Building Bridges Not Walls
This week some citizens of Temecula, CA are up in arms over the proposed construction of an Islamic Center– right across from two established churches! Some nerve. What makes American Muslims think they have the same constitutional rights to freedom of worship as American Christians? (Hmmm. Could it be the Constitution?) A local Tea Party organization has urged its members to come to a rally and bring their “Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices” in order to maximize the offense. (In Islamic culture women are forbidden to sing in front of men outside their family, and dogs are ritually unclean to most Muslims.) For the Tea Partiers, ironically called “We the People- Citizens in Action,” Islam is “a radically intolerant belief system that is incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.” Well, nothing like fighting intolerance with intolerance. So grab a torch and pitchfork and hop on the bus!
On the internet rumors and misinformation are still roiling over the proposal to build a mosque at Ground Zero in Manhattan. (Actually, it’s a community center that includes a mosque and the site is two blocks from Ground Zero). On some web pages opposition to the project has reached the level of the shrillest fiction. The imam is painted as a terrorist (actually he’s a Sufi, the most moderate and spiritual of all Islamic sects). Last month a protest at the site ended with two Egyptian men being surrounded by “patriots” who thought they looked Muslim. They were in fact Coptic Christians, but that did not matter to the crowd, who thought they heard Arabic accents. The men had to be rescued by police. In defense of the building project, Mayor Bloomberg blasted opponents and asserted that government “shouldn’t be in the business of picking [one religion over another].” He went on to say, “I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming….And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too.” As Salon blogger Alex Pareene noted in a recent post, such protests are sheer “paranoid Islamophobia,” fanned by irresponsible media and demagogic politicians. People are simply “scared of Muslims.”
Earlier this month a group of Christians were arrested for “sharing the gospel” at an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan. Video of the arrests is still circulating on You Tube, along with some misinformation on both sides which has inflamed conservative bloggers and caused fear among Christians. “Is this America?” they ask. In reality, the festival was cultural in nature not religious, and the evangelists were arrested and escorted off the property by police, who out of respect for Dearborn’s large Arab community, had created a no-go zone for proselytizing immediately around the festival. According to Dearborn’s mayor, provision was made for other religious groups to have tables to disseminate literature in a designated area. But this particular group, which calls itself Acts 17 Apologetics, declined to participate in keeping with its more confrontational evangelism style and they refused to move on. Ok, perhaps the group was doing little harm and the Dearborn police overreacted under pressure, but isn’t there a better way to share our faith with Muslims than to invade their festivals? Christians, how would you feel if a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to your church picnic and started trying to convert your friends and family members?
Doubtless the group rejoices that it is being persectuted for the Name. But as Peter states emphatically in his First Epistle: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or a thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a busybody. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed but praise God that you bear that name…” (4:15). Interesting, isn’t it, that Peter should lump meddlesome behavior in with such crimes as homicide and larceny? Could it be that he had had enough experience of immature brethren to know that Christians, in their zeal, can have a tendency to be a pain in the backside? What does he say in chapter 3?: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have….” Wait, there’s more. “…But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (3:15,16).
Since the group call themselves Acts 17, let’s take a look at that chapter. In Athens Paul is deeply distressed by the idols he sees on every street corner, so what does he do? He goes on a rampage, smashing statuary, and once he has drawn a crowd tells the Athenians that they need to repent of their ignorance. Actually, no, that’s not what happened. As grieved as he is at such idolatry, Paul controls himself and make a series of reasoned speeches, which come to the attention of the ruling council. And so he is invited to speak before that august body. But once there, instead of attacking their religion, instead of battering down their walls and demolishing their beliefs as worthless superstition, he attempts to build a bridge, starting where they are at, building on the knowledge they have.
Most Christians are deeply ignorant regarding Islam. So we choose to build walls of fear and intolerance to keep others out, instead of building bridges of tolerance and mutual respect to invite them in. In truth, the Quran, and thus most Muslims, have more respect for Jesus than the average white American. Here are just a few things the Muslim holy book says about our Lord: Jesus was “sinless,” “the Word of Allah,” “conceived by Allah’s Spirit,” “born of a virgin.” He also “came with miracles” and “only did what Allah told him to do.” In addition, Jesus was not murdered, for it was “Allah’s plan” that he should die; yet Allah “raised him from the dead” and “exalted him.” Now Jesus “intercedes with Allah according to Allah’s will.” “Messiah is his title,” and the “knowledge of the last days belongs to him.” It even goes so far as to state that “Allah’s helpers are those who help Jesus.” Many of these statements were pulled directly from the Christian Gospels, which along with the Quran, Pentateuch and Psalms, form the list of Muslim holy books (the Quran, of course, being first).
It is clear that Mohammed had a deep reverence for Christ and commanded his followers to have the same.
Yes, ironically, there are also some conflicting verses that deny his crucifixion and consider it blasphemy to call him God; those are doubtless an obstacle. But Christians and Muslims have more in common than either side has been willing to admit. Even as much as Christians and Jews? Well, that may make for a lively debate. But in the Quran, Messiah actually has a name, Isa al-Mesih, Jesus Christ.
Why do Muslims mistrust Christians? Not because of Jesus, surely. Why do we then insist on walking in the ignorance and intolerance of the Crusaders? Why fear Islam? Why not use it instead? The Quran is the greatest evangelistic tool we can use with Muslims, because their own book tells about Jesus. Yes, it does not go far enough, but there is more than enough to make a good start. Instead of trying to argue Muslims into becoming Christians, which is anathema to them, why not simply use their book to introduce them to the Savior, and then see what Jesus can do.
Satan is deeply invested in keeping these two peoples divided. What’s at stake? A billion souls, to start. So he tries hard to keep that dividing wall of hostility and fear firmly in place. As Christians should we continue to add stone upon stone to its already soaring height? Should we invade them with apologetics or with love, humility and respect? “People of Athens, I see that in every way you are deeply religious…” (Ac 17:22).