The veiled Iranian proprietor of the restaurant lavished us with multiple courses of soup, salad, kabobs and rice, yogurt sodas, and flaky dessert pastries. With each her successive courses, the conversation in our group grew more passionate, and a little louder. Every question posed was met with thoughtful responses, sometimes complex explanations, and always with respect. It was a dream event, perhaps one of the highlights of my life. Eight of us, four Muslims and four
Christians, shared a meal and shared our hearts about the concerns we had about the catalysts for hatred. “Why is the world in such turmoil?” our host asked at the beginning of the meal. For two hours, over an amazing spread of Iranian food, we wrestled with that difficult question.
Readers of my blog and my web site know that I am passionately opposed to the imposition of Sharia law in America, and that I stand up vocally against the insidious efforts of Islamists to undermine our country’s Constitutional freedoms. What you may not see so readily, amid my passion to defend America against external terror and internal subversion, is a keen desire to find common ground with my Muslim neighbors and to know them better. As Stephen Covey once opined in the fifth of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we must first seek to understand before we are understood.
This past Friday, such an opportunity arose and it’s worthy of reporting here. Two years ago, a friend of mine at my church had the opportunity to provide some support to the local mosque during their construction of a building extension. It was a small gesture, one that he soon forgot. But the leaders of the mosque did not forget, and they forged a friendship with him during occasional interactions over the coming years. After he attended my class on “Understanding Islam,” my friend invited some of the mosque leadership to dinner, putting Stephen Covey’s fifth habit to the test. He invited me and my wife to join them. We were part of the “kabobs and questions” for two hours on their Islamic day of worship. Four well-spoken and insightful Americans who worship at the mosque shared a meal with four reasonably informed Americans who worship at a Baptist church.
Saturday I shared with my pastor that the previous evening was perfect—more like a movie than something in real life. The questions were pointed, and the enthusiastic answers were supported by fact. The banter went back and forth, never missing a beat. Both sides of a spirited discussion were better informed for it once the meal was done. Did we solve the dilemma of a chaotic world, filled with terror and crises? No, but we made a first step. One of our Muslim hosts later asked “What do we do next? This fellowship should not end here.”
Writing in the Tao Te Ching, the Chinese philosopher Laozi (604 – 531 BC) penned in one proverb that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even the longest and most difficult of challenges have a starting point, to include finding common ground between Muslims and Christians on issues of faith, and discovering a cogent response to Islamic terror. This meal and its fellowship was such a first step for me, and it inspired me to continue reaching
out to Muslims to understand their faith in deeper ways. Building bridges into the Muslim community in no way diminishes my dedication to fighting Islamism, but it does put a new face on understanding others before I seek to be understood.
How can we build bridges? Just show up. Be a friend. Be a neighbor. Invite a Muslim to a meal and respectfully converse about the issues that concern you both. It could be the start of something great.
What’s in a meal? Some great kabobs… and a new beginning in relationships.