Posters pasted around Dutch cities this month invite non-Muslims to join muslim families for the Iftar (evening) meal during Ramadan, after the sun has set. Today that is at 19.39 in Holland. The daily fast is slowly broken with a simple snack of bread, cheese and fruit.
With hunger from a day’s fasting temporarily at bay, evening prayers are said, before the big Iftar meal is served. One poster I saw tempted passers-by with a meal of couscous and lamb.
Hospitality dinners invite non-Muslims to experience the atmosphere of Ramadan and to become acquainted with each other’s lifestyles. Via the website www.ramadanfestival.nl, you can apply to be invited to the home of a Muslim family in their area. But you are warned to apply early as spaces are limited!
I had to think of the Alpha dinners when I first came across this invitation: when whole cities or even countries are invited to dinner by the Christian community. A great strategy. So, are the Muslims also being discipled by Nicky Gumbel?
Perhaps its the other way around. We western Christians are re-discovering some of the hospitality that has for ages long been part of the Middle Eastern and North African lifestyle. Think of the central role meals played in the Bible in the development and strengthening of relationships.
For example, what was once instituted as a meal, the Lord’s Supper, has been reduced in our individualistic mentality to a solemn ritual involving a wee sip of wine–sorry, grapejuice–and a miniscule crumb, all conducted in reverent silence; a far cry from the rich chatter, abundant food and warm atmosphere of an open table.
So here’s a wonderful opportunity for us to build bridges of understanding and friendship! Will we rise to the challenge? Jesus reached out to us in our culture. That’s called incarnation. Yet somehow we expect others to adjust to our culture, come into our buildings, learn to sing our songs. Didn’t somebody say, Go into all the world?
Imagine if Christians responded en masse to such an open invitation! How many meaningful relationships could begin in this way? Whether we like it or not, the Muslim community is here to stay in many of our western nations.
Last week a Dutch cabinet minister upset a lot of people when she suggested that Holland should embrace Islam as part of the national culture and help it become rooted here. She foresaw a Judaic-Christain-Islamic tradition emerging. Her comments sparked heated debate, (not the least among atheists and humanists who feel sidelined and demand recognition for their part in Dutch society too!)
But let’s recognise the opportunity this presents. Of all people, followers of Jesus, who claim to be motivated by the specifically Christian concept of agape–unconditional love for friend and foe alike–should be the first to reach out to the Muslim community.
Brother Andrew, in his new book Secret Believers, challenges his readers to recognise that God is at work in the Muslim world in wonderful ways. He also challenges the attitudes of many western Christians, asking whether we viewed Muslims as enemies, or if we were seeking to introduce them to Jesus? and whether we preferred revenge over forgiveness. What would happen, he asked, if we accepted the challenge of Islam by striving to imitate Jesus? And, if we were really convinced we were engaged in a spiritual war, shouldn’t we be committed to a life of prayer?
Around this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I happened to be zapping TV channels and came across a Muslim programme that caught my attention. A Muslim scholar was telling about the impact both of that fateful day and of the ensuing Iraq war on himself personally. A Malaysian, Dr Farish Noor now teaches at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin. He recalled walking through a street somewhere in England when he passed ‘some sort of Christian building’, as he put it. It wasn’t a church, he said, but a sort of prayer house. The door was ajar, and he could see a group of women in prayer encircled by candles. One of the group beckoned to him to come and join them. He asked what they were praying about. They told him they were praying for the people of Iraq, suffering at that moment under the American ‘shock and awe’ onslaught.
Dr Noor never forgot that moment when he met Christians praying for Muslims. Why should they want to pray for Muslims? he had thought. We Muslims only ever pray for Muslims, he realised. We give alms… but only to Muslims. In that instant, he had seen that Muslims needed to follow the Christian example. So he set out to start an organisation called Muslims without Borders.
Dr Noor might be surprised to know that since 1992, literally millions of Christians around the world have been praying during Ramadan for the roughly one-sixth of humanity calling themselves Muslim. The Ramadan season follows a lunar calendar and moves around on the western solar calendar. This year it began on September 13, and finishes with the new moon on October 12.
I was part of a group of YWAM leaders meeting in Egypt in 1992 when we felt God speaking about what He wanted to do in the Muslim world. That is when we initiated this special prayer season during Ramadan. So much has happened since then in the Muslim world, including the Reconciliation Walk.
I commend to you a talk by Lynn Green, YWAM’s International Chairman, at our recent Festival of the Nations, on responding to Islam. He tells of personal discoveries in most unlikely places of God at work among Muslims today. Download this talk from www.ywam.eu/festival/media.php and watch it together with friends. Also check out other amazing stories from www.morethandreams.org and www.dreamsandvisions.com (in Arabic).
And to get involved with the Ramadan prayer season, go to www.30DaysPrayer.com.
I’m looking forward to my couscous and lamb! You too?
Till next week,
Till next week,