Interfaith in Action: Lessons for Muslim Families |

Interfaith in Action: Lessons for Muslim Families

Muslims are understandably guarded when it comes to matters of interfaith for fear of compromising their beliefs. Certain texts also seem to discourage exploring religious ideas beyond Islam, contributing to the reluctance to interact socially with followers of other faith traditions. Additionally, political conflicts, colonialism, and proselytizing activities by groups like the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons), Jehova Witnesses, and other missionary efforts in Muslim lands have contributed to a sense of distrust toward those outside the fold of Islam. However, in a society where diverse faith traditions coexist, instances of interfaith cooperation occur daily and often go unnoticed. 

Islam and Interfaith Dialogue 

A number of verses in the Quran mention examples where interfaith-based outreach is necessary when engaging with people of different faiths. Allah encourages Muslims to discuss, and debate matters of faith with wisdom and in a respectful manner, fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Verses such as in Surah Al-Imran, or the Family of Imran, 3:64, call for dialogue by inviting people to come together on the common ground that we all worship one Creator. Additionally, in Surah Al-Ankabut, Allah says:

“And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, ‘We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.’” 

(Surah Al-Ankabut, 29:46)

These Quranic principles stress the value of dialogue to promote harmony, bridge gaps, and build connections among diverse communities. Interfaith dialogue can take place in various settings, including community centers, college campuses, event halls, places of worship, public parks, and even office lounge areas. According to Marymount University’s Office of Ministry and Spiritual Life, interfaith cooperation involves purposely bringing together people from diverse religious, spiritual, and ethical beliefs to deepen their knowledge of each other’s faith and values and strengthen relationships.1 Additionally, they mention that interfaith cooperation can take many different forms:

  • Interfaith dialogue – when a group of people talk about their beliefs openly
  • Interfaith-based action – when a group of people from different religious backgrounds work on a project together, for example, a community garden or food pantry
  • Interfaith-based outreach – people of diverse faiths educating others about their religious beliefs

Muslims should exercise caution, however, and avoid engaging in evangelical efforts initiated by Christians or others who might seize such opportunities for proselytizing. It is essential for Muslims to maintain awareness and discretion to safeguard their faith in these situations. In one hadith, Abu Hurairah reported: 

“The people of the Scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessing be upon him, said, ‘Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say: {We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us.} [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:136].’” 

(Sahih Bukhari) 

This narration does not completely reject the idea of dialogue, but it establishes ground rules. In such an exchange, it is necessary for Muslims to assert their beliefs while acknowledging the right of the other person to practice their faith. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, instructed his companions to be firm in their faith while speaking with the people of the Book, including Jews and Christians, and others. In the Quran, Allah provides the perfect respectful response to anyone who stubbornly opposes Islam or attempts to impose their beliefs:  

“Say, "O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” 

(Surah Al-Kafirun, 109:1-6)

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) have outlined rulings pertaining to participating in interfaith dialogue or meetings with representatives of other religions without compromising beliefs. It would be considered a praiseworthy endeavor if what is meant is calling others to the worship of Allah, educating those seeking guidance, and defending Islam against attacks and misconceptions. Likewise, bringing about a peaceful co-existence amongst people of different faiths, sparing lives, calming unrest, enabling people to live in peace and security, is a legitimate intention. The jurists also mention that it is necessary to affirm that Islam represents the essence of all the Messages of the prophets in their original, complete and final form, and that it is addressed to the whole of humanity.

Conversely, if the intention of interreligious discussion is a syncretism or blending of religions and an attempt to create a common sphere of belief that would transform the characteristics of the creed, this is impermissible and an insult to all religions. AMJA also advised that anyone who leads these efforts should have the necessary knowledge to protect them from getting confused and the debate skills to enable them to successfully defend Islam. In addition, when communal prayers occur at the commencement or conclusion of these sessions, they should not involve calling upon anything besides Allah or contain idolatrous phrasing.2

My Personal Experience with Interfaith 

Upon embracing Islam, I steered away from the topic of interfaith dialogue convinced that engaging in such conversations might be detrimental to my progression as a Muslim. I preferred to leave religious debate to scholars like Ahmed Deedat or Dr. Zakir Naik. It had taken me twenty years to finally leave Christianity for good after being raised as a Catholic and later practicing nondenominational Christianity as a teen. I had no intention of ever looking back. Learning about Islam was a process that began in my early adolescence and culminated with my shahada in August of 2000. At that moment, I failed to grasp that being the sole Muslim in my family automatically thrust me into the realm of interfaith engagement. 

I was a Muslim Puerto Rican in a Catholic household. When I stepped outside my home donning a hijab for the first time, I became an ambassador for my faith in a majority non-Muslim land. Life as a Latina Muslim woman in the United States is navigating an intersection where culture, ethnicity, and religion converge and often collide. This experience entails being a triple minority – Latina, Muslim, and a woman – each layer adding a distinct dimension to the complexity of identity. Merely existing within its ostracizing framework is an act of courage, but embracing this new reality also involves engaging in dialogue. Almost immediately, I had to defend my decision to live as a Muslim to family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and even strangers. 

Some of these interactions were unpleasant, but the majority were positive. I participated in constructive and respectful conversations, exchanging ideas with the people closest to me or random people I encountered at school or work. Most of them were Christian, but I also spoke with Hindus, atheists, Buddhists, and others. In our conversations, we discussed our shared values, explored our differences, addressed common concerns, and worked toward fostering mutual respect, creating an environment where everyone felt comfortable and welcomed. Essentially, these encounters were what we call interfaith dialogue. My experience is not unique; any Muslim residing in the U.S., or any majority-non-Muslim land will grapple with similar conversations. In some way or another, we are all connected with people of different religions. 

I can personally attest to the significance of interreligious dialogue, as it was through these interactions with Muslims that I was first introduced to Islam as a Christian. Meeting an Egyptian friend in high school and spending time with her Muslim family exposed me to Islamic values and traditions. Their impeccable faith fueled my curiosity about the religion, especially as I observed them performing acts of worship. Prior to these encounters, my sole exposure to Islam had been through reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. The Egyptian family not only welcomed me and my family into their home but also answered my questions without imposing their own beliefs. In turn, when I invited them to my church to watch me perform a gospel song, they graciously accepted. Without any proselytizing, a Muslim family not only opened their door to a Christian, but also facilitated an open door to dialogue, responding to my questions and accepting invitations with understanding and respect.

It was from this family that I received my first copy of the Holy Quran and several books as gifts that would prompt my conversion to Islam years later – remarkably, one of those booklets was called Muslim-Christian Dialogue. Although I was a teenager at the time, my parents were also involved in this process. Both families got along well, and in my opinion, exemplified what an interfaith encounter can look like when we open our minds and hearts to one another without expecting anything in return other than acceptance. 

My Muslim friend was not negatively influenced by befriending a non-Muslim. On the contrary, when I was still a Christian, I encouraged her to take up hijab. She was afraid that people would discriminate against her or treat her differently if she covered, but I assured her that I would be by her side to defend her if necessary. My friend went on to wear hijab confidently in college and joined an interreligious Arab organization. She and her family have left an impact that is far greater than they can imagine by simply allowing a young Christian girl into their lives. 

Since my conversion, my most meaningful interfaith experience has been with my family. Sharing my religion with them while respecting their personal choices has helped me immensely in seeing what our communities and the world can look like when everyone practices what they believe in freely without fear of judgment. My Catholic background laid the foundation I needed to seek a relationship with the Creator, my Muslim friends showed me how to practice my faith, and my non-Muslim relatives and friends taught me tolerance. 

Not everyone is as fortunate. Some new Muslims and their non-Muslim relatives lack proper support in Islamic centers to learn how to properly navigate their multifaith relationship. I noticed early that there was a lack of resources in the Spanish language to assist those transitioning to Islam or to provide information to their family members. I began volunteering at my local mosque to participate in open house events and in interfaith dialogue with nearby churches. After getting married, my husband joined me in working together to educate our families about Islam. We eventually founded Hablamos Islam, a project to create educational resources about Islam in Spanish and promote Latino representation in Islamic literature. We began translating Islamic articles and material to Spanish, spoke about Latinos in Islam at universities across the East Coast, and worked with masajid and Muslim student associations to organize informational events. 

Currently, we work closely with the Islamic Circle of North America and their WhyIslam project that distributes resources and material to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam. With Hablamos Islam and WhyIslam, I have participated in interfaith dialogue through public events, content creation for media distribution, and as a call operator on the 877-WHY ISLAM hotline. The 877-WHY-ISLAM project provides free information to the public about Islam and Muslims to promote peaceful coexistence. We highlight the many similarities with Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, and our love for humanity, thus fostering alliances and positive connections. All these organizations offer opportunities for youth and older adults to get involved in interfaith on our terms. 

Allah reminds us in the Quran:

“Invite ˹all˺ to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice, and only debate with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord ˹alone˺ knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is ˹rightly˺ guided.”

(Surah An-Nahl, 16:125)

Despite positive outcomes, not every interaction with a person from a different faith background will be pleasant. Some time ago, my mother and I were stalked and harassed in a store by a pastor from a local church who claimed to be an ex-Muslim who converted to Christianity. At first, he approached me to ask if I was a Muslim, and upon seeing my mother wearing a cross, he began to question how she could allow her daughter to become Muslim. He went on to speak disparagingly about Islam. My mother defended me, and I defended her; we stood together in solidarity even though she is Catholic, and I am Muslim. We informed the pastor that we supported one another and that our differences only made our love stronger. Regardless of the unpleasant experience, it was a proud moment for both of us.

Being able to interact and share one’s faith with people of various backgrounds is a transformative experience. Interfaith dialogue, if performed to demonstrate respect for the practices and beliefs of others while staying true to our beliefs can be something positive. AMJA encourages leaders of Muslim communities to show interest in interfaith dialogue and in training outreach workers to assert their social and civil rights or to seek other benefits that might be gained for the community. All Muslims, regardless of age, should be educated on expressing their faith with clarity and lead by example. Additionally, it is crucial for all of us to acquaint ourselves with the beliefs and practices of other religions to enhance our ability to defend our own traditions when challenged.

Interfaith for Muslim Families 

Taking into account the rulings mentioned above, parents can play a role in guiding their children to experience the positive benefits of interfaith dialogue. It may seem counterintuitive to some Muslim parents, but permitting your child to learn about other religious traditions or allowing them to have non-Muslim friends may be the best thing you can do to strengthen their faith. It is important for Muslim families to recognize the everyday workings of interfaith cooperation, and not be afraid of losing themselves in the process. 

Here are three simple ways Muslim parents can facilitate interfaith dialogue for their children, considering activities that will not jeapardize their Deen:

1. Initiate a DIY project with friends from school. 

Encourage your children to initiate a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) project with their friends from public school. This collaborative effort can involve creating something meaningful, like a community mural or a themed project, an activity that fosters teamwork and open discussions. 

2. Invite friends to an event at the masjid. 

Suggest to your child or children to invite their friends from diverse faith backgrounds to attend a community event at the masjid. Ramadan is the perfect time for this idea, or an open house, multicultural celebration, or a fundraiser. Providing an opportunity for friends to experience the Islamic environment and engage in shared activities promotes interfaith understanding.

3. Take a tour of a historic house of worship. 

Organize a trip for your children to tour a historic house of worship, such as a church or synagogue. This outing can include guided tours where children learn about the history, architecture, and religious practices of the structure. This hands-on experience encourages dialogue and mutual learning in an educational setting. 

End Notes

1 What Does Interfaith Mean? - Marymount University

2 Mixed Muslim and Christian Gatherings

Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish ( She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam

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