I recently took my Syrian imam friend to a Christian college to speak. He was a guest lecturer in “Cross Cultural Communications” classes, a “Theology of Missions” class and a “Church Planting” class. It was really interesting to hear how the imam approached these topics from an Islamic perspective.
When chapel rolled around, I was able to interview the imam and the chair of the Bible department in front of the student body. When I asked about the Islamic view of Jesus, the imam said that Islam honors Jesus as a very important prophet. He wanted the students to know that the Qur’an mentions Jesus more than it mentions Muhammad. “And the Qur’an mentions Moses more than it mentions Jesus,” he said with a provocative smile. However, he did not shy away from the differences. He made it clear that, from an Islamic perspective, Jesus did not die on a cross and was not the Son of God.
I think it was pretty gutsy of him to go into that setting where 100% of the people disagreed with him. The students and faculty seemed interested in his perspectives and reasoning, but they did not accept his proof texts from the Qur’an as proof. How could they? They don’t accept the Qur’an as authentic. The imam spoke with passion and concern for we who have been “misguided,” but passion and certitude were not enough to persuade.
I suspect the students had some Biblical texts of their own that came to mind as the imam spoke. Had the students had opportunity to recite their own texts, the imam would have been gracious and listened to their understanding of God’s will, but he too would have been dismissive. Though the Qur’an mentions the Bible in many places, Muslims typically believe the Bible has been corrupted and is no longer reliable. So we talk in circles, each citing different “reliable sources,” but for our faith to be compelling to others, it must be more than a collection of proof texts.
After the chapel service we made our way over to the Starbucks on campus. Though the imam was reluctant to accept the hospitality, a student in a wheelchair insisted on buying our coffee. The student then sat with us and asked many questions of the imam, clarifying things he had heard and been taught. Some questions were about Syria where the imam has family members trying to stay alive. He was respectful and kind. He was humble, genuinely listening to and learning from the Syrian imam.
When it came time for the student to go to class, he asked the imam if he could pray for him. The student prayed for the imam’s family in Syria and that God would bring peace. The student connected with the heart and suffering of another human being.
Jesus said that if we love God and love others, that pretty much sums up the law and the prophets. This student did both. The imam was moved, and as I watched the student make his way out of Starbucks, I was grateful for how he had blessed my friend. To me, that boy in the wheelchair looked a lot like Jesus.