Standing Up to Extremists in Islam and Christianity
The ABC documentary "Different Books, Common Word" – produced by the Baptist Center on Ethics, better known by its Web site, EthicsDaily.com – featured stories of positive communication and cooperation between Baptists and Muslims from around the country. Such cooperation is based on the fact that the call of both religions is to love God and one's neighbor. It was a nice alternative to all the negative stories we have grown accustomed to hearing on radio and television.
An objective inquiry into our histories would reveal that "adherents" of both the Christian and the Muslim faiths have committed atrocities in the absence of respect and cooperation between and among our peoples. Any one person can claim to be a Muslim or a Christian. There is no single entity that gets to validate or deny "membership" in either faith. Disputes and divisions within both faiths have developed and continue to do so around varying interpretations of the same book, be it the Bible or the Qur’an.
You can get almost all Muslims to agree on the following five articles of faith: belief in God, angels, revealed books, judgment day and divine decree. There are also five other "pillars of Islam": the testimony of faith, five daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, Zakat ( supporting the needy), and pilgrimage to Mecca for those who can afford it.
Aside from this short list, there is a wide range of interpretations and schools of thought that will accommodate any and every taste. Of course, one is discouraged from following one's desires, but let us be honest: who doesn't?
I follow the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Both provide me with stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, John and many others. Their stories are filled with perseverance, tolerance, kindness, generosity and compassion.
Quoting from Each Other’s Scriptures Out of Context
Anyone, Muslim or Christian, who comes to me with an interpretation of the Qur’an – and quotes a verse telling me the Qur’an encourages violence – does not understand the message therein. Each verse should be interpreted within the context of the message. The Qur’an was revealed in sections, with the purpose of guiding Muslims with regard to certain challenges at specific times and with certain groups of people.
Muslim scholars, while exercising great caution and good intention, have erred at times in such interpretations. This cannot be avoided, but what can be avoided is the tendency of "radicals" who take one verse or decree and ignore all others.
It is bad enough when a Muslim does this to Islam, but there is an even graver misguided practice: namely, when a person of another faith focuses on verses in the Qur’an that speak to a certain issue while ignoring everything else that is contrary within the same book. I am equally disturbed by Muslims who quote a single verse from the Bible without referencing anything else.
There is a difference between studying a culture or a religion and examining it. Studying begins with intrigue and a desire to increase one's knowledge, while examining is often defined by a mission. If one starts out looking for a verse that invites violence, there is a good chance he or she will find it in either book. The undeniable fact is that the overwhelming majoritylook for and find peace in both books.
Radicals want us to distrust one another and each other's faith. In doing so, they distort both Islam and Christianity. In the end, I believe our struggle is not defined by Muslims against Christians, but more so by what moderates say and do to keep radicals at bay!
Our collective system of values and morals should protect us from hating – or worse, acting on such hate. When we love one another, we risk nothing. And when we don't, we risk it all.
After Islamic Center Is Torched, Different Faiths Help
Our Islamic center was burned to the ground in February 2008. The blessing that followed this heinous act was that many in the community decided to focus on the good. As president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn., I wanted to make sure that we did just that.
Along with our Christian and Jewish friends, our Muslim community in middle Tennessee put aside all that we disagree on and focused on what we have in common. It seems to me that all of us are capable of putting aside our differences on the job, in the park, at the gym, at college and almost everywhere else, so why not in doing God's work in our communities? Like so many, I believe that our relationship with God is what brings us together.
I recall a comment made by a Columbia woman in response to a newspaper article. She praised local churches for their "Christ-like" behavior toward our Muslim community, but she also expressed doubt about the merit of such kindness toward Muslims. I rarely respond to such comments, but I did in that instance.
I wrote that I thought our Muslim community also acted "Christ-like." None of the Muslims ever responded with hate, none of us ever pointed a finger at any Christian other than the three who were arrested for firebombing our house of worship. We accepted help from the Christian community and welcomed the invitation to pray in a church. It took courage, confidence, tolerance and understanding to offer and to accept such an arrangement that went on for several months.
Such goodwill in either direction is often challenged by the hype in certain media venues that focus on what divides us. Some would have you believe that God belongs to them and only them. Given such an agenda, everything is portrayed in a certain color when it comes to the other group.
I could not help notice that none of the recent media reports relaying the story about the sentencing of one of the three men guilty of the firebombing started with, "A Christian man guilty of firebombing …" It is on record that the act was done in the name of Christianity with reference to the teachings of the Bible. But I must say that I am pleased with the fact that all the articles I read simply stated "a man."
I grew up in Jerusalem and attended a Christian school. Many of my best friends are Christian. My children have Christian aunts, uncles and grandparents. I know that the behavior of the three men is not representative of Christian teachings.
I am often distressed when every harmful act a Muslim carries out is attributed to the teachings of Islam. Is it because such individuals truly believe that Islam teaches hate? If so, is it because they attended schools with Muslims and base their knowledge on what they have learned from Muslims?
Ever since September 11, it seems that many who speak about Islam do so without actual knowledge or experience of Muslims. My Muslim faith prohibits me from offending a Christian in his or her faith. When I read or hear someone read from the Bible, I do so with the knowledge that it is gospel to you.
It is inappropriate for me to read the Bible with the intent of finding material that promotes violence, to take passages out of context or to lift a sentence and claim to understand the whole religion from a single phrase.
I do not believe that it is fitting for me, as a Muslim, to explain Christianity to Muslims. Rather, I prefer to have a Christian explain Christianity to Muslims. For that, I invite Muslims and Christians to host programs where all get a chance to represent their respective faiths. When done properly, such activities promote a greater understanding and a chance to build relations that are built on respect.
As a Muslim, I would venture to say that Christ would want us to speak of things we know, not of things we know not. I am grateful for my non-Muslim friends who often rush to defend and speak well of Islam and Muslims. They know Muslims like I know Christians. To me, those are the ones who are "Christ-like."
Daoud Abudiab is president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn. The article above is drawn from two of his Columns on World Religions at www.EthicsDaily.com and is used with permission. Following the mosque-burning referred to in the article, Daoud’s daughter created this 3 minute video on YouTube: “Am I the Terrorist?”