Most Americans know little about Islam, the religion practiced by more than 1.4 billion people worldwide, most of whom live in Asia. In the United States, Islam has nearly 2 million adherents residing mostly in metropolitan areas.
For some of us, Muslims are our neighbors, classmates, co-workers and friends. But others of us live in homogenous communities and have never met a Muslim. Because of this, our perception of them comes largely from the media.
The reality of radical Islam came home to the typical American only after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But since that day, sometimes public response to Muslims has been fearfulness and anger, even among Christians. Fueling that fear and anger are alarmist books that urge readers to protect themselves against all followers of Islam. But most Muslims do not endorse such terrorist acts.
When Christians hold such fear and anger for anyone for whom Jesus died, it's impossible for them to reach out with His love to share the Good News. Roy Oksnevad, Director of Muslim Ministries at Wheaton College, speaks at church mission conferences and seminars about Islam and Muslim outreach. "People get really angry at me for talking positively about Muslims," Oksnevad says. "Before you can minister, you have to deal with the fear factor."
Some congregations are responding to Islam positively by increasing their interaction with Muslims through church activities, relationship-building outreach and witnessing.
But one Florida church, the Dove World Outreach Center, has announced plans to observe Sept. 11 by burning Qurans.
This is certainly not the way Christ would respond. As anti-Christian violence followed publication of Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, this one rogue church's action may fuel attacks against Christians in Muslim-majority nations.
This year Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins Aug. 11 and ends Sept. 9. During Ramadan most Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, seeking to shed their sins through abstaining from food, drink, sexual activity and vices of the heart, such as envy, greed, lust and gossip. They believe Ramadan is a time of purification accomplished through good deeds and self-control.
For Christians, Ramadan marks a special time to pray for Muslims and to reach out to them with Christ's love. Open Doors USA is offering a 30-day Ramadan Prayer Calendar (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org) with material to help Christians pray for Muslims as well as prayer requests for Christians who face persecution in Muslim nations. Other Christian organizations are also offering prayer resources during Ramadan.
Eight of the top 10 countries on the 2010 Open Doors World Watch List have Islamic governments, as do 35 of the top 50 on the list. The annual World Watch List reveals the worst persecutors of Christians. Those eight countries include Iran (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia (4), Maldives (5), Afghanistan (6), Yemen (7), Mauritania (8) and Uzbekistan (10).
During Ramadan 2009, a fire at a church in Shebin al-Koml, located 37 miles northwest of Cairo, was among a wave of incidents targeting Egypt's Christians. Muslims in Ethiopia attacked two churches. Extra violence against Christians in Iraq often accompanies Ramadan as well.
But even the most radical Muslims are reachable through the power of prayer. As Open Doors International founder Brother Andrew says, "Our prayers can go where we cannot. While many things may seem impossible from a human standpoint, in the realm of prayer there are no impossibilities."
Open Doors hears testimonies from Muslims to whom Jesus has directly revealed Himself during Ramadan. In one country, "David," an imam (Muslim spiritual leader), heard Christ's voice during Ramadan. David prayed in the mosque daily at 6 a.m., but never thought anyone would be praying for him. After David came to faith in Christ, an old woman hugged him, crying. "She said, ‘I have been praying for you every time you walked into that mosque. It's just amazing to see that God has answered my prayer.'
"In her eyes, I looked very hard to convince," David says. "That will always stay on my heart: to know that my prayers can make a difference to somebody."
Last year, "Rashed," a Middle Eastern deaf man, asked his friend about religion. The friend told him about Jesus. Soon after, Rashed dreamed Jesus healed him, and he awoke -- hearing.
In the Philippines, Jesus spoke in a dream to "Sarita." She shared what she heard in the dream with a Christian who told her Jesus spoke the words in John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Christians worldwide face increased persecution, but we can turn Ramadan into a time of intercession for those who need Jesus. Remember those Christians who suffer and pray for their persecutors. In so doing we may see Muslims come to faith in Jesus and, like the Apostle Paul, see persecutors transformed into bold witnesses for the Lord.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians since 1955.
Publication date: August 9, 2010