Over the past several weeks at our church, I have been teaching an adult class on the history and teachings of Islam. We have looked at the life and example of the Prophet, Muhammad. We have examined portions of the Quran. We have studied some of the historical interactions of the Islamic community with both the Christian and Jewish communities around them.
As we have looked at the beliefs of our Muslim sisters and brothers, my class and I have been amazed at how closely their spiritual goals, beliefs and practices match up with ours. Yet, this similarity should not be a surprise. Jews, Muslims and Christians all trace our roots back to Abraham. Likewise, along with Christians, Muslims accept the virgin birth of Jesus, and Mary (Jesus’ mother) is spoken of fondly in the Quran. Even more, within the Quran there is a recognition of the kinship of Islam with Judaism and Christianity.
Unfortunately, because of the human influence within each of our faiths, our shared history over the past centuries has fluctuated from moments of acceptance and cooperation to prejudice and persecution. Sadly, we Christians are just as guilty for the negative aspects of our historical relationship as are our Jewish and Islamic brethren. We are like siblings who, too often, refuse to get along with one another, even as we all work toward the same end: Living out our faith in our day to day lives, following the way of our God.
Christian Pastors, such as John Polis (mentioned in the article in the Times West Virginian on Wednesday, Nov. 11) whose words concentrate on building fear about Muslims rather than fostering understanding, only serve to incite further misunderstanding, persecution and violence towards our Muslim sisters and brothers.
As my class began to realize how much alike we are -- as the class noted how much American Muslims have struggled to remain faithful to their spiritual journey, while also remaining connected to the outside community around them -- as we have begun to recognize their spiritual challenges are not all that different from ours, we have felt both a sense of kinship and admiration toward the Muslim community.
In Mark 12: 30-31 Jesus teaches, "… love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; the second most important commandment is this; love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Good News Bible, Today’s English Version, American Bible Society, 1992).
My adult class felt that, perhaps, we Christians might want to remember this as we deal with our Muslim neighbors. It just seems like it is time for all of us, especially those of us who claim to be people of faith, to stop demonizing everyone who does not think like “me.” The Greek work “agape” used in the Christian New Testament speaks to a love that sees the worth in another…that treats others with respect. Perhaps, if we can put aside our misunderstanding and fear an demonstrate love toward one another, we could be the example of peace rather than the excuse for violence to those outside our faith communities.