How can we build friendships with our UK Muslim neighbours?
It's Ramadan, and Alan Hallmart reflects on reaching out to develop relationships and build bridges of understanding
In between lockdowns, I have taken to walking with a neighbour during my lunch break. Over the weeks and months, we have talked of the weather, football, the merits of different cars and more. But as time has worn on, we have spoken more personally and vulnerably; about the painful and unexpected divorce he has been going through, we have spoken of God and I have shared my faith. My neighbour just happens to be a Muslim.
As Ramadan and 30 days of prayer for Muslims begins, across the world and here in the UK, we should consider the opportunity to share the love and message of Jesus with Muslims more than ever.
The idea of sharing our faith with anyone might be daunting and perhaps particularly so with our Muslim neighbours. We are afraid of the unknown. We don’t know what they believe or understand their culture. The occasional one-sided portrayal of Muslims from the media and the atrocities committed in the name of Islam has led to Muslims being regarded with suspicion and subconsciously shunned.
But, in reality the majority of Muslims living in the UK are just like you and me. Their day to day lives are consumed with bills, school runs, jobs, much like ours. They worry about their careers, their kids, the mortgage and lockdown much like we do. It’s actually often easier to have a conversation about our faith with a Muslim than our secular friends and neighbours, because they accept there is a God.
So how do we move beyond our fears to be able to witness to our Muslim friends and neighbours? As Brits, we often have a certain reticence about entering someone’s private space, we don’t want to invade. But we have to make the effort to get to know our Muslim neighbours. In the UK alone there are close to 3.4 million Muslims, many of whom may have little engagement with Christians in their lives. Beyond our shores The Joshua Project estimates that 85 per cent of the world’s unreached people groups – which means they have either no church or a very small church, making access to a gospel witness difficult - adhere to Islam.
That’s why I look for opportunities in everyday life. I often strike up conversations with the person delivering my parcels, or the server at my local Indian restaurant. I develop a rapport and sometimes get their contact details to send the Jesus Film or YouVersion bible app links in own their language.
Reaching out can also be in the form of advocacy. My wife has struck up a friendship with an Iraqi lady living at the end of the street and when she was told her children had been given asylum status and she had not, my wife dropped everything to help her. She also teaches English through our church to women from a variety of Muslim backgrounds.
At this time of Ramadan there are some simple ways you can begin to build bridges of understanding and develop relationships and empathy. Start by checking in, ask how Muslim colleagues, friends and neighbours are celebrating this year, how fasting is going or how you can pray for them. You can join them in their feasting, albeit over zoom. You could even share some scripture, a Psalm or Old Testament blessing.
Ramadan is an opportunity for followers of Jesus to learn more about the incredible dedication and discipline required from Muslims, fasting between sunrise and sunset with no food or water, made more difficult as the sunset gets later into the evening. It’s also a wonderful way to experience how their faith is imbued into their culture and evident in the generous hospitality and respect shown to friends and family who visit each other throughout the holy month. My wife and I have been privileged to experience this firsthand when we joined our friends for ‘fatar’, which is the breaking of the fast at sunset. Lockdown restrictions around the world, including here in the UK, will make it harder for this hospitality to be expressed and reciprocated, so it would be good to ask them how they’re coping during this time.
Ask them what they believe and from there we can build bridges of understanding, develop relationships and empathy. The daily prayer themes on the 30 days of Prayer website or OM’s Prayer Reach app are a great place to start educating yourself, as is reading books like Nabeel Quereshi’s Seeking Allah Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity and A wind in the house of Islam by David Garrison.
So, as you get to know your Muslim neighbours or colleagues, how do you bring in the gospel? As well as a lack of understanding, our fear can also come from a lack of confidence in what we believe. Muslims seem to be so certain in their beliefs, and we are afraid, we feel less assured in our faith and theology. What if we can’t explain the gospel clearly? What if we don’t have the answers to their questions?
We need to equip ourselves with understanding and confidence in the gospel; to remind ourselves of the incredible news of the Jesus’ redeeming work on cross, the power and love of the God who created the universe, the God in who’s name we go out.
In all my years of ministry, I have found it isn’t in-depth theological insights that are most effective but rather our stories. Being quick and ready to share your testimony. At Operation Mobilisation (OM) we train people to share their story in three minutes. In those three minutes you explain the gospel and its impact on you, you make yourself vulnerable and then end with a hook. A question, something to engage them, “So I started to read the gospels and was amazed by what I found, have you ever read a gospel?”. You ask a question; you build a bridge. You share yourself and invite them to do the same.
And through it all pray. OM is a representative of the World Prayer Guide Collaboration and has developed a Prayer Reach App for the 30 days of prayer that takes you through a focused tour of cities in the Muslim world. Sharing the gospel with Muslims does not need to be scary or even difficult, but we will have to make the effort. So, build understanding with the Muslim community, learn your story, pray and step out confidently in the power of the God who has promised to gather all tribes, tongues and nations around his throne.
Alan Hallmart has worked with OM, amongst Muslims, for over 40 years. He has served in Turkey, the Middle East and presently job shares with his wife, supporting church planting teams around the world while based in the UK and coaching the senior management of many global brands in cross cultural leadership.
Alan teaches Islamics at Theological Colleges. To learn more about how you can reach out to and pray for your Muslim neighbour, go to https://www.uk.om.org/30-days-prayer