360-Degree Love

04/04/2017 11:31 am ET

The reaction to my article “Promoting Muslim/Christian Reconciliation” encouraged me to shed more light on the reconciliation process. What is the next step? What should people do to get involved in a reconciliation effort? Who is qualified to engage in this kind of activity?

First of all, when I proclaimed the two love commandments to be the basis for reconciliation, I did so with the theological backing of many Muslim and Christian leaders[1].

I also proclaimed that reconciliation is relational. An examination of this statement is necessary so that we can better understand how to start the reconciliation process and how we should proceed.

The first commandment concerns itself with loving God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s mind. This commandment is about each person’s relationship with their Creator. In that sense, it addresses a private relationship, one that is only known and fully understood and appreciated between the individual and their Creator. While this relationship needs nurturing, it will always remain essentially private. Though both Muslims and Christians worship the same God, it is not within the realm of reconciliation at this critical time, to discuss the nature of God.

Both Muslims and Christians accept the first commandment’s teaching. In the New Testament, Jesus said: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

The Qur’an similarly teaches: “Such is God, your Lord, there is no God but Him, the Creator of everything. Worship Him alone.” (6:102)

Getting involved beyond the point of accepting the oneness of God, moving to a discussion of His nature, should not be the task of those seeking reconciliation at this time. My proposal is that we leave it out of the reconciliation effort and focus upon the second commandment.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan[2] Jesus is saying that those you perceive as your enemies can, in fact, become your friends. In reality, everyone you encounter on your journey through life is your neighbor and should be loved.

But how do you love your neighbor? Do we wait until we encounter someone on the side of the road who has been attacked by terrorists? More relevant is how does an American Muslim love his Christian, Jewish or atheist neighbor? How does one love his/her colleagues at work? Can one love others if he/she does not love themselves? How can you give what you don’t have? Have you made peace with yourself through submitting and loving your Creator and accepting the unique person you are?

How can we encourage an average American who is becoming suspicious of everyone who looks Muslim to love her Muslim neighbors, especially when the media are amplifying her fear and her needs for assurances of safety are not being met?

This ongoing process started after 9/11 when the bottled-up fear of some Americans turned into hatred and bigotry toward the distrusted other. Those who are experiencing this fear are turning against the others who in their mind became the enemy. This enemy can be anyone who does not look like them or who claims to be a Muslim.

The quality of the relationship between you and your self is paramount, for all your other relationships are based on it. It establishes a working model of how to give and receive love. Hence the importance of the first commandment. If you aren’t anchored in your love to God and in your knowledge that God loves you and He will protect you in times of woe, fear will take hold and hatred toward others will follow.

Relational needs grow out of human interaction, and being aware of these needs in us and in others can help develop and nurture human relationships. Being aware of these needs can also help us gain insight into the feelings, behaviors and motivations in ourselves and others. So loving your neighbor is about understanding your neighbors’ needs and meeting them to the best of your ability.

On the other hand, American Muslims have been for years experiencing an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that lately has turned into hate crimes. They are now living in real fear. They have emotional needs that aren’t met and they need assurances of safety that they are not getting. When relational needs are not met, they become more intense, more pressing, and are experienced as emptiness, a longing, or a nagging loneliness. Some people become frustrated, angry or aggressive in the face of unmet needs, or they may become depressed, losing energy and hope. Hence the importance of Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Yet Jesus, the Bible and Prophet Muhammad prescribed the cure for all this fear felt all around us. “Love your neighbor like yourself,” Jesus said.

The Bible teaches: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:31 ESV).

Prophet Muhammad, teaching along the same line, instructed the governor-to-be of Yemen: “Be mindful if an oppressed person is calling God for justice, as there is no screen between his call and God” (Sahih Bukhari).

Loving our neighbor is a command given to us by Jesus Christ and confirmed centuries later by the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions have taught all along that this command falls into the realm of good ethics. However, Jesus Christ went further and proclaimed that to Love God and your neighbor summarized all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:34-40).

I am proposing that there is more to the two commands than an order for simple good behavior. Perhaps they are the basis God gave us to build a healthy and a prosperous society. Their inherent value is significantly broader than the common conception of right and wrong. They might be the gateway to “the good life,” the life worth living, held by many philosophers to be more important than traditional moral conduct. It is in relationships that we find out who we are as humans, and what matters most in life. Relationships are at the heart of faith, reflecting the fact that we as humans have been created as social creatures. Jesus identified the central message of the law and prophets relationally.

A relational focus entails that we place love as our highest priority above orthodoxy, placing righteousness over being right. The mark of good doctrine is the fruit it bears. A relational faith cares more about relationships and people than it does about being right. In fact a theology that is unloving is not right. Of the necessity of love for the neighbor, Prophet Muhammad said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”

One can go through life trying to be the best one can according to materialistic ends, the wealthiest, the most powerful, or instead, become what God has created one to be, a loving and humble servant to others. This is best expressed in one of the fondest prayers of the Prophet Muhammad “My Lord, I ask you for Your love, and for the love of everyone who loves You, and for the love of everything that will bring me closer to Your love”.

So what is the next step? Take a deep look inside and make sure your heart is reconciled to your Creator. Then you can then take a look around you and love your neighbors. This will include loving people whom you don’t like at all. Liking likable people does not require any effort. It is the people that you don’t like that you need to pray for and ask God to forgive and to bring to the straight path. This is the true essence of 360 degree love.

What is the end result that we should look forward to? To stop propagating hatred and to start encouraging love will turn the United States again into a country of neighbors, a model society for others to imitate. It turns each citizen into a servant to his community and a leader.

Who is qualified to engage in this kind of activity? You and I, everyone who has a personal relationship with God and everyone we have a relationship with, can participate. It is a vertical relationship with God and 360 degrees of horizontal relationship with others.

In short, all of us are qualified to engage in reconciliation. God loves us all, shouldn’t we do the same? Isn’t it time we replace the culture of despair, division and violence with a culture of hope, inclusion and peace? If we don’t do it for us, we owe it to our children and grandchildren.

[1] http://www.acommonword.com/signatories/

[2] This parable is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37.

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