If you follow particular streams in the blogosphere, then you will notice how themes emerge- particular issues that crop up here and there. Not surprising really, as we are attracted to those with like interests, and new ideas are viral. At worst this can feel like self congratulatory hot air.
But sometimes there is a feeling that issues arise that are beyond merely like minded people feeding off one another. Some things just feel important, and right- I suppose you could say that there is something of the Spirit mixed in there- speaking into this time and place.
I have this feeling about all the discussion about how we as Christians should engage with Muslim brothers and sisters.
Check out this excellent and provocative podcast by Samir Salmanovic, called ‘finding our God in the other.‘
One of the crucial issues facing Christians around the world today is finding the right balance in our response to the various challenges posed by Islam and engagement with Muslims. The quest for an appropriate Christian response to Islam and engagement with Muslims has sadly polarized Christians along evangelical vs. liberal, truth vs. grace, or confrontational vs. conciliatory lines.
As an African, my own struggle is the way these positions are presented as absolutes in either/or categories. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City (9/11), the Iraq war, the Madrid bombings, etc., the division among Christians has deepened. Reflecting on the situation, Joseph Cummings talks of a titanic struggle going on in the heavenly realms—a struggle not between Muslims and Christians or between Islam and the West, but “a struggle within Christianity itself, a struggle for the soul of the Christian faith.”1
What Cummings is suggesting, and I couldn’t agree more, is that Islam per se is not necessarily the greatest challenge facing Christians today, but rather how Christians choose to respond to Islam. There seems to be a general consensus that we should be talking about Christian responses rather than “response” to Islam.
I tend to agree- for the following reasons-
There is a perception (which I think is far more imaged than real) of a western democratic capitalism under direct attack from Islamic extremism. Terrorist attacks in New York and London, despotic regimes in Iran and Afghanistan, Israel surrounded by Islamic cultures that breed terror and appear to place no value on the life of innocents.
There is truth here. Islamic terrorists have killed and maimed. Islamic governments seeking to reinstate a primitive version of Sharia law have indeed behaved in despicable ways. Israel has been under attack from neighbouring states since 1948.
But- anyone who seeks to look behind the tabloid headlines will be forced to acknowledge the possibility of contradictory evidence and perspectives. Of thousands killed by western soldiers fighting what has all the appearance of a Crusade against the heathen hordes. Raining down techno-terror on villages and refugee camps. Manipulating and propping up despotic regimes in order to keep the oil taps wide open and flowing westwards. You may look at the sheer numbers of dead Muslims killed by both fellow Muslims and the armies of the West, and compare this to our own losses, terrible as each loss is.
We may also be forced to remember a historical perspective that takes and honest look back at the development of our own modern Christian states- of politics of hate fueled by extremist Christians- hate against heretics, or people with black skins. Civil wars, inquisitions and Pogroms. Of how Sharia compares to Puritanical fervours of our own, and how distorted versions of Jihad can be compared to concepts of a Just War.
Some would also point us to the vacant role left in the international power play by the collapse of Communism- and the need to replace the reds under the bed with… something other, external, alien and less than human, wearing a semtex vest and carrying a copy of the Qu’ran. Something to distract and unify us behind our Governments- according to the conspiracy theorists at least.
But despite this, a rather warped but pervasive view of all things Muslim, and all things Islamic, persists. Perhaps this is because of our ignorance. Ignorance of Islamic faith, and Muslim culture. Ignorance of the rich and wonderful cultural heritage. Ignorance of the serial injustice that some Muslim people have experienced for generations, and of how this has been the fertile subsoil for extremism.
And where ignorance and distorted views of reality interact with a Christian faith that demonises rather than seeks to understand, I start to feel that we Christians are losing the way of Jesus, and joining our lot with a different and more earthly Kingdom.
I grew up in a fairly moderate Evangelical Anglican church, and later attended a left of centre kind of charismatic free church. The general view of the Islamic faith was that it was dangerous, despicable, and a deception of the Devil from which people needed to be rescued. We needed to know nothing else- lest we somehow become infected.
Well I no longer fear infection. I rather fear distortion, and accommodation with (oh the irony) our very own Babylon.
Because we Christians are called to live with our faces towards a different way of being- to seek peace where there is war, understanding where there is ignorance, and to look for love where there is hate- to be a source of hope in times of hopelessness, and healing where there is brokenness.
Even (and perhaps in these times especially) for Muslims.