Editor’s note: We’ve entered Ramadan, the holiest month for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Here’s a glimpse of what life is like in Dearborn, Mich., where 40 percent of the population is Muslim We hope God will open your eyes to the Muslim people groups around you and that you will begin to pray for them.
By Tobin Perry
Two young, attractive Lebanese-American couples sit at a small table outside of a Dearborn, Mich., Middle Eastern café. Finishing up on an iftar meal that breaks their daily fast during Ramadan, the couples laugh and joke in a couple of hours of obvious frivolity after their day without food and water. Despite the storms threatening the area, all around them young Arab men and women do likewise. Other than the smattering of hijabs (Muslim hair covering for women) and hookah pipes, the scene wouldn’t look much different than a thousand other coffee shops around the country.
Yet it is also a few hours in a deeply religious and highly family-centered month for Muslims. For Muslims like these couples, Ramadan not only provides an opportunity to purify the body and reflect upon charity and their religious beliefs, but it’s also a time when families and friends spend time together. The couples have spent every night this month eating with family. (The two ladies are cousins, making tonight’s meal no exception.)
All four have been in the United States for most of their lives. For them, Dearborn, Mich., is home—a place where they can surround themselves with friends and family who have the same customs and religious beliefs. The Baptist State Convention of Michigan estimates that close to 40 percent of Dearborn’s 100,000 residents are Arab Muslims—making it the most dense Arab Muslim population outside of the Middle East.
And it’s diverse, too. Some are older, first-generation Arabs who know very little English. Others are young, second- and third-generation Arabs whose English is impeccable. Some are educated—others are not. They come from Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and a variety of other Arab countries.
Ask these couples about their Islamic faith, and they’re quick to let you know it’s a peaceful religion that isn’t much different from Judaism or Christianity. “I used to go to a Catholic school,” says Ain*, one of the ladies at the table. “I learned the prayers and the religion. It’s similar to Islam.”
And they like Jesus, too. “He’s a prophet in our religion,” said Ain’s husband.
Because of its dense Muslim population, Ramadan in Dearborn takes on a dimension seen rarely outside of a predominantly Muslim country. The streets in Arab East Dearborn are sparse most of the day. Restaurants open late. The high school football team practices at night—so as not to overtax young, fasting bodies in the summer heat. Signs of public Eid celebrations (which marks the end of Ramadan) can be found all across the city.
Yet despite the presence of several evangelical ministries that reach out to Muslims, local believers estimate that no more than a couple Dearborn Muslims come to faith in Jesus Christ each year. Because no church in the area is specifically formulated for Muslim-background believers, those who do come to faith in Christ struggle to get anchored into a church family.
According to Marco Matthews*, a NAMB missionary who works with language churches in Michigan, the area needs an Arabic-speaking church planter who loves Jesus and Muslims to start a church that reaches those from a Muslim background.
“We often talk about lostness in frivolous ways … but this an enormously dark, trackless wasteland of lostness—with no signs or light to find your way out,” Matthews says.
*Names have been changed. Tobin Perry is online editor of On Mission.
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