22 August 2011

القوة‎ and مال

I can hardly believe it, I even have students now who weren't alive when it happened, but next month will mark the ten-year anniversary of the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, the crash of United flight 93, and the plane crash at the Pentagon. No doubt the next few weeks will be filled with memorial services and emotion as families and a nation remember.

It seems to me that that was when Islam and the Muslim world really began to be noticed in America. Yet, ten years later, what do most of us really know about the more than one billion people in our world who make up the Nation of Islam? Some of us might say they read and follow the teachings of the Quran or that "they" are trying to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Others might say that Muslims make them feel uneasy in airports or that they are the reason so many of our soldiers have lost their lives. Those things might all be true, and I do not at all mean to diminish or trivialize the sacrifice that so many have given for our protection and freedom, but do those observations really give us a picture of what the Muslim world is truly like? Do we even care? Honestly, until recently, I really haven't.

Sure, I've prayed some pretty generic prayers for "the Muslims," but I've never really understood enough to pray more than that or have even known a Muslim by name. As I write this, I have still barely inched past that point. I know the radical Muslims are being blamed for much of the famine crisis that is going on in Somalia right now, for the continued onslaught of terror against the "Western" world, including the deaths of many U.S. and other soldiers from around the world, and for civil wars that are destroying generations. However as Christians, I think that, all political opinions aside, we have a divine responsibility to engage this culture, remembering that these people are still loved by God as His creation, and He knows them each by name. We could even learn a few things from them.

A year ago, my little Winchester bubble didn't exactly teem with people who were openly Muslim. I remember being in the airport here in Nairobi before I boarded my flight home, after spending 3 weeks here. I had about six hours to wait, and there wasn't a whole lot to do, so I just wandered. I remember that at several points throughout the night, I saw groups of men gathered wherever they could find room. They had rolled out mats and were kneeling and openly participating in their time of prayer. That was so foreign to me, and while of course I disagree with the "object" of their attention, I appreciated their dedication and lack of concern about who was watching. How many of us have hesitated to pray at a restaurant because someone might see us and think we're "weird." Ooooh, 'cause that would be so awful! (Please sense the sarcasm...and yes, regrettably, I have thought that before.) As we saw, and we undoubtedly see again in the next few weeks, the pictures of the planes flying in the World Trade Center, many of us wonder what on earth would possess those pilots to not only take the lives of thousands, but to give their own lives in the process, for this god they believed in. Um, shouldn't anyone who calls him/herself a Christian be willing to do that? Now, PLEASE don't misunderstand me here--we are certainly not called to give our lives in the same way, but when was the last time you felt that committed to the faith you profess? Just food for thought.

I hadn't really thought much about the Muslim world since that time, until I came back to Nairobi. Kenya is still a predominantly "Christian" country (seriously though, most of the stores play Christian radio stations! It's kind of weird to hear gospel music blaring from a shoe store!), but there is certainly a much higher percentage of Muslim people here than Winchester. It's not rare to see women in full-coverage black when we go out. While driving down a street, I noticed that on the side of one building was painted "There is no god but Allah" (that one got me a little bit). Last week while out to eat, we heard the call to prayer over a loud-speaker from the nearby mosque. Many store owners are Muslim. (In fact, after shopping with a friend in a store owned by a Muslim man and his family, she even made the comment that the Muslim men in Nairobi, particularly the store owners, were some of the kindest, gentlest people around.) There's nothing about the Muslim culture that seems to be particularly "in your face", but it's definitely here. So I've started paying a little more attention.

It has also been brought to my attention more by some of the local churches. This month is the Muslim month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in the Islamic calendar. It's based on the lunar calendar, and this year it's a little earlier than it has been in recent years. Again, here's something I had heard about, but didn't really have a clue what it was. (Here's a decent website to check out if you want to know a little more about Ramadan http://www.suite101.com/content/what-is-ramadan-for-muslims-a138742 .) Now I'm hardly an expert on any of the things I share here, and what I tell you is pretty much the little bit I've learned in the last few weeks. But I'm trying, even if it's just a little bit, to understand what the "fuss" is all about. I have a long way to go.

What has most interested me though is the Muslim "Night of Power," which is coming up this Friday night, August 26. It always occurs during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and apparently this is the night that Muslims traditionally believe was when the Quran first began to be revealed to Muhammad. During this night, millions of Muslims believe that angels perform "special purposes." They also believe that their god will pay special attention to their requests, and many request a dream or a vision for guidance and revelation. Now here's the good stuff! THIS is where is gets interesting, and where you, if you so choose, can play a part! On this night, so many people are praying for visions and revelations, and you better believe they're getting them--but not from Allah! Here are some statistics I've come across (haven't totally validated the sources, but the info is in line with what I've been told in churches around here):
  • One source says that 80% (EIGHTY PERCENT!) of new Christians in South Asia come to Christ as a result of a supernatural encounter
  • More than half of new believers in Iran have had a dream or vision of Jesus
  • At least 35% of recent Turkish conversions were in response to a dream or vision
Here's a story that was shared in the church I was in yesterday:
The man who shared, who is actually the father of one of my students, has a "Muslim" friend. That man has been a Christian now for 15--20 years because of a dream he had during a Night of Power years ago. He had a dream about a pit. All around the pit people were falling in, screaming, and dropping to their deaths. At the edge of a pit was a lamb, and the lamb's neck was slit, and it was bleeding. As all these people continued to fall into the pit, some of the lamb's blood fell on some of the people. Anyone who was touched by a drop of the lamb's blood was saved from the pit. They did not fall. They did not scream. They lived.

I don't know how things progressed next, but that man knew that the truth about Jesus had been revealed to him during that night, even though he had asked another "god" for a revelation. The one God who COULD answer heard his plea, answered, and that man is now serving Him here in Kenya.

So would you join with thousands of other Christians on Friday night to pray for the Muslim world? Pray that they would get their visions, alright! Visions of a risen, living Savior who loves them and gave His life for them. And maybe while you're at it, you could ask God to give you a little bit of compassion for the Muslim world. Maybe you aren't even to that point yet and you just need to care at all. Ask God to work in and on the hearts and lives of more than a billion lost people in our world, and maybe He'll just work on yours too. I know He's working on mine. ~

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