Culture, Community and Communication

Culture, Community and Communication

While the religious differences between Christians and Muslims are significant, sometimes cultural differences can be even greater sources of misunderstanding and mistrust. Different perspectives can also be opportunities to learn from each other. Cultural differences may inhibit or enhance our ability to share about Jesus, as well as a Muslim’s ability to receive our message. Below is a list some basic differences between Western culture and many African and Oriental Islamic cultures. (These characteristics are generalisations. There may be many exceptions in various nations and regions):

Western societies religious culture:

  • Individualism, independence and initiative are encouraged
  • Time oriented (exact times, for example: one arrives on time)
  • Future oriented (seeing opportunities and foreseeing problems)
  • Performance oriented (ability and accomplishments are important)
  • Freedom to show weakness
  • Egalitarian relationships / Direct communication
  • Analytical thinking / concept oriented

African and Oriental Islamic religious culture:

  • Community / group oriented
  • Event oriented (general times, example: arrival when an event happens)
  • Present oriented (enjoy the present, take action when crises develop)
  • Status oriented (class, age, family and reputation are important)
  • Fear of showing weakness or admitting failures (shame cultures)
  • Indirect communication (seeking to not offend or to dishonour)
  • Holistic thinking / experience / circumstance oriented

Simple questions on religious culture

One very real difference between accepted Western and Islamic religious cultural norms can be found in simple conversation. In many Islamic societies a man is not permitted to inquire about the another man’s wife in direct conversation. One can ask about how things are “at home” instead of asking the question directly: “How is your wife?” In some contexts it can sometimes be deemed incorrect, impolite and even possibly a bit suspicious for a man to ask directly about another man’s wife even if the two men are friends.

Indeed, care must be taken when bridging cultures, so that the bridges we build will be strong enough to bear the weight of the Good News.

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