I led the work crew into the chapel. A broken appliance awaited their skill. Must have been a heating unit or something - I don’t remember.
As always, I genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament. Two of the workers, Hispanics, did the same. Then the third man, the leader, starting talking excitedly about his religion, Islam.
I cannot remember exactly what he said. Why was he so moved to speak about his faith? Maybe it was the sight of the man above the altar, Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be a prophet (and only a prophet). In the Muslim mind, prophets are not supposed to suffer, so the image of this man stretched out on two pieces of wood was a shock - maybe even an offense to this man.
As he talked, I could see that he was very proud of his faith, even willing to share it, hoping the rest of us would accept it. I found his boldness surprising, and his enthusiasm was even admirable.
First Conversation With a Muslim
This was the first conversation I ever had with a Muslim. All my experience with this religion had been with books, television, and news reports. I was in new territory now.
I recalled another experience with Muslims. It was Friday, just after noon, the time of worship for Muslims. I was driving on Chicago’s northwest side on the way to the post office to pick up the mail for my work. The light changed. The traffic slowed. I looked to the left. A large crowd of men spilled out of a huge building with round towers. The men sported white turbins on their heads, with gowns flowing as they approached my car. There was such a crowd that they crossed the street in the middle of the block. I squirmed a bit. Hmm… did I lock the doors?
If you live in a big city like Chicago and don’t know the neighborhood, you are always on edge behind the wheel. Neighborhoods can change with the crossing of a corner. You know the unsettling feeling when you see something unusual and you know, well, that you just shouldn’t be there.
But this day no one bothered me. The light changed. I drove on. However, I felt as if I had stepped onto the streets of Cairo, or maybe in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia for a few nervous moments. This just didn’t happen in the suburbs.
Conversion of Muslims
How are we to regard Muslims? Many Americans are fearful of them, or even despise them. I suspect that most have almost little first-hand experience of them. And yet, Muslims are people for whom Christ died.
Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., host of “EWTN Live” and an expert on Islam, told the National Catholic Register about a year ago, “We are in a time of the first ever mass conversion of Muslims.”
This is because those who follow the milder forms of Islam are tired of being persecuted themselves. They are fleeing toward Christianity as a refuge. There they find the truth about God, whom they knew only partially as Allah.
I heard an interview on Catholic radio once of a Muslim convert to Christianity. He was very eloquent.
“What moved you to convert?” the host asked.
“Reason,” the man said. The faith simply made sense to him. Moving from one logical step to another formed the evidence this man needed for the truth of Christianity.
I don’t know the whole story here, but one would also think that a charitable Christian witness was also part of his conversion. Most people have to see Christianity in action, to have the doors of the faithful open to them, for their hearts to be moved.
My Muslim Doctor
Funny thing, on the same day that I wrote the draft for the above article, I met my new doctor. We got to talking about spiritual things, and it turns out he is Muslim. We shared some common ground between Christianity and Islam, although I didn’t see as much in common as he did.
In any case, he was very cordial and more willing to chat about personal things than busy doctors typically are. I have a lot more to learn about the different versions of Islam, I admit.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15