thabet's second discussion on Tuesday, August 18, 7:30 pm, at Conversations Cafe. The address is 4995 King St. W. (corner King and Ontario Sts.). Admission is free. And check out the Pathway Of Peace website, which has lots of video, blogs, and other free materials aimed of educating Christians about Islam, and how to engage its followers.