I know there are those who are interested in listening to the news characterize all Muslims as terrorists. But for those interested in finding out what Muslims think about faith, society, and what’s going on in the world; there’s no better couple than Safi and Eman Kaskas.
I met Safi about ten years ago on one of my trips to the Middle East. A successful businessman, scholar, and Quranic Expert; he agreed to a short lunch meeting as I was trying to figure out how I might be able to increase my friend circle with people who think different from me.
We went to a local Middle Eastern grill to sit down and talk about what he believed, why he believed it, but before I got a chance to start asking questions he asked me, “What do you think is the greatest commandment?”
Startled by the question, I answered, “I believe Jesus said, ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.”
He smiled, “You’re right. Did you know I believe that as well?” I tried to follow the direction he wanted to take this conversation.
“What is the great commission?” he asked.
“Well, I believe Jesus said to go and make disciples of all nations…”
“What do you mean, ‘make disciples’?” he stopped me
“I guess it means I’m supposed to go and teach people what it means to live like Jesus and follow His teachings. After all, he said ‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but through me.'” I answered.
“So did you come here to convert me?” he again asked with a seeming pointed tone of voice.
“I don’t think that’s what I said. I believe a disciple is someone who follows Jesus. the twelve men in the Bible referenced at disciples were never in a place of conversation before they decided to follow Jesus and commit themselves to his teaching. So I guess I’m saying, the great commission is less about converting someone, and more about sharing the teachings of Jesus leaving the conversion stuff up to God and the disciple.” I answered again.
He smiled, and then looked at me, “I’ve not met many Christians like you.”
About that time the Muslim call to prayer echoed through the streets. Safi looked at his watch and excused himself to go pray for 10-15 minutes.
“Wait a second.” I requested. “If we follow Jesus, is there a way we can pray together?”
He looked at me with a quizzical look on his face. “Have you ever prayed with Muslims?”
“Of course not, but I’m willing to pray at the same time you pray.” I answered
And we went off to pray.
At the end of the prayer time he asked, “I bet you want to know what I was saying?” as he prayed in Arabic. And I told him, I understand what it means to pray. I know what it means to ask God to bless you, your family, and your community.
He smiled. “What were you praying while I was praying?”
Well, I was praying, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That’s how Jesus taught us to pray.” I said.
Safi smiled again and gave me a big hug. “You’re a man who follows Jesus. Thank you. You and I will be friends for a long time.”
And we have been.
Over the last 10 years we’ve run into each other a dozen times in various contexts. He introduced me to Eman, his wife, and I’ve shared deep conversations about women in the Middle East learning how to know what to think when I read news reports about the Middle East women’s rights.
Again, I hope you have a chance to reach out to people of a different faith than you. you may be surprised at who you find behind the crazy rhetoric your hearing in the news.
I’m thankful for Dr. Safi and Eman. Thank you for showing the world what it means to forge a friendship in the most unusual places.
If you’re interested in reading some of Dr. Safi’s work, you read his contemporary translation of the Qu’ran and his newest work is on comparing the Bible and the Qu’ran. I can’t wait to read it.