Interview #7: Showing Hospitality to Muslims in the United States

Last year when I heard about Elizabeth, a Christian who lives in the USA and regularly hosts Muslims in her home, I immediately hoped I could talk to her and learn more about her experiences. I was pleased to be able to connect with her, and have her graciously share about her experiences being a friend to Muslims in the USA. I hope you are as encouraged as I was by Elizabeth and her husband's love for people who are culturally and religiously different than them.

Elizabeth, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?

Sure. I am a follower of Jesus and love to teach the Bible. I have an international background: I was born in Canada, lived in the States, moved to Singapore for my middle and high school years and then returned to the States for university. My husband and I have been married for ten years and have three sweet, bright kiddos ages eight, six and three. Before our kiddos were born, I taught ESL for adult refugees with a refugee resettlement agency. Now I homeschool our little people and as of last fall, I’m teaching ESL on the weekends—now, for Muslim women fleeing political persecution.

From hearing a bit about your background, I can imagine that you probably met people of other cultures as a child and developed a natural curiosity about other religions. But I still don’t hear every day about Christians who regularly have Muslims in their homes. Is this something both you and your husband have an interest in? How did you get started hosting Muslims?

Before we met, my husband and I each came to know and love Muslims. My husband spent a year studying in a Muslim country. During college, I went to Paris, France for part of one summer where we gave away French-Arabic Bibles and films about Jesus in Muslim immigrant quarters of the city. The diverse reactions of people to Scripture struck me: some women eagerly tucked copies of the Bible into their flowing robes, one man angrily threw it into the gutter, some children’s eyes glowed while holding onto a Jesus movie. God used these interactions to make my heart eager to provide folks in communities like these with an opportunity to learn what the Bible says about Jesus.

My husband and I met while doing our master's degrees and we soon realized we shared a similar passion for loving folks from other cultures. One of the ways my husband and I got to know each other was by attending the parties we each threw as single people! We loved people, we loved providing spaces for folks to get to know one another, we loved celebrating life—we loved parties! So, it was natural when we married for us to host Muslims in our new home. 

For our first Christmas after we were married, we hosted a large dinner with Muslim and Christian friends. We learned a lot that season—about providing separate spaces for men and women, about different cultural views of time, about making preparations, and about the stress hosting puts on a marriage! Since that first Christmas party, we’ve developed family rhythms that have reduced our stress and blessed our times hosting Muslim friends.

When you were living abroad in Muslim countries or Muslim neighbourhoods, I can see that you would naturally meet Muslims. But now that you live in the USA, how do you meet Muslims? Have you intentionally chosen to live in a Muslim-dense neighbourhood or city for this reason? 

We do live in a part of the States with large communities of Muslims. Our neighborhood, however, is primarily African American and Latino. My husband and I have met Muslims in many ways: at the library, at swim lessons, visiting Muslim-owned businesses, attending events, inter-faith gatherings and classes at mosques or Muslim community centers. In addition, I taught English for a refugee resettlement agency and many of my students were Muslim. Both my husband and I partnered with a friendship center in a South Asian part of our city before we married. At the friendship center, we helped tutor Muslims in English; my husband also led the kid’s summer program. 

"Our genuine interest in our friends’ cultures and backgrounds opens doors for us to invite them into experiencing our holidays and beliefs."

We always are eager to attend community events that our Muslim friends host—Ramadan dinners and other holiday celebrations, henna parties, cooking classes, plays, etc. Our genuine interest in our friends’ cultures and backgrounds opens doors for us to invite them into experiencing our holidays and beliefs. We know of some churches who discourage their members from attending events at Muslim centers. However, we believe all humans are created in God’s image and therefore every culture has parts that reflect this beauty of God’s image. Delighting in those beautiful parts of our Muslim friends’ cultures has been an important way to develop mutual trust.

As Westerners in our home country, we have a unique opportunity to welcome Muslims who are immigrants or refugees. As one of my Muslim friends said, “When you come to a new country, you can figure out where to get food and shelter, you can figure out how to speak the language; what you can’t get by yourself is welcome.” 

Is it ever hard for you to find something in common with your Muslim neighbours or guests? Do you have to kind of “work at” having things in common, or does it come fairly naturally? 

Yes, there have been times when conversations have been awkward. But that’s ok! People can tell whether we’re treating them with kindness and respect. Even if there are challenges in communicating, they can tell if we’re interacting out of love. In those awkward times, I often talk about food and ask how to cook something from my new friend’s culture. [Laughs.] 

"In most cases, I find I have a great deal in common with Muslim women."

In most cases, however, I find I have a great deal in common with Muslim women. My Muslim friends are very concerned about the moral environment in which their children are growing up. They feel the press of the Western culture around them, pushing their children towards choices against God’s ways. I feel that same concern and have many opportunities to share about how our family intentionally seeks to build wisdom and love for God into our children. Muslim friends are interested to hear how we teach our kiddos the Bible, to pray, sing and memorize Scripture. Our Muslim friends intentionally invest time teaching their children to read the Qur’an and pray. This concern we share for our children has been the catalyst for many significant conversations. 

Other good conversations can arise from talking about holidays—either explaining my Christian holidays or asking questions about my Muslim friends’ holidays. Listening well to my friends and asking good questions about their traditions and beliefs can lead to excellent conversations in which I am able to contribute truth.

This is a wonderful website with helpful conversation ideas for speaking in particular to Muslim women.  The author, Joy, is a wise, loving woman—I recommend everything she writes!

I love the thought and planning Joy puts into conversational topics, to try to lead regular conversations in a more meaningful direction. Thank you for sharing this resource! Would you say that you have close Muslim friends? How is a friendship with a Muslim different than other friendships that you have?

I have one particularly close Muslim friend among some warm friendships in a Muslim community. This woman is a thoughtful, bright, hospitable, accomplished woman who is zealous for justice. She is a leader in her community who spurs others to action. She loves her family and community. We have much in common. We both have voiced how precious and important our friendship is to one another. 

"I do not criticize my Muslim friend's religion. I do, however, ask lots of questions. And, I always try to offer her beautiful truths about Jesus."

Because we share similar passions, in many ways I am just as at home with this Muslim woman as I am with close Christian friends. A difference would be that I long for her to know the freedom and joy of trusting Jesus with her life. I long for her to be sure of her place in Heaven by asking Jesus to make the way for her. Whenever we are together, I am listening for places in which I can share encouragement, comfort and truth with her from God’s Word. As I do with my other friends, I listen carefully to her burdens and tell her I’m praying for her. I share with her the ways that God is working in my life, guiding me and answering my prayers.

I do not criticize her religion. I do, however, ask lots of questions. And, I always try to offer her beautiful truths about Jesus. 

christian meals for muslims

How often do you have Muslims in your home? What do these occasions look like? What’s your preferred situation or ideal size of group for hosting? 

We generally have Muslims in our home for holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, July 4th. We’ve also hosted baby showers, tea parties and birthday parties. Occasionally we’ll have one Muslim family over for dinner. 

The sizes of these events have varied widely. We’ve had small gatherings, we’ve had over 40 of my refugee students and their family members packed into our townhome for holidays. Most often, our gatherings will range from 10 to 20 guests including kiddos. 

I think because of the importance of community for most Muslims, it is most comfortable for everyone if there are three or four families present. However, some of my most tender moments with Muslim women have been when we are alone together—perhaps the other guests have left or we’ve intentionally met one-on-one. Therefore, I think that there isn’t necessarily an “ideal” group size. 

Are you usually the only Christians at these gatherings, or do you invite a mixture of Muslim and Christian guests?

We like to have a mix of Muslim and Christian guests. We are careful to invite Christians who are sensitive to folks from other cultures and love Muslims. It is important for Muslims to not only experience Christian hospitality, but also to see how people in the Christian community interact with one another in unity and love.

I spoke with someone recently who said that he knows some Westerners who are afraid of having a Muslim in their home. Do ever think there is reason for fear? How would you encourage someone who has never hosted a Muslim before and is feeling a little uncertain about doing so? 

As a fellow follower of Jesus once said to me, “We have a choice; we can choose to have fear or to have faith.” Our Western cultures shout at us to fear Muslims. Yet, the Bible is clear: “Perfect love casts out fear.” We must choose: will we go on the path of fear or will we go on the path of faith that the Bible is telling us the truth and Jesus really meant for us to love our neighbors as ourselves? 

I love hearing about how you and your husband love your Muslim neighbours together, but many Christians don’t have a spouse or at least don’t have a spouse who wants to host people of other religions with them. What are your suggestions for people in these situations?

One important aspect of loving Muslims is understanding gender relations. When we are seeking to befriend Muslims, it’s really important to remember that men befriend men and women befriend women. A Western woman who pursues friendship with a Muslim man will be viewed as promiscuous. A Western man who pursues friendship with a Muslim woman will be viewed as dishonorable. There really is no gray area here.

Therefore, if a husband is not interested in hosting Muslims, it would be very natural for the wife to host Muslim ladies in her home. The ladies could have afternoon tea parties or a mid-morning cooking exchange together. This single-gender invitation is very natural to Muslims. For a husband who does not have a wife who is interested in hosting Muslims, his best choice would be to find a “third space”—a restaurant or coffee shop—to meet with his male Muslim friend. 

For singles who would like to reach entire families who are Muslim, it is important that they partner with other Christians—ideally families. For example, we have had single friends partner with our family in hosting Muslims. They have helped in significant ways to prepare for dinners or events by bringing food, providing rides to Muslim friends or helping our kiddos. Once our Muslim guests arrive, these single Christians have spent time with Muslims of their respective gender in our home. Partnering with a Christian family protects the honor of the single Christian people by preventing any miscommunication about their intentions. Since our Western culture is so saturated with promiscuity, it is imperative that Christians demonstrate great modesty and care when interacting with Muslims of the opposite gender.

Can you talk a bit about your children’s involvement in your hospitality?  How much do you involve or not involve them in events you host in your home?

Our kiddos have played different roles at different times in extending hospitality. Since our children are generally outgoing, they usually are enthused to have folks over—especially if the families have children their ages. At our parties, we like to have activities that children enjoy, so our kids are simply having fun alongside the Muslim kiddos. Decorating Christmas cookies, sharing our family Advent calendar, opening a present, having an Easter egg hunt, distributing Easter baskets, singing a Thanksgiving song—all of these things are parts of parties that our children love and share with Muslim kiddos. 

When my daughter was four, she wanted to share the Christmas story with some Muslim guests. With my help, she cut out Christmas card pictures and wrote out the Christmas story for our guests. They were delighted to hear her telling the story and we were thrilled that she was so eager to share the amazing miracle of Jesus coming to earth! 

"We encourage our kids to join us in hospitality to Muslims, but we do not require their enthusiastic presence."

That said, we do not force our kids’ participation. Another year at Thanksgiving, one of my sons was feeling bashful. When guests arrived, he hovered at the top of the stairs. By the time appetizers were finished, he had made his way to the bottom of the stairs; and by the time guests left, he was giving out hugs. We encouraged him to join us, but we did not require his enthusiastic presence. 

We want our hosting times to be delightful to our children, not a burden. We invite them to be our partners in hospitality and encourage them with how important their role is, but we do not try to force them to be involved.

An important way we help our children is by having another Christian family or couple present with whom they feel comfortable. There are times during a dinner or party when my husband or I are in deep conversation or busily slicing pie and cannot be as accessible to our children as usual. Having another set of loving Christian adults present for them gives them safety and comfort (and gives me peace of mind!) while simultaneously allowing my husband and me to invest in Muslim guests.  

You often invite Muslim guests to your home for Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas and explain to the group the deeper meaning of the holiday, through a reading or a song or a short talk. I think that some Christians might not even be aware that Muslims would be open to these kinds of conversations or presentations. Have you ever had guests who were not willing to listen?

We have learned that inviting our Muslim friends into our holiday celebrations provides very natural pathways to sharing truths from the Bible. We simply are sharing our traditions with our friends and this does not offend them. They know it is just part of what our family does and that we are opening our home to share it with them. 

For example, my husband always reads a passage of Scripture and prays in the name of Jesus before the meal. Of the many, many Muslim guests in our home over the years, only one woman felt nervous about this until her husband told her he didn’t mind. Then this woman was happy for my husband to read from the Bible and pray. 

At Christmas parties and teas, I have taken one symbol from our Advent calendar and explained its significance in the Old Testament and how it points to Jesus. (I created an Advent calendar for our family that is very intentional in tracing how events in the Old Testament were teaching important truths about Jesus.) Even when we haven’t shared an explicit devotional from our Advent calendar, it has sparked excellent conversations since it hangs prominently in our living room. As Muslim friends have asked about its significance and what the different symbols mean, we have been able to explain beautiful truths about Jesus. 

Another tradition we have at Christmas parties is to give gifts. This provides a lovely opportunity to explain (often to an eager group of children with parents looking on) about the wise men visiting Jesus as the reason we give gifts. Hearing about the wise men can be very precious to some Muslims since the magi may have come from their home country. 

At a couple of our Easter parties, we have shared from the “Resurrection eggs”—a tradition we sometimes use with our children to retell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Again, we are opening our home to invite our friends into our traditions and they are interested to hear. At one Easter party for my refugee students, we invited an African Christian friend to share the story of Easter in a language spoken by many of the refugees. When our friend began, one Muslim man and woman left the room because they did not want to hear. However, they were not rude nor did they try to stop anyone else from listening. They simply left for a few minutes and then returned to enjoy the rest of the party when the Easter story concluded.

"Our experience has been that most Muslims respect Christians who take their faith seriously."

Our experience has been that most Muslims respect Christians who take their faith seriously. They see a commonality between us. They hold their holy book in high esteem and try to learn to read it in Arabic. We hold the Holy Bible in high esteem and diligently study it. They strive to pray five times a day. We pray many times a day. They are deeply concerned that their children stay on the straight path. We are deeply invested in guiding our children on the path of blessing through introducing them to Jesus, teaching them the Bible and how to pray. Our Muslim friends are concerned to give gifts to the poor. We serve and love our neighbors and those in need. Our Muslim friends see something of their religious concern in how we live and rather than our different religions driving us apart, it gives us a deeper understanding and empathy for one another. 

Have you ever been turned down when you offered to pray with a Muslim friend?

One of the most beautiful ways we can show our relationship with God is by praying for our Muslim friends. One of my favorite memories with Muslim friends was at a baby shower for two beloved Muslim mommies. I shared a devotional with the ladies about love from I Corinthians 13. It was such a joy to share these amazing truths with these ladies—many of whom had never heard how God loved them this way and could give them power to love their children this way. At the end of the devotional, I prayed a special blessing over the guest-of-honor mommies. The Muslim women were able to hear how I talked with my loving Father in Heaven; how I was able to come to him without fear, full of confidence that he was listening to my requests. By praying for my friends in their presence, they heard first-hand what my relationship with God was like. This is a wonderful way to bless our Muslim friends. Over the years my husband and I have only been rejected a handful of times when we’ve offered to pray for our Muslim friends. 

I love hearing how God has given you such great opportunities to love Muslims right in your own city in the States. To conclude, what’s your favourite memory of opening your home to Muslims?

There have been many memorable times—like the July 4th party water fight my husband and a Muslim daddy had with all of the kiddos in the backyard, or the Christmas party when we discovered our guests’ children trying to sled down our stairs on our snow disc or when one of our guest kiddos sneezed on most of the Christmas cookies while decorating. Besides fun (and funny) times, we’ve seen times when God has opened the way for deep conversation, prayer and blessing. One of my most precious memories is of a Muslim friend who was struggling with her identity and in her marriage. When other guests had left, she poured out her heart to me. With tears in our eyes, I was able to share with her from Scripture how God viewed her—that she was created in His image, that she was intentionally knit together by His hand, that He loved her. This is what we live for—to be channels of God’s love to those around us. It is a beautiful privilege when God allows us to be his hands, his feet, his voice to share this love with others. 

I'm so glad Elizabeth was willing to take the time to share with us on The Serviette. Hearing her stories and insights taught me new things about purposefully, intentionally opening our homes to people of other faiths. Whether you're married with small children like Elizabeth, or in a totally different season of life, I hope you can pull relevant ideas and truths from her experiences and reach out to Muslims with a spirit of love, not fear. I hope you're inspired and see that God can give you, too, deep friendships and meaningful conversations with Muslim neighbors, coworkers and friends as you show them hospitality.