“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matt 5:44-45
This is Jesus at His most radical and challenging. It isn’t enough to love our neighbors as ourselves. We also have to love our enemies, those that actually seek to do us harm. It is clearly only God’s job to figure out who is evil and who is good. It is our job to be grateful to those we fear or hate because they are the ones who help us discover our bias and weakness. If we strive to be perfect, this is how we’re going to get there.
As far as our attitude to Muslims is concerned, we have a long way to go.
I read a disturbing letter to the editor in the Toledo Blade. It was in response to an column by a Toledo Muslim regarding the Christian myopia which seems to affect our foreign policy and re-enforce the notion that our Christian nation is really out to defeat Islam rather than just responding to attacks from bin Laden.
There is a frightening ignorance in this country of Islam. It is this ignorance which some politicians and fundamentalists have used to demonize all Muslims. It is also this ignorance which causes fear in those who distrust what they don’t know. This is just as wrong as when we try to blame illegal immigrants, African Americans, Japanese, Germans, Jews, or the Irish for all our problems.
Islam is a beautiful religion of devotion and commitment. If more Christians could get past their pride and self-righteousness, they would find this out on their own. Islam means surrender. Devout Muslims surrender their life to God in ways that Christians only imagine. The daily prayer and prostration to Jerusalem is part of this process of demonstrating obedience as well as piety. The only analogy I can come up with in Christianity is kneeling, but it is so much more than that. I can tell you with no need to check the statistics, that there are way more Muslims on their knees in prayer every day than Christians, yet there is still the sense in this country that Muslims are primitive and violent.
Much has been made of the position of women in some Muslim societies. The reality is that both the Koran and the Bible have been used to subjugate women. There are many Christian religions where women have an institutionalized subservient role. There are also modern Muslim countries where women participate in all aspects of the economy in much the same ways as they do in this country. I would submit that this is a cultural issue and not a religious one.
Detroit has a large Muslim population. Some cities and schools responding to that demand have added features to public facilities to wash hands and feet in preparation for prayer. In my mind this is no different than adding changing tables or handicapped facilities to rest rooms. It is the sort of loving response to individual needs that one would expect from a open free society. It’s also a practical solution to the challenges posed by Muslims trying to use public sinks for this purpose. Instead conservatives have latched onto this as just another example of soft-headed liberalism. The thought goes, “How can we be accommodating Muslims in this country when we are waging a war against them in the Middle East?” or “Why are we spending money to make it easier for Muslims to pray when we can’t spend money to support Christian prayer in public schools?”
The Koran, on the other hand, teaches tolerance and respect for all of the world’s religions. That respect includes prohibiting evangelizing those who already have committed to another religion. Those that come to Islam, have to come of their own free will. The Koran has a wonderful term for Jews and Christians. We are “People of the Book”. They have much more respect for the Bible than we do the Koran. They view us brothers and sisters because we have the same father.
Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way — except in the case of those of them who do wrong — saying, “We have faith in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him” (29:46).
The Koran also counsels against aggression of any sort. Muslims are instructed to strike only after they have been struck. Only when they are so threatened that their life may be at risk do they have the choice of being aggressive. Then they are encouraged to fight whole heartedly. When the opponent surrenders, however, Muslims are obliged to accept whatever terms are offered without negotiation, embrace their enemy, and seek as quickly as possible a return to peaceful existence.
These basic Muslim teachings have obviously been perverted by fundamentalism. So has Christianity. All of the worlds great religions grew in response to violence and found their voice in offering people an alternative to the endless cycle of revenge and retaliation. It was their intent to remove violence from society. Fundamentalism, however, seeks to distort these teachings and divides the world between believers and non-believers. This view justifies violence in the misguided cause of defending the faith.
Just as no one person speaks for all Christians, no one person speaks for all Muslims. One of the common myths is that Muslims have not condemned the excesses of extremism in their religion. Just as Christian leaders have condemned violence at abortion clinics and gay bars, muslim leaders around the world have condemned the violence directed at the United Stated by bin Laden inspired forces.
The sooner that we condemn this notion that we are engaged in a conflict between good and evil or Christianity and Islam, the sooner that we will be able to embrace the notion that the Koran and the Bible provide all of the guidance we need to solve this conflict. All we are lacking is leaders with the humility and obedience to actually follow the teachings in the books they claim to defend.
It may well be that God will restore the love between you and those of them who are now your enemies. God is All-Powerful. God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful (60:7).