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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The God of Hospitality: A Story

The first posts I’ve made in this blog–which were really one big story, broken into seven separate pieces–provide the foundation for all the rest of my writing on hospitality.

However, they’re scattered all over (and in reverse order). So, to make them easier to access, I’ve consolidated them into a nice, tidy table of contents. They’re meant to be read in order, but if you really want to skip to the Jesus stuff, I can’t blame you.

1. An Introduction
“A few initial observations about deep, true hospitality.”

2. The Hospitality of Creation
“God invites the first humans into divine hospitality, not as mere recipients but as full participants.”

3. The Risk
“The worst possible scenario in God’s risky act of welcome has become a reality: Humanity has rejected our role as guests as well as our role as hosts.”

4. An Unlikely Mission
“God embarks on an unlikely mission to welcome people back, back to God and back to each other. This mission of hospitality pops up all over Genesis, but really begins to become clear in the Exodus story.”

5. Hospitality Incarnate
“God, filled with compassion, steps down to welcome them back once more; only this time, God welcomes them in person.”

6. An Unwelcome God
“Jesus’ mission of hospitality depends on his willingness to experience the fullness of inhospitality. To welcome people back, Jesus has to die.”

7. The Hospitality of Life
“Through the resurrection of Jesus, the pain of rejection has become the conduit of new creation. The inhospitality of death has been swallowed up by the hospitality of Life.”