Last Friday, after hearing about the shootings in New Zealand, I knew I had to go visit the nearby mosque in Northridge, California, to extend condolences on behalf of the Adventist Church and myself.
As I drove into the parking lot, an elder greeted me. I introduced myself as an Adventist wishing to offer my deepest sympathies after this terrible tragedy. Surprised and touched, he said he would have the imam (pastor) meet me as soon as he arrived. I sat in the mosque and prayed for my Muslim brothers and sisters here and in New Zealand. In a short time, a rather young man, maybe late twenties, walked up and introduced himself as the imam. I expressed sincere condolences and he was quite moved. “Brother,” he said, “would you be interested in sharing a message with us? Do you have a word for our congregation?” I gladly accepted.
Cutting short his sermon (and suffering from a sore throat anyway), the imam introduced me to the two hundred men that packed the mosque. With a silent prayer that God would use me I said, “Blessings to you from the Almighty. My name is Gerald Babanezhad and I am here to extend our heartfelt condolences in this time of grief on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist people.”
Most Muslims do not know about Adventists, so I opened their sacred scriptures and recited in Arabic.
“So if you are in doubt, about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.” (Yunus 10:94)
You see, there is a people who are reading the previous revelations and can clarify doubts.
“They are not (all) the same; among the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians] is a community standing (in obedience), reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous. And whatever good they do--never will it be removed from them. And Allah is Knowing of the righteous.” (Al Imran 3:113-115)
The congregation seemed to connect with those verses for this is a Quranic admonition. I am certain that it was a strange thing to see an Adventist calling them to seek for the true People of the Book in their own scriptures. I added, “Such people are in your midst. I represent a community that adheres to the tenets of God’s revelation, to His law which has not changed, and don’t defile themselves by prostrating before idols or eating haram food. They seek to obey God and be prepared for the Judgment Day.”
I shared further with them that we are followers of Isa Al Masih (Jesus the Messiah), using Islamic words and phrases they could identify with. I concluded with Jesus' words: “By this they shall know if you are my disciples, if you love one another.” They really resonated with that. There was a loud response.
As I was returning to my seat, the director of the mosque came to me saying, “I need your phone number. I need to contact you.” Afterwards so many Muslims came to inquire more and to thank me. They needed to know that they were not alone. I was overwhelmed by the response.
A Muslim man said, “Brother, thank you for preaching for us from the Qur’an. Now we understand who are the People of the Book.” Another Muslim asked, “Can you explain the meaning of Seventh-day Adventists? I don’t know who you people are?”
“Our name is a combination of two words,” I said. “Seventh-day--which is a reminder that God created the world in six days and on the seventh He mounted onto His throne [this is Quranic language]. The Bible calls it resting and we commemorate that day according to the Law that God gave to nabi Musa [Moses]. This law was of such importance that God wrote it with His own finger. The second word--Adventists--comes from a term meaning return. We believe that Isa Al Masih will return and soon. We are getting ready for it and we are sharing this news with everyone and anyone we possibly can.” The man hugged me in thanks.
Right after the service, a young man introduced himself to me as part of the Islamic Student Club at California State University Northridge. They've tried collaborating with the Christian clubs on campus, but were having a challenging time. “Could you help us?” I gave him my phone number to talk further.
The final request came from the mosque director seeking mediation over a parking situation. The mosque sits next to a large non-denominational church with a sizeable parking lot. Previously the mosque rented space on Fridays, but with new administration next door the arrangement was terminated and a tall fence erected. “Brother, would you please put in a word for us, because our people are having a hard time finding parking space?”
I did not expect that my visit to the mosque would land me in the office of a pastor sitting near an Israeli flag! I sensed clearly the reservation with which my Muslim brother had spoken. In talking about the parking situation, I explained to the pastor how kindness could open opportunities for them to witness to Muslims about the Good News, using the Qur'an as a bridge. He was curious. I repeated the same verses I had used at the mosque.
I can see clearly now that the Muslim community was receptive to what I had to share, and I have already connected the local Adventist pastor with them for follow-up. You may not know the Qur'an or Arabic, but your presence can minister healing, if you are willing to go and extend a hand of friendship.
Pastor Gerald Babanezhad is a speaker for A Sure Harvest Ministries and is on the advisory board of NAD Adventist Muslim Relations.