If you know Islam well enough not to buy into all the generic and distorting stereotypes, then I bet you know that Islam and Christianity (as well as Judaism) are all cousin faiths. It is not just that they all originate from the same geographical area and cultural environment (Semitic, Middle Eastern), but they also have similar doctrines (as well as pretty different ones). For example, both Christians and Muslims believe that God reveals his (her?) will. Christians and Muslims share the belief that a sacred wisdom is passed down to us in a scripture. Moreover, Islam and Christianity agree that, if nothing else, Jesus was a prophet of God. Compare this to Buddhism, whose teachings do not center on God to begin with, or to Mormonism, which teaches the existence of more than one god over all three Abrahamic faiths. The similarities between Christianity and Islam lead me to believe that there are plenty of things Christians can learn from Muslims.
If you cringe when you think you may have certain things to learn from Muslims, let me remind you that the Pharisees thought they had nothing to learn from the Samaritans either. Ancient Jews considered the Samaritans a mixed-blood people who were unclean, and therefore they refused to interact with them. In that cultural climate, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. As you know, the story casts the despised Samaritan in a good light and the more respected members of society — a Levite and a priest — in a bad light. You can imagine how Jesus’ act of reversing their expectations angered his audience, who would rather have liked to hear the priest and the Levite help the fallen traveler and the Samaritan pass over. But by that very story, Christ also implied that the self-righteous Pharisees had much to learn from a group of people they did not respect.
In short, let’s avoid being the Pharisees. If Christ thought his fellow Jewish people had something to learn from a Samaritan, you can rest assured that we have something to learn from Muslims, who have become a scapegoat of modern politics. So what can we as Christians learn from Muslims? Below I lay down five things we can learn from our cousins. It comes from my experience with Muslims — living among them and being one many years ago.
Before we dive into these five things, just remember that what I mention below does not mean that all Muslims are good examples to learn these listed features. There are Muslims who are no less secular than your atheist neighbor. Think of them as humans with all their implications and not just as poster boys of certain things, okay?
Respect for the Scripture
Muslims usually have a greater respect for their scripture than many Christians I have come across. Although their societies are being secularized, the scripture still commands a high respect from its people, and it is not surprising to find everyday interactions saturated with allusions to the Qur’an or metaphors that come from the scripture. That’s an admirable feature, and I believe Christians can gain from that. In modern Western societies, however, the scripture is confined to one area of life (the so-called spiritual), and the level of biblical literacy among Christians is low.
Devotion to their Community
People in the Islamic world tend to be more community-oriented. Since Christianity is a faith that emphasizes community, all Christians can learn from Muslims’ devotion to their local communities. This devotion shows up in their respect for the community, counseling the younger generation, and helping each other, etc. Western society is highly individualistic, so local communities are weaker. Devotion to the community may sound anachronistic, but in Christian communities that’s an aspired way of living. Communities are main powerhouses for socializing individuals and for preparing them for an independent life beyond their immediate family. Christians would definitely gain from becoming more community-oriented.
Love for their extended family
By extended family I mean parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other close relatives. Muslims interact and spend more time with their extended families than an average member of Western society. They visit one another often, sacrifice more resources in order to help, and are very much involved in each other’s lives. If a family’s decision in a given area affects others, then the decision-making involves several families that discuss the matter for some time. From a Western point of view, this kind of involvement in each other’s lives may look like confining to an individual’s independence. And in certain cases it is. But Christians can still learn and sift through Muslims’ practices in order to live a love-filled life towards their own extended family.
I believe neighborliness is another positive trait we can learn from Muslims. In my understanding, neighborliness means caring about people who live close by. Knowing them by name, greeting them, occasionally finding reasons to visit and talk to them, encouraging them, and when necessary helping them are all part of neighborliness. Inviting them to your home once in a while for coffee or tea matters in building neighborly relationships. This obviously depends on where and how you live, but it may require you to step out of your comfort zone. In many nations around the world, people still actively interact with their neighbors, and these relationships form the backbone of the community. In many Muslim societies, it is not unusual for neighbors to participate in one another’s celebrations or significant life events.
These are the things that I have observed in Western and non-Western societies, so my observations come from comparison.
Do you think there are other things that Christians can learn from Muslims? Comment and let me know.
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