Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

How should Lutherans approach Muslims?

Those who work with them are divided

Extending hospitality is the initial step in how Lutheran Christians should approach people of Islamic faith. Beyond that, there’s some divergence of opinion. The question is no longer academic, however, since there are now 60 mosques and 200,000 Muslims in the Twin City area.
Teaching is one way to approach Muslims with credibility, according to Mi-chael S. Neterer, Director of SALT (the Somali Adult Literacy Training program). “Basically, we are at the stage of befriending Mus-lims through English language tutoring. We’re building bridges of trust strong enough to bear the weight of the Gospel.”
Neterer said his group has the conviction “that we are called by God to love our newest neighbors by serving them through ESL (English as a Second Language classes) and friendship.” He explained, “It would be un-faithful of us to not share the Good News of Christ’s love and forgiveness through the cross. ‘The worst sin in the desert,’ according to an Arab proverb, ‘is to find water and not tell others.’ But we don’t convert anyone. Only God can change a person’s heart. We just offer the Living Water. If a person accepts or rejects it, that’s their choice. We will love and serve them the same.”
Neterer’s group can use more helpers. He explained, “There are many, many Somali refugee men and women who are still waiting for a tutor. We invite Christians who are willing to serve as a reading and conversation partner once a week. We will provide training and encouragement. It is challenging, but we encourage our volunteers to remember that it’s Christ’s love in us that gives courage and joy in our service.”
SALT currently has two outreach sites in Minneapo-lis, one in Richfield, one in Bloomington and a recently-opened site in St. Paul.
Yaqub Mohamed, a ministerial candidate and founder of a local Somali church, takes issue with the way well-meaning people answer Muslims’ questions about why they were helped to emigrate to the U.S. He observed that many just respond “because it’s the right thing to do. What we really need to do is testify to the love of Jesus Christ.”
Mohamed argues against working ecumenically at the expense of the Gospel. “The New Testament gives us the commission to reach out,” he said. “Christianity calls us to discipleship — that’s something Lutherans need to wrestle with.”
Mohamed believes that, while ethnic churches are appropriate for first generation immigrants who convert to Christianity, future generations should be united with other Christians.
Mohamed, who grew up a Muslim, said, “People are touched when we do good work in Jesus’ name. We need to be available to respond to Muslims when questions of faith come up.”
Noting the rapid growth in the number of mosques in the Twin Cities, Mohamed de-clared, “Islam is not here to coexist.” He also ex-pressed concern about charter schools that are segregated and focused on an Islamic heritage yet funded by the government. That, he observed, wouldn’t happen for a Lutheran school. He said Muslims get people into strategic positions [in order] to further their faith.
Christian interaction with Muslims dates back at least to the time of Martin Luther, when Muslims occupied much of Europe and were forcing their religion on Europeans. Luther advised Christians to resist efforts to convert them and had serious issues with the Islamic stance on the Trinity. Mohamed said Islam forbids Muslim women to marry Christians and Jews, believing they are weaker-willed and would convert to other faiths. Muslim males, however, are allowed to marry non-Muslims. Often the marriages work well until children come along and the Muslim grandparents begin exerting pressure to have their grandchildren raised in Islamic beliefs.
Today, one in five persons in the world is Muslim.
Charles Amjad-Ali, a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, observed, “Sunday is an in-credible opportunity to bring people together. It’s not a liberal-conservative issue.” Amjad-Ali, who grew up Muslim, converted to Christianity while studying at Oxford University in England. He was attracted by a faith emphasizing a vulnerable God … one who was born in a stable and later was rejected, betrayed and crucified.
The seminary professor explained that Islamic people come from countries where Muslims were in positions of power; by contrast, Muslim immigrants to the U.S. are vulnerable, and Christians are in positions of power.
Amjad-Ali sees the foot of the cross as a hospitable place, a place of inclusive hospitality. That welcome can be extended to people who were not leaders in their native lands, who came to the U.S. out of crisis situations. They need comforting. That comfort can be extended in helping them with the English language, helping them find housing and helping them understand the bureaucracy — ways of successfully interacting with various government agencies.
Amjad-Ali said, “Chris-tian faith is inclusive. I can’t treat someone as an enemy [even though] the state has deemed that they are.”
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Readers interested in helping immigrants learn English may contact Michael Neterer at 612/870-SALT (612/870-7258).