Questions serve many purposes. identifying the questions we want to explore with our Muslim sisters is not just important, it is imperative if we are to journey together in encounters with Jesus the Messiah.
There are layers in our questions. There are the questions we ask ourselves; the questions we ask our Muslim sisters, the questions we ask our religious texts, the questions we ask God. There are the questions we ask the culture and context, the questions we ask when we hear things we think we understand or know we don’t understand, the questions that uncover assumptions, the questions that uncover pathways of discovery and redirect us.
I’ve learned from questions I have asked myself, and from conversations with many who journey with Muslim friends, that often we have answers before we know what the questions are. There has, of course, been much written about Islam by people who have asked good questions. They have created valuable resources that help us understand what they have learned from the questions that they have asked. I want to suggest to us however that these resources help us frame questions for the situations and people where we are involved.
This knowledge is not the answers to the questions we have not yet developed or asked. It provides a basis for thinking about the questions we need to ask of our friends, of the situations we are part of, of the context we are engaged in.
When I first arrived in South Asia and was working in a large educational institution, I realised that I spent a lot of time telling people what their faith was about, how it was practiced, what it meant in their situation, and how the good news was really the best news for them. That is how I was taught to share the gospel message. I knew that Jesus is the answer, and of course I believe that to be true. The problem is I was not clear on what the questions were for my students and colleagues that Jesus was the answer to.
Then I discovered as I have read the scriptures over many years, that Jesus often asked questions, helping those who encountered him to discover themselves, their longings and needs, and God as the one who comes into all of those situations. Jesus was unafraid to ask question after question, even answer questions asked of him with another question.
In John 4, Jesus’ first words to the Samaritan woman were ‘will you give me a drink?’ (John 4:7), a question to expresses his own need first, engaging the woman so that she is empowered. Our questions should not only challenge our Muslim sisters, they need to invite them to a place of dignity and empowerment.
To the man lying by pool called Bethesda, Jesus asks ‘Do you want to get well?’. As we work with women who are victims, survivors and thrivers of violence and other social problems, Jesus’ question here reminds us that we should not assume that the answer we have is what the individual or community wants. Wholeness from Jesus brings transformation to all of life. He shows us that helping people to understand the impact of change is a role of questions. Choices give power in decisions.
When Jesus met two blind men he asked them “What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus knew his power. He knew what was possible for these men, but he invited them to share their story and their hopes and dreams.
On another occasion Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ As they discussed this he then took them to that place of personal application, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Asking questions that help our friends first talk about issues that matter by letting them speak from the third person may open the opportunity then to apply it personally.
As Jesus told stories he often left the ending as a question, left the end of the story hanging, left the hearer to work out the point of his teaching.
Why ask questions. Here are just some of those reasons.:
- Questions help us connect more meaningfully with our friends.
- Questions enable us to understand the issues of our Muslim women friends more deeply, and from their experience and perspective. (Remember that a lot of the teaching we have on Islam is by men and so our understanding of how women experience their faith is limited.)
- Questions let us express compassion and be experienced as someone who is understanding.
- Questions are thought-provoking, can be disturbing, take those we share life with to new levels of self-understanding.
- Questions empower others.
- Questions encourage people to examine themselves.
- Questions help us learn what we do and don’t know, our assumptions, or prejudices, the opportunities that we have.
Asking effective questions is premised on the ability to be a good listener and to not make quick judgments. Jesus demonstrated this. He put the onus on the person to grapple with what was happening, and listened closely to their answers, using those answers as a springboard to grace-filled challenge and conversation. In our rush to see people encounter Jesus he encourages us to help people experience the journey. Our Christian faith is not a set of rules that we robotically follow. It is an encounter of relational learning, growth and transformation.
In what areas might questions help us in walking with our Muslim sisters.
- Our first questions need to be relationship building, questions that build connections, that help us on the journey of entering our friends’ world.
- We can ask questions that explore dreams, hopes and aspirations – for the individual, for family, community.
- Our questions can explore faith experience – in the everyday, in the crises of life. Focussing on the beliefs of their faith, the dogmas and interpretations are generally less productive questions.
- At the ends of the stories we tell we can ask questions that provoke thinking, leave the conversation open, create the opportunity for further exploration. Rather than make a point with a statement, we can make it with a question.
- Future oriented questions that only the person can answer help them wrestle with their realities. Jesus asked many of these questions. (e.g. see Luke 6:46, 12:25, 24:38)
- We want to use questions to help illuminate the real and deeper issues in our friends’ lives.
- We want to ask questions that examine our own learning and knowledge so we can learn the questions to ask our friends for relationship and faith journey.
Let’s each begin to build a bank of questions that helps us use this tool as we engage with our friends. Share some of your questions with us here and let’s begin to help each other journey with our friends.
Image 1: https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/01/18/answers-common-client-questions
Image 2: https://www.launchgood.com/project/muslim_women_leading_change_1#!/
(c) When Women Speak … July 2018
CH spent nearly three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).