CHICAGO — At the largest annual Muslim gathering in North America, thousands of Muslims browsed a bustling bazaar showcasing products, businesses, and opportunities by and for Muslims. Of over 500 booths, only one represented a commitment to dialogue and friendship from the perspective of committed followers of Jesus the Messiah.
That booth was manned by Jonathan Bornman and Amos Stoltzfus of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), who promoted Christian-Muslim relations from a Christ-centered peacemaking perspective at the 53rd Annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention from Sept. 2–5, 2016.
ISNA is the largest and oldest Islamic umbrella organization in North America. This year’s convention, “Turning Points: Navigating Challenges, Seizing Opportunities,” centered on the challenges millions of Muslims are facing in the current political climate. An estimated 15,000 were in attendance.
Bornman is a member of EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team (CMRT), which works to build bridges of loving and respectful connection between Christians and Muslims while faithfully confessing Christ. Stoltzfus serves as EMM’s partnership coach.
Bornman and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, ISNA’s National Director for the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, met at Temple University in October 2015 at an Islamophobia consultation sponsored by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. At Syeed’s invitation, the CMRT came to visit him at the ISNA office in Washington, D.C. There Syeed invited them to the ISNA convention to share a message of friendship between Christians and Muslims.
EMM’s booth offered two books by CMRT member David W. Shenk, a renowned Christian-Muslim peacemaker who serves as a global consultant for EMM. One book was “A Christian and a Muslim in Dialogue,” also by Muslim co-author Badru D. Kateregga and available in English, Arabic, and five other languages. The other was “Christian. Muslim. Friend. Twelve Paths to Real Relationship,” Shenk’s latest book (2014) and the winner of a Christianity Today Book Award in the Missions/Global Church category. Bornman and Stoltzfus sold 42 books.
While mingling at the booth, Bornman shocked and delighted a Senegalese family of five by fluently speaking to them in Wolof, their native language. Bornman served among Muslims in Senegal for 10 years. He said this experience prepared him to express his love for Muslims by helping Christians to understand what Muslims believe and to learn a Christ-centered approach to relating to them.
Out of an estimated 200 other conversations and interactions, Bornman and Stoltzfus said that one or two were negative, while 30 to 40 people thanked them profusely for their attendance. With over half the conversations involving Jesus, their clear witness as to how Jesus has transformed their lives seemed to touch five or six people.
“ISNA’s annual convention isn’t merely about bringing together the Muslim community,” said Azhar Azeez, ISNA President, in a press release. “In the face of issues like Islamophobia, our goal is also to unite people across different faiths and backgrounds in the spirit of peace and better understanding.”
To describe his experience at the ISNA Convention, Bornman referenced a “Christian. Muslim. Friend.” quote by Shenk: “In my conversation about peacemaking with Muslims, I find that Jesus quickly occupies the center of the conversation. This is because the approach of Jesus the Messiah to peacemaking turns our understandings of God upside down. Jesus is radical!”
“Jesus truly occupied the center of our conversations,” said Bornman.