Life as a Woman in a Middle Eastern Muslim Context

May 10, 2016
Darrell L. Bock

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Topic Time Codes

00:15
Introducing "Miriam"
01:22
Five Pillars of Islam
3:09
Life as a woman in the context of Islam
9:08
Growing up in the Middle East
12:00
How Muslims view the days of the week
14:07
American stereotypes of Muslims
15:15
Life in the United States vs. life in the Middle East
20:07
Contrasting religious Muslims and secular Muslims
24:19
Different branches of Islam
27:00
Honesty and terrorism in Islam
33:06
Miriam's spiritual journey from Islam to Christianity
38:42
Ministering to Muslims in the United States
39:24
Advice on interacting with Muslim people
44:10
Summary of key points

Transcript

Dr. Darrell Bock:
Welcome to The Table. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. Made up of podcasts, dinners, and cultural engagement chapels, The Table podcast treats subjects about God, life, and culture with reflection on how to engage these issues and the tensions of life that they raise.

Our hope is to encourage thoughtful engagement from a Christian perspective, and our hope is in addition that these will prove beneficial to you as you think about how to discuss with your friends and neighbors, these topics. This specific podcast deals with life as a woman in the context of Islam.

We're interviewing a person – whom we've called Miriam, and whose voice we have disguised – who grew up, actually, in a mixed home as a child. A mixed Christian and Islamic home, but went to Islamic school as a child. She reviews her experience growing up in the context of Islam as a Muslim.

It's important to understand a little bit about Islam before we engage in the interview, so I thought I would review the five pillars of Islam that make up the core of the Islamic faith as taught in the Quran. The first is the testimony of faith, that is that there is no God but Allah. This, of course, is an affirmation of the Islamic view of God that denies the existence of the Trinity and denies that Jesus is divine.

The second pillar is the pillar of prayer, praying five times a day. The third pillar is what is called "giving zakat," which is support for the needy. The fourth pillar is the fast during the month of Ramadan. That's a special holiday season in the Islamic faith. The fifth pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj. Everyone at some point in their life is supposed to take a journey to Mecca.

Of course, the key scripture for Islam is the Quran. Most people don’t realize that it went through two phases, one a less violent phase. Then as Islam was not meeting acceptance, it became more violent as a faith so that the total Quran has elements of affirmation about violence. This is the background of the core elements of Islamic faith that feed into the interview that we're going to be engaged in. We think that you'll find the conversation with Miriam a fascinating one about what life is like inside the context of being a Muslim.
Miriam
Well, growing up in the Middle East, it's very hard to separate culture from the religion. There were a lot of things, for example, that we dealt with as far as the culture was concerned to arrange marriage. According to Islam, my dad did not have the right to force me to marry.

However, in the Middle Eastern culture, my dad had the right to choose a husband for me and to force me to get married. There is a big, huge misconception, I think, here in the United States between the culture and the religion. Naturally, with the religion, I grew up thinking that I had a lot of rights in Islam.

I had the right to choose my husband. I had the right to education. I had the right to be a schoolteacher, or to be a professional, and to be a wife. There is a difference between the Arab culture and the religion. I think a lot of what happens as we look at the Middle East, we think that what is culture is actually religion, and it's not. There's a big difference between the two.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, that's a very interesting way to lead off. I'm gonna let you develop that a little bit more. What aspects would you say are a reflection of Arab culture, and which aspects would you say are a reflection of Islam?
Miriam
Well, you know, certainly in the Islamic religion the Sharia law requires that a woman wears head covering. A woman prays five times a day just like anybody else. There are certain parts of the religion, for example – Mohammed said that women lack religion and lack knowledge. The reason why they lack religion and lack knowledge is because they think emotionally. They don’t think cognitively, because they put their emotions in it.

He said that, and then he said that they lack religion because of the fact women cannot pray during their menstrual cycle, during the 40 days after having a child. He says that they lack religion in that respect. There is that as far as religion. He did say that most of the dwellers of hell are going to women, because they gossip, and they are not very appreciative. At least that was his explanation of why most of the hell dwellers are going to be women.

In that regard, that is religion. As far as not being able to go to school, for example, when the Taliban came and took over in Afghanistan, they would not allow women to become teachers. They basically shut the doors of schools, and they let women stop being doctors. Because that was just their culture. It had nothing to do with religion.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting. We've got a distinction that really does impact – I think most Americans are aware of this – does impact the role of women both in Arab culture and in Islam. Would it be fair to say that the two play off of each other to a certain extent? That there's a certain position or role that women have in the context of Islam that has fed the way the culture also treats women?
Miriam
Absolutely, and I think there was an aspect of the culture that Islam came and kinda sanctified a little bit. Because according to the Arab culture, pre-Islamic times, they had the right to bury their daughters alive because of the honor and shame system. You know, we talk about honor killing and we hear about honor killing in the Middle East, but that has nothing to do with religion. It has absolutely nothing to do with religion.

Now, according to the Islamic religion, they have the right to kill me as a woman. They have the right to kill any man as well for converting, to become an apostate. If you leave the religion, then you have the right to be killed. It doesn't matter whether you're a man or woman. However, in the Middle Eastern culture, they have a right to kill their daughters even today for dishonoring the family, for shaming the family. That has a lot to do with the culture and not to do with the religion.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, well, you've brought up a few things here, let me help people with. Sharia law, explain what that is.
Miriam
The Sharia law is really very – if I can simplify it to the absolute max – the Sharia law says that you are to follow first what the Quran says. If it's not written in the Quran, then you go to the Hadith, which are the sayings of Mohammed and the life of Mohammed.

If it's not written in there, if there's nothing a particular topic that's written in there, then you go to the leaders, the Muslim leaders. They decide based on principle. For example, the issue of a woman driving. First, you go to the Quran, and you decide, is it written in the Quran whether a woman can drive or not?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, I'd imagine there are no cars in the Quran.
Miriam
There are no cars. Then you go to what Mohammed had said. Did Mohammed talk about a woman not driving a car or not being able to drive a car? Well, he didn't cuz during this time, there were no driving cars.

Then you go back to the Muslim leaders, and then they decide based on the principles of what is found in the Quran. Is it permissible for a woman to drive a car or not? There are some who said yes, and there are some who had said no.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, I guess you can sort of drive. [Laughs]
Miriam
You can sort of drive, depends on what country you live in.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, and then let's talk a little bit about growing up in the context of Islam. Talk about the week, okay? For example, the holy day's a different day of the week than either for Judaism or Christianity. Could you explain that for people?
Miriam
Sure. For Muslims, it's considered Friday. For Jews, it's considered Saturday. For Christians, it's considered Sunday. They believe that Friday is a holy day, because that is the day they believe that God has set aside for Muslims to worship.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, when you go to the mosque on a holy day, on a Friday, is this something that only men do, or do women go? How does that work?
Miriam
Well, according to Sharia law, according to Islam, women are not obligated to go. Men are obligated to go. Obviously, Islam is a very works-based religion. The more you do, the more points you have. For men, it's obligatory for them to go to the mosque, and to pray in the mosque, actually even five times a day. It's very obligatory for them.

For a woman, Mohammed decided that it wasn't obligatory for a woman to go just because she had kids and young kids. She could go if she wanted to go. There are even sayings of Mohammed in history where he would have the women standing in the back, and the men are in front.

The reason why he did that was because when a woman is bending down, he doesn't want a man behind her looking at her as she's bending down. That's why women are to stand in the back, and men are to stand in the front. When he would hear a child crying, and he knew that a woman was in the back of the ranks, he would finish up the prayer very quickly because he knew the woman had to attend to her child.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, I've been in Turkey during the week, and I actually remember having a meal right next to a mosque, and watching the men in particular go in and wash before they go into the service. Now, that's something we don’t do in Christianity. Explain what that's all about.
Miriam
Sure. It is required for Muslims to cleanse themselves before they go in and pray. Not only is it obligatory for men, but it's also obligatory for women. A man has to completely wash up if he has had relations with his wife the night before. He has to completely bathe himself, so there's a whole lot of cleansing. You have to go clean, basically, before God to pray.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I see. Now, this is a cultural questions as well as religion question. A lot of the unrest that we've seen during the Arab Spring takes place on Fridays, at least some of the major events, and marches, and that kind of thing. How does that work if it's a holy day and I'm supposed to be obligated to be at the mosque? Then how is it that Friday ends up being the big protest day in Arab countries?
Miriam
It's probably the time where imams gather men the most. Oftentimes, imams are talking about political issues. When they talk about political issues, and they go into the mosque, and these men hear about, "We should protest," they're gonna arouse people to do that. That's perfect timing for the imams to get people going, so I think it's really led by a lot of imams.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, and again, explain who an imam is.
Miriam
An imam is a Muslim leader. It's kind of like a pastor that preaches on Sundays. Well, they have an imam that speaks to them, and provides what they call the message, the khutbah on Fridays.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, what is the relationship of an imam to the larger culture? What role do they play within the culture? Cuz that appears to be somewhat different than what we normally see here as well, in terms of the way a pastor might function in relationship to a culture here.
Miriam
I think it's really different. It depends on which country you're living in, again. I think in Saudi Arabia they have much more control over there than they would in other countries. They certainly do have the power to motivate people and to encourage them to do certain things.

A lot of times, what these imams are talking about are political issues. Oftentimes they're talking about, well, is it permissible to do a certain thing that's not in the Quran, that's not in the Hadith?

People go and ask for advice and say, "Well, my wife did this. What should I do? My husband did this, what should I do?" They act as advisors oftentimes of what people should and shouldn't do, but they are also motivators.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, what kinds of stereotypes might Americans have about Muslims that they ought not to have?
Miriam
That they're all terrorists, cuz they're not all terrorists. I often tell people that if you look at Muslims as people who are here in America because of the same reasons why you came to America – to have a better life, to provide a better education for your kids – I think it'll change everything. I often say to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that God didn't pick us because we're something special. He picked us because he's something special.

That levels the playing field, because we're not better than Arabs. We're not better than Muslims. We're not better just because we live here in the United States. We are privileged, and we are blessed by the Lord. But apart from the grace of God, I don't know why we're here.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Muslims are not terrorists. I tell you, our time in Turkey when we were there – obviously, predominantly Islamic country, almost no Christian presence to speak of at all – and we were impressed by the hospitality that we received and the courtesy of people. Even when we were trying to get directions and didn't know the language, the people would make the effort to try and help us. Talk a little bit about the kinds of Muslims one might meet, both here in the States and also perhaps if you found yourself in an Arab country.
Miriam
You know, that's very interesting that you say that, Dr. Bock, because I had heard a missionary woman that lived in a Middle Eastern country with her husband. She stood up, and her testimony was that she felt like these Arab women were Jesus to her far more than a lot of neighbors when she had lived in the United States. Because they were kind to her, they were very helpful to her whenever she needed to go to the hospital. They came, and they took her kids in. That's what you'll find with Arabs.

Just because, for example, if you see a woman in the grocery store who's wearing a head covering, I promise you she doesn't have a bomb under that head covering. She just doesn't. She may look different, and it may look intimidating to us, but she's a woman that has the same needs as any other woman that is in the grocery store. She's hungry, she's trying to feed her kids. She wants a better life for her kids. She wants a better life for her family.

You'll find a lot of hospitality. I oftentimes work with a lot of refugees that come to the United States, and I encourage women to go and minister to these women. Oftentimes, these women from the church will come to me and say, "It's amazing, cuz I feel like they're ministering to me."

We have to open the door. God's heart, God's vision, the end goal is that every tribe, every tongue, every nation will bow their knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That's going to include a whole lot of Arabs, and a whole lot of Muslims, and a whole lot of tribes, Middle Eastern countries.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right, let's talk a little bit about your life growing up in the context of Islam. What would you say about that? How would you describe the way you were raised, and what would be involved in your life? What was central to your life as you were growing up? One way to help with the question might be to talk about things in particular that might be like growing up here and things that would be very different.
Miriam
Well, I think I grew up – it's a broad question.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, right. It is.
Miriam
I think with the similarities – as far as growing up in America versus growing up in the Middle East – is I wanted to have an education. I wanted to be able to work. I wanted to be able to do those things. Obviously, culture played a huge part in it where my dad wanted to make sure I was married at a young age, and I had my own home, and had my own family. That was a big concern within the Middle Eastern culture.

A big part of Islam and a big part of the Arab culture is the whole idea of marriage, and the whole idea of raising a family, and being a mother. That was very central in the Middle East, and growing up as a Muslim – and obviously, it's all about works. I mean, I think if I can say a big huge comparison between Islam and Christianity, as far as the religions are concerned, is I grew up with no hope. I had no hope, no eternal hope, but now I have hope.

I have hope in the fact that Christ died on the cross for me. He made a way for me. He came down to me rather than me try to climb to him to reach him. That is a huge difference, I think. The good works is based on my fear. Fear plays a big, huge role in Islam. Whereas the Bible clearly says that there is no fear in love, that love casts out all fear.

I grew up fearful, fearful of God, fearful of how God may punish me, fearful of how God may feel about me. Whereas in Christianity, I have peace, the peace that passes all understanding. I have hope, which did not exist in Islam.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, you talked about the kind of hopes that you had in terms of an education and that kind of thing. Let's talk about one other element of Arab culture that I think is important, that most people, I think, do not realize about many countries in the Middle East may not be true across the board. Again, I'm drawing on my own experience in the context of having spent some time in Turkey.

There are very religious-oriented Muslims, if I can say it that way. There also is a strong secular strand of culture related. It's Islamic, but it's more secular. We see these tensions in several Middle Eastern countries, and I'm thinking of Egypt. I'm thinking of Turkey, et cetera.

Talk a little bit about that. Because on the one hand the goals of someone who comes out of a more secularized form of Islam and the way they approach life is very different from their Muslim neighbors, if I can say it that way, who are more – and I don’t even know what the right word to use – more traditionally religious or more intensely religious about their faith.
Miriam
Sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Explain those issues and tensions a little bit.
Miriam
Well, obviously, one of the things that I've heard some pastors say is that we don’t love Islam, but we love Muslims. We love the people. We don't love the religion. We love the people.

In the Middle East, they don’t separate the two. Whether you're secular or whether you're devout, being a Muslim is who you are. When we start talking negatively about Islam, they're automatically offended by it personally, and obviously we've seen that in the media. Because you've just offended who they are, even though some of these people who have gone out and rioted about certain things are probably not even very religious people.

The hard thing about Islam is it's very hard to tell who's very devout and who's really very secular, because – and I've seen this happen with my own family. You can go for several years where you're wearing the head covering, and you're following Islam, and you're doing all that. But one of the hard things about being a human being is you can't keep up. You just can't keep up. Then they leave it for a while, and then they come back to it. Then they become devout.

It's kind of an ebb and flow relationship with God and with Islam. Sometimes you're very, very devout, and other times you're really not devout at all. You're not even praying at all. Yeah, and I think there is definitely a tension between the secular Muslims and the devout Muslims. There's even tension between the devout Muslims themselves.

It's the same thing throughout history if you look at even Christianity in history. There is tension between the Catholics and the Protestants. Then there's even tension between people that go to Bible churches and people that are Baptists. You see that even in the Middle East. It does exist in the Middle East.

One of the things that I think that binds Christians together is the issue of love and loving one another. That does not exist in Islam. There's the brotherly love. That exists, but brotherly love is not the same as unconditional love. Last night I was reading John I, and I teach that in my Sunday school class. I thought, one of the marks of salvation is loving your brother regardless of what they do and how they act.

With Islam, there's a whole lot of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth mentality, and so there isn't that unconditional love. There isn't that unity, and there is that tension that constant tension between the sects, and the between the devout versus the secular.

There's a lot of tension that goes on.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You've raised a couple of things, and I wanna make sure I come back to one of them. I wanna pursue one direction more in thinking about the distinctions within Arab culture. We've talked about the secular and the devout, but even among the devout, you mentioned there are different sects within Islam. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that dimension. What are their names? What do they represent, that kind of thing.
Miriam
Sure. You know, obviously the major ones are the Sunnis. If I can compare Sunnis to a form of Christianity, I would say that they are the evangelicals, because they follow the word of God. Evangelicals follow the word of God, and they try not to stray out of that. I would say Sunnis do that.

Shiites, I would compare them to Catholics, because they add a different dimension, and culture, and tradition into their faith. That's who the Shiites are. Then there's a whole lot of other smaller sects, like the Sufis, the Amalekites. There's just smaller versions of these different sects.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, if we think about this in terms of countries, do certain sects dominate certain countries?
Miriam
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Roughly, how does that work out?
Miriam
Well, the majority of Muslims, if you were to look at the Muslims as a whole, I would say about 80 percent of them would be Sunnis. A lot of these Arab countries are dominated by the Sunni faith. Then you have a stricter sect of Sunnis, like that Wahhabis, that live in Saudi Arabia. You have that in Saudi Arabia, but the majority are Sunnis.

If you go to Iraq, the huge tension in Iraq is that there's lot of Sunnis, and a lot of Shiites, and they're the ones who are fighting against each other. You go to Iran, they're mostly Shiites. It just really depends on what country you go to.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The particular type of Islam that you are related to, then impacts the character of what Islam looks like in that country.
Miriam
Sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right, well, that's interesting. I've got two more topics I wanna be sure and cover, but I wanna come to one that's very, very important in understanding Islam. That is let's talk about the role – we have another podcast that we've done where Dudley Woodberry takes us through Islam. He talks about the role of submission and that kind of thing.

I think we have that covered in the other podcast, but the thing I want to zero in on here is to talk about – I'm gonna ask a difficult question in some ways. The role of honesty in Islam, now here's what I'm raising is there's a sense that we have in the West that within Islam, in terms of the defense of Islam as a faith, there's a kind of ends justifies the means.

There's the ability to – what we would say – lie, deceive, et cetera, that's acceptable. It's not only acceptable, it's almost honorable. Can I have you talk about that?
Miriam
Can I mention a passage in the Old Testament –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Absolutely.
Miriam
- where lying was blessed by God? The midwives were commanded by Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew children, and they wouldn't do that. Pharaoh brought them in and said, "Why haven't you done that?" They said, "Well, these Hebrew women, they're just very rigorous. They have these kids, and we don’t even have time __________."

It says in the Old Testament that God blessed them. God blessed them. We have an example of that in the Old Testament, where lying was not only honorable, but it was even blessed by God. One of the things that I've noticed about religion, or that in the Bible and in the Quran, is that you can take just about anything and justify just about anything that you wanna do.

We've justified slavery, because of the passages that are in the New Testament of, "Slaves, obey your masters." We justify the whole century or two centuries of slavery just because that's written in the Bible. Does Islam allow you to lie in a situation where it protects Islam, or protects you, or protects your life? Yeah, absolutely. It does that. We have an example of that in the Old Testament.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, but if someone might come back and say, "Yeah, okay. That's one situation. I can see where you're protecting a life or something like that."
Miriam
What about Rahab? She lied, too.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right. There are lots of –
Miriam
Lots of 'em. [Laughs]
Dr. Darrell Bock
There are some examples, but the issue that I'm raising has to do with how this then impacts the elements that are associated with terrorism and that kind of thing. Let me ask it this way. Is there a line in Islam between the kind of lie given in self-defense to protect one's interests?

Is what we would sometimes call terrorism put under that umbrella as well? Yet at the same time, there's a sense of, well, that's stretching the category a little bit. I know that some of the debate among Muslims about how some of the terrorism has been against other Muslims –
Miriam
It has been.

Dr. Darrell Bock: - and how that has shaken the Islamic community. Because although there's a defense for it at one level, there's another sense this is coming against another principle of Islam. Sort that out for us.
Miriam
Well, obviously, these terrorists, I'll give you an example. Osama Bin Laden justified everything that he did by saying, "According to this Sharia law, you can't go into war unless somebody's attacking you, so you should do it in self-defense." He says, "I'm coming in in self-defense, because look at the way America is supporting Israel. Look at how many Palestinian kids are being killed as result of that."

He's justifying it. Anybody, like I mentioned earlier, anybody can justify anything, at any time, with any Bible verse, or any Quranic verse. He'll justify that, and these terrorists will justify what they do because they think they're doing it in self-defense.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Is there no difference between the way Christianity talks about love, and honesty, and that kind of thing and the kind of emphasis you get in Islam? Is there no difference at all, or is there a difference in the tone and feel of the two faiths?
Miriam
Well, there is definitely a difference in the tone of the two faiths. Obviously, we are told not to lie, and we are told not to in the Bible. Then again, we've got verses in the Old Testament where people did blatantly lie in order to protect certain people, or to protect themselves, or to protect a nation, or whatever it is. Obviously, honesty is God's heart. The issue of not lying is definitely God's heart.

Has that been used by man? Absolutely, it's been used by man. In the Quran, it's permissible to lie in certain situations, when you're in a war, when there's a self-defense, and situations like that. The Quran particularly permits – or the Sharia law permits – people to lie in those types of situations. I don’t know that there is a mandate in the Bible that says, "Yes, you can lie in a certain situations." I think it has been used, and I believe it's been blessed even.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, I'm gonna shift gears entirely.
Miriam
You're probably gonna call me a heretic after this. [Laughs]
Dr. Darrell Bock
No, no, not at all. Not at all. Actually, part of the point of our conversation here is to have people appreciate the nature of the way people are thinking both within a faith and outside of a faith. Even James talks about Rahab. We have these texts, which Christian ethicists then spent a long time interacting and explaining what's going on. So no, not a problem at all.

Let's shift gears. Let's talk about your own personal walk a little bit, and let's talk about – I'm gonna do it this way. How you saw yourself when you were growing up in the context of Islam, and I'll give you the whole train of thought here so we can kind of segment it.

Then how you encountered the Christian faith, and what struck you about it as you were still in Islam? Then how you came to faith, and then on the other side, what are you doing now? Kind of in four parts.
Miriam
I think when I was a Muslim, I believed that Islam was the true religion. I believed that we all worshipped the same God. I believed that there was many ways to get to God, and I believed that if you were a good person that eventually God was gonna forgive you and send you – that was my theology. Then a friend of mine invited me to attend a church. I

In my thought process, I thought, well, God created Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity, and he just wouldn't be too horribly upset if I attend a Christian church. When I went to church, I was curious. My impression of the pastor was he's a nice guy, but he's just confused and mislead because he doesn't know the truth about –
Dr. Darrell Bock
No, did that happen here in the States. Okay, this was after you had come to the States.
Miriam
Yeah, when I came to the States. When she invited me to church, I was curious. I began to read books – I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse. Sometimes it's a blessing; sometimes it's a curse, but God has given me an inquisitive mind. I was curious. I wanted to understand why Christians believed what they believed.

I began to read books, and I began to question – read the Quran and read the Bible. That's when I was confronted with the fact that both religions could not be right. One says one thing about Jesus, and the other was just a completely different thing about him. Islam says that Jesus was never crucified, that God sent someone to look like him to be crucified. Christians clearly believe that he was crucified and died on the cross for their sins.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, that's a minor detail, isn't it? [Laughs]
Miriam
Just a little bit, yeah. The way to get to heaven, one was God came down to you. Another way is you get to God. I was all of a sudden, my curiosity became the quest for knowing the truth. I believe that there had to be one way to get to God.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's interesting, cuz you know someone else who we're going to be interviewing on these podcasts, Islamic man, had a very similar experience with his own curiosity about what he had heard about Christianity versus when he began to dig in. He realized, "What I'd heard said about Christianity isn't quite what I'm hearing." That sent him on his own quest as well, and he eventually came to the Lord, it sounds like in a very similar kind of way.
Miriam
Yeah. For me, I didn't see any visions and dreams. A lot of Muslims see visions and dreams, and God chose to send me down a different path, which is study and research. I had studied about the Dead Sea Scrolls and how the Bible had been preserved all these years. Cuz as a Muslim, I believe that the Bible's been changed. Just looking at the preservation of the Bible and how it could have been very easily that the Quran was changed. There was a lot of doubt in my mind about Islam, and during my research, it just made me doubt Islam more and believe in Christianity more so.

I thought to myself, one question that I had was how could God deceive people? I couldn’t reconcile in my mind how could God deceive people and send a double for him to crucified. Why would he deceive people and then try to rectify the situation 600 years later? I believe that Jesus did die on the cross, and I was studying the Book of Romans. In Chapter 5 it says, "Through one men, all men have fallen. Through one men, all men have been saved," which is Christ. That made sense to me that God would make a way rather than me try to climb an invisible ladder to try to reach him with my good works.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Is there no role for Adam in Islam?
Miriam
Yeah, he was just a prophet.
Dr. Darrell Bock
He was just a prophet, but there's no fall, or sin, or any condition that comes out of it as a result, or anything like that?
Miriam
Well, that's very interesting that you say that because in Islam, I had believed that Adam sinned and so God took him out of heaven. He had lived in heaven, and he brought him to Earth. God had a purpose for him to come down to Earth so the Earth could be populated. Man can do good and then get to heaven by their good works, by following Allah and praying five times a day.

Whereas with Christianity, the whole idea of the sacrifice, where God committed the first sacrifice in the Garden of Eden, and he committed the last sacrifice with his son Jesus Christ, that just blew my mind away.
Dr. Darrell Bock
If I can say it this way, in Christianity and in Judaism, you have the picture of Adam leading to the fall and putting the condition on man. Whereas, in Islam, it's almost like it's the latter. We take Adam, put him on Earth and give him a chance to reclaim himself, and you do it by the latter.
Miriam
Exactly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting. What are you doing now?
Miriam
Well, I graduated from a Bible college and from seminary. I'm currently serving to help people understand Muslims and how to reach out to Muslims. I also help with people who come to the United States that need help, who are Muslims. That's what I'm currently doing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's a combination outreach ministry really, both in terms of helping people get acclimated and in terms of helping them understand the Christian faith.
Miriam
Mm-hmm, and equipping the church..
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, well, let's talk about this last mention of your current life and ministry. What advice would you give to people who say, "I have a Muslim neighbor," or "I have a mosque down the street now I didn't used to have. What's the best way to interact with and relate to Muslim people?" I realize this is a broad question, but I mean, you do this as a ministry, so what would you say?
Miriam
One thing it has begun with prayer. It has to begin with the Holy Spirit convicting them and opening the hearts of Muslims and opening our hearts. I think one of the things that I start with as far as equipping churches I say, "Pray for yourselves. Pray for your heart if there's misconceptions that you may have because you're equipped with the Holy Spirit. They're not. They have misconceptions of us. We have misconceptions of them."

Start with prayer. Start with a lot of prayer, and bathe everything that you do with prayer. Ask the Lord to open doors, because the most amazing thing that happens is when you ask God to open doors. You know what happens? He opens 'em.

It begins and ends with relationships. To start a relationship, one of the things that I tell people is you build a relationship with a person. Along the way you plant seeds about Christ and Christianity as the Lord opens the door for you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, you've already talked about some stereotypes that not everyone is a terrorist. What other stereotypes do you think we should be aware of as we think about ministering to someone who comes out of an Islamic background?
Miriam
Well, I think that's a really big one. I think the whole issue of women, and women are oppressed. I've seen all these – I don’t know if you have Dr. Bock these ridiculous e-mails about how women are treated in the Middle East. I have to just say it doesn't matter what really matters is not – what I tell people is my rights in Christianity are not as important as my right in Christ. Don’t look at what you think Islam says about women. I don’t want people to focus on that. Focus on the fact that these people are lost souls, and they need Jesus Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, would a core level advice be just interact and relate to someone out of this Islamic faith like you would try to relate to anybody?
Miriam
Absolutely, you know when Paul went to Athens, the first thing that he did was he bridged the gap. He talked about some similarities. He didn't walk in there and say, "Well, Allah and God are much different." He didn't say that to them. He complimented their religiosity. He said, "I can tell that you're men of faith, that you're very religious."

He says, "You know, I've walked around. I've observed." He studied what they believe. Give them an opportunity to talk about their faith. They're happy to talk about that. Once you give them that opportunity, that will open a door for you and afford you the opportunity to share about your faith. He says, "I've walked around, and I've noticed this unknown God." He builds a bridge. He says, "Let me tell you about this unknown God. Let me make this unknown God known to you."
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's an interesting point that you're making in terms of both building a bridge and having a conversation where you let people talk about their faith. I often say in doing evangelism that sometimes Christians tend to wanna talk to quickly and too much.
Miriam
Amen.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That basically, when you build that relationship allowing someone to talk about their religious experience and how they feel about God, et cetera, it's very important because it's like you're being given a window into their heart. When you get a window into someone's heart, that can help you know what needs they maybe expressing and where they place themselves and what they value.

That may actually help you think about how to engage. Sometimes I think particularly initially, we need to be slow to talk and quick to listen so that we give people a time to tell their story. By getting to know them, then we put ourselves in a better place to know how to minister to them.
Miriam
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, Miriam, I wanna thank you for coming in and helping us think through Islam and various aspects of life lived in the context of Islam. I really appreciate the conversation that we've had an opportunity to have, and I trust that it has been helpful to those who've been listening today. Thank you very much.
Miriam
My pleasure, thank you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, I hope you found this interview with Miriam fascinating, as I did. It raises a variety of questions about how to think about engaging with Islam here in America. I think one of the more obvious things to consider is that not all Muslims are made the same. Some have grown up in a context in which they may well be open to hearing about different ideas about God and faith, et cetera.

We certainly have a sense of that with this journey that we took with Miriam. It means that when we engage with Muslims, particularly here in the States as we encounter them, it involves listening, sensitivity, showing love, and reaching out to them as a possibility of getting to know them and building a relationship towards which you can share Christ. We need to recognize that we cannot generalize about people of Islamic background.

There is a strand of Islam that certainly is radical and violent, but there also are people who have left the Middle East, who have come in many cases to the West because they wanted to leave that form of Islam that threatened them, and they're interested in the possibility of hearing different ideas. We need to be open and aware of that possibility as we discuss issues of faith and God with Muslims.

We hope you've appreciated this interview, and we look forward to having you back on The Table again.

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