Muslims. What does that word do in you, to you? How do you react when you hear the word “Muslim”? The Qur’an burning, the anniversary of 9/11, the Ground Zero Mosque? I am not distant from these issues. I am a native of New York City; I watched the Trade Towers being built during my years in college. I was back on the site of Ground Zero three weeks after the attack (read the article I wrote at that time for our local newspaper). I needed to ask these questions of myself and reconcile the responses with my faith as a Christian. Our deeply held ideals are tested in these times. Letting others think for me, relying on ignorance or misinformation or disregarding Muslims in my world do not seem options based on wisdom to me.
Alone, I cannot effect what government leaders and military forces do in reaction to radical Islamist. I am not assigned the task of terrorist cell monitoring, the hunting of Osama Bin Laden or taking up vigilance at the airport. Officials have been given these jobs. Passing around the hate filled e-mail blasts, posting anti-Muslim videos and articles and fueling division may feel good as we get out frustrations, but is that what Jesus people should be doing? Those may well be common and expected behaviors for people who have no have no religious affiliations, but it is not acceptable behavior for a Christian. This is one of those you-can’t-argue-with-it things. There are no caveats in “love your neighbor”. There are other verses that can be discussed in the Greek and Hebrew; we can look at it them in and out of context and still disagree. But, this most basis belief of Christianity, however, has no variation on it and no “except” inserted after it. So, I wondered, “How do I align ‘love your neighbor’ with my treatment of Muslims?” I tend to be on the very tolerant, merciful end of most relational scales and I have gotten better at being inclusive through the work I do between the church and the GLBT community. Good with one group of “others” does not necessarily translate to all “others” without some work.
With regard to some segments of people, I am neutral; I neither love, nor hate. No strong negatives, no strong personal positives. Think of the group(s) of people you most dislike, distrust or disrespect. You can let the media and the opinions of others shape your views, but that will highlight and exaggerate the lowest segment of the group. Combine that with fear-based fuel and we are in danger of becoming entrenched in a story of assessment of others that is not accurate and in all likelihood, not coming from the heart of Jesus. To be clear, this is a challenge to those that say Jesus is their role model.
Concerning Muslims, I was tangentially tolerant, no real feeling either way, fairly neutral. And, when did Jesus ever ask me to be neutral about another human being or people group? Love and serve exceeds being “neutral”. It was time to form some of my own opinions, do some studying and ensure that my actions were indeed in alignment with my faith. So, this past Friday night, during Ramadan, I went to my local mosque and Muslim Community Center to check “do I treat this neighbor as I do myself” when it comes to Muslims?
This post will be long, I want to invite you into my experience, assuming that most of you are non-Muslim and have not been to a mosque. I have long wondered many things about Islam, so I investigated those questions and will share that too. I think I am typical in what I did not know or thought I knew. For life scholars of Islam or those well-read on the issue, I may not give enough detail. This is a no frills, simplified view that may help you to better understand your Muslim neighbor. I offer what I think is sensible Biblical advice to fellow Christians. You may not agree, but hopefully, it will cause you to think about what the Bible says about the treatment of all others, how you reflect that in your life and some practical steps in aligning the two in relationship with the Muslims around you. Remember, you are not posted at the borders, the FBI offices or police stations; you are a private person living in your community and that is the place from which you can be effective. When a friend, Chad Holtz, took his family to an event at his local Muslim community center and blogged about it, I realized I was ignorant on this subject and decided to challenge myself.
I emailed the vice president of the Muslim Community Center at the beginning of the week.
Hello, I am a Christian. I want to come be amongst your group during your next monthly potluck. I do not like all the assumptions and nasty remarks people make about your community. I want to come and celebrate our commonalities. How do I go about this? I would come along with another friend.
I had an immediate response:
Thank you for your interest in having a constructive conversation with Muslims. This is exactly what we have been trying to do and in need of especially these days. We are currently in the month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. So our monthly potluck is now a daily dinner at sunset. It will be our pleasure to have you and your friend joining us for dinner any day. Please let me know when can you do it. All the best…Sherif
I asked my buddy, Netto, to come along. She is quite dependable for adventure. She actually now responds to my “Hey Netto, say ‘yes’ ” nudges with “I know you’ll eventually get me to agree anyway, so ‘yes’ “. I set the time for Friday night at sundown so that we would be present for breaking of the Ramadan daily fast, evening prayers, dinner, night prayers and instructions. Sherif ask me to please bring a scarf to cover my head. I wore what would have been in line with Sunday dress at my church; I should have done a bit of research on my own before I arrived completely inappropriately dressed.
Netto got there first and called me on my cell, “Kathy, I think I am dressed completely wrong. I think I need to go home and change.” No time for wardrobe changes if we were to fully engage. She had a short sleeveless dress, sandals and a scarf. I did slightly better with a scarf (sheer), skirt, sleeveless shirt and an added jacket to cover my arms (having done enough European cathedral tours). Women were arriving in the most spectacular outfits of fabulous fabrics. Pants, long tops and covered arms. The headscarves (hajibs) were snug to their faces and no hair was showing. And there we were. “Let’s not do this” does not exist in my vocabulary nor thinking, so I encouraged Netto that we would be fine and we joined in the parade of silk and gold.
“Are your visitors?”, we were asked in the parking lot as we made our way to the community center building next to the mosque. Nothing about us said “belongs”. “Yes, we are and I would like to meet with Sherif, I have spoken to him about visiting with you tonight.” I had expected that Sherif, having been my cordial contact over several emails, would be at our sides throughout the evening explaining the events and answering my endless questions. I now know, there was no way that Sherif, a Muslim man would be our guide. We were introduced to Sheria, a delightful, 18 year old young woman who excitedly escorted us to the dining hall for a sneak preview of all the upcoming aromatic dishes. Huge signs on the wall marked the two entry doors “Men” and “Women”. For eating, I thought, even during dinner? We walked in the woman door, looked around and exited the woman door to go back to the mosque. Sheria took us to the cleansing room and explained the process of three washings of hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, faces, hairlines, feet and ankles. Each body section is washed in sequence and has an associated prayer to be uttered. If, in the midst of the process, you need to use the bathroom, or (oh, just say it Kathy) fart or touch a member of the opposite sex, you must start cleansing process again. If you were lucky/unlucky enough to have sex before you wash, you must take a full shower before prayers. This regimen applies before each of the five daily prayers. Having your period, being postpartum, ejaculation for men or emission of vaginal lubricant for women will also send you to the showers before prayers. This is a very clean group of people. My Christian brain is firing off all the “God looks on the inside, go before Him as you are” verses, but I was in their house and trying to observe as a polite, engaged, respectful guest.
Sundown had come and the line formed to break the fast. Women and children on one side of the room and the snack table and men on the other. Stay on your side, Kathy. No socializing here, no chit-chat with the men, focus. When a Muslim fasts from sun up to sundown during the lunar month of Ramadan (sometime in August/September), the fast includes staying away from water, food and sex. You hear a whole bunch about sex fasting. Wow, why such a big deal anyway? It was mentioned several times. Who has time for sex sun up to sundown anyway?
To break the fast, they drink water (this is amazing to me–no water sun up to sunset, I never knew that was part of the fast), eat dates, fruit salad, some other light sweet things or small finger foods. This is not the meal; it is just the snack before evening prayers. Dinner followed prayer and preceded night prayer. The women were very kind and welcoming and continually asked, “Are you visitors?” Our short skirts, exposed legs and arms and unelegant scarves outed us. Sheria’s mom came and took us to the fellowship hall to sit with the fast-breaking snack and to talk and answer our questions.
Mom was American born, a white woman who had been in the US military and had converted to Islam thirty years prior. Mom had been raised Catholic, became a born again Evangelical and converted to Islam in her late twenties. She met her Muslim husband three years later and had four children, all were being raised in Islam. When we compared notes the next day, this was the only time in the entire evening that both Netto and I did not feel comfortable. Mom was playing the “my Allah is better than your God, my Mohamed (peace be upon him) is better than your Jesus” game. I explained again I was there–for personal experience and outreach of friendship–and she continued to try to impress us with the superiority of her faith. (Note to self: never do this, it is a total turn off.) No one else approached us in that manner all evening. It had been clearly stated that we were ambassadors that night. As others came in the community center to drop off their food contributions, many came over and offered us samples before the evening prayer time. They wanted to make sure the visitors tasted what they had made. Wildly hospitable. Many smiles, many kindnesses and many sweet acknowledgments.
I was intent on getting back to the mosque for evening prayers. Pre-prayer hand washing or pre-prayer shower is completely foreign to a Christian. But, I was in their house. I observed the washing and did not participate. I did not intend to try to assimilate; I wanted to observe. We would not have expected a Muslim to participate in our Communion ritual—same thing. The vice president’s wife, Nahla, arrived, rescued us and took us along to the side entrance to the women’s area of the mosque. In three quarters of the mosques in the US, women are separate from men. That was so here. We left out sandals outside, donned our scarves. Mine was so far from appropriate. It was shear. It would “cover” my head in a retro Catholic schoolgirl sort of way, you know, when if you forgot your scarf for church, your Mom would pin a Kleenex on your head. Yes, my covering was that effective and elegant in comparison. Out of pity or kindness, no one tsk-tsked me as I wrapped it around my hair. Next problem–cover those legs and arms. We put robes over our clothing and luck of the draw of the abaya (robe), I got the robe that did not fit snug against the face. Poor Netto, she looked horribly uncomfortable and horrible! She resembled one of those little women you see on the plains of Mongolia all tucked in with a circle face showing. No, I did not take a picture; I, in no way wanted to mock our hosts. Poor Netto, a little cut out for her face, all her hair covered and sweating underneath. (Thank you God/Allah that my vanity was not assaulted as badly!) We sat at the back of the room on chairs with Nahla.
This mosque is rectangular in shape. The front two thirds is for the men and the back one third was split between washroom/showers and the women’s side. The women’s area was blocked from the men’s section by several screens. You could see the imam ( the word simple means “the man at the front”) leading prayers, only if you were well positioned. I would not have felt comfortable joining in the actual ritual of prayer in the stand, bow, kneel fashion. I am aware enough to know that our objects of affection are not the same. Both our Gods are Creator, all powerful, good and merciful. Their Allah gave the Qur’an, mine ended His written revelation in Revelations. We sat at the back behind the praying women with Nahla who answered questions and explained the rituals. While standing and bowing, the individual prayers are rote; when the forehead is on ground, in the most humble position to Allah, personal prayers are offered. Quickly. Then they are up again. Fifteen minutes of prayer and back to dinner in the community center. Men in the men’s door, in their line on the side of the magnificent array of foods; women in the women’s door with the children. Table down the center of the room, dividing the sexes and no one crossed over. I have the complete confidence to enter into a group of men and engage in dialogue, not knowing one of them. That skill/comfort was of no use here. I would have loved to go sit and ask the men some questions and listen, but it would not be possible or acceptable. Netto and I sat far from the “my Allah/your God” woman and others joined us.
The women were gracious, engaging, warm and lovely. My mecca: relationship. I talked with women from Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait. Islam is called a universal religion because it’s reach expands to many countries. Some facts:
- There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, 24% of the world’s population. Christians are 33% of the world population and Jews only .25%.
- 50 countries have a Muslim majority. Of those 25% live in Asia, 24% in Africa and only 26% are in Arab countries.
- Most Muslims are Sunni and only 10-13% are Shia.
- There are 6 million American Muslims, that is 1 in 60 in the US. One third live on the East Coast, one quarter in the South and Central states and less than twenty percent on the West Coast.
- There are about 2,000 mosques in the US.
- Two thirds of American Muslims do not participate in their faith weekly and are akin to our “Christmas and Easter Christians”.
So, although the group of women I sat with were mostly middle eastern, many ethnicities were represented throughout the room. The food variety revealed that. It was wonderful! I was in agony later that night from the spices and different foods and it was worth every groan.
We talked about how they got to the US, their native education, their adaptation of their children to schools, what they thought of the US, the struggle to separate who they are as Muslims from the destruction caused by extremists, their clothing and hajib (the head covering). Every question I asked, they graciously and openly answered. There was not one instant of tension or discomfort. We were women with commonalities and differences enjoying the dialogue. Netto’s experience was with two American born white women. I was curious as to what led them to Islam and not Christianity. One was from no faith background and converted to Islam when she met her Pakistani husband who had come to work at the University. The other had married a Morrocan and eventually divorced him. It was the treatment of her by the then ex-in-laws that attracted her to Islam. The Muslims she was in relationship with were excellent examples of the way she envisioned God and she saw in them great values and ethics converted. Relationship. I will come back to this at the end.
The time was coming for night prayers and instruction. Netto could not bear to put the robe and head envelope back on, so she bowed out, said her kind goodbyes and I walked her out of the women’s exit. “I am out of here. I cannot put that thing back on, it is too friggin’ hot. Islam is not for me and it has no room for me. You can fill me in tomorrow.” Netto is one of my best friends in life. She is the person God used to get me to see the plight of the GLBT community in society and in the church. Netto is a Native American, a lesbian, was an agnostic when I met her (now Christian) and a feminist. Islam is more harsh on the gay/trans community than the Christian church is and she inherently knew that if they had known she was a lesbian, they may not have been as welcoming.
I readjusted my scarf, took off my shoes and went back to the women’s prayer area behind the screen. Well, not so much behind the screen as on the line between the two sections. The Islamic Tunisian woman who had been in the US for 30 years (I liked this lady and plan to see her again!) was the only woman in Western style clothing. No hajib, nor silk covering. She was very helpful with insights. She encouraged me to sit where I could really observe the instruction time and even ask a question if I had one. A rebel. She had to stay out of the mosque prayer room and instruction time because she does not cover her head and body. She goes to the mosque with her fully-compliant-to-Islam husband, her children and her Tunisian mother.
I missed the night prayers when I was caught up staying outside talking with her. Excellent choice. “We are a peaceful people”, she said. “This Ground Zero mosque has become a political issue with two sides trying to prove something. Most of us here say, so move it, go somewhere else. We are called to live in peace above all things.” And that was indeed the sentiment I heard over and over. Move it. Build it elsewhere out of respect. I wanted to know what she thought of Jesus in relation to Mohammed, His Prophet status. I knew almost nothing at that point about the Muslim view of Jesus and the Islamic take was interesting. “Jesus spoke about Mohammed in your own First Testament you know. He said He would send Mohamed as the Final Messenger.” Click. Got it. The Christian interpretation is that Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit that will guide us and lead us. Muslims interpret that Final Messenger as Mohamed some 500 years later. When Jesus left the earth (The Islamic understanding: He slipped away from the leaders of the Jews who wanted to kill him and God “removed him from this world into another dimension” and, in the confusion, it was Judas who was apprehended and crucified), the devoted followers tried to maintain the teachings of Jesus. But, in time, the message got distorted and only part of the God/Jesus truth survived.
To a Muslim, Mohamed (not the Christian Holy Spirit) is the Final Messenger of promise by God and spoken of by Jesus. The recitations given to Mohamed are in the Qur’an which they believe is a divine revelation that is unaltered and the direct words of God revealed by an angel to Mohamed. They believe the dictates of the Qur’an clean up the distortions that time created and put in the additions that God intended. Unlike the Bible and Jesus, the Qur’an and Mohamed offer not just a religious pattern, but one of laws and politics too. This is a key, key distinction between the two systems of faith and the one which causes problem when we look at democratic/Islamic country differences. The Bible can exist as the Holy Book in any form of governmental structure. The Qur’an includes and tightly intertwines political and legal structure in it as well as the religious structure. We in the US separate church and state; Islamic nations using the Qur’an, blend all three as one package; they are inseparable. Of the over fifty countries with Muslim majorities, only three are democracies. The others are authoritarian, oppressive or dictatorships. This was something I did not understand at all. US Christians have Constitution, a Bible and a flag. All three equivalents are a package deal of politics, law and religion rolled into the Qur’an. So when someone suggests burning the Qur’an, just picture seeing extremists burning our flag, Bible and Constitution. It is more to a Muslim than just a book of religion, it is their total way of life—law, government and religion.
Muslims believe the Qur’an supersedes the Bible as the Final Testament. It was given to Mohamed in 610 during a time of inequity and idolatry and offered justice and peace in their stead and caught on quickly. Unlike Jesus who was non-political and not a warrior, Mohamed was both in his later years. Christianity and Judaism have adapted to the concept of separation of church and state in allowance of religious tolerance. Islam intertwines them. Puritan Islam has church and state as a package and does not allow for religious tolerance by its nature. When people insist that we will only allow a mosque at Ground Zero when “they” allow a church in Saudi Arabia; they are not understanding the apples/oranges dichotomy. Our democracy stands independent of our religious worship. That is part of the beauty of it—religious tolerance. Our democracy can still exist with many forms of worship inside it. In Islamic countries, Islam is the government and the worship and that is not tolerant of other forms of either. It is not rational for us to play the tit-for-tat game. Our rules allow you to build mosques here. Your rules do not allow us to build churches there. Do we then change our rules? No. We are a democracy, for all.
When Muslims come to the US, there is no option to import the law and politics of Islam, we have that covered. They can bring the religious part of the belief system, and that is it. These would be Progressive Muslims. That is exactly what happens for the most part. Puritan Islamists will not partition the law-politics-religion package. Fringe extremists take the verses on violence over the ones on love, they manipulate the texts, they focus on the verses that say “fight the oppressor’ and arm against the enemy. I read the Qur’an right after 9/11 (and I would encourage you to do it as well. It gives me an edge when speaking to Muslims and telling them about what I see in their Book and mine.) The Islamic rules of engagement are filled with if/then statements. The extremists just read the “then” parts. The proper protocol is lost in their thinking. Before you puff your Christian Club chests out, plenty of “Christians” pluck Scripture out to serve their purposes too. We have and have had our extremists as well. Think of the Aryan Nation sorts. Go to one of their websites and be shocked over their distortions of Scripture. The KKK used the extreme point of my Book of Love to kill. “Christian” missionaries to Uganda are extremists when they use the Bible to manipulate legislation, validate and enforce the radical homophobia now experienced there.
I had read that of the 22 wars in the world, 20 involved Muslims. Never just believe things without checking them for yourselves; the truth lay somewhere in the details. Most people will repeat the rhetoric over and over to validate their massive distrust of the Muslims. Go deeper, as I did, and you will find at ReligiousTolerance.org that there are indeed 22 wars, conflicts and civil unrest in the world today. Nineteen involve Muslims. Proves all of them are aggressive violent people, right? Screeeeeech. Hold it. Christians are involved in seventeen of those twenty-two conflicts. You may say that those warring Christians do not represent how you as a Christian would behave. Is there any grace within you to perhaps consider that the majority of the Muslim world is not represented in these nineteen warring groups either? If you add in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to the seventeen, as not Americans conflicts, but insert “Christians” (which the Muslim mind might well do), we are tied. Christians and Muslims are each involved in nineteen of the world’s conflicts today. Each religious group has our radicals, our extremists, our fundamental aggressors. All Muslims and all Christians are not warring, terrorist, violent people. Extremists of both religions exist and are the worst representatives of us. It is not the Author of the Books that are the problem; it is the readers of the Books.
Okay, back to the mosque experience and the instruction time. It was unbearably hot for me and I was not wrapped up in cloth except for hand, feet and face. Recall, I was sitting at the back of the mosque in the transition area between men and women, I crossed my legs to increase the under the robe airflow, lifting the robe to expose my ankles and about 6 to 8 inches of my lower leg. An older woman came from the front of the screens and whispered to me, “Please cover your pretty hair better with your scarf, your bangs are showing. And, please place your feet on the ground, your ankles and legs are exposed and you are distracting a man. This is a courtesy in our mosque. Thank you.” I was very quick to oblige, apologized, and told her I did understand that this was her house of worship and their rules. My mouth said that but my strong woman, independent, Western mind was racing in retort. A man would have had to crane his neck to turn around and look at me. His imam was fully forward of me; he was to be concentrating on his instruction. Perhaps I should take the compliment that my ankles and bangs could distract any man. That, however, is not what I was thinking. Here is the slightly plugged version. “So, he cannot control his own staring and mind and the responsibility falls to me to cover up because he lacks self control? Since when am I obligated to be uncomfortable and wrapped up because you cannot concentrate on the instructions? I’m not staring at you? And, I am a guest. You should know I don’t play by these rules; cut me 8 inches of slack.” Not the sweetest response, even if it was all in my head. Never would I have opened my mouth on this; I am kind and honoring and understood I was in their home. It was just so foreign to me and the reaction was honest.
I had been told that the evening would be long, in fact, all night long and into the next two days. In the last ten nights of Ramadan, there is a special dispensation from Allah to hear your prayers; He cannot refuse your requests at this time if you have lived a pious life. Being a three day holiday weekend here in the US, the men were able to spend much of that time at the mosque and that was the intention. Few women would stay; many would go home with their children. The children had spent the majority of the time playing in the open area between the community center and the mosque. There was no formal teaching for them and they are charged with making their own choice as to when they are ready to join the adults in the prayer time. It is not determined by age. Nahla’s sixteen year old was not ready and her six year old was. The choice is also made by the young women/girls whether or not and when they choose to wear the hijab.
Muslims believe that their sole purpose in life is the worship of God alone according to the instruction revealed in the Qur’an. According to Mohamed, wearing the hijab is an act of obedience to God, although women are not forced to wear it (this is what their literature says). Wearing the hajib is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to piety and worshiping Allah. Again, so foreign to a Christian. I have both commitments in my own life, yet I do not feel that an outward sign is needed. When the disciples of Jesus insisted that the new Gentile converts be circumcised as the Jewish believers were, Paul tells them this requirement no longer needs to be met; God looks on the heart. Muslims say the hajib is worn not to keep “men’s illicit desires in check-that is their own responsibility.” This conflicted with my experience of being asked to cover up, but I well know that what we say and do as Christians, as humans, is often not in alignment with the Bible and our own beliefs. Sleeping the floor of the mosque during the instruction was acceptable because just being there counted in their favor. Many of the men would have spent most of the weekend seeking the pleasure of Allah.
It was eleven o’clock and time to say my goodbyes. I was truly grateful for the hospitality and kindnesses extended. I intend to go back again after I reconnect with two of the women outside the mosque. Now that I have read and thought more, I have more questions.
After a few days of thinking about this experience and reading, I indeed have come to some conclusions about the original challenge for myself. How well had I been doing in the treatment of this “other” group, the Muslims? Not very well. If my directive from Jesus is to love and serve all others, I was doing neither. I had no understanding of their faith and had blended extremists together with the whole of Muslims. I had little concern, compassion or interaction. And, I think I am one of the more tolerant, compassionate Christians in my circles, yet, I was failing. It is not fair, nor is it accurate to point to a sliver of a group and state that the entire group displays those traits. In a book written in 1951 by Eric Hoffer “True Believers”, Hoffer states, “There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation, or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements. The fiercest fanatics are often selfish people who were forced by innate shortcomings or external circumstances to lose faith in their own selves. They separate the excellent instrument of their selfishness from their ineffectual selves and attach it to services of some holy cause. And though it be a faith of love and humility they adopt, they can be neither loving nor humble.” These Muslim extremists attached themselves to a holy cause of violence and destruction. And, you know what, so have Christians in recent history, in our own country’s history. We have our clear blemishes at which to point. As Christians expanded to the North America and South America, we were responsible for the death of about 15 million Native Americans, 50 million South Americans and 100-200 million Africans. These are hard facts and I wish my people were not associated with these deaths. Finger pointing is easy, we cannot say “we would never behave like they are!” We all have our fringes. The fringes of Christianity do not define me.
I can take the exact same words in the Bible and love the GLBT community and Scott Lively, of Uganda (in)fame , can use those very words to incite homophobia and death of queer people in Uganda. And, we use the same Book of Love. We all have our fanatics. Osama Bin Laden will quote the verses about war and never see the ones about peace, service to the needy and poor and the dictate to never take an innocent human life with the threat of hell if you do. He does not speak for the millions of peaceable Muslims. Christians in Somalia and Nigeria, along with Scott Lively, do not speak for me. Mainstream Islam dislikes the terrorists and extremists as much as you do.
Can I do much on the worldwide scale? The government and military have that one in the five/ten/fifty year plan. But, I can do a little bit. I can give to humanitarian efforts in regions that are Muslim. I do know that humanitarian aid by churches and government makes huge strides in changes views. According to a January 2006 poll in by Terror Free Tomorrow organization, humanitarian aid is a very effective way to improve how Muslim countries view the US. In May of 2003, research showed that only 15 % of people in Indonesia—the world’s most populous Muslim nation—had a favorable view of the U.S. However, the country was later devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami, in December of 2004. In the following year, humanitarian aid poured into the affected areas from the U.S. and other Western nations. As a result, a January 2006 poll showed that Indonesian people with a favorable view of the U.S. had nearly tripled, jumping to 44 percent. In addition, information from the well-respected Indonesian Survey Institute showed that “support for Bin Laden and terrorism has dropped to its lowest level since 9/11.” Finally, they reported that Indonesians with a “very unfavorable” view of the U.S. had fallen to just 13 percent—down from 48 percent prior to the tsunami.
And, how do I repackage all this information and fit it into my Christian beliefs ? Again, I am just me and am only responsible for my actions. I know that relationship is the key in interaction between any two groups . How about my Muslim neighbors, the ones in my town, the ones in my country who are American Muslims, the ones who are guests of my country? As a Jesus follower, I am called to love and serve. This will drive some of you name-calling, fear fueled, flag waving people nuts. If you are a follower of Jesus, you either love and serve or you are sinning. Please check out my post entitled “Words on My Heart”. So, practically how can you do this? Get to know some Muslims and take the mysterious fear out of the equation. Do what I did; go as a guest to a mosque. Befriend a Muslim at work, in your neighborhood. Share a meal with a Muslim family. If that is too scary, start by refraining from your nastiness online, in social media, and with your mouth. “But Jesus, they are so, so, so . . . evil, violent, filthy.” And, He says back, “what is it to you what anyone else does, follow Me.” (John 21:22) People of every culture, religious belief and country have a place in God’s world. Because we do not like them, feel uncomfortable with them or fear we do not have license to dishonor, reject, mistreat or dominate anyone. Even our “enemy”. If do not call yourself a Christian, you have no obligation to follow this, carry on with the rules that dictate your conscience. Without supernatural power inside you, I don’t so how this is possible; fear will control you. I would not expect to see born-again believers joining an anti-Muslim mass movement. Nor would I expect to see them burning the Holy Book of another group of people. It that loving, serving, honoring, respectful? We do not base our actions on the actions of others. There is no “fair” in the Kingdom of God.
Do relationship at any level you can in your own community, show kindness in the public spaces, respect and learn about their faith, stop attacking and arguing. Find the commonalities; they are there. I was told by a friend to remember to tell the Muslims that Jesus “is the way, the truth and the life.” I know He is. We are talking about people who have culturally, politically and legally followed the Qur’an for generations. Do you think “Jesus is the way” trumps all the other verses in the Bible about the treatment of people at that point? No one will ever see my Lord, till I show Him to them in the way in which I act towards them. I do not see conversion as my “end goal” for this entrenched group. My goal is to live at peace with one another. Too tepid for you? Try it. It is a great place to start, and they may actually see something irresistible in me (besides my ankles).
What does concern me is the growing numbers of native born, culturally American people who convert to Islam. Why are they more attracted to Islam than Christianity? Go to youtube for the answer, check out television news for the answer. Who wants to be associated with a group of people who are more known for who they hate than for who they love? Statistically, the list of who we hate is the message Christians are delivering to a watching world. Most people today convert to a faith via a relational conduit. An experience with a friend or group. Suppose I saw the need for some spiritual influence in my life and I open up to investigating it. I know I want God and ethics and morality, I dig service to the poor and needy and I want to be in a peaceable community. (Forget the influence of the extremists here, you will not see them in your local mosque for the most part). Whom do I check out? The crazy Christians who only like a certain list of people and hate some of the people I love? Or, should I also consider the Muslims who are comprised of a huge cross-section of nationalities and backgrounds (except of course the GLBT people, they are not welcome in Islam. It does not mean they are not there, this I know)? And, this is what is actually happening. We Christians are driving seekers to other faiths: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and into atheism because we are often horrible reflection of an irresistible Jesus. Again, making it personal and putting it on me: how can I stop this flow? By acting like Him. By drawing others to Him with my actions.
I know this post was long, but I wanted to share an experience that you may not be brave enough to do or open enough to learn from. You have to know too many of us do not reflect the Savior we say we live to serve. This hatred, distrust, dislike, discomfort and intolerance is a huge issue with implications that may be devastating to our country and world. JFK said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” My contribution to Muslims will be peaceful co-existence in the name and service of the One I love. My contributions to other faith seekers will be to strive to be more like Him so that they might care to know Him. The purest meaning of the word “jihad” is “personal struggle”. We think of arms pumping with rifles in hand and screaming of “Allah Akbar” as jihad. That is not what jihad means to the bulk of Muslims. It means striving to love their Creator and serving man. Would I ever prefer Islam over Christianity? No, never. I am so appreciative of Jesus who is my forgiveness before God. It is not about what I do or don’t do that makes God love me. It is only about surrendering my life to Jesus as the way to God and following His lead. I don’t need the ten days of Ramadan set aside for God to really hear me; He always hears me when I call, when I whisper, when I am too hurt to speak. I love Jesus and He is not just a Prophet to me; He is everything. The Muslims say “Mohamed, peace be upon him”. I say, “Jesus, Your peace be upon me. Let me live in peace with my neighbor, let me treat others as you would have me treat them. Let me love, serve, respect and peaceably engage my Muslim brothers and sisters. Amen.”
Blessing, peace and Holy Spirit wisdom to you, Kathy