(Photo by Chris Brown)
USA (MNN) ― Only seven days into Ramadan, dozens of people have already lost their lives. Many were killed in shootings at the start of Ramada last week in Nigeria, and over 100 were killed in a string of bombings in Iraq over the weekend.
Many feared that Ramadan would bring violence via jihadists this year, especially in religiously tense regions. With violence characterizing this year's Muslim holy month already, it's easy for Christians to make negative assumptions about Muslims.
"Most Muslims who come to America are not coming as terrorists. They don't want to bomb anything," Paul Filidis points out. "They just want to have a safe place to live to better their lives, just like anybody else: to rear their children in a safe environment, to educate, to learn. So we have opportunities as Christians."
Filidis is with WorldChristian.com, the group that makes available the prayer guide "30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World" every year during Ramadan. Although much of that prayer guide is focused on North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, tomorrow's prayer is actually focused on an American state.
Muslims make up a small but significant percentage of the population in the United States. According to Operation World, there are over 5 million Muslims in the United States. That's more Muslims in the U.S. than there are people in all of Ireland.
Cities like Dearborn, Michigan are particularly known for an Islamic presence. But, Filidis says, "Christians even in Nashville [Tennessee] became aware suddenly that there were several thousand Muslims from Kurdish areas, from Somali areas, who lived there."
It might be surprising that thousands of Muslims have congregated in America's country music capital. Nonetheless, Nashville is now home to 11,000 Kurds and more than 8,000 Somalis. The area has as many as 30,000 Muslims.
From Filidis' viewpoint, this haven for Muslims means a world of opportunity for believers.
"All across America we have foreign communities, and we want to look at the bigger picture. I believe God is internationalizing the world, bringing the world to us," says Filidis. "Many of us may not have opportunity to go to foreign countries to meet and interact with people of different cultures and religion. But God is bringing them to our world, to our doorstep."
Christians in Nashville -- as well as a host of other U.S. cities and even small town regions -- have the opportunity to reach out to Muslims in love and to share Christ with them. It's not only an opportunity for disciple-making, but Filidis says, "It blesses people who reach out in hospitality and love, rather than to be suspicious, and fearful, and angry."
Many of the 1.5 billion Muslims all around the world potentially observing Ramadan right now are seeking spiritual answers. It's no different in the United States, or European countries. Believers all over need to pray for opportunities to interact with Muslim neighbors and build relationships. Prayers specifically are coveted for Christians in Nashville who "might not be aware that they have Muslim neighbors now. [Pray that] they're beginning to reach out in hospitality, rather than ignoring and passing them by, to invite them into their homes, and to start engaging them."