It is both a pleasure and an honor for American Bedu to present an exclusive interview with Carl Medearis. Carl identifies himself as a follower of Jesus who loves Muslims. He has spent an extensive amount of time in the Middle East and with Muslims.
American Bedu readers can see and listen to Carl by clicking on the link below.
And following are the questions and Carl’s answers in written form:
How did your faith impact your own personal experiences and interactions with Muslims?
Initially, my faith was a faith in religion. It was a faith in Christianity. And that didn’t have much of a positive impact on Muslims at all. They didn’t want to join Christianity and they didn’t understand it. As soon as I started talking about my faith in God or even my faith in Jesus as the Christ, the conversation became very real and very personal and quite profound. So when I made that switch from saying that Christianity was the better religion than their religion and started to talk about God, faith, shared values and shared faith, the conversations were profound and exciting.
How different are we really; Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Atheists for example? Do we have more similarities than differences?
I’m not sure about Atheists; not sure if we have more similarities with them. But for sure Muslims, Christians and Jews, the monotheistic religions of the world, are actually surprisingly similar. Now, I’m not a Universalist. Universalism is the belief that all roads lead to heaven, every way is equal. I don’t believe in that. I also don’t believe that Christianity, as a religion, is the only religion to be identified with. So it’s a complicated, nuanced set of beliefs that I have that are biblical, that the Bible teaches and that Jesus followed.
In one sense religion is man’s attempt to reach God; Jesus was God’s attempt to reach man. And because of that I love Jesus, I follow Him, I adore Him and I would do anything for Him because He’s done everything for me. So do religions have similarities… I would say yes but maybe not in the way you think. I think religions and maybe Atheism and Agnosticism are similar in that they have manmade principles by which groups of people try to live their lives. It can be more or less helpful. So it’s not a bad thing to be part of a religion. Not bad at all, if the religion leads you to do good things like community service and go to church on Sunday or to Mosque on Friday or the Synagogue on Saturday, great. But, if it does more that that, if it starts to make you a fundamentalist against other religions, then that’s not so helpful.
So yes, lots of shared values, lots of shared beliefs, especially the monotheistic religions. We all believe in one God. We all believe in most of the same prophets, Moses, Abraham, Jesus. The prophets of the Eastern religions are shared, the land is shared (that’s good news and bad news). And if we start at that point, the base of our similarities, then I think we have lots of room to grow.
Do you think some Muslims are afraid of Christians and some Christians are afraid of Muslims simply because they fear the unknown? And what’s the best way to overcome fear?
The best way to overcome fear is to get to know one (Muslim or Christian). You’re right that we fear the unknown so the reason why my Christian friends fear Muslims is because they haven’t actually met one. And the only Muslims I know that are afraid of Christians are the ones, for the most part, who haven’t met Christians. Americans are afraid of Arabs, Arabs are afraid of Americans because they see each other on TV and the news doing bad things and so we are afraid unfortunately. The way to overcome fear is love but before you love somebody you have to know them. You can’t love an entity, you can’t love a thing. I can’t say I love Muslims. I love my friend Abdul, I love my friend Samir, I love my friend Rijad and Hatim. I can say names to you of the people I love. I just can’t say I love Arabs or I love Muslims. Actually, I can say I love the Arab culture but it’s not fair to say I love Arabs or I love Muslims.
However, I love certain people and I can’t love that person unless I know them. So understanding comes from knowing someone; it’s as simple as that. If you’re afraid of Muslims walk down to the nearest Mosque, get over yourself. Be brave, be bold, be courageous and walk into the Mosque and say, “Hi, I’m an ignorant, American Christian and I need some help. Would you please introduce me to a Muslim?” And just laugh, make fun of yourself, don’t take yourself seriously. If you’re a Muslim reading this and you don’t know some real live Jesus-following Christians, find one somewhere and just spend some time with them. They are not that scary, believe me.
How can people from different faiths and cultures talk about God without entering into a huge debate?
I think you start where you start. You start at the beginning. God…we agree there is a God. Now, if you’re a Buddhist or an Atheist, maybe not. But if you’re a monotheist, if you’re a Muslim, Christian or Jew, then by definition you believe in God. Just start at the beginning. And don’t focus on the things that separate you, focus on the things that unite you. Discipline yourself, when you start your conversation say let’s only talk about the things we agree on. Just as a good practice.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t disagree, because you probably do disagree about some things but as good discipline practice to focus on for the first five hours of conversation, or some long time, only talk about what you share in common and then build from there. After you have some trust and a friendship and relationship, then you can go the next steps, if you want to of talking about the things you don’t agree on.
How can one easily diffuse a disagreement on faith from blowing up into an inferno? How can we diffuse disagreements?
I would say friendship. Mostly, friendship diffuses disagreements because we will have disagreements but we should trust the person. Most of my Muslim friends are still Muslim, they didn’t convert to Christianity or something else, (I’m happy for them to be Muslim) and we have disagreements all the time. It doesn’t bother me at all; and it doesn’t bother them. They know where I stand; I know where they stand. We are confident with each other; we are comfortable with each other. So there’s nothing to beat friendship and also humility. If you have somebody that says something you don’t agree with, rather than try to prove that you’re right, just be humble and say, “You know, maybe you’re right. I don’t think you are but what if you are right?” That’s ok, if you’re confident. The ones who have the biggest fights and arguments are the ones who lack the confidence. You get defensive, in a disagreement or in a discussion, when you lack confidence.
What is your advice to build lasting relationships between Christians and Muslims despite differences in beliefs?
Again focus on what’s similar, start there. Eat together, have fun together, vacation together, go places together. Do life together. The other person will enrich you, will fulfill you. There’s something about being friends with the other that completes you. If you want to be a completed person, spend time with someone who doesn’t agree with you and get to know them.
Who do you think tends to be more judgmental about the other… Muslims or Christians?
I have no idea. I think it depends on the person. It depends on the area; if you are in some parts of the United States, the Christians there (in some areas) will only have known themselves. And when you only know yourself, you tend to be more judgmental of the other. There are parts of the Muslim world where, for sure, people make outrageous statements. I have had Muslims say, “Why do you Christians believe in three gods?” while I’ve never met any Christian in the world who believes in three gods. But the way we explain the Trinity isn’t very helpful so people think we believe in three gods but of course no Christians think there are three gods, all Christians think there is one God. So those Muslims who don’t know can be judgmental. Again, what limits judgmentalism is when you get to know somebody. You have to actually get to know people personally.
There are Christians who believe that Muslims are set to take over the world. What do you say to them?
I say stop thinking that. There are some Muslims somewhere who want to conquer the world for Islam, I suppose. Haven’t you ever met any Christians who want to conquer the world for Christianity? I have. I have been in those groups most of my life actually. So we are both evangelistic religions. They want to proselytize the other one into their religion which can be helpful or not, depending on how you do that. So are there some Muslims who want to take over the world and impose Sharia Law in America? Yes, there are some. It’s a very small minority though. And I’d say even if that’s true, even if the Muslims you’ve met, the Muslims who are here in the States, wanted to impose Sharia Law here in America or take over (whatever that means), what does Jesus say to do with your enemies? He says to love them. I say to my Muslim friends all the time, “I’ve got good news for you, even if you’re my enemy (and you’re not) but even if you’re my enemy, Jesus commands me to love you.” So it’s actually good news for you if you’re my enemy then I’m commanded to love you.
What are the most common questions Christians ask about Muslims? And vice versa?
I think many Christians want to know if Muslims are taking over the world. Are they trying to impose Sharia Law? Does the Koran command them to go on Jihad? All the questions that we have are all negative. Because we only see TV and we don’t know Muslims personally, it’s easy to think that that’s what’s going on. We only see the bad news; all news is always bad news, right? So we see the Muslims who are blowing something up in Afghanistan or Iraq obviously the civil war in Lebanon left a huge impact on the American psyche. So we’re worried about them. My Christian friends want to know if these things are in the Koran or not?
Muslims have similar questions. They also want to know why Christians only favor Israel. Why don’t they like Palestinians? Why do Christian Americans want to take over Iraq, Afghanistan and our oil and be imperialistic and colonize us? Because what they see also is just TV. Imagine that this prejudice and misunderstanding goes two ways. What we see of them we know from television; what they know of us they also see from television. They see things coming out of Hollywood, worse yet pornography, a high divorce rate, people not taking care of their children, children not respecting their parents, gang warfare, violence in the street, men walking into schools and killing people. That typically doesn’t happen in the Muslim world. They think you Americans/Christians must be crazy. We need to protect ourselves from them. So they judge us, stereotype us as much as we do them. That’s the way it is when you don’t know somebody. The key is to get to know people.
What are nonthreatening ways for Christians and Muslims to get to know one another?
If you live in an area where there are Muslims or Christians, find where the other one is, walk over there, knock on the door and say hello. Nothing beats just being bold and introducing yourself. There’s no magic to it. Get over your fear, your timidity, walk across the street or walk across the office if you have a Muslim or Christian coworker, you might even have to get on an airplane and fly across the world, you can do it; it’s not that difficult these days to fly somewhere. Meet them, sit down with them, invite them for coffee or tea, or a meal. Be in each other’s homes, introduce your families, wives, spouses, kids, become friends. That’s it; it’s not rocket science. Anyone can do it.
Whether in Saudi Arabia or the United States, it is not typical for Saudi nationals and American nationals to interact socially. How can this lack of involvement be overcome?
In Saudi Arabia it’s true, it’s more difficult. But you can do it. Even my friends who live on Western Compounds, which is typical if you are working in Saudi Arabia, I say to them get out of the Compound as much as you can and mingle with the local population. You have to work hard; both ways – Saudis to know Americans and Americans to know Saudis.
But it’s the same here. I live in Denver, Colorado and we don’t have a lot of Muslims but there are 30,000 to 40,000. Denver’s 2 million people but 30,000 or 40,000 is a good number. So there are about 4 different mosques, Islamic centers here in Denver. I’ve just gone to them. Just drive over to them and talk to somebody. There’s an Arab restaurant that’s run by Palestinians and there’s one run by an Iraqi man and I go there to eat. We have conversations and they usually sit down and eat with you, it’s fantastic. I’m not sure that’s it’s that difficult technically to do, to get across that barrier it’s just hard to do because we tend to want to live our own lives where we are and stay in our comfort zone instead of get out and meet somebody new. So just go ahead and get out anyway.
Why do you think many Saudis and Americans are reticent to get out and interact with each other socially?
I think people – Saudis, Americans, Arabs, Muslims, Christians we are all a little bit shy. It’s comfortable even for me to stay in my home with my family and we have close friends here in Denver. We have a circle of 20 to 30 friends who we can call up any time, we have our neighbors across the street and we like them a lot so we can hang out with them if we want to. It takes a lot of effort and maybe I’m tired at the end of the day and or shy. I’m not shy but some people are shy; they are just afraid to meet new people. I don’t think there’s any big reason, maybe fear of the unknown maybe a fear of Islam or a fear of Christianity. Mostly it’s that we’re a little bit lazy and a little bit shy. There’s not a big conspiracy why we’re not meeting each other. It’s mostly that, I think.
What are the benefits for Muslims and Christians to interact with each other?
The benefits are so many. My life has been so enriched, literally enriched. I feel richer by knowing Saudis and that’s not a play on words, it’s not that Saudis have lots of money and they’re so rich. Personally, in here (touching heart) and in here (touching head) I feel wealthier, feel richer. I feel more complete. I feel like a full, well-rounded person knowing Saudis and Syrians and Lebanese and Sudanese and Egyptians.
Different cultures add to your culture. They way they show hospitality, the way they treat their families they way they honor their kids and parents and honor their guests. These things are things that Americans aren’t great at doing. And so you need to help us learn these things and we need to be open to learning from you. I love the way Muslims honor God and respect God and treat things so holy. How many Christians will you see put their Bible on the floor or they’ll toss their Bible over there. The Koran is such a holy book that it’s always sitting up high. There is this reverence for things of God and things of the Qur’an and Mohammed and religion. Whether you agree with that or not, what you believe doesn’t matter. How you treat each other and God is very special and we can learn from that.
How do you explain your love for Arabs and Muslims?
It’s unfortunate that in some conservative Christian circles in America, if they find me loving Muslims too much or Arabs too much, they are suspicious. It goes back to the same thing though. They don’t know you; they don’t know Muslims; they don’t know Arabs, if they did they’d love you too. I don’t try very hard to defend myself. Who created them? 1.7 billion people today in the world call themselves Muslim. Who made those people? God. God made them. They were created by God to have relationship with God. It’s phenomenal. If I can be the friend of that one which God is the friend of, if God is friends with Muslims, if God knows Muslims, if God made Muslims and I don’t know them and I’m not friends with them and I don’t love them, how can I say I know God if I don’t know any Muslims and I don’t love them? It’s inconceivable. It’s unbelievably wrong, mistaken and possibly even sinful on my behalf, if I don’t get to know those who God created. If I don’t love what God loves and God loves everybody.
Can someone who’s close-minded actually listen and hear what we’re talking about?
No, by definition, no. Even Jesus said in the Gospels, “For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” So even Jesus recognized that some people can’t hear, some people can’t hear the message we’re talking about. They actually want to hate Muslims and they’re going to hate them.
And there are some Muslims, frankly, to be really honest, there are some Muslims who want to hate Christians and they’re going to hate them, no matter what we say. But the vast majority of people 90%, maybe 98%, a big majority, are willing to listen and they just don’t know. They will love somebody once they get to know them. So I think it’s possible.
What are the top 5 reasons Muslims and Christians should get along?
One, I’m making this up right now, this is all spontaneous. If they get along they will stop killing each other. Two, for my Christian friends, Muslims make better food than you do. If you want to have some good food, get to know a Muslim. Three, it completes us, like I was talking about before. It makes you a whole person when you get to know somebody from a different culture, a different religion. Four, it’s fun. I was just on a skype video conference call with a Sudanese friend of mine and he has the best laugh. I actually said to him, “Abdullah, if I could put your laugh in a can, I would can it and I’d market it. I think a lot of people would buy your laugh.” Five, they share so much in common. There are five and there’re probably hundreds of other reasons as well.
Do you ever wonder if there is more than one heaven depending on one’s faith or belief?
I think there’s only one heaven. It’s God’s heaven; it’s God’s residence and He will bring all of us there who believe in Him. Simple as that. There’s not a Muslim heaven and a Christian heaven. There’s just one like there’s just one God.
Can you share some of your most unique experiences in the Arab world?
This may be a copout because this is a big question, I have so many. Honestly, there’s so many. We lived there for 12 years but we’ve been going back and forth to the Middle East for 25 years. It feels like every one’s unique, everyone’s special because it’s people. The people there are great, they are fantastic. I can’t answer that, it’s too big. I’ve written some books to answer that question. Tea with Hezbollah is a book that answers that question, basically. Just to give you a teaser on the book, in it we (I wrote it with Ted Dekker) write about meeting with Osama Bin Laden’s brothers and other interesting people across the Arab world…
Is there anything else that you can say or books to recommend?
I’ve written several books and you can find information about them on my website. My website is just my name, www.CarlMedearis.com, I’m on facebook, twitter all that stuff. I’d be happy for anyone to contact me through facebook or twitter or my website. Let me just leave you with a thought. Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid of the other, get to know people, spend time with them, love them the way God does. God bless.
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