There is a long list of reasons why Encountering the World of Islam (EWI) is an important class for people in churches. We recently found one in an article from the Al-Jazeera news service. While this may not be news to most Muslims, an Al-Jazeera survey revealed that 46% of Americans polled have a negative opinion of Muslim countries. This result is up 5% from the same poll in 2002. Read the full article here.
Interestingly, the poll asked Americans about how they have formed their opinions. The vast majority of people who viewed Muslim countries negatively responded that their opinion was primarily shaped by the media. The article quotes a Pew Forum on Religion researcher as saying, “People who say they personally know a Muslim are much more likely to express favourable views of Muslims.”
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love all people, including our neighbors (who are defined as anyone in need). And we are even commanded to love our enemies! As we try to live up to this calling, it seems that we will need to make a special effort to love Muslims. One way we can do this is to help and encourage one another to get to know someone who is Muslim. Another way we could do this is to look to other sources beside mass-media for information about Muslims and the Muslim world.
EWI classes do both of these things, plus they provide a forum for people to ask questions about Muslims and the Muslim world. EWI students consistently finish the class with a more positive view of Muslims than they had when they began the class.
Some might suggest that the results of the survey may make it easier for Americans to build friendships with Muslims, as Muslims might realize they need to put more energy into nurturing a more positive view. Perhaps this will be the case, but it is possible the survey will have the opposite effect: Muslims could be more hesitant to build relationship with someone they think already dislikes or mistrusts them. In either case, we hope that those who seek to obey Jesus will find ways to love Muslims and be bearers of the grace they have experienced.