Written by Ian Sleeper (centre of Image) a volunteer for BACA
"If there is one thing, I am determined to do, it is to reach Muslims for Christ."
Two years ago, I took the decision to stand outside our local Islamic prayer centre handing out Christmas cards in a bid to reach out to our local Muslim population in Ashford, Kent, trying to introduce Christmas into the lives of our local Islam worshippers.
For the first year, I didn’t know what I was doing nor what to expect and rather nervously stood outside holding a box of Christmas cards, gingerly handing them out, to worshippers as they arrived and left the Friday afternoon prayer.
My wife was coerced into videoing this momentous occasion of glasnost and of a Holy Spirit lead connection on my phone, but took refuge by filming from the back of my car, nervous and afraid of the repercussions and half expecting to have to drive her wounded soldier of a husband to hospital if trouble began. This only resulted in a covert operational style spying type of photography from behind the rear window.
On the Saturday after and not to be deterred I returned with my more intrepid daughter fearing a golden chance blown as the last Friday prayer before Christmas was the day before. My perseverance was rewarded by being warmly invited inside to meet the Imam, whose name I still cannot pronounce, and with my usual boldness, I invited my daughter, to join us men inside to take a picture of a few of the willing, some not so willing, all male recipients with me in the middle of the gender divided prayer room.
I never got to know who was who in the picture, but I guessed the men in the Taqiya Kufi, the rounded little white hats, to the left and right of me, were somewhat the important ones and seemed rather happy for me to be there with my cards and for my daughter to take our photograph.
The reaction overall from the attending Muslims was part surprise but mainly happy at this strange tall white Englishman giving out Christmas Cards with enthusiasm displaying Christmas cheer. Only a tiny few were reluctant to take one and passed by with a nonchalant shrug or a brief rejecting raised hand to say “no thank-you” but nothing threatening.
To wish a Muslim “happy Christmas” is to me a perfectly acceptable and a normal thing to do and is after all usually said on a daily occurrence during the festive season, albeit in a casual manner, as you pass people by or in a way of simply saying goodbye to the person behind the supermarket checkout whilst struggling to shuffle home toiled with bags filled with over expenditure. In total disregard for people’s religious belief we freely wish people a “Merry Christmas” that makes us feel good about ourselves.
So, why not say it to Muslims? You’re: spreading the gospel, being friendly- they usually say “Merry Christmas” in reply which shows that they appear to be happy in joining with the festive greetings and, making a connection.
Some Muslims will reply in the same casual style as most of us do in Sainsbury’s, but some are genuinely glad to see an effort being made for the sake of community gluing and enthusiastically shake my hand with a friendly warm broad grin.
I don’t do this in the name of “Chrislam”, a belief I can never subscribe to, because I certainly will not claim, as The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark once did at the June 2018 Grand Iftar, that “we worship the same God”, no I can’t believe he said that either, but I do it in a bid to break down the unnecessary barriers between our brothers and sisters and with hope that it will allow me an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ.
The local church reaction to my request for help getting involved with my festive community project was disappointingly mixed and surprisingly greeted with less enthusiasm than the one I encountered with the Muslim worshippers outside their prayer centre. I approached five churches to assist me with this venture which could have been either by supplying me with the cards, perhaps with a special Christmas message inside, “from all of us elders to our Muslim brothers”, or to give me their invitations to their forth coming annual carol service to hand out. All either declined or failed to respond including my own church but one did at least seem slightly enthusiastic for the idea but then later changed their minds. I felt like a binned, burst football- deflated and rejected.
What are they afraid of? Most Muslims are just the same as us but are born into a different faith, something that they had no control over. Some of those who choose to leave Islam for Christianity end up losing their friends and families or worse face death because hardliners believe the penalty for apostasy in Islam is fatal.
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper. – Quran 4:89
As Jesus explained in the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12 and Luke 15:4, leaving the 99 sheep to find the 1 lost, shouldn’t we 2.1 billion Christians witness to the lost 1.5 billion Muslims let alone the rest of the world’s non believing population?
The trouble is, I suspect, church leaders and elders don’t after all believe the popular narrative that is spouted from some western politicians and the media that Islam is a religion of peace, and that poking the Islamic bees nest with a few Christian Christmas Cards will only result in a brutal maybe deadly Muslim stinging attack. As one elder told me when I asked if I could hand out Alpha invitations to the prayer centre replied, “best not because we wouldn’t like it if they came over here inviting us to their things”
“Of course, this extremist ideology is not true Islam…It cannot be said often enough, that these butchers of ISIL, are no reflection of the true religion of Islam which is a religion of peace…” -David Cameron
If God has taught me one thing, it is to march forward seeing my problems and the things that I am afraid of as God’s problems instead and I am no longer frightened. If we see our problems on our terms, they are huge, but they suddenly shrink when we hand them over to God and a 9 foot Goliath suddenly becomes a 9 stone weakling.
I am only handing out Christmas Cards to my fellow man, what’s the worst that can happen? If my God is with me who can be against?
All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 1 Samuel 17:47
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for the BACA, said:
"I hope the main thing that readers of this post understand, is that God created all men equal.
"Despite are reservations about the beliefs of others and any fears we retain, we are all called to be good stewards of our faith and to love our neighbours as we would love ourselves.
"Moreover extending a hand of friendship to people of other faiths should be a duty for all Christians.
"Not only are we meant to hold exemplary standards of neighbourliness, but it is a first commission for us all to share the gospel - in essence we are all called to be missionaries/evangelists to some extent.
"I cannot think of any better time to share our Christian values of hospitality then at Christmas when most of the country is in a good mood.
"This is derived from the celebration of Christ's birth but in modern times due to varying levels of secular or other religious festivities that occur at a common-time.
"Even if no-one comes to Christ as a consequence of your shared testimonies and exhibited love, take heart in the fact that your expressed love for others because of your Christ is in itself glorifying our Lord."