We Christians sometimes forget that God did not start with us. The original covenant was with our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews. Through grace and the fullness of time, prophets came bearing the message that salvation is available to all persons, Jew and Gentile. Reasonable people can debate as to whether or not the invitation was always available, and if human consciousness needed to develop before realizing the truth about God’s radical, equalizing love, but the fact remains that we Christians owe a deep debt to our Jewish brothers and sisters.
So, too, do we owe something to our fellow Muslims, who worship the same God as do we, who honor our Messiah Jesus as a central prophet and as foundational to God’s definitive revelation. Too often we forget that Muslims are sons and daughters of Abraham, as are we, and that our faith lives are orientated in the same direction. All Abrahamic faiths emphasize care of the stranger; all promote peace and compassion in the face of a world that values violence and oppression.
To be sure, there are uncomfortable passages in the Tanakh, the Christian Testament, and the Quran. There is violence; there is a sense of spiritual arrogance; there are passages that deem to divide. We cannot deny this, and we must be honest about that which makes others uncomfortable by admitting that it makes us uncomfortable, too.
But I do not see that happening very much right now. I hear a lot of Christians and Jews lambasting extremism in Islam without recognizing it within our own traditions, pulling passages from the Muslim scriptures out of context and presenting them as though the religion demands all adherents to kill the infidel. I hear a lot of people conflating the horrific actions of a small segment of worldwide Muslims with the whole of the faith tradition.
Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and ISIS are no more Islamic than abortion clinic bombers or political assassins are Christian and Jewish. I see a media that is rightly covering the terrifying events in France, but not reporting the work of American Muslims such as witnessed in Detroit, where $100,000 was raised to pay utility bills for people facing service stoppage. Duke University, faced with the decision as to whether or not to allow the adhan, the call to prayer, to be sounded from the chapel tower, recently opted to deny the over 700 Muslim students this experience.
I work as an Interfaith Campus Minister at a large community college in Dayton, Ohio, and one of my great joys is collaborating with our Muslim Student Association. I see the pain and hurt on their faces when they read about the extreme actions taken in the name of their prophet, and I witness their struggles to communicate to others that such violence goes against everything they believe.
As a Christian, I feel that Jesus calls for me—for all of us—to reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters, to listen, to show our support, to lend our voices, to engage in meaningful discussions about what it means to be Muslim in America.
We cannot be afraid of one another; we cannot slip into the easy complacency of distrust; we cannot think that misrepresentation of Islam is simply a Muslim issue. It is not. It is a Christian and Jewish issue as well because we worship the same God. We are bound in a covenant relationship with one another, whether we like it or not. We are connected by a history, one that is replete with great accomplishment and shocking atrocity; we are connected by a promise that God’s people will number like the stars in the sky and the sands of the beach. We do not get to pick and choose who we recognize as being made in the image of God. We are called to see all persons as precious and valuable, eschewing those human-made things that seem to keep us separated.
I call for all Christians to reach out to their local Muslim communities. Make an appointment; go to public event; invite people to a meal; help being a conversation that will advance understanding and cooperation. I believe that is what Jesus would be doing right now.
The Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, currently serving First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, a More Light PC (USA) congregation in Ohio. An academic, Aaron has taught at numerous universities and is best known for his book, The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide. He is passionate about social justice and interfaith, ecumenical work. He also serves as Interfaith Campus Minister at Sinclair Community College.