Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Roland Clarke

Anyone who knows Muslims well has probably observed that they value thankfulness as a virtue. I was reminded of this when a Christian friend, we'll call Joe, recounted meeting a Muslim named Tarik in a coffee shop. Confined to a wheel chair, Tarik beckoned Joe to come over. It was difficult to understand Tarik as he explained that his degenerative disease meant he needed help to eat his soup. Joe kindly obliged and was drawn into a conversation which involved hearing Tarik's life story. This man recounted how he had travelled from the Middle East to England where he married a Canadian woman and eventually settled in Canada. One thing that especially caught Joe's attention about this encounter was hearing Tarik repeatedly say, “Thanks be to God.” He was curious to know how Tarik had maintained such a positive outlook in spite of his distressing limitations. After spending about an hour together they exchanged phone numbers and Joe promised to pray for Tarik.

I met Joe ten days after this unusual encounter. He heard me share some lessons I've learned from a lifetime of introducing Muslims to Jesus. Naturally he was curious to know what advice I could offer him.

I told Joe it would be good to meet Tarik again over coffee to see how he's doing. I added, “You can certainly commend Tarik for his thankful attitude in spite of having had to cope with so many heart breaking setbacks.”

Later I wrote a letter to Joe, reminding him of the patience of Job and the steadfastness of Joseph. These prophetic figures, mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur'an, exemplify people who trusted God through tough times. These stories are also in the Qur'an and although they are somewhat different, alluding to them might provide a point of connection to start a meaningful conversation.

I also suggested a creative approach for introducing Jesus as the Messiah to Tarik. Why not ask Tarik if he'd like to hear a story from the Injil (Gospel) where Jesus healed 10 lepers yet only one -- a foreigner -- returned to express thanks and praise God? (Luke 17:11-19)

Tarik may be someone who genuinely respects God though some Muslims just have a habit saying, “thanks be to Allah” (Alhamdullilah) in a casual, perfunctory way. In addition to sincere friendship, what Tarik needs is to be enlightened by a gracious, seasoned-with-salt “unfolding” of the Gospel. As it is written, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130, NIV)

I also suggested that Joe ask Tarik some simple questions meant to pave the way for a reading of John 4 where Jesus met a Samaritan woman and then was invited to stay and engage villagers in spiritual discussion. This story is loaded with terms that resonate with the Gospel. Moreover, the tense situation that prevailed at that time between Jews and their Samaritan cousins makes for interesting reading. This is explained more fully in, What every Christian needs to know about sharing the Gospel with Muslims, a book that's freely available online.

As Tarik reads John 4, I would ask, “Do you know who the Samaritans are?” A simple way to clarify their identity is to explain that modern day Samaria is now known as the West Bank. Then I'd tell him how Jesus met and stayed two days with Samaritans in a village called Sychar. This is a fitting way to open a faith conversation that enables one to probe the heart of the Gospel. Not only so, this story reveals truth in a way that a Muslim like Tarik will find intriguing and thought provoking.

One final question: Can the above approach be useful if you're talking with anyone who routinely says, “Thanks be to God” as an empty ritual? It certainly can!

Islamic perspective on thankfulness: According to Surah 34:13, Allah said, “Few of my servants are truly thankful.” A modern Muslim author instructs Muslims to “always be thankful to Allah whatever comes one's way.” He supports this admonition with a saying of Umar ibn al-Khattab, as quoted by Imam Al Ghazzali, “Whatever hardship I faced, it brought four rewards from Allah. Firstly, this hardship was related to worldly affairs and not my Religion. Secondly, it might have been a much greater calamity, but by the grace of Allah I only suffered a lesser affliction. Thirdly, I remained content with whatever was destined for me, and, finally, I hope I will be rewarded for this affliction.” (p. 51, Living in Allah's Presence, by Abdur Rashid Siddiqui) Compare Surah 14:7, which says, “If you are grateful I will add more (favours) unto you. But if you show ingratitude, truly My punishment is terrible indeed.”

Finally, from a Christian perspective, living with gratitude, devoid of “complaining and arguing ... shows the results of salvation.” For us, being God's children means, “shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:12-15, NLT)

You're most welcome to respond or ask questions by writing me here.