I asked my confirmation class yesterday what they knew about Islam. They drew a blank. They knew nothing. So–the Islamic Studies nerd in me started babbling–same God, Abraham, Five Pillars… They sort of rolled their eyes.
It occurred to me that many of my students receive their only education about religion from me–their youth director–and I’m so busy trying to give them a taste of Christianity, that I never thought that their only education about other religions comes from hearsay and the news media.
So, Youth Directors, we need to talk seriously about Christianity & Islam. We need to model respect, honest inquiry, and most importantly, an informed understanding of the basic beliefs of God’s many children. In all this mess, we need to give them a foundation to stand on.
You are their faith leader, and it’s your job to talk to them about faith–especially, now, other faiths.
It would be 100% awesome if you could pull together a panel, and invite prominent Muslim members of your community, or contact Muslim youth directors from your neighborhood–or even get Muslim teens to talk to your teens.
But you and I both know that the big dreams of a youth director are often derailed by reality: and we don’t have time. Our national conversation on Islam is rapidly disintegrating, and all sorts of lies are out there now. People are getting hurt. Real people seriously believe that Muslims should be barred from entering our country. Real (powerful) people are seriously favorably citing Japanese Interment Camps of WWII.
You don’t need anything fancy to tell kids that Islam is a beautiful religion, a religion that we can learn from and a religion that preaches peace and the search for God. The only thing you need to do is stop waiting.
And it needs to come from you. It needs to come from your place of Christian power: as a faith leader in these young people’s lives, you need to tell them that a faithful Christian does not hate on other religions.
You need to tell them that a faithful Christian respects the religious quests of other faiths, and that a faithful Christian recognizes the stranger, loves the stranger, and then welcomes the stranger so that they are no longer a stranger.
You need to tell them that Islam is a beautiful religion, just like ours, that Muslims try to follow God just like we do.
You need to tell them that a faithful Christian believes in the resurrection, and therefore is not privy to fear-mongering. Your faith tells you to love Muslims because they are your neighbors, like the Samaritan.
You need to show them that your faith is strong enough to meet another faith, and learn from it, not fear and denounce it.
You need to tell them that your beliefs as a Christian value communication, understanding, and honest dialogue about how to follow God. You need to show them that you are secure enough in what you believe, that you can approach another religion without labeling it as evil. You need to show them that Christians are so counter-cultural that they are willing to see a neighbor in the people that the culture vilifies.
You are their faith leader. Show them that it can be done. If you don’t, no one will.
Talk to your youth groups about Islam. Do it now.
If you know nothing abotu Islam, and you’ve never thought about this, and you don’t have any idea where to start–here’s a few good points to make, and resources to use:
1: Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Muslims call God “Allah” which means ‘God’ in Arabic. Allah is not a proper name, and Christians who speak Arabic use the same word for God. Allah is related to the Hebrew word Elohim, which is used all over the Old Testament.
2: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all faiths that trace their heritage back to God’s call to Abraham.
Our faiths are cousins in Abraham’s huge family. Christianity and Judaism traditionally trace their heritage through Isaac and Sarah, whereas Muslims trace their heritage through Ishmael and Hagar. Muslims are a part of God’s promise to make Abraham’s nation great, just like we are.
3: Muslims believe that Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus were prophets to be revered and honored. Mary is the most revered woman in the Quran and she has a whole chapter named after her.
Jesus didn’t die on the Cross in Muslim tradition, like we believe. He lived long into his 90s teaching the people how to live according to God. Mary, called Mariam in the Quran, was a strong and powerful woman who conceived by the power of God and gave birth to a great prophet.
4: Muslims believe that after a long line of God’s prophets, the final prophet was Muhammad. Muhammad gave God’s final revelation and that revelation is written down in the Quran.
Muslims do not believe that Muhammad was God, like Christians believe that Jesus was God. Muhammad was an upstanding guy, who God chose to lead the people in Arabia away from tribalism and hatred, toward honor and peace in a monotheistic society. God chose Muhammad to give the last of his revelations, and Muslims believe that Muhammad actually spoke the word of God. People in the early community recorded everything Muhammad said when he was having revelations, and that was collected into the Muslim Holy Book called the Quran.
You can give your students a crash course introduction with these videos:
You can show them this video from Oprah Winfrey’s Belief. It has a lot of information about Islam jam-packed into 5 minutes.
You can show them this BBC video of kids, likely close to your kids’ age, explaining their faith:
Sorry, I have no idea why the video has weird lighting. It wasn’t available on BBC at this time, but you can try again later. It may be a coy ‘buy me’ trick.
Here’s PBS’s 13 minute introduction to Islamic History. It’s super useful. It goes through religious beliefs, history, and additional information about what Islam is. It also gets to Sunni and Shia sects. He gets a little excited, and so there’s some information that might seem overwhelming if you’re just trying to give kids an understanding of the basic beliefs. You might want to stop it at 7-8 minutes if you don’t want to go into the early History of the Caliphate–which does really belong more in a world history classroom.
You can even get liturgically appropriate and get your Advent on.
One of the core beliefs in Islam is to pray five times a day. Show your kids this video that describes and explains Muslim prayer traditions.
Our Advent traditions say that we are to be interrupted and reminded throughout this month of God’s coming and God’s purpose for us.
The Islamic tradition of prayer 5 times a day intentionally interrupts your regular life, just like we believe Advent is to interrupt our regular lives to remind us to prepare the way for God. Talk to your kids about different kinds of prayer, and how they attempt to achieve the same purpose–reminding us that we are all in the hands of God.
But most importantly, get started. We don’t have time to wait.
If you have resources you particularly like, please leave them below in the comment section. Help me collect a great resource for youth ministers in talking about Islam!