RELIGION ROUNDTABLE

To teach others about my faith

After getting my master’s degree, when I was teaching Islamic Studies and World Religions at International Islamic University in Pakistan, visiting the U.S. and other countries was my dream as a young man. Through a professor, I was invited by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston to lead a special Ramadan prayer and to give a summary of the whole Quran in 30 days of Ramadan. It was an opportunity for me to visit and see places. After spending a good month of Ramadan, I was hired as imam.

My interaction with the American Muslim community revealed to me that a majority of Muslims need help in learning, understanding and following their religion, Islam. Soon after, 9/11 took place.

Our center was bombarded with questions about Islam, critical comments (which many times got ugly), reporters, visitors and invitations to churches, educational and other institutions to present Islam and answer questions.

Being a student of world religions, I was shocked to realize that Islam was the most misunderstood religion in the United States of America.

There are many reasons for this misunderstanding, but three of them, I believe, were main:

1. Misunderstanding and wrongs done by a few Muslims, who were less than 1 percent but were taken as representing the whole Muslim world.

2. Crusades and other problems between Christianity and Islam in history (though these were purely political and economic).

3. The negative and highly biased role of the media.

This made me decide finally to help Muslims and people of other faiths understand Islam better.

— Muhammad Haq, Anniston Islamic Center

To lead others as I was led

Even though I was born where the buckle of the Bible belt comes together, I didn’t really attend church until I was about 18 years old. After hearing the gospel, after reading these stories of how God cared for even poor folks like me, and after witnessing the way people who called themselves “Christians” actually cared for each other, I became a follower of Jesus.

It wasn’t long after making this decision to follow Christ and his teachings that I began to feel like the only thing I could do with my life that would be worthwhile is help others hear and witness this good news.

I asked my pastor and others in the church of which I was a member to pray for me as I was trying to discern my future and the possibility of a calling into ministry. I later learned that my pastor had been praying every Sunday morning before church with a small group of others specifically for me.

In the summer of 2003, I was on a mission trip with several other folks in southwest Alabama. We were leading what’s called a “backyard Bible club” in a local park (think Vacation Bible School, but more portable). There was one child who sat alone, never joined the group for games or to hear someone tell a Bible story. Something drew me to him, and after I offered him a piggyback ride he became an instant friend.

I saw in the eyes of that 4-year-old boy exactly what God was calling me to do: to share this gospel by my words and actions to those who feel left out, those who feel like they can’t be a part of the “in crowd” because of whatever hand life has dealt them.

I try to live into that calling each day; some days I’m a bit better at it than others, but it’s a calling, a journey, not a destination. So I keep following Jesus, trying to keep up, hoping that along the way my life and work might genuinely invite some others along for the journey, too.

— Chris Thomas, First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville

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