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Christ and Islam: A view from Africa

We’ve been living in the southern African nation of Mozambique for about nine years now, and our situation certainly is different than those in the Middle East.
Maybe that’s a reason for it to be heard — so those of us in Churches of Christ don’t make the mistake of thinking that all Muslims are the same all over the world.
We live in a rural area among the Makua-Metto, a people group that is predominantly Muslim, but not militant. Most serious Muslims would not consider them very good followers of Muhammad.
Our family just returned from a four-month furlough in the U.S. While in line at a local bread store, I chatted with an imam who leads a mosque not too far from our house. I hadn’t really talked to him in a couple of years. He was genuinely glad we were back from the U.S.
We talked about our families and how our town of Montepuez was doing and then he tried to buy my bread. No one ever does this! Poverty is a huge problem in Mozambique. This man is not well off, but he wanted to bless us. I stammered in telling him I had already paid for it and we said our goodbyes.  
There is another imam in our town that I know well — Imam Bakar. He wears the typical Islamic dress and cap and, if ever he catches me wearing shorts, reminds me with a smile that “the prophets never wore shorts.”
Islam here is intertwined with animism. Imams often use the Quran to make curses or protective magic. Once, when my wife, Rachel, was sick the imam offered to write out verses from the Quran that we could put in a glass of water for her to drink and she would be healed. I respectfully declined.
Once we were chatting at my house and a lady with a mental illness (or an evil spirit?) was walking by and stopped to stare at us. The imam squirmed in his seat. “That woman is trying to give me the evil eye,” he said.
I told him, “My friend, the prophets never lived in fear of the evil eye.”
I once asked Imam Bakar what he thought about the work we do — teaching the Scriptures and teaching people to follow Jesus. He said, “What you are doing is good. We have some differences in what we believe, but you believe in one God and I believe in one God, so we have much more in common than all the pagans out there.”
I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses about the relationship between Christianity and Islam. We know people in Mozambique who have experienced religious persecution from Muslim family members and neighbors.
What I am trying to say is that there are places in the world where it is possible for dialogue can happen between Islam and Christianity without becoming antagonistic.
When we visit family and churches in the U.S., we get questions about Islam. It seems that most people’s perspectives regarding Muslims come from the evening news.
Recently, there was a lot in the news in Tennessee about the opening of a new mosque in Murfreesboro. People were protesting and trying to keep the mosque from opening.
If America is seen by the world as a “Christian nation” and we put up barriers to religious freedom for Muslims here in the U.S., how can we ask for freedom of worship for minority populations of Christians in Islamic nations?
There are times that we may need to take off our “American Christian” hat and try to assess situations like this by looking at the impact it will have on global Christianity.  
Let’s make sure our everyday actions and our responses to tragedies are shaped less by our concerns for security and the U.S.A. and more by a vision for God’s kingdom in the whole world — a world where the majority of Muslims are not militant.
Muslims are not our enemies. They are our neighbors.
ALAN HOWELL and his wife, Rachel, are part of the Mission Among the Makua-Metto in Montepuez, Mozambique. The team’s website is www.makuateam.org. Follow the Howells at howellsinmoz.blogspot.com.

  • Feedback
    Very good story, I would say. Alan is right: We have the privilege of showing Jesus to Muslims who practice a sort of Islamic synchretism. Thanks for sharing this. Anita Hassey, Ft. Myers, FL
    Anita Hassey
    Gulf Coast Church of Christ
    Ft. Myers, FL 33901
    October, 11 2012

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