In the last week, Imam Yaseen and I have been in the public eye quite a bit. On Tuesday afternoon, we appeared on a radio show together; on Wednesday evening, Channel 8 aired a brief news report featuring the two of us. Most of the reaction has been positive, but not all. While in the office yesterday, I received a phone call from a person I did not know and who was not from my congregation. Here is a reconstruction of that conversation:
Woman: I saw the report about you on the news last night, and I was really disturbed by your statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, because we certainly don’t. They have their own Bible, and they believe in Mohammed. You need to be very careful what you say in public — Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same God!
Me: With all due respect, according to their own scriptures, Muslims acknowledge that they worship the one and only God, the God of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, and Jesus. That’s the same God that we Christians worship, I think.
Woman: But do they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he came to save us from our sins?
Me: No, ma’am. That is one of our differences. Please understand that I’m not debating theology with Muslims. There are significant theological differences between the two faiths; I’m not denying that. I am not seeking to convert to Islam, and I am not seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity. I am simply trying to build bridges between two communities. I’m reaching out to get to know my neighbors.
Woman: I understand that you want to reach out, but have you ever thought about reaching out to the families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks?
Me: I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that has to do with anything…
Woman: Well, don’t you know what kind of people were flying the planes that flew into the World Trade Center? They were Muslims!
Me: That was their professed faith, yes. But did you realize that there are a billion and a half Muslims in the world, and that very, very few of those Muslims agree with, or sympathize with, terrorists and religious extremists? Every Muslim I know was horrified by what happened, just as you were. Those actions were committed by a terrorist organization called al-Qaeda, not by Islam.
Woman: If you really want to reach out and be friendly to someone, why not the Jews? After all, the Bible is full of commandments telling us that we must protect them. We need to stand with Israel against their enemies.
Me: Yes, ma’am, I think it’s important to reach out to people of all faiths, but it’s my observation that Muslims are the ones whom Americans treat with the most suspicion and skepticism.
Woman: But the Bible doesn’t tell us to reach out to Muslims, does it? I know my Bible, and I don’t think it ever tells us that we are to be friendly to Muslims.
Me: No, the Bible doesn’t say anything about Islam, because Mohammed wasn’t born until over 600 years after Jesus.
Woman: Well, I think if God had wanted us to be friendly to them, he would have included it in our Bible as a prophecy. There are lots of things included in the Bible as prophesies, things that foretell the end of the world. God could have made a reference to Muslims in the Bible, but he didn’t.
Me: It’s very simple. We’re supposed to treat others as we want to be treated, according to Jesus. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
Woman: Hmmm … well, you liberal preachers are all the same … (click)
I know I didn’t make much headway with that woman, but it didn’t sound like she was interested in opening her heart to a different way of thinking anyway. She was only concerned with making a point with me, with expressing her anger at me. She only views Islam as a threat, as a danger to her own freedom and her own system of belief. I am afraid that there are many Americans just like her, who think the same way.
But engaging with such people and arguing on their terms doesn’t really seem to make much of a difference. They have made up their minds and closed their hearts.
Instead, change will only come as more and more of us, Christians and Muslims, reach out across the divide, grab hands, set aside our differences, share meals together, protect each others’ rights, attend school functions together, serve on City Councils together, pray for each other, and genuinely appreciate each other. Is that really asking too much?