Not long ago, I was sitting inside a Starbucks when a woman walked inside, a woman wearing a hijab. The news has been full of the kinds of stories that would make me want to have some hesitancy when seeing a woman dressed in traditional Muslim clothing. Stories of bombings, attacks, violence, and war fill up our social media pages.

But when I saw this woman, I thought only of the things I had learned earlier in the year from Dr. Len Bartlotti, a man who’s spent most of his life building relationships with Muslim communities in Pakistan. I thought of what we had read in Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, and I thought of the day we spent walking up and down the streets of a refugee community in Atlanta, Georgia. We learned that Muslims, despite their different food and clothes, despite their different language and religion are people just like us.

They need community

We learn a lot at Impact 360 about the importance of community and genuine friendships. While walking through this refugee community, we could see the same impulse. Even though they are poor and have to work long days, even though they all come from different religions and cultures, these people work together to build a community garden, share child care, open a coffee shop. Later in the day, we sat down with an Afghani family and shared a meal. While passing around rice, chicken and lentils, I was reminded for the simple truth that loving is truly more powerful than hate and truly more powerful than argument. Our Muslim neighbors want to experience friendship and community, just like the rest of us.

They are doing their best to find God

For part of our visit to the refugee community, we were able to attend a traditional prayer service. We gathered in an old house that had been turned into a makeshift Mosque. The walls inside had been torn down and the only thing adorning the room was a compass so they could identify East, towards Mecca. While I was saddened by the fact that they were praying mostly out of a legalistic necessity (daily prayer is one of the five pillars), I was amazed at the level of devotion that these people maintained. Bartlotti helped us understand that more important than arguing the merits of Christianity against the claims of Islam is understanding the heart of Islam: a desire to live a moral life worthy of God. There are many shortcomings to Islam, when considered from a Biblical perspective, but understanding this basic fact can be one way to start a conversation with Muslims, and hopefully guide them to the Gospel and the love of Christ.

They are trying to build the best life for themselves

The people living in the refugee community have to work really long hours at really hard jobs. They have to learn how to navigate a new country, language, and culture. They have to make new friends. It’s easy to look at these people and compartmentalize them as “special” and vulnerable. But in reality, their experience is deeply human and should evoke compassion and sympathy. All of us, no matter our cultural background, can resonate with the universal desire to flourish. It might be easy to look at Muslims only through the lens of their religion. But that’s a narrow view. What would it change about our perception of Muslims if we realized there is more we have in common than is different.

After this week, we didn’t walk away with five great points to make when arguing with Muslims. We learned to see them through eyes of compassion. We learned that when it comes to religion, while some of them will want to hear rigorous arguments, most of them want to experience genuine love. And that is really what the Gospel is all about.