Let Love Change You First – What I Learned From My Muslim Neighbor


You can learn a lot from people different than you. That shows up in the stories of my forthcoming book, and it’s especially vital in today’s cultural climate.

The United States seems more divided than it’s been in our lifetime. Recent political focus has turned to refugees, specifically immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East. Some reactionary, ill-informed Americans believe harsher, even more restrictive immigration policies are the answer. Thankfully, many people—including many Christians—are stepping up to advocate and act with fact-based reasoning and compassion toward Muslims and all our neighbors, both in America and around the globe.

This is a guest post by Marion Clifton about building relationships with Arabs in the U.S., and the surprising perspective he gained from his Muslim friends. Here’s Marion:


Let Love Change You First – What I Learned From My Muslim Neighbor

About a year ago, my wife and I moved to Dearborn, MI to start a ministry among the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Arab world. We have a desire to share the love of Jesus with all Arabs. And we don’t plan on stopping until every one hears.

But at times, I wonder if God wanted us to start this ministry, not to reach them, but to reach us.

One of my best friends is an Arab-Muslim and he recently asked me if I had it in mind to convert him. At first, I was a little caught off guard, and honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. I explained the Great Commission Jesus gave His followers; to make disciples of all ethnicities and cultures—including Arabs. I explained the Greatest Commandment; to love God and our neighbors—including our Arab neighbors. I let him know that our friendship is not dependent upon him converting to a new religion, but if we want to be friends, he’s probably going to hear a lot about Jesus. And that I fully expected to hear him share the Quran and the teachings of Mohammed with me.

You Can’t Change Them

Sharing what we believe shouldn’t be awkward or offensive, if we truly believe it—it’s who we are. Sharing your life with someone means sharing what Jesus has done for you too. It would be silly to not talk about the person that has completely changed your life. It would be like never telling someone where you’re from, or who your parents are, or what kind of music you like.

But I still hadn’t answered his question yet. I was partially avoiding it and partially trying to work the words out in my mind. I hadn’t been asked this question before. Was I trying to convert him? Was that my motivation of being his friend?

He explained to me that many of the Christian friends he had made just wanted to convert him. And they dropped him when he told them that he wasn’t interested in changing his religion. He said it felt like they never actually saw him or genuinely loved him.

[Read: American Christians have less to fear than they think.]

Our conversation continued over a series of days. I began asking him how, as followers of Jesus, we could be more genuine about engaging our Arab-Muslim friends. He said something I’ll never forget:

“It’s not enough to just tell me that Jesus loves me. You need to learn to let that love change you first. Then you can show me that love, too.”

I don’t believe our goal should ever be making a convert. In fact, it’s impossible. You can’t change anyone—only Jesus can. We were called to make disciples, not converts. We tend to make it more about convincing someone to believe what we believe rather than living it out while sharing it. The Great Commission without the Great Commandment is vanity. It’s meaningless. We don’t feel God move and it often separates the non-believer from Jesus even further.

Make New Friends, Show Love, Share Jesus

We currently have an opportunity that no other generation in history has been given. Less than 6% of Arabs worldwide consider themselves followers of Jesus. It’s estimated that nearly 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to the Arab world. The largest concentration outside of the Arab world is right outside my front door. The likelihood that you know an Arab-American is very high. The world is no longer “over there;” it’s next door.

Our strategy is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Don’t separate them. One fuels the other. Go and make friends with your Arab neighbors and all your other neighbors too. Don’t befriend them so you can convert them. In fact, stop trying to convert them entirely. Share the gospel and just love them. Befriend them because Jesus loves them and because that love has changed you.



Marion Clifton is a follower of Jesus, husband to Felicia, and the President of Arab World Outreach. Not having grown up in the Church, he is passionate and vocal about reaching the unreached. He lives in the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Arab world sharing the love of Jesus with the community through peace making, disciple making, and church planting. Find Marion on Twitter and follow Arab World Outreach on Facebook.

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4 responses to “Let Love Change You First – What I Learned From My Muslim Neighbor

  1. I could be mistaken, but it seems that you’re referencing “convert” in the sense that the world (mis)understands it—i.e., giving it an imposing and negative context. Given that God is love, and that in the New Testament we are instructed that loving Him is the greatest commandment; it seems a bit out-of-order to then redefine what it means to truly “love one’s neighbor” (the second greatest commandment) outside of that Reality—making friendship primarily about them rather than about Him. For without Him, we neither understand love properly, nor are we able to love others “as He loved us”.
    You state, “I don’t believe our goal should ever be making a convert.” Hopefully our goal is not making them feel comfortable where they currently are spiritually; for as long as they are complacent in their state-of-being without Him, they will not see their need for Him.
    It’s somewhat interesting that you describe a Muslim as “one of [your] best friends.” Friendship is phileo = similar to our word “like” and based on commonalities—the most prominent aspect being our relationship to Christ, with a give-and-take at similar levels. How much can two people have in common, when the very foundational underpinning and most important aspect of one’s life is not shared by the other? I believe that agape, although encompassing a much greater circle of people is actually the stronger of the two; and what should be the motivating factor and focus of your relationship here. †♥

    • Hey Jacquie,

      I really appreciate your thoughts and totally hear what you’re saying. I especially love your comments on learning to love God first! For me especially, I barely understood love at all before coming to know Christ. I thank Him often for showing this to me. It’s changed everything. It’s what has given me the ability and the interest to reach out and love my Arab and Muslim friends. This is what I’d call our “theological” approach to the topic.

      I believe there’s another very important thing we must do apart from our “theologocial approach” and that’s our method of ministry. You see Jesus doing it all the time, they way He ministers to each individual was so unique and special. Some like to call this “contextualization” or some preachers may call it “hermeneutics”. It’s so great to see the way Jesus will boldly rebuke Peter and also powerful to see the same Jesus tenderly getting down in the dirt with an adulterous woman but still willing to tell the truth.

      What I’m proposing and trying to challenge in the post above isn’t theology. God’s view shapes everything and should! But it’s the application that must be specific. I’m challenging people to consider how they befriend people and more importantly their motive. Jesus healed people that may have never even followed Him! He knew this and loved them anyway.

      My premise is that love must be pure when ministering to others. It must come from that motive, not from a “conversion” motive or anything else. If one refuses what we offer, I never give up on them nor do I move on to the next person as if this was my only aim. Love is more than that. Love is there for the long-haul.

      In regards to making people feel comfortable where they are. I only partially want to challenge you. Because you’re theologically on point! But when it comes to how to apply it in a friendship, I always want people to feel comfortable so they can share where they are spiritually. This way we can minister to where they are without their guards up. We always have to be a safe haven for people!

      I hope this makes sense, Jacquie. Again, I appreciate your comments!

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