When I was teaching Confirmation in my first call, I made it a point for students to encounter and engage others who did not share our particular faith tradition. As part of the 8th grade curriculum, the students would read about various denominations and religions and each month we would do a different worship visit. My promise to the parents was always that we wouldn’t go to places where their children might be condemned or converted. The Jewish synagogue and Muslim mosque were two places I was extra intentional about us visiting. I encouraged families to join us for any of the visits—because education, I believe, starts and stops at home. Like clockwork, each year as we neared our visit to the mosque, there was always at least one parent (most often more) who was hesitant about their child attending. Pastor, I’m not so sure So-and-So should go. And yet following each of those visits to the mosque—being graciously welcomed in, shown unmatched hospitality, sharing in prayer, and given opportunity to ask any and all questions—parents and students alike voiced their humble change of heart. I thought it was going to be like… I was wrong in believing… I had been so scared because of the news, but now… I learned that we’re actually alike on… I’m so glad we went there and learned… It was in and through these such visits that I saw some of the greatest transformation in our students and their families. Ignorance enlightened. Fears dismantled. Hearts opened to others different and yet the same. Worldviews broadened to now view the stranger as a beloved neighbor. What some initially questioned as jeopardizing job security, was actually further enriching our own particular faith. How can we truly appreciate what we believe as Christians if we do not see both the similarities and distinctions between us and those of other traditions? Might we be surprised to learn that the media paints a less than perfect picture of some religions and their adherents? What if our differences are less than what we share in common? I believe how we engage with others speaks volumes of our own faith.
Indeed, from the outside looking in it can appear that much is different between Christianity and Islam. And in some cases that’s true. Yet, we also share some core tenets worth lifting up. We both (along with Judaism) believe in the same monotheistic God. While Christians do confess a Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), all three religions look to the same one God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. For Muslims, Allah is the Arabic word for God, just as Elohim is the Hebrew word for God. Our faith lineages converge in Abraham. Jews and Christians trace our heritage through Abraham’s son, Isaac; whereas Muslims trace theirs in Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, whom he had with Sarah’s slave girl Hagar. From this standpoint, we are literally siblings with one another. The Quran, the central religious text for Islam, shares much in common with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Gospels of the New Testament. Figures like Adam, Moses, David, Solomon, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (to name a few) can be found in the Muslim scripture and are considered holy prophets deserving honor. When a Muslim parishioner says the name of a prophet, often it will be followed with the statement, Peace be upon her/him, as a means of reverence. Though the differences in understanding of who Jesus is and his purpose are significant and should not be glossed over, the Messiah is an undeniable unifier between us. Even the five pillars of Islam—creed (Shahadah), daily prayers (Salah), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting (Sawm), and pilgrimage (Hajj)—can be translated, more or less, across in the core tenets/practices of Christianity. Inherently, Islam is a religion of peace and submission, arguably more so than that of Christianity. Now, none of this is to say we are one in the same. Islam and Christianity (Judaism for that matter) have their differences—increasingly so when one looks at the various sects and breadth of doctrines within each religion. Yet, our commonalities, our shared beliefs and traditions—great and small—cannot, and should not, be overlooked. What, or perhaps I should say Who, binds us together is far greater than that which distinguishes us.
As I see and hear in the news that this past Friday a white supremacist murdered fifty parishioners and injured at least fifty others between two mosques, Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, in Christchurch, New Zealand, the irony is not missed. Terrorism against Muslims in a community bearing an unmistakably Christian name. And yet, I wonder how much of this man’s hateful ideology—whether personally or socially—has been influenced by the church, religion in general, and a total misunderstanding of our siblings’ faith. We’ve been so conditioned to fear Islamic extremists, and yet this senseless massacre (among countless others) demonstrates an extremism we write-off or overlook as rare: white nationalists. There’s good people on both sides, right? My heart is both broken and simultaneously filled with rage towards this (routine) wickedness. Any form of hate towards another—thought, word, or despicable deed—is not faith, but only sin as a result of idolatry. Hear me loud and clear: I’m not debating the truth claims of one tradition over against another. What I am saying is that we are neither enemies nor oppositional to our Muslim sisters and brothers. We are sisters and brothers—whether see, realize, accept it, or not. Just as the whole body of Christ pains at the sufferings of even one of its members, today we (should) ache at the news of our Islamic siblings being gunned down in their places of worship—the blood of children, women, and men staining their holy spaces. We must stand in diametric opposition to anyone who threatens, pursues, or carries out violence against another—regardless their beliefs. The love of God both begins before and extends well beyond the church door—enveloping all God’s people. God mourns for all Allah’s children. As Christians, we are called to work for peace and unity throughout the world. This is not converting or condemning those who think or believe differently than us. It means dialogue—listening and learning from another. It means gathering together—sharing both meals and prayers together. It means looking at and loving the other as a brother or sister—bearing the image of God, the Lord of all. It means working towards the well being of all people—regardless color or creed.
– Pastor Andrew