What Muslim Students Have Been Teaching Me About The Bible

Something’s happened this semester that I hadn’t anticipated: Muslim students have been consistently showing up to the Bible studies I help lead at HFCC. I’m not exactly sure why they’ve been coming (although, if I had a similar chance to get to know the Quran alongside an open Muslim community, I’d probably do the same thing), but I’ve loved having them in on our conversations.

When I’ve mentioned this surprising development to some of my Christian friends, I’ve been met mostly with encouragement. “What a great opportunity!” I’ve been told. “You must be so excited to teach them about the Bible!”

And of course, I’m always eager to introduce students to Jesus—I think he’s pretty great. But what’s excited me most isn’t the occasional moments when we’ve taught Muslims about the Bible; it’s been the consistent ways they’ve helped us Christians understand the gospel.

The world Jesus was born into overlaps so frequently with the cultural context of Muslim students; there are so many similarities between Islamic culture and first century Palestine. Despite not sharing our understanding of Jesus, Muslim students often get these stories better than I do.

Each time we get together, I’m surprised by the aspects of the story my Western eyes refused to see, cultural dynamics that are immediately apparent to an Iraqi immigrant. In ways that I never could, Muslim students get the scandal of the prodigal son longing for pig food, the local tensions between Jews and Samaritans, and (especially) the social and familial cost of leaving everything to follow Jesus.

Or, to use an example from yesterday morning, Muslim students really seem to grasp the depth of the controversy surrounding Jesus eating with tax-collectors. As one student explained as we read Luke 19, “It’d be shameful and sinful for me eat my lunch next to a bank manager, for instance. He makes his living by collecting interest from others and exploiting them. If I ate at the same table as him, my meal would become like dung.”

He continued, “So it makes sense that the whole town would have been shocked that Jesus was a guest at Zacchaeus’ house. No holy person would do that. He must have seen something in the tax collector that no one else saw.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe what is happening in this story. Jesus broke all social expectations because he saw something in Zacchaeus that no one else saw: the image of God, the potential for change, a future as a Son of Abraham. And it was through that scandalous act that Jesus brought salvation to Zacchaeus’ house.

And I can’t help thinking that it’s through the scandalous act of trying to welcome the perspectives of every student at our table—Christian or not—that Jesus is bringing salvation to every person in our small groups.

All of us.

Especially me. 

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8 thoughts on “What Muslim Students Have Been Teaching Me About The Bible

  1. Wayne, I’m glad to hear of your continued efforts to minister. Muslims have great respect for Jesus because they believe he is a prophet, a lesser prophet than Muhammad, but a prophet none the less. I agree that an understanding of Middle Eastern culture is very helpful. You may want to pick up a copy of Jesus Through Middle Easter Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. That book provides similar insights which you are experiencing now. When do you think you’ll have the conversation about Jesus being God and that He died for the sins of those Muslim students? That will be the test of how open they are and that will be when you see true fruit, or not, from these conversations. I work with a man named Umar who practices Islam and he tells me that the Quran is what the Bible was originally before it got messed up by the Jews. Have you had a chance to talk about that? Have they been doing any listening/learning from you? What kinds of things do you think they are taking away from these conversations? Peace in and through Christ alone, Matt

    • Hi Matt–I hope to send you a longer reply in a personal message soon, but the short answer is: I’ve had a number conversations with our Muslim guests about the identity/mission of Jesus, and I think we’re learning a lot from each other. The conversations aren’t always comfortable (we’re discussing conflicting truth-claims after all), but they’ve always been respectful and mutually-beneficial. Among other things, these students have been teaching me what a humble posture of learning can look like in practice!

      And you’re one of many to recommend Bailey’s book. I need to get on that I guess!

      Thanks for checking in!

  2. Wayne, what an awesome update! Thanks for sharing and the amazing humbling work you continue to do. So many Christians would not even be brave or humble enough to start these conversations much less continue them as you touch on tougher subjects. God bless you and that he continue to grant you wisdom as you show the love of Jesus. You might not see the results of your time with these students – I’m sure that’s common in campus work – but know that you are impacting their lives and their hearts.

  3. Wayne,

    This is such an incredible post. Honestly, this is the first time I’ve read your blog since being directed here by your last email and I’m loving the feel. It seems like you are treating others as they would like to be treated and they are doing the same. That’s beautiful. It seems like your discussions with the students have thankfully broadened outside of simply conversion. It makes me sad when I sometimes see Christians (groups or singular) treating people like projects- like the only point in talking to them is to tell them that their entire belief structure is wrong. It seems that you’re just happy they’re there, illuminating cultural practices, sharing, listening, and learning. Maybe…God brought them there to be an example for us.

    This post seems to have been written with love and respect that I’m sure they feel. Thank you for doing a little to redeem my faith in the faithful 🙂

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