“Do you want some cold water?” asked the Muslim activist calling out to me from inside his tent positioned at an entrance to Central Park in New York City.
“Sure,” I said while getting off my rented bike. “Thanks,” I muttered while taking a much needed drink on a hot July day.
“Would like a pamphlet? We’re here to spread the true word of Islam in America.” He smiled at me through his long beard and I was intrigued.
“Sure, religion has always interested me, what is the ‘true word’?” My interest excited him and I guessed that most people were reluctant to approach him or take any material.
“That Islam is a religion of peace and truth,” he proudly exclaimed with a look of assurance. He seemed excited that he was finally going to share his beliefs, all for the low price of free water.
“I actually work with a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and have read some of the Quran,” I told him. And that began an almost two hour encounter. I remember thinking “only in New York” to have this opportunity as many consider NYC to be the most multi-cultural international mission field of any city in the world.
During our dialogue, we flushed out a few interesting beliefs; some unite and some divide us. I’ll list a few main points he brought up and my response.
- Jesus is respected as a prophet in the Quran, was born of the Virgin Mary and will be the one to judge the living and the dead at the end of time. He said this to make me feel comfortable that Muslims also look to Jesus and there are chapters in the Quran written about Jesus.
Question I asked, why isn’t Muhammad the last prophet who returns? If Jesus is the one who returns for our salvation, doesn’t this elevate him over Muhammad?
- Jesus was replaced on the cross before he breathed his last breath since “God can’t die”. Also, there was no empty tomb, this was a hoax and the real Jesus never rose.
Question I asked, if the Quran wasn’t written until the 7th century, how can you refute the testimony of 600 years that tie to a Christian Easter? If Jesus was never laid to rest, how did his “body double” get out of the tomb, after all, wasn’t it recorded as empty?
- Islam is the fastest growing religion and now has over 1 billion members worldwide, this was described as a reason it must be true.
My question, if sheer numbers ties to the truth, the Catholic Church reports over 1 billion members too but what does this tell us?
- The Trinitarian understanding of God came as a heresy in the council of Nicaea which is why Muhammad came to clarify the true God.
My thoughts were racing, I even thought of my Mormon friend because on this objection, there are more ties to Joseph Smith and Muhammad than Jesus. My question was, why was Jesus crucified in the first place if he didn’t claim to be God? Either he was a liar, lunatic or the Christ.
When we were done, we embraced and told each other “God bless you” and went on our way never to see each other again. I left with a mixed feeling of satisfaction that seeds could have been planted but a feeling of disappointment that most Muslims and Christians don’t dialogue on faith. I came to the conclusion that through mutual respect and dialogue, barriers can be broken. Finally, I appreciated that we live in a nation that allows such encounters to take place, discussing differences with respect for each other and without conflict.
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