Westerners have a caricature of Muslims that is largely based on media hype around radical Islamists, 9/11, the politics of Iran, Bin Laden, our wars in Iraq and the threat of Iran - all of which tend to breed fear, a desire to keep our distance and frankly a dislike and even disdain for Muslims.
Here is the problem. First, when it comes to the majority of Muslims, none of our caricature is remotely true. Second, Jesus loves Muslims with the same degree of which He loves non-Muslims which leads me to three: we are called to love and minister to those Jesus loves and who (like us) were made in His image.
Stereotypes are almost always the result of a lack of relationship with those we marginalize and stereotype. So the antidote to the caricature we have of Muslims is to actually engage with them in friendship. If every American evangelical had one Muslim friend the attitudes of the same would be vastly different.
I have met many Muslims and interacted with them on numerous ocasssions in the United States and internationally. Somali Muslim kids wave to me from across the street every morning and their basement is furnished with furniture that we outsourced. My taxi drivers and airport workers in Minneapolis are largely Muslim. I have had lengthy conversations with Muslims in my travels.
While Muslims have a different mindset than we do they have the same dreams, aspirations, struggles, family issues and so on that we do. They are ordinary people who want to live their lives in peace, make a living wage, and negotiate life as well as they can. And most of them welcome a friendship with an American and separate American politics from friendship with American individuals. And because of the hospitality culture they come from once you are a friend, they will be intensely loyal.
As in all cases, friendships are the key to killing stereotypes and opening doors for the Gospel. As it relates to Muslims, the church in the United States must move from fear to friendship with their Muslim neighbors. In doing so our stereotypes will die, real friendships will emerge, the door will be opened to the Gospel and bridges built. Ironically you have more in common with Muslims as an individual than you have that separates you from them. But one does not know that without a friendship.
In fact, the premier curriculum for helping evangelicals understand Muslims and share the Gospel with Muslims is called Bridges and is available from the Crescent Project.
Certainly there are radical Muslims I don't want to associate with and Bin Laden when he was alive never invited me for a cup of tea and had he done so it might have ended badly. But truth be told there are people who call themselves Christians that I don't want to associate with as well (Westboro Baptist Church for instance). As any Baptist would point out, they don't represent Baptists but their own radical agenda. Radicals of any persuasion are not my cup of tea (including in the evangelical sphere) but they also don't represent most others.
My challenge for Christ followers is to develop at least one friendship with a Muslim and see how God uses that to change your heart and perhaps their heart. It will also help us move past our fear to something even more important: friendship - where the Gospel usually starts.