Since 9/11, Western and Muslim scholarship have characterized the political relationship between the Muslim world and the West as one full of tension and conflict.
Today, fear-based stories about American Muslims have become a daily event, rooted in the notion that Muslims are recent arrivals in America and can’t assimilate; hence, they don’t belong. But for around two million Muslims, America is home.
Is the tension getting any better? Unfortunately, the answer is a firm, “no.” Any acts of terrorism within the United States continue to rekindle the tension and fear within both the Muslim and the non-Muslim American communities.
In this environment, people of faith are called upon to work for reconciliation and to find common ground to allow all of us to live together in peace. In fact, if we are to prevent a much larger disaster from happening, we have no other alternative than to work for better understanding and reconciliation. It is no longer possible to depend solely on America’s long-standing tradition of constitutional rights, tolerance and minority protection.
My Islamic faith has taught me that it is my duty, and I hope the duty of every American of goodwill, to try to work toward peace and true reconciliation. Obviously, there are no guarantees for success as the agenda is often dictated by fanatics. Perhaps, however, it is not that the fanatics are in control, but that we have failed to respond with the love that our Creator has commanded.
After years of trying to build bridges toward others through interfaith dialogue, I thought it would be useful for new bridge builders to have a few insights from my experience on what makes certain efforts work.
True reconciliation requires individuals to identify and establish sufficient common ground with one another to enable both to live together in peace. True reconciliation and peacemaking require nothing less than sincerity of heart. There should never be an effort to show that one faith is better than another.
For reconciliation to be successful, both parties involved in this effort should be willing to show respect to the other and his/her faith, as both religions include worthy inner values that can guide their followers to a life of peace with others. The absence of these basic assumptions will lead to failure. It takes deliberate and sincere effort to walk in the other person’s shoes and understand their perspective.
It will also help if we Muslims do a lot of soul searching and take a critical look at our own values and place on this earth. What is it that we want of ourselves and others?
We need to rise to the occasion by presenting the best that Islam has to offer to our neighbors. Let us humbly examine what the Qur’an requires of us when we engage others in this renewed discussion: “Call people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair counsel, and debate with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; He knows best who is rightly guided” (The Bees 16:125, The Qur’an).
It also asks us to “argue only in the best way with the People of the Book” ... “Say, 'We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; our God and your God are one [and the same]; we are devoted to Him” (The Spider 29:46, The Qur’an).
On the other hand, Christians and Muslims should heed Jesus’ advice when they are reflecting on the second issue that we like to raise within the context of reconciliation. How can leaders on both sides minimize the danger of fanatics on one side and terrorists on the other? Begin, as Jesus said, by noticing the “log in your own (community’s) eye before seeking to point out the speck in anyone else’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
The best way Christians can help Muslims take on their more violent and extreme elements is to address themselves to the “violent and extreme elements” within their own ranks, especially among Islamophobes and white-supremacists. They could do no better than to take on the outspoken individuals of their own world who are promoting a distorted and hateful Christian attitude toward Islam. As a person who believes deeply in the principles of Jesus, I see uninformed Christian rants against Islam as providing fodder for reactionary elements within both religions.
Those who wish for war and not peace among religions are exact mirrors of each other, actually helping each other bring about what they each claim to fear – a state of permanent war. The good news is that enlightened elements in both Islam and Christianity can also help each other by building bridges to understanding and long-term peace and stability.
Evangelicals are much larger in numbers than the Muslims in the U.S. It behooves the followers of Jesus to take to heart his teachings: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Jesus raised this commandment dramatically when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matthew 5:43). He changed “love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) to “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), expanding the range of his followers’ love from the neighborhood to the world.
Jesus also said, “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). This is the Jesus that I know and I love the same way I know and I love Mohammad and his message as revealed in the Qur’an, which also teaches to love one’s enemy: “Good and evil cannot be equal. [Prophet], repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend” (Fussilat 41:34, The Qur’an).
If Christians choose to live by the principles of Jesus, they should find ways to love, serve and honor their Muslim brothers and sisters, who will in turn love them back. Do we need a think tank to study how to show love toward others? Isn’t being kind and showing respect a sure way to accomplish this? Follow Jesus’ example and you’ll find the way.