Biola Muslim Ministry shares Christ with local Muslim community

Biola’s Muslim Ministry demonstrates Christ to Muslims in the Los Angeles area.

Lena Smith, Writer

The draped fabric of her long skirt and cardigan posed a stark contrast to the usually exposed shoulders and bare legs seen on campus on a typical sunny Friday afternoon. With the chestnut brown hijab slipped over her head, Emily Ku, a sophomore intercultural studies major, exemplified the standards of modesty inherent to Islam.

For Ku, her dress is not a reflection of her religion. It is, however, a demonstration of her heart for the Muslim people. This interest is shared by the rest of the Muslim Ministry at Biola University, who gathered with her at Fluor Fountain in preparation for their second mosque visit of the semester on Oct. 21.

Students demonstrate Christ to Muslims through campus ministry

The heart of Muslim Ministry is to develop a thorough understanding of Islam and build true and respectful friendships with Muslims in the community. It is through these relationships that the ministry demonstrates the love of Christ and preaches the gospel with their actions and words.

Shoh Ueno, a junior anthropology major and the student director of the ministry, holds a deep and infectious conviction that the Christian community has a responsibility to reach out to the Muslim population of Southern California. Since his freshman year, his knowledge of Islam and experience with Muslims through the ministry has developed into a passion for the Muslim people that shines through his countenance.

The Muslim Ministry is made up of about seventeen students. They meet each Monday evening at 9 p.m. in Sutherland 200 for a time of fellowship, prayer and preparation for community outreaches.

Muslim population growing in United States

One could easily assume that such a ministry should target the people groups that reside thousands of miles away in the Middle East, but the Muslim population is growing in both size and influence across the United States.

According to Sherrel Johnson, the community relations manager of the Council for American-Islamic Relations in California, there are no formal statistics that completely profile the Muslim population in America. However, informal estimates provided by CAIR state that, of the approximately one million Muslims that live in California, roughly 250,000 reside in Los Angeles County and 160,000 in Orange County. Johnson also notes that there are approximately 70 to 75 active mosques in the Los Angeles metro area.

“I feel like so many people have misconceptions of who Muslims are and what they actually believe,” said Lydia Berding, a senior nursing major and a student leader of the Muslim ministry. Berding has a deep and genuine love for the Muslim people.

The first years of her life were spent in a Muslim country and she desires to serve as a long-term missionary to a Muslim country in the future. Berding recognizes the need for Christians to reach out to the local Muslim community with as much intention and love as they would any other people group.

“There is such a great need to reach Muslims, even in America. They need the gospel and Christians should be looking for ways to share the gospel with them,” Berding said.

Learning about Muslim culture through cultural immersion

The desire of Ku, Ueno, Berding and the rest of the Muslim Ministry to relate to the Muslim people has compelled them to launch out of their passive assumptions about Islam and into the heart of Islamic beliefs and culture. Their desire to learn more about Islam has been fulfilled by local Islamic institutions including the Islamic Society of Orange County, or Masjid al-Rahman, in Garden Grove, Calif. Conservatively and respectfully dressed, the group observed the Friday afternoon worship service and teaching before engaging in a question-and-answer session with Suhail Mulla, the spiritual leader of the mosque.

“We were able to ask questions and get information directly from the source, as opposed to reading books that Christians have written about what Muslims believe,” Ueno said, noting the unique perspective and opportunity the mosque visit gives the ministry.

While great care and sensitivity is taken in the relationship between the ministry and the mosque, Ueno asserts that any fear of taking part in such an observation is unnecessary.

“Our group as been extremely well received at the mosque,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to be treated so kindly by the laypeople and clerics.”

For the Muslim Ministry, the mosque visit unveiled much more than Muslim faith and culture. The opportunity to witness Islam in action has kindled the desire of the ministry to share their faith with their newfound Muslim friends.

“As I was watching them pray, I felt a sadness that these precious people that God created in his image are worshipping a god that doesn’t exist,” Berding said. “I was reminded of the need to tell Muslims about Jesus, the loving savior of the world, who wants to redeem them from bondage and grant them a life of purpose, not monotonous ritualism.”

For this growing group of Biola students, the steps they are taking to understand Islam will ideally yield lasting fruit in the relationships that are being established between the ministry and the Muslim community.

“We certainly don’t want to come off too strong, start arguments, and lose the connection,” Ueno said. “At the same time, we don’t want to shy away from preaching the gospel or compromise our commitment to believe in its truthfulness. Being friends doesn’t mean compromising our faith. Being friends is a way of living up to our faith as Christ demonstrated to us.”

Online extra

In a 2009 Gallup Poll report entitled “Muslim Americans: A National Portrait,” prominent Muslims leaders were given the opportunity to express their vision for the future of the religion in the United States.

“If we are not relevant within our own communities, we can only imagine the lack of relevancy among our fellow non-Muslim citizens,” said Imam Suhaib Webb, and American-born convert to Islam. “It is important that we develop a theological message that reverberates among Western people while honoring the sacred nature of our texts.”

Webb’s sentiments can be felt throughout the local Muslim population as organizations like CAIR and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California strive to develop relationships with the non-Muslim community and welcome them to learn more about Islam.

Yet even with their growing efforts to introduce Islam to American society, many people remain ignorant to Muslim faith and culture beyond what is portrayed in the media.

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