Young Abdullah says his final prayers. His resolve strengthens. Twisting and turning, looking up and down his body, he makes sure that the vest is properly hidden. Pleased with himself and his disguise, he feels that unless the authorities look closely, they won’t suspect that beneath his robe and behind his brightly colored case filled with bags of still-warm popcorn is a ring of explosives designed to maim and kill. He’s ready. Ready to die while fighting in the cause of Allah. With the warped sounds of the extremist voices still echoing in his ears he bends his steps toward a busy concert in Pakistan. Moments later, the screams piercing the darkness proclaim his success.
In Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, France, Germany, and even the United States, neighborhoods are being shattered, businesses are being destroyed, and families are being ripped apart. No matter when I write this article, within the weeks it takes to publish it there will be other tragic examples of terrorism.
Adding to this reality of terror, we now find ourselves living in the greatest time of massive people movements from one place to another. Refugees are fleeing war, political unrest, and terrorism. Broken, hungry people are desperately seeking a place to survive. Many governments are facing the challenge of resettling these millions of people. Whole nations are in disarray. At the same time, there’s the problem of terrorists infiltrating unnoticed among the many refugees who are legitimately seeking to escape the harsh conditions of war and the rigid lifestyle that Muslim fundamentalists are imposing on them. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that the fear of terrorists has struck a deep root in the hearts of those who live in the more peaceful Western world. And this fear easily turns into hatred of “the enemy.”
Hatred eats away at the soul of the one holding it. Christians believe in a God of love, so we can’t hate and at the same time love God and each other. We need to remember the words of Jesus’ disciple John, who said that “whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
This is not the time to pull back because of fear and hatred. While it’s appropriate for governments to take steps to prevent terrorists from infiltrating their countries, as Christians, we need to seriously consider how we should relate to the Muslims we meet or who live in our neighborhoods. As terror attacks in the Western world increase, it’s easy to think of Muslims as our enemies. And that’s a good thing, because it tells us how we should relate to them: Jesus said, “Love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44, NKJV).* I suggest three ways we can do that.
1. Meet the needs of Muslims
Jesus told a parable about sheep and goats, comparing the sheep to His true followers and the goats to those who claim to be His followers but are not. And what distinguished the two groups from each other? Jesus said that the sheep make friends with strangers, and they give food to people who are hungry, water to those who are thirsty, and clothes to those who don’t have enough to wear (Matthew 25:35, 36).
An excellent example of this is the story of Shoaib and Mahrukh Ahmad, a Muslim husband and wife, who were visiting relatives in New York last March when they received a phone call from their apartment manager in Fairfax County, Virginia. He told them that their apartment had been burglarized. They rushed home to find the place a mess. Everything worth more than $100 was gone, and pages torn from their Koran littered the floor. The couple had only recently moved to the United States from Dubai, and their first reaction was to return.
But then their neighbors stepped in. They brought food, helped them clean the house, and babysat their children. The family estimated that their losses were well over $25,000, but a woman they hadn’t even met helped them raise more than $10,000. Mahrukh said, “We were shocked. Complete strangers, and they’re doing that for us! We feel so loved!” And her husband said, “It’s important not to let these kinds of things have an impact on you, because that’s when hatred wins. We are not running away!”
If you have Muslim neighbors who seem to be a bit timid or standoffish, take the initiative to make friends. Find ways to help them. Treat them the way the Bible says Jesus treated people: with love and kindness.
2. Get acquainted with Muslims
Another way to break down the wall of hostility between Christians and Muslims is to get together in small groups to visit, and don’t be afraid to share each other’s religious beliefs. A good example of this is a group of Muslims and Christians in Tennessee who, for several years, have been meeting just to be friends and understand each other. Breaking through the barriers of ignorance, hatred, and fear, they’ve forged relationships based on friendship and love. They examine the picture of God that’s shown in their respective texts, and they seek to emulate the attributes of love, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness that they find revealed there. Instead of misusing their scriptures and disconnecting them from their context, which all fundamentalist groups must do in order to justify their hatred, this group seeks to know God better and to make Him known in their respective communities. They’re working against the hatred and fear between Christians and Muslims that unfortunately is so common in today’s world.
For a number of years I lived in Indonesia, which is home to more Muslims than any other country in the world. For a long time Indonesia has been known for its moderate Islamic population. Unfortunately, that image is being challenged by the religious hatred that’s overtaking the world. Recently, someone discharged a bomb in Bandung in the hope of reigniting Islamic fundamentalist claims. Yet in that very town and around the country there’s a different movement growing. Young people are refusing to speak the language of hatred. They’re choosing to move forward through interfaith cooperative groups, sowing seeds of hope, peace, and love. Instead of focusing on creedal differences between their religions (often not even taught by their own respective books), they choose to meet, study, pray, and serve together. Their very act of serving together invites more people to join them in this much needed work. Their bold acts of love and service display a different way of preemptively diffusing future bombs.
Then there’s the case of the Seventh-day Adventist congregation in El Cajon, California, that invited the Muslims in their community to share a worship service with them. Posters advertising the event were placed in mosques and Adventist churches in the area, and Muslim leaders were included in the programming. “I loved this experience and would enjoy having another panel discussion,” said Amir Imam from the Al Salam Mosque. Another Muslim said he would like to learn more about Christianity and what Christians believe about Muslims.
Events such as these help to break down the fear that each side feels toward the other, and this in turn leads to a stronger, safer community.
3. Be a voice for moderation
Most Christians are very vocal in condemning the violence and intolerance that’s being perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists. What many are not aware of is that moderate Islamic voices are also condemning these atrocities. Recently I listened to a recording of the challenging book Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, by Karima Bennoune. I was moved with horror and outrage as she chronicled the human rights abuses, the terrorist acts, and the religious bigotry that’s raging throughout the Islamic world. But I was also moved to tears later in her book as she shared story after story of people who refused to cave to the demands of the Islamic fundamentalists. Just as most Christians do not consider the actions or teachings of the Ku Klux Klan to be reflective of their faith or of the teachings of Jesus and would refuse to give it any acceptance, these Muslims are boldly proclaiming that terrorists do not represent their faith. Some of them have even sealed their commitment to peace and freedom with their lives.
Ten years ago the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think gave numbers to those voices. In the most “comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done” John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed related the hard, statistical facts from a multiyear Gallup poll in the years following 9/11 that engaged Muslims from 35 nations representing nearly 90 percent of the Islamic world. They found that less than 7 percent of Muslims could be called politically radicalized and, therefore, more likely to use violence to advance their goals. The other 93 percent should be considered the moderate voices in their views of Islam and their desire for peaceful coexistence with others.
So how should Christians and Muslims relate to each other? Both groups need by all means to be aware of the threat of terrorism and report any suspicious activity that they see. But far more important is to avoid prejudice, fear, and hatred. If you’re a Muslim reading this article, I urge you to join the large number of your fellow Muslims in condemning the violence that’s being done in the name of your religion. And if you’re a Christian, don’t let fear and hatred of Muslims poison your heart. Remember Jesus’ advice that we should love our enemies, and turn whatever fear or antagonism we have into loving deeds for Muslims.
Please, join me in halting the hatred and fear between Christians and Muslims that’s growing in our world. Let God’s love cast out your fear. Speak out against hatred wherever you recognize it. Choose to build bridges instead of walls. Encourage and connect with the moderate voices of Islam, and be children of peace in a world of war. Let God’s love shine from your hearts. Start loving and serving instead of separating and labeling. Only then can we hope to halt this harvest of hatred that’s festering in our world.
* Bible texts in this article are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.