Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve had the opportunity to learn to play squash. Besides providing a good cardiac workout, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people outside of the church. In recent years, I haven’t had as much opportunity, partly because the squash courts were removed from the Y in Prince George and partly because I haven’t been at home very much. But I usually try to find a court in the community where I’m serving a church. However, finding someone with whom to play can also be a challenge — especially someone who is at a similar average level! Sometimes, in desperation to find someone with whom I can play, I’ll go to the courts just to practice strokes and ball-handling on my own.
Not long ago, I was practicing in a court by myself at the Physical Activity Centre of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Several others were seeking to learn how to play in an adjacent court. During a break, one of them asked if I might be willing to teach some of them more about the game. It wasn’t long before I was engaged in teaching the game to one of the three who was a bit more advanced than the others. During a break in our play, we took a few moments to get to know one another. It turned out that my squash partner in this case was from Iran and had just arrived in Saskatoon a few months earlier, along with his wife, to pursue processing entry requirements as a family physician. His wife, meanwhile (also a medical doctor in Iran) had obtained entrance into a Masters Program for public health.
When my squash friend found out that I was helping a church in Saskatoon as its transition pastor, he said he felt honoured to meet me and expressed a great deal of interest in learning more about the Christian faith. From our meeting he started coming to church and has been deeply impressed with the nature of the Worship Services and the hospitality of the people of the church. He spoke to his wife about our meeting and the church and she has joined him in coming to the Services and in meeting many of the people. It has been a great blessing to experience their friendship and to see their genuine interest in the Christian message despite their Muslim heritage.
Our Iranian friends have noted the many similarities between Islam and Christianity pointing out instances of common understanding regarding many of the biblical stories. And for my part, it has made me want to find out more about Islam, so that I can relate in a meaningful way from a Christian perspective. One of the books that has been most helpful to me in this time has been once called, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Quereshi. It is the story of the journey of how a young American-born Muslim man came to work through a lot of difficult questions regarding his faith. Reading this account has given me a lot more insight about the nature of Islam, how it compares, and contrasts with Christianity.
Major differences have to do with the way we think of God, the way of salvation, and especially our view concerning the deity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. One major difference, it seems to me, is that people of Islam belief take a more dogmatic approach to their faith, accepting it as true on the basis of traditional teaching. Christian belief, on the other hand, stresses the importance of intensive historical research and scrutiny. At least this is the impression one gets from reading Quereshi. It was, in fact, this process that ultimately led him to the very difficult decision of making the Christian choice.
I have come to realize afresh, how significant it is to be able to explain these primary doctrines of the Christian faith in terms of their reasonableness in the context of good biblical exegesis. In any case, this whole experience has taught me the value of engaging with our Muslim friends for the sake of genuine friendship and the opportunity to talk about faith in a logical and loving way. I hope I can give time, this year, to pursuing this kind of journey more vigorously and fruitfully.