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Building Friendships with Muslims

By James Rayment

A week ago, Hope Christian Fellowship, a local church in Burien, hosted local Muslims for dinner during Ramadan.

The number of Muslims in Washington state is growing every year, and that number has increased exponentially with the addition of thousands of Afghan refugees since 2021.

Many Americans have wrestled with fear, suspicion, and honest questions about Islam and the growing number of Muslims living in their cities.

Conversely, many Muslim-Americans have felt like outsiders in the only country they have ever called home.

It becomes clearer every year that Muslims are here to stay and are our neighbors, so how do we live together? What do non-Muslim Americans want the Muslims’ living experience here to be?

The people of Hope Christian Fellowship decided to host an after-sunset meal, or ‘iftar dinner,’ during Ramadan to build bridges between Christians and Muslims living in Burien. The dinner was attended by people from India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey, some being first-generation immigrants and some who grew up near Burien.

Some of the Muslims in attendance were successful systems engineers and medical students; others escaped from repression in Turkmenistan and built a new life in Ukraine, only to have to leave again after the Russian invasion last year.

The goal of the dinner, according to Meredith, one of the organizers, was to facilitate real friendship and honest conversations between people who have very different ways of looking at the world.

Aybars, a Turkish man who attended the event, said, “One of the barriers to cross-cultural friendships is that political correctness culture has made everyone afraid of saying the wrong thing. If you think about your life, if you are walking around on eggshells to try and avoid offending someone, that person is not your friend. Your friends are people you can be honest with, and if we really want people to enjoy having neighbors from different cultures and places, we need to create an environment where people can express themselves without feeling judged for saying the wrong thing.”

Jim Overmyer, who works for the Al-Ma’idah Initiative and helped organize the event, says that “many well-meaning people try to bridge cultural gaps by minimizing the differences, but from everything we’ve seen, that is actually counterproductive, as it encourages people to suppress opinions they are afraid will be controversial. As Christians, we believe that Christianity is unique, and that’s not something that we can compromise on. However, believing in the exclusive nature of Jesus actually helps us better understand our Muslim neighbors, many of whom also believe they have access to unique truth.”

The goal of the dinner was not to “convert anyone” or attempt a synchronization of Islam and Christianity, but rather to encourage friendships that transcend culture and tradition, where talking about life’s deepest issues is a natural part of life.

How about you? Will you distance yourself from those who think differently than you? Or will you be a part of making Burien a place where people from other cultures can experience the best possible version of America?

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