One of the hardest things Christians face when they step out to share their faith with Muslims is that the conversation almost inevitably veers toward a competitive discussion about which religion is better: “You think this, but I think this.” “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Often you’ll find yourself on the defensive: “Yes, Jesus did die on the cross…” “Yes, Jesus is the Son of God…” “No, the Bible hasn’t been changed…” Is there any way to keep your conversation from degrading into an “I’m right and you’re wrong” discussion?

No, there is no way to avoid it altogether. No matter how gracious you are, you will end up sometimes having to tell your Muslim friend that you disagree with him (or her). There are some things we believe that we cannot deny. And your Muslim friend will usually not have any qualms about telling you that he disagrees with you. Of course, whatever you do, you should do it with grace and love.

But my own experience of living in the Middle East for seven years tells me that if the setting and relationship is right, there are two questions you can ask that will allow you to have a deeper spiritual conversation with your Muslim friend that may not automatically veer toward a comparative religions discussion.

Discussion Question #1: “What do you think is the worst sin?” This question can be asked even if you don’t know a person very well, as long as the discussion has already moved toward a discussion of faith commitments (which normally happens more easily with Muslims than it does with non-Muslims). Many a taxi driver has heard this question from me. What answer might you receive when you ask this question? Probably the same types of responses as you might expect… “Murder.” “Abandoning your family.” “Denying Allah.”

Now, here’s what you might say next: “Did you know that when Jesus (“Isa”) was walking on the earth that he tended to speak gently toward people who had sinned terribly in their lives, showed forgiveness, and told them that God had made a way for them to come back into the right with him? But he spoke strongly and called out people who were hypocrites. Do you know what a hypocrite is?”

Now most people know what a hypocrite is. Be prepared to openly share a story about someone who claimed to be a follower of God (from your own background, not your friend’s!) but who denied that by the way that he or she lived. Be open; hypocrisy is universal and crosses cultures. Your friend won’t be surprised that professing Christians are sometimes hypocrites. Then ask your friend whether he or she has ever known anyone who is a hypocrite. If your friend shares a situation with you, you may find yourself in a position to have a meaningful conversation about how to have a right relationship with God. (I once had someone tell me that he knew a leader of a mosque who collected pilgrimage money as though he were setting up a tour to Mecca but turned around and stole the money.) Now ask your friend how he or she thinks that a person can have a right, non-hypocritical relationship with God. Then ask God to guide you as your discussion continues…

The next time I post on the Good Book Blog I will share a second question you can ask…

Have you found any ways to have meaningful conversations with Muslims that don’t immediately veer toward contentious “my religion is better” conversations?

Postcript: Click HERE for the second question.