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'Are You a Good Muslim or a Bad Muslim?'

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A version of this post was originally published on the State of Formation.

"Are you a good Muslim or a bad Muslim?" asked a Christian parishioner to a visiting Muslim who was interested in learning more about Christianity. Although the parishioner tried to pass off this question as a joke, it has served for me as the paradigmatic question that reflects many Americans' suspicion and ignorance with regard not only to the Muslim faith, but to the diverse group of people who identify as Muslim.

The fact that this question could be asked OUT LOUD to a GUEST of a Christian Church demonstrates a deep and pervasive understanding, in the status quo culture of the United States, that expressions of Islamophobia are not taboo, but actually to be expected.

This is a situation that becomes more clear with a quick perusal of situations across the country involving the discrimination and humiliation of individual Muslims. One high school teacher in Texas felt comfortable enough to address his ninth grade student during class saying:  "I bet that you're grieving ... " the day after Osama bin Laden's death. Jim Scharnagel in Gainsville, FL felt justified in congratulating the pilots who refused to fly a plane while two Muslim leaders were aboard in his letter to the editor to the Gainesville Times on May 13th, 2011: "There's no way to tell which Muslims seek to do us harm". Scharnagel offers his solution to protect us (by us he means...?) from terrorism:  "we have to ... get the Muslims out of the U.S."

Some might argue that these are isolated incidents of ignorance and hate, I think they are signs of a much greater and gracious acceptance of an underlying tendency of many in the United States to see Islam as a violent religion.  Affiliates of said violent religion, therefore, at the very least should be interrogated about whose side they are on (if they are good or bad Muslims) and possibly be asked to leave (or eradicated?) from American soil ... in order to keep us (again us who?) safe.

But I have to say, on the other side of the spectrum ... I've also been irritated at a recent certain form of Christian moralistic discourse surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden -- basically asking the question: "What Would Jesus Do -- dance on bin Laden's grave or not?" There have been several blog posts and tweets urging restraint with regard to such celebration. Many express a definitiveness about what God has to say about the subject and condemn those who have different reactions. I do not want to make this another post about bin Laden except to say ... enough with, what Rob Rynders calls, Practicing a Fashionable Peace and let's get to work doing peace, as C. Nikole Saulsberry calls us to do in her recent post on The State of Formation.

For those Christians with an interest in going beyond platitudes and doing peace ... I find that often when we are faced with such a difficult task --like fighting Islamophobia in the United States, for example, can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. That's why it is often much easier to sum up how we feel in tweets or blog posts, but then never actually do much to change the current situation. May I suggest to you, and to those of our Muslim and Jewish counterparts, the practice of Scriptural Reasoning as a starting point towards possible peace and making a safe place for all (note: not 'us').

Scriptural Reasoning, as I wrote about in a previous post on The State of Formation, is a practice that depends on one of the central particularities of these faiths -- their scriptures -- as a starting point of dialogue. The invitation to read and discuss each others' sacred text unites participants not as people who have the same beliefs, but rather, as people who are in relationship. This type of peace building is slow, but effective.  It helps to tear down assumptions we have been fed by society and replaces them with actual conversations and debates had between flesh-and-blood human beings.

In order to practice Scriptural Reasoning one must go through training. This training is a sort of discipleship into a new habit of dialogue, a new practice of peace. For three days participants do Scriptural Reasoning with the help of a seasoned facilitator. The next training for Scriptural Reasoning is being held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, June 25, 2011 -- Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Please click here for more information about the training and how to register.

Perhaps many Christians would not ask a Muslim visitor if he or she was a good or bad Muslim, but it should be our Christian duty not only to be polite to those who differ from us, but to love them as Christ loved us.  This type of love does not get expressed through silence, cold tolerance or even friendly sentiments, but through active engagement and dialogue.  The scriptures document that in the early Christian church this love shone through in the way the community lived:

All who believed were together and had all things in common;they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds-to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home-and ate their food with glad and generous-hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I do not advocate that we mimic some romanticized version of the early Christian Church, instead I advocate that whatever it is we do as Christians that we do it ... praising God and having the good will of all the people. Let us continue in this tradition by taking up practices that demonstrate God's love for the world ... not through judgement or control but through incarnational engagement and relationship. For it is only through intentional practices, such as Scriptural Reasoning, that evils such as Islamophobia will be eradicated ... and interrogation, even in jest, of Muslim guests in Christian spaces will be made unthinkable.