Identity: How do women from a Muslim background understand their identity?

Identity: How do women from a Muslim background understand their identity?

As Christians our identity is influenced in part by the Bible and our Christian community. Muslim women have their identity shaped by the Quran, Hadith and Muslim community. The result is a Christian woman’s identity is fundamentally different to her Muslim neighbours identity. It is, however, important to remember that for each Muslim woman there will be different influences, her family, her cultural heritage, her education, her wealth, her age, the authority structures and where she lives will have an impact on her identity. Taking the time trying to understand your neighbours identity can help you share the good news of Jesus in a way that makes sense.

The communal aspect of many of my friends’ identities has meant that I try to get to know my friends within their local community, whether that is inside the home or outside the home. I have tried to connect with her at work, among her friends and visited her family. This led to me staying overnight with my local friends when my husband travelled. I openly share my thoughts about who I am, what I am struggling with and invite my friends to share their thoughts. Honest relationship takes time and to facilitate this I have maintained contact with some women throughout the years despite no longer living in the same country. I also try to include others so she can see Christians in community, this has been so helpful when the other person understands her language and culture more than I have. So as soon as is appropriate I have tried to introduce Muslim women to Christian community.

What are some things that you have done which helped you to understand your friends personal and communal identity?

Recently I was hanging out with my Arabic ex Muslim friend who was a lecturer of religion. She now identifies herself as a radical feminist. She was sharing with me how she had been talking to her mother over the phone about who her mum is as a woman, my friend was frustrated with her mother’s response that it is Allah’s will for her to be a supressed woman. My friend turned to me and said that Islam has resulted in Muslim women all around the world suffering from the ‘Stockholm syndrome’, which is where a person who has been abused or kidnapped experiences positive feelings towards their abuser. She went on to say that she thinks Muslim women accept and perpetrate the suppression of women because of this syndrome. We continued chatting and again we chatted about Genesis 1:27 “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”.

What are some other things you can discuss which will help you to understand more deeply your friends personal and communal identity?

Once a woman from a Muslim background has responded to God’s love and purpose for her[1], then what? What does it look like for her to follow Jesus for the rest of her life? In other words, what is her identity as a follower of Jesus in the community God placed her in at birth? I have spent a bit of time thinking about this for each woman I get to know. As I get to know her, I pray for her to find her identity, both her personal and public identity, in Christ. I pray that she may discover the sort of woman God has made her to be.

This will be possible once she understands and experiences how the Bible influences every area of her life. This will require time, lots of time with believers and in lots of different circumstances. Developing a Christ centred identity (2 Cor 5:17) will take time discussing what the Bible has to say through its stories and wisdom about who God is and who she is in relation to God. It will take time sharing and experiencing who we are as people of God in covenant relationship with God. We will talk about equality of women, different life stages, God’s view on family, marriage, parenting, work, justice, faith, hope, love, forgiveness, death and heaven.

Ideally, sharing the Bible with Muslim background women is best done in community, within her community and through the community of Christ. For some women I know it has involved forming or joining a small house church, for others it has meant joining a local church. For some, Christian community involves travelling to a conference in a near-by country to meet other women, for some it means joining an international service, for others it has been joining a church online. For some it involved sharing her new identity with her husband, for another it involved sharing what she is learning with her sisters and mother over the phone. Sadly, for some women I know it has meant worshiping Jesus in secret. For some it has involved worship in their own language, for some it is in a different dialect, for others it is in the official language or English. For some Muslim background women it involves wearing the scarf, for others it is not wearing the scarf, for some it is using parts of the Muslim form of prayer for others it has not. Mostly this is dependent on what she used to do before coming to know Jesus and the meaning the scarf or prayers has for her and her community. For all women, it is about discovering the truth about God which will lead to new ways to pray and worship.

I ask myself, what would my friend’s faith need to look like for her to be able to share her faith with those she loves in a way that encourages a receptive response to the message. I then try to model that for her. I consciously introduce her to other followers of Jesus, especially those who are as near as possible to her culture. I also try to expose her to a range of ways of how to do things so that she knows there is a variety of ways to express our faith and like me she may change and adapt the way she expresses her faith as she grows in her identity with Christ.

An example of this is when I met Aunty who was 65 years old and though she had been following Jesus for 15 years she had not had a chance to meet with another local female believer. We then met Grandma who was 75 years old and while she used to be a part of a local house church everyone had since died or been killed and she was the only one she knew of who was still alive. It had been ~20 years since she had talked with a local believer about Jesus. The joy in the room that day was heavenly and we began meeting together regularly, another local woman and a Christian background woman from a near culture also joined us. We would try to worship in reproducible ways which were not dependent on foreigners. I remember one day celebrating communion together, Aunty had volunteered to get the grape juice, but her legs were hurting so she had not been for the walk to the corner shop, so we ended up celebrating it with water because grape juice is a luxury item which was not easily available to them anyway. Since that time wives of other believing men have decided to follow and these women have been introduced to the community of believers in their town.

[1] One way that the Bible describes Israel’s identity, which I think we can apply to Christian communal and personal identity, is in Deuteronomy 4:12-15, an identity which is based on the LORD’s love and affection. This is repeated throughout the narratives of the Bible and stated clearly again in Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord appeared to us in the past,saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with unfailing kindness and again in 1 John 4:7-21.  This is what followers of Jesus from a Muslim background have been born again into.

(c) When Women Speak… April 2022

CTH is an Australian who grew up living overseas and has lived and worked amongst Arabs since 2003 with her family. After spending 13 years in the Middle East she currently lives in multicultural Australia as an Interserve partner who is involved in evangelism and discipleship of Muslim background women and training in cross cultural communication and understanding.


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