Rev. Mateen Elass was born to a Syrian father and an American mother, spending his childhood in Saudi Arabia. While attending Stanford University, he began seeking other religions. After studying under a mystic in India, he encountered some Christians who led him to find Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

In addition to a PhD in New Testament, Rev. Elass is an Islamic scholar and has served as a pastor in Iowa, Colorado Springs, and Warrenville, IL. He now serves as a pastor in Edmond, Oklahoma.

“God has opened a new window of supernatural work among the Muslim people.” In fact, more Muslims have come to Christ in the last forty years than ever before.

Last December I met a young Muslim who had serious questions about Christianity.  We spoke for several hours over lunch about his questions concerning Jesus and the church.  One week after our discussion he called me saying that he had made the decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ. 

It was shortly after this that he began making his way to Syria to marry his fiancé and bring her back to the U.S.  Word got out in his home city that he had become a Christian and, while he was flying to the Middle East, news of his conversion reached his father, who is an Imam in Texas.

His father called the young man’s uncles, and told them, “If you see my son in Damascus, kill him.”

When the young man got to Syria, he married his fiancé in her hometown before bringing her to Damascus to see his family.

The young man went to visit his uncles, not knowing that anyone knew of his recent conversion.  Suddenly he was attacked by three of his uncles and a cousin, and was stabbed in the back four times.

Seeking Allah, Finding JesusFortunately, he was able to flee and get medical attention.  He was able to return to the states, but he had to leave his wife behind in Syria because she had not yet gotten a visa.

Returning to Syria a second time, to take his wife to Lebanon, he was attacked again.  This time it was a frontal attack and he was stabbed in the upper chest.  Again he was able to flee.

The amazing part of this story is not his narrow escapes from death, but this is a man who had only been a Christian for a short time by the time of the second attack.  The call of Christ was so powerful in his life that even these attacks, and the danger of death, did not dissuade him from his faith in Jesus.

He currently remains out of the country, and they are working to get a visa for his wife and return to the U.S.  When they do come to America, they will not be able to go back to his former city because he will be blackballed by the Muslims in that community.  He will need to start fresh in a new community, probably with a new name.

There are so many Muslims around the world that have been prohibited by their own country or community from hearing the Christian witness of Jesus Christ.  They know only what the Quran teaches about Jesus – which is a pale imitation – but they are hungry to hare the real gospel.

This is becoming the present frontier of missions in the church, and one thing is for sure – God is at work in the house of Islam.

As we near the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, many of us may be thinking more about our Muslim neighbors and how we can share with them the love of Jesus. For a little help, we turned to Rev. Mateen Elass, a man who was raised in a Muslim environment in Saudi Arabia. Today, he is a board member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a think tank that monitors and reports on issues affecting the Christian church, as well as the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Okla. It was while he attended Stanford University for his B.A. that he began exploring other religions and found Jesus Christ. Elass is the author of The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammed (eChristian, 2010).
How important is it to start with hospitality when wanting to befriend and witness to Muslims?
Hospitality is an important first step when we desire to befriend and witness to anyone. It is the primary form of love for strangers, and demonstrates that those we wish to befriend are loved by God and have value in God’s eyes whether they respond to the gospel or not. Hospitality is especially important when interacting with visitors from other countries, for at least two reasons: often in their home culture, hospitality is a deeply held value—natives are expected to treat foreigners with kindness and generosity. When individuals with this value come to the U.S., they feel marginalized or unworthy because Americans are not extending hospitality to them; secondly, many foreigners are lonely and very interested in fitting in with American culture—they yearn for the opportunity to become friends with Americans.
Add to this the fact that for Muslims, love for those outside Islam, particularly those traditionally seen as enemies, is an alien thought not taught by the Quran and religious tradition. For Muslim immigrants, the experience of love from Christians in the name of Christ does not easily mesh with their beliefs and expectations, but it impacts their heart tremendously. Simple acts of kindness and care from Christians often cause Muslims to wonder why they are receiving such love from enemies, and the Holy Spirit uses this cognitive dissonance to break through longstanding barriers that Islam has erected against the message of the gospel.
What should a Christian do if a Muslim moves next door?
The same thing, I would hope, that he or she would do when anyone new moves next door: take the initiative to meet and greet them. Bring him or her a welcome gift—something simple and inexpensive. As you begin to build a relationship, invite the individual or family over to your home for tea and dessert, which less formal than a dinner, to begin with. Be careful until you have gotten to know your neighbors well to speak male to male and female to female. If your neighbor is a woman and you are a man, bring a woman with you so you can befriend her together. Equally important, if you are a woman and your new neighbor is a man, your individual attempts to befriend him may be misunderstood, so be sure to include another man when you meet your Muslim neighbor.
If we want to bring them a meal, what are the food considerations we should follow?
Everyone loves to receive homemade foods of good quality! If you create a dish, make sure it has been made without lard or other pig-products (anything to do with pigs is forbidden for Muslims to eat), and assure them that the food is halal. If you have any doubts, you can pick up from a large supermarket or a special deli food items that are labeled as halal or kosher. You are safest to avoid meat dishes as most orthodox Muslims pass up even permissible meats that have not been slaughtered by proper ritual with the name of Allah being pronounced over the animal as it is killed. Likewise, Islam prohibits the use of intoxicants, so the gift of wine or some other alcoholic beverage would result in an awkward scene.
What’s the biggest no-no that we should avoid when welcoming our Muslim neighbors?
Aside from crossing gender barriers or bringing a forbidden food item as a welcome gift, I would say the biggest no-no would be treating your Muslim neighbor as if he or she were an alien from outer space. Remember that Muslims are human beings just like you; they have the same physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs that every other human being has. They love their children and yearn to grow and develop as everyone else does. Many are eager to learn better what it means to be an American, and are grateful for the privileges and freedoms this nation affords. Though there will no doubt be things mysterious to you about Muslim practices and ethnic identities, do not view your Muslim neighbor as a laboratory specimen or zoo exhibit, but rather as a fellow human being to be love and befriended in Christ’s name.
Once we start the initial conversation, what’s a good way to continue the relationship?
Consistency of contact is the first thing that comes to my mind. Many Muslims will consider it an anomaly that an American Christian would show them any positive attention, and will wonder if your motives are pure, or if you have ulterior motives. This is natural, but will be dispelled by the consistency of your friendly interactions. Friendships are often nurtured over food, and you can’t go wrong inviting your new friend into your family life over tea or coffee. It is a great honor to be welcomed into your home; your new friend will no doubt quickly want to return the favor.
What one thing would you like to tell Christians when it comes to showing Muslims hospitality?
Do not be afraid. God has not given us a spirit of fear. Ask Christ to fill you with love for Muslims; trust that His love will break down barriers. Remember that love is the one force that conquers all other powers. Muslims are trained to view life and relationships in terms of dominance and control—who has the power and who doesn’t, and what steps are needed to flip the power into one’s control. Sacrificial love does not fit into their system of thought very well. As such, it is this biblical love—agape love—that in the end, captures the hearts and minds of those Muslims who turn to Christ. Persist in showing your Muslim friends a love that refuses to quit pursuing their best interests.