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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Islam & Christianity

Understanding begins with acknowledging devotion and differences

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 Quran,
Like this man reading from the Qur'an, many Muslims memorize large portions and meditate on them during prayer.
With 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 communities.

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.

But 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 we do.

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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September issue

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