For many Americans, the only encounter with
Islam and Muslims is televised images of violent conflict in the Middle
East. For others, it may be the glimpse of a fully covered female
shopper in a supermarket. Our family’s first encounter was hearing the
call to prayer from the mosques near our apartment in Damascus, Syria.
|Like this man reading from the Qur'an, many Muslims memorize large portions and meditate on them during prayer.|
our two young children, my husband and I had arrived in that
7,000-year-old city in 1981 for a year of teaching and research. We
left Syria taking home many more images and friendships with Muslims
from a country that is also home to vibrant Christian and Jewish
In the 25 years since this first immersion in
Arab-Muslim culture, I’ve studied Islam as a doctoral student, taught
Islam in universities, participated in formal Christian-Muslim
dialogue, traveled in a dozen Arab and African countries with Muslim
majority populations, and lived six months in Yemen, an Arab-Muslim
country even more distant from Western culture than Syria.
most important, my family and I developed long-term friendships with
Muslims of many nationalities and political and religious orientations.
They share a desire to tell Christians that they take seriously their
commitment to follow God’s will, and that they worship the same God,
revere the same prophets, and obey the same spiritual commandments that
Christianity and Islam are the world’s largest religions,
with an estimated 2 billion and 1.3 billion followers, respectively. In
North America, Muslims and Christians are increasingly living and
working side by side. As Lutherans, it’s vital for us to understand
Islam and its diversity—and also Islam’s similarities and differences
from both Christianity and Judaism.
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