Thursday, September 09, 2010

An offense to Islam and to Christ

I consider this site a place where I as a professional person can formulate some of my ideas and concerns and questions about the world, mostly [my region of interest] about the Middle East, Central and South Asia. But I believe a certain affair is so outrageous that I must somehow speak out to the few people I know who look at this blog in terms that reveal more about my personal moral orientation than I normally would place on this site. But the issue demands, I think, an expression of outrage from the position of an insider. So I here share a letter I sent out to a list of personal friends, all of them Christians like myself. For that reason it is written in the language of a Christian. Forgive me.

In the last few years many of us have wondered why the main line of Muslims have not denounced the radical Takfiri Muslims who have hijacked Islam in order to justify their own heinous behavior – the senseless murder of innocent folks, most of them in fact Muslims like themselves, some of them, I suppose, more pious and devote than themselves. We have asked why more Muslims have failed to speak up against them? (Actually, there is a growing chorus of Muslims actually doing this: Note for exam the “New Age Islam” website.)

Now it’s our turn, those of us who identify with Christ, with his life and teachings, and claim his sufferings for the sin of the world as the ground of our own acceptance before God. A shameful event is about to take place: an otherwise undistinguished person who claims to be a minister of the gospel is planning to mark the attack of 9/11 by burning the Quran publicly. It’s now time for us to speak up against such an offense to the Muslim world and in fact to the gospel.

Since when is deliberate provocation a witness of the love of Christ? When did open and public scorn of the sacred symbols of other folks become a vehicle of Christian testimony to a world already deeply torn by conflict and hatred? How is it Christ-like to insult those we disagree with? If this pathetic figure considers Muslims his enemy, Christ has given him a specific command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you.” He would do better to regard the Muslims of the world – of whom many must be within walking distance of his own house – as neighbors. And again in that case Christ has given him a specific command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is not Christian to parade our religious zeal. Of all the kinds of people Jesus dealt with only one group did he attack with bitter scorn, the religious leaders who paraded their piety. “Woe to you, blind guides!” “You blind fools…”, “Woe to you, .. hypocrites, for you cleanse the outside of the cup, but inside you are full of extortion and rapacity.” “You are like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones.” “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” No wonder they killed him.

Instead, Jesus taught that we should avoid the ways of the outwardly pious, “who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.” Rather, we should pray in secret to the Father who sees in secret. If we fast we should fast in secret, never to parade our piety before the world. It is easy to display our self-righteousness, but the true display of God’s character in the world is, as the scriptures say, through “love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

So this affair is also a provocation against the Christ to gave himself for us, against his offer of love and forgiveness to the world.

I urge all my Christian friends to speak up against this outrage against the Savior whose sufferings and display of kindness to us delivered us from our many sins and called us to live upright lives to represent him during his absence from the world.

The problem we all have – everyone in the world now – is that we are being ever more closely crunched up against each other. The world has been getting smaller for a long time but the process has accelerated in the last few years and will continue to accelerate as the technologies of communication and transport improve and become more widely available. All over the world people are responding by retrenching, claiming to return to values now threatened by the new situation: Not only the Takfiri Muslims, but the Hindutva movement in India, etc. This changing world provides a new challenge to Christians to find creative ways to display the character of the Savior they claim to represent. To that end, I would encourage us all to avoid insulting those we don’t agree with. We need instead to listen to them, and all the more so if we are to display the qualities of Christian character that the scriptures call us to. Indeed, as human beings all human beings, the scriptures say, share much common ground; the differences in appearance masque that commonality. It seems fair to say that if the Christianity we espouse is to gain respect in the world it has to be through a display of the character of a God who took the initiative to reach out to a world in need by allowing himself to be tortured and scorned, and to hurt as human beings are hurt. If we listen to them, come to understand their issues, our time to speak will come, and in any case our opportunity to display the character of God in the world exists in every situation. There is no lack of opportunity to show the “fruit” of the spirit. Let us call upon all those who want to hold forth Christ to a world that broken, “Let all men know your forbearance” (Phil 4:5). This is the love of Christ.

ADDENDUM: For those who want to see evidence that Muslim leaders have decried extremism among Muslims here are two sites that will direct you to what has been said by a number of notable scholars in a formal, public letter to the Pope and other leaders associated with Christianity in the West.

A Common Word:

On the response and subsequent interactions:

Also see:

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