Q & R: On friendship with Muslims

A reader writes …

I am currently an undergraduate student who, through a series of random
but fortunate circumstances, has had the opportunity to meet and get to
know a variety of students who come to study with the English as a second
language program at my university. Quite a few of these students are
Muslims from the Middle East & Turkey and they are, without a doubt, a
group of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. They have
made my college experience absolutely unforgettable as well as being among
the most helpful and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of
I have seen first hand how much the anti-Islamic sentiment here in the
U.S. has hurt these students and I know that far too many of them will be
returning home with a negative perception of the hospitality and kindness
of Americans in general. Which is not to say that every American reacts in
an awful manner, but enough do to make an impact. Unfortunately, no matter
how many kind people they may meet it is always the negative experiences
that tend to stick out in their minds. I have been told far too many times
that I am among the only American friends they have (the rest being fellow
international students). Plenty of people are willing to be nice to them,
but few are willing to engage in a real friendship with these students.
I’ve even had people’s roommates question me as to why I choose to hang
out with them so often. This is the sort of question I would never get
from the roommates of students from China, Latin America or Europe, but
those who live with the students from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Kuwait are
always asking.
Even some of my own close friends and family have shown disapproval of my
warm friendship with these Muslim students. Or if they show any approval
at all it is only as a means to trying to lead them to Christianity,
never as an end in itself. This is particularly troubling for me. I have
dealt with so many people who try to warn me about the evils of Islam and
have been sent links to just about every anti-Islamic website in
existence by (I assume) well meaning people who fear the apparently
subversive influence I am subjecting myself to. This has put quite a lot
of strain on these relationships– some with people I was/am particularly
close with and whose friendship I don’t want to lose. However, their
actions and comments are difficult to look past and I very often feel
increasingly uncomfortable around them.
I often attempt to avoid the topic, but feel this is not the best option
for many reasons. I don’t feel that keeping the peace by avoidance is the
best solution. There may not be fighting, but it is a hollow peace that
may threaten to collapse at any point. There is a distinct tension between
us that I fear is only fueled by a lack of out-in-the-open discussion
about their fears regarding Islam and my concern for the negative
consequences such opinions have on those of the Muslim faith.
This is where I seek your advice. Basically, what have you said to those
who, in the past, question you on your friendship with Muslims? What seems
to have made the biggest impact in helping to change someone’s mind and
I realize that you are busy and that this isn’t necessarily your
particular field, but I send this request to you not only because of the
obvious passion and knowledge you have on Muslim-Christian interaction
and friendship, but because of your dedication to the idea that God loves
the oppressed and the oppressor. The idea that we are called to love our
enemies and seek their best (even when ones “enemy” may in fact be a close
friend). Which is to say that I am not seeking to change people’s
opinions to prove myself right and superior, but because I want the best
not only for the Muslim students who are looked at suspiciously but the
best for those who are fearful. Living with the fear, suspicion and
sometimes outright hatred that I have seen reflected can only be an awful
Thank you for your time.

Thanks for your question. This is a deeply important subject for me for several reasons. First, like you, I have Muslim friends whom I love and respect, and if I am silent on the disgusting wave of racism and prejudice being promoted in our country, my silence is complicity. Second, I believe it is a betrayal of Jesus Christ to forsake any human being in danger … Muslim, Jew, Hindu, atheist, whatever. And third – and largely in response to the previous two reasons, my next writing project will be on this subject. So I’m glad you’ve gotten into this situation by being a true friend to Muslims, and I’m glad you’ve asked this question … even though I’m sad you’re going through this.
Here are a few specific suggestions that you’d have to “make your own.”
1. Tell your story. Whenever you hear people make anti-Muslim statements, simply tell your story. Say, “It hurts and even angers me to hear you say something like this, because you’re talking about friends of mine. Let me tell you about …”
2. Self-report your feelings. “I feel angry when I hear you talk in this way … I’m disappointed to hear you say that … I’m shocked that you would say that kind of thing.” Then, don’t offer an explanation until the other person asks. (If you offer an unsolicited explanation, people will feel you’re judging them, and they’ll become defensive. Not a great environment for communication.)
3. Talk about Jesus. “This sounds like Jesus telling the Pharisees to go ahead and cast the first stone at the woman in the gospel story … This sounds like Jesus must have said, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ … How does that attitude square with what Jesus said about loving your neighbor? … Wow, if this were the parable of the good Samaritan, I guess you’d want to walk to the other side of the road.”
I’m not optimistic about any of this being warmly received. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do. Sometimes, it’s our job to stir the pot and in the name of justice and compassion to risk being persecuted for the sake of justice, in an effort to be among the blessed peacemakers. May God bless you – and may your story inspire every reader of this blog to reach out to build a friendship with someone who is considered “the other.”