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Christianity and Islam: Raising the Question of Inherent Violence After September 11

1. We are here today to represent the concerns of sincere people of faith. Western Evangelical Christians on the one hand, and a diverse group of Middle Eastern believers on the other. Our ambitions today are modest. This symposium is meant to be a beginning. It is an opportunity to form relationships that will facilitate an ongoing conversation among a circle of friends, which we hope, will become larger while our understanding of one another becomes deeper.

2. Several issues have arisen with increasing frequency and urgency since September 11 that have the potential either to polarize us, deepening abstract myths that we hold of one another, or alternatively, to bring us together, leading to a greater appreciation for the truth, and to reconciliation.

Foremost of these concerns, I believe, is the question of violence in religion, and in particular the common notion among Christians in the West, that Islam is in essence a religion of violence.

This assertion has been stated outright as a fact, or raised as a suspicion, in virtually every article and public commentary on the events of September 11. Even in those instances where the assertion is raised only for the purpose of dismissing it, there remains a dialectical suspicion, the hovering reality of an idea widespread enough that it has to be forcefully addressed.

Thus, while the President of the United States, and many Christian leaders have affirmed Islam as a religion of peace, it is clear to me that the vast majority of Western Christians, especially those who would describe themselves as Evangelical in the United States, are still suspicious of Islam's fundamental nature, believing that Islam is not only intrinsically violent, but that it is essentially evil. I believe that most see the Islamic community as an archenemy of the Christian faith and culture, a pure evil contrasted with the equally pure goodness of their own Christianity.

A simplistic reading of Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" has bolstered this view of Muslim/Christian relations. What is emerging is a simple mythological world where evil is personified in people, cultures and communities, and where the nature of those communities is a matter of unchangeable fate. In this world-view, some groups are intrinsically good, and others are intrinsically evil. This abstraction of reality obscures the real evils and enemies of humanity, evils that must be fought by all people. Violence and domination tempt us all, cutting across lines of civilization, culture and religion. The idea that another group or religion is evil, while our own is untainted keeps us from identifying and dealing with humanities truest and deepest faults, which are inherent in every human heart, not in one particular culture or another.

This mythology not only conceals the real ideological evils in our midst, it tends to glorify them, ascribing to violence the power to save us by promising to forcibly subdue those whom we have come to believe are irremediably evil. It is striking to what extent these beliefs are shared by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, you will recall, stated to British journalist Robert Fisk that his goal was to provoke war between Islam and the West; he too would favor an overly simplistic interpretation of Huntington's thesis.

(I should add in passing that this kind of determinism has nothing at all to do with Huntington's work, which was never meant to constitute a fatalistic decree, one that would discount the complexity and power of individual free will. As Huntington is being interpreted, we are led to believe that the Arab and Muslim civilization and its Western Christian counterpart each hold their people in a predetermined path that cannot be changed through the force of good-will. Huntington himself would say that his intent was to report a trend with the hope that sound-minded people would act to counter it. Speaking on January 31 at the World Economic Forum, Mr. Huntington stated that he has become encouraged by efforts to bridge cultural divides, singling out Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's efforts to promote cross-cultural discussions.)

It is my hope and prayer that as people of faith we can break through these simplifications and understand the underlying evil that pits us one against the other. I hope that we can speak with one voice against the oppression of power, violence and inhumanity. Moreover, I hope that we can speak with a voice of faith in God, calling on our fellow Christians and Muslims to condemn any fatalistic mythology and every claim of power to offer salvation outside of God Himself. We should not follow the example of those who have chosen to worship the power to kill, who look to that power for their deliverance.

To succeed, each of us will be required to exercise humility, to be critical of ourselves, and to allow the Word of God to judge us first.

3. For Christians, humility may begin with taking our concerns and questions directly to Muslims and Arabs. It is within the house of Islam that questions about Islam should be asked. What do Muslim scholars, clerics and political leaders have to say, for example, about Osama bin Laden's religious justifications for his behavior? Too often, we keep our questions to ourselves, like an aggrieved individual who sits alone obsessively analyzing a grievance with a neighbor without attempting to clarify the problem through open dialogue. Unfortunately, this is mostly how we have handled our questions about Islam.

As a case in point I refer you to "Charisma," a leading Christian magazine in the United States, which recently published as its analysis of the question of Islamic violence an interview with a panel of experts. That is not a bad way to pursue such questions, but the panel consisted solely of Evangelical Christians and Muslim converts to Christianity. Among the Christian experts some had no formal training in Islam and no experience living in a Muslim culture. There was no Muslim authority on the panel. This kind of self-referencing analysis reveals in us the arrogance of prejudice, the deep-seated conviction that we possess all there is to know; and that kind of arrogance strikes me as profoundly unlike Christ's example to us.

The opinions of Bat Ye'or provide another example of this kind. After September 11, Christians often referred to Professor Ye'or as an unbiased, even native analyst of Islamic history. Again, this is a poor substitute for dialogue, since Ye'or is an Israeli Jew. Moreover, she is a supporter of right-wing politics in Israel. Following my own advice, I will refer to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, one of America's leading Rabbis. He went so far as to call Bat Ye'or's thesis "a justification of Israeli maximalism" adding that it is "both untrue and the preamble to disaster." Perhaps she is not a very good source of information about Islam at this delicate time.

This is no way for us to understand or influence one another. Would we want Muslims to go primarily to Muslim scholars or to Christian converts to Islam with their questions about the Christian faith? I doubt it. Therefore humility requires of us first that we learn to communicate, to raise our questions within a relational context, and to listen without prejudice. I do not suggest that we ignore our concerns, complaints or suspicions. I mean simply to state that we will never see them addressed by talking among ourselves. Only through relationship and dialogue can we clarify our concerns while bringing issues to the other side that they may indeed need to address. If we fail to transcend our limited current knowledge we will only end up with recycled myths and repeating half-truths that reinforce the cycle of violence and conflict.

Furthermore, when we do raise a grievance, humility requires that we bear in mind Jesus' command to remove the log in our eye before attempting to make an issue of the splinter in the eye of another. Too often we think that the solution to our problems lies solely in the faults of others. But in truth, our problems are shared ones, and their solutions can only be found together through mutual care and compassion.

We should therefore search for parallels between our own experience and what we see as a fault in others. We must actively look for similarities, examining our own guilt, whether in recent or past history. Maybe we are guilty of the thing we condemn, and in dialogue we can find support for solutions on both sides. Or perhaps we have struggled with an issue in the past, and can shed some light on how we dealt with that problem in our history. Humility allows us to strengthen the truth in one another.

4. Let me attempt to begin this process now by referring briefly to three prominent Christian leaders – Charles Colson, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson – each of whom has expressed controversial, but widely shared beliefs about Islam and the Muslim community. In my opinion they should not be chastised for the fact that their statements are politically incorrect. Politically correct speech often hides grievances or misapprehensions that would be better exposed to public debate and dealt with openly. The views they have expressed are common, and while incorrect in my opinion, they present an opportunity for clarification.

Each of these extremely influential and respected Christian leaders stated, in one way or another, that Islam is inherently violent and evil. Pat Robertson put it bluntly when he said, "Islam is a terrorist religion." Robertson has also endorsed the opinion that president Bush's remarks about Islam being a religion of peace amounted to "a massive public relations snow job." He has said also that Islam "just is not" a religion of peace, and of American Muslims, that theirs is "not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist" with Christians. These are of course the kind of categorical fallacies that we were instructed as schoolchildren not to make, but in an environment of insecurity, we seem to gravitate to them nonetheless. We can fairly say that Mr. Robertson was speaking what he held at the deepest levels to be true, and that many, many Western Christians share his gut-level feelings.

As for Franklin Graham, his widely publicized remarks characterized Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion" stressing that Muslims categorically did not worship the same God. Graham naturally was criticized for these remarks, but he was also defended to a surprising degree by a number of well-known conservative columnists and leaders, including the Evangelical Christian political leader Gary Bauer, who with others, organized a campaign rebuking the White House for hosting Muslim Ramadan festivities. I say that this was surprising because of this statement's common cause with Osama bin Laden's remarks about hoping to divide the world on religious grounds. We can be sure that he welcomed these remarks, since they offer a proof that Americans despise Islam.

As does, I believe, my third example, Charles Colson, whose broadly distributed commentary on 9/11 stated that "bin Laden and his followers did not hijack Islam, they simply took it seriously." This naturally means that what bin Laden did was the logical outcome of what Islam is. Islam is therefore, according to Colson, as evil in essence as bin Laden is in person. Colson goes on to quote from Samuel Huntington, agreeing that there is a fatalistic and monolithic clash between two well-defined civilizations, one Christian and one Islamic. He proceeds then to tighten Huntington's already narrow thesis by asserting that the Christian side of this supposed clash is nonexistent. He claims categorically that there is "no place where Christians are persecuting Muslims." Colson thereby makes explicit the underlying assumption that his civilization is altogether peaceful and innocent, whereas its presumed Islamic counterpart is altogether evil.

5. Mr. Colson's opinions are commonly shared by a great many American Evangelicals. I have encountered identical views in every Church that I have spoken to since October. It seems that with the desire to make sense of what has happened, we have sought an easy cause and effect relationship that erases any complicity of our own in the development of our difficulties, and tends at the same time to find in Islam the cause of the criminal activity of some followers of that religion. We are thus essentializing both communities in a manner that avoids the real issues, and that is ultimately a great danger to others and us.

These claims reduce a problem that is subtle and complex to a starkly black and white, good versus evil dilemma that in fact does not exist. Again, this is mythological language of the kind that has been used throughout history to demonize others, turning very worldly, political conflicts of interest into something of apocalyptic importance. This in turn allows either party an unassailable justification for killing and oppression of every kind. It then becomes a self-reinforcing belief, but all that is required to break the cycle is for some of us to act contrary to its suppositions.

So what about those suppositions? What about this idea of a purely non-violent Christianity and an altogether violent Islam?

Violence itself evidently is not really the problem. Many Christians and Muslims do openly justify the limited use of violence. The "Just War" theology, embraced by most Christians, permits violence when it is necessary to eradicate injustice and subdue evil. For example, on this basis most Christians would view allied violence against Germany in the Second World War as justifiable violence.

In my reading of the Holy Quran and early Islamic history, this is also precisely the justification for limited violence given there. In terms of historical development, it appears that the early Muslim community was reluctant to fight, and patiently endured a period of persecution before this revelation occurred. For example, the earliest historical license to fight occurs in Surah 22:39, "Permission is granted to those (to take up arms to fight) to fight because they were oppressed."

Then there are other revelations that define the limits of violence:

Sûrah al Ma'idah 5.8 "O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice.

Sûrah al An'am 6.151: "Do not take any human being's life (the life) which God has declared to be sacred — other than in (the pursuit of) justice:

Sûrah al Múminûn 23:96 "Repel evil with that which is better"

Sûrah ash Shûrâ 42.39 -41 "And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto: but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah for Allah loves not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame."

Sûrah al Baqarah 2.190 "And fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for verily God does not love aggressors."

There are many other examples. If I were to summarize the Holy Quran's revelation on violence, it would be that Islam permits violence in the defense of the oppressed, within the context of war. It forbids exceeding that context, and explicitly protects the innocent and non-combatants. It also urges peace and reconciliation.

Again, this is very similar to the historical Christian "Just War" doctrine in its most developed form. In my opinion it is at the same time much more advanced than some of the Hebrew Bible's exhortations to the wholesale slaughter of women and children and the poetic language of the Psalms, which celebrate among other things, the dashing of babies against rocks.

Certainly, someone can take verses out of context and present a case for a bloodthirsty Islamic impulse, but one can do the same with the Hebrew Bible. It is precisely ignoring the context that allows Jewish, Christian and Muslim extremists to justify their actions. So it is not violence, but unjustifiable violence that must be the problem for Mr. Colson and other Evangelicals who support the doctrine of "Just War." This of course raises a question of interpretation and ethical judgment. What justifies the recourse to violence, and what kind of violence is justified?

If the Christian or Western civilization – the two seem to be equated by Mr. Colson – acts criminally against innocent Muslims, would a violent response by Muslims against appropriate targets be justifiable violence? According to the Christian "Just War" argument, it presumably would be.

It is clear however, that rules of engagement apply to any justifiable war. For Christians who believe in limited violence, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr speaks definitively: Moving from his earlier position of pacifism, Niebuhr came to believe that in an immoral world, violence must be used sparingly and skillfully, like a surgeon's scalpel. In his theory, limited and strategically employed violence was justified if it prevented greater violence and injustice.

6. Since Christians by and large allow for violence as Islam does, within the confines of certain ethical boundaries, what do Christians mean when they think of Islam as violent and Christianity as non-violent? They must mean that while Muslims have not obeyed the rules, Christians always have. Thus examples of Christians killed by Muslims have always been unjustifiable, while, at least to Mr. Colson, Christians killing Muslims has always been just. (Actually, Mr. Colson states that Christians nowhere kill Muslims – this is so factually untrue that we can only assume that he meant that they nowhere kill Muslims without just cause.)

Neither of these propositions is true. Christians have by no means always limited themselves to appropriate military targets. This is true of confessional Christians, acting in the name of Christianity, and it is true of the Western civilization as a whole, which again, Mr. Colson and others seem to equate with Christianity by relying on the "Clash of Civilizations" paradigm. (They are linking the Christian faith to a "Western Christian Civilization." America is described as a righteous and Christian nation, founded on Christian principals and so on.) Whether Christian by individual faith or by civilization, Christians have indeed killed without just cause.

Let's look at some examples. Each of the following individuals is a terrorist by any definition, and each justified his actions with reference to Christian theology, in fact, by claiming to restore Christian practice to its original strength and purity, as Osama bin Laden would claim to do for Islam.

First is Eric Robert Rudolph, who eluded capture by fleeing to America's mountainous and religiously conservative Appalachia region; he was wanted by the FBI for bombing medical clinics and nightclubs that he judged to be immoral. Or we may consider the example of Paul Hill, convicted of killing a doctor and his assistant for performing abortions. Both men explicitly justified their acts with reference to Christian theology. Both of these men, and others like them, while few in numbers, emerged from substantial networks of Christians very similar in structure and ideology to the Muslim groups that are singled out as examples of Islamic support for violence.

A still more dramatic example is provided by Timothy McVeigh. His bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was an act of Christian violence just as much as Osama bin Laden's followers actions were Islamic. Although McVeigh was careful not to implicate others, his inspiration was well documented. He subscribed to "Christian Identity" newsletters and had frequent contact with the militant "Christian Identity" compound, Elohim City, during the months leading up to the bombing. The book that McVeigh credited with setting him on his path to Oklahoma City, Pierce's "Turner Diaries," was written, according to the author, to undo the "liberal secularism" that had been imposed by Jews and atheists on what he considers an apostate Christian America.

There are many more examples, and what they share in common is an ideology that sees the necessity for Christians to presuppose the promised rule of God through force. These ideas are directly obtained from Calvinism, and are currently expressed in America through the Dominion Theology and Christian Reconstructionist movements. As Gary North, a prominent Reconstructionist writer put it, "it is the "the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ." As God's chosen people, the argument goes, it is in everyone's best interest for Christians to take dominion. This line of thinking naturally leads to violence, for it can also be argued that killing a few now is for the greater good of a Christian dominated society that will usher in the rule of Christ.

It is not difficult to see how much this type of thinking has in common with Jewish and Muslim ideologues that essentially follow the same reasoning. We see it too, in other Christian movements: White supremacists in America and the advocates of Apartheid in South Africa also justified their abuse of others by quoting from the Holy Bible, and arguing that their supremacy was ultimately for the good of all.

Historically, we have the most obvious examples of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The Crusades were motivated by many things, but according to the Pope Urban's declaration, the First Crusade's justification was the desire to see the promised Kingdom of God fulfilled in a political form with the conquest of Jerusalem. Killing of Muslims and Jews was seen throughout the Crusades as an act of righteousness, and was justified by what was believed to be the overwhelming good that would come from the advent of Millenarian Christian rule in Jerusalem. Violence would, in the Crusader's mind, usher in the end of the world. It was, therefore, even good for those who would be killed. This is obviously, the very same idea found in Christian murderers and racists, and is exactly what we condemn in the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden.

If we persist in believing that we are all good and that others are all bad, we will naturally conclude as men have done for thousands of years, that our goodness makes even our oppression of others a kind of deferred blessing. This is true whether we are Muslim or Christian reductionists. The same processes are at work in both, and both bear the same fruit.

Beyond these explicitly Christian examples, what if we take the simplified Clash of Civilizations argument to be true, as many of our brethren do. Does this mean that American policy is Christian policy, including American actions here in Lebanon, or in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Guatemala, Panama and any number of the estimated 23 military conflicts that the United States has involved itself in since the end of the Second World War?

When innocents have been targeted in these conflicts, as they often have been, was that then Christian violence? If we judge ourselves with the same measure that many Christians judge Islam, and if we include Western Civilization in our definition of what is Christian, as Colson's application of the Clash of Civilizations paradigm does, we would have to conclude that these political actions too are Christian atrocities.

Even if we do not apply the Clash of Civilizations paradigm, there is the separate question of explicit Christian political support for these actions. Evangelical Christian support of US involvement in Nicaragua or Lebanon in the 1980's or support for dictatorial regimes in Iraq and earlier in Iran, mean that at least some Christians support violence that would not in the judgment of many others be justifiable.

To locate a pertinent example, I have only to think of the link between the Christian Broadcasting Network's facility in South Lebanon and Israel's invasion in 1982. More to the point, what does this question of Evangelical political activism mean with regard to America's involvement in Israel, and especially the wide-spread Evangelical support for Israel's more extreme policies? Large numbers of Christians actively support actions by Israel that many other Christians judge to be aggression against Muslim and Arab Christian innocents. Many American and British Christians openly support Israeli nationalism, giving political and financial assistance for Israeli policies that others in the global Christian community find reprehensible.

Israel, which is now associated with the Western Christian civilization, often serves as a vessel for suppressed Christian militancy. Whereas the Crusaders once explicitly waged war against Muslim and Jewish enemies for control of the Holy Land, today Christians act out these worldly ambitions through support for Israel. Their motivation is apocalyptic, like the motivation of bin Laden or any number of Jewish or Christian proponents of violence who see their acts as justified by the greater good of establishing God's rule. A vast number of Evangelicals believe that Israel is a preliminary and final step before the advent of a physically and politically dominant expression of the Christian Kingdom of God. That sanctification of the Israeli state is what allows the consciences of many Christians to overlook actions that they would condemn if they occurred anywhere else.

Of course, very few Jews are really comfortable with the end stage of this friendship as envisaged by Christians, for this would mean the conversion of a minority of Jews to Christianity, with the outright destruction of the rest in an apocalyptic battle. The irony here is that in past centuries, Christian oppression led entire populations of Jews to flee to the safety of the Islamic world. This is most obvious in the case of sanctuary given to Jews by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, but it is even true in the phenomenon of Zionism. It was not from Muslim intolerance that European Jews sought and received the right to settle in Palestine in the late 19th century. The early Zionists, you will recall, were granted permission by the Caliphate in Istanbul to make their homes in the Holy Land, where they would be safe from an increasingly hostile Europe.

The Millenarian or End Times dream that inspired the Crusades is far from forgotten among Christians. Whether it is an extremist acting on the fringes of Dominion Theology, or a Midwestern Church raising funds to displace Palestinian Arabs, there are plenty of examples of Western Christian violence that certainly are not justified in the minds of most of the world's Christians.

I imagine that some will argue that these really aren't Christian atrocities, since the perpetrators acted against Christ's teaching. According to this argument, Islam is different, they would say that the example of the Prophet and the instructions of the Holy Quran explicitly endorse violence, while Christian teaching does not.

I would agree of course that Timothy McVeigh does not represent the revelation of Christ. But I must therefore allow Muslims the same courtesy of defining for themselves what their faith is and is not, of saying that bin Laden's actions, despite his own claims, simply are not Islamic.

In all of this, we see parallels that can help us achieve understanding and peace. Just as some Christians carry the "Just War" doctrine to an extreme that ignores innocent life and the context of designated combatants, so to do some Muslims. Just as one allows the vision of final redemption to justify means that contradict the end of which he dreams, so does the other. Each relies on the authority of his holy book, while each claims to be leading his people back to a purified or more authentic expression of his faith. For the more extreme examples like bin Laden and McVeigh, each is considered by his community to be an outsider, not representative of the faith.

7. Not all violence associated with Christianity is as clearly wrong as the worst examples cited here, and not all of Islamic violence is as unarguably evil as the bombing of the World Trade Center. For Christians the gray areas include questions such as capital punishment and the appropriateness of Christian relations with Israel. I imagine that to many of you here, any Christian relationship that is positive toward Israel is seen as absolutely wrong, as contributing directly to state-sponsored terror. I understand that position. And I ask that you recognize also that you may justify some causes that we believe to be illegitimate. Then there are some of us on both sides who simply do not find the "Just War" theory tenable at all, for either side. It is a complicated world indeed.

There will always be points of disagreement on what is justifiable, what is an atrocity and is not. In those cases, we must get together and scrutinize the issues, confronting one another with arguments and evidence, redressing grievances, making amends and finding non-violent solutions together. However we must not allow ourselves to mythologize these grievances in a Crusader-like fashion. It is that process of borderless self-justification and demonizing of others that will lead to escalation and ultimately to genocide.

Not that there is any question about the evil of killing innocent people, and the right to pursue justice, but when this is exploited in a pseudo-religious manner – as an apocalyptic war against evil – we lose sight of the gray complexities of reality. We thereby risk plunging irrationally into the spiral of violence.

In my opinion we are in danger of losing our rational faculties in the wake of September 11, a fact that must please Osama bin Laden, since this was his stated goal, to plunge us into an irrational religious war. Even with the occasional politically correct comments, the US position has been escalating towards a more and more metaphysical sphere, in which America identifies itself with righteousness, purity, and manifest destiny, while not just Osama bin Laden, but any enemy of official US policy is increasingly equated with absolute evil. From my point of view, this is evidenced from every quarter of American life, from the Oval Office to the FOX News Channel, in the form of an unprecedented level of nationalism that shows no signs of humility or self-criticism.

We see this in America today, where despite politically correct statements, Arab Americans are being isolated and alienated. Edward Said wrote recently that he "did not know a single Arab or Muslim American who does not now feel that he or she belongs to the enemy camp."

"For despite the occasional official statements saying that Islam and Muslims and Arabs are not enemies of the United States," he wrote, "everything else about the current situation argues the exact opposite."

I have often noted that while Latin American terror and kidnapping have long constituted the greatest statistical threat to Americans abroad, we do not see anything like the mythological characterizations of that conflict that we see applied to the Arab and Muslim world. And we should not. Political conflicts should remain just that – temporal conflicts that can with some effort and good will be overcome by rational processes.

It is no wonder that so many people outside the US are mystified by the vague enormity of US policy, which claims for itself the right to imagine and create enemies on a global scale, then to prosecute wars on them without regard for accuracy of definition, specificity of aim, concreteness of goal, or the morality of such actions. What does it mean to defeat "evil terrorism" in a world like ours? Surely it cannot mean eradicating everyone who opposes the US, an infinite and strangely pointless task; nor can it mean changing the world map to suit the US, substituting as we have done so often, a ruthless despot who opposes us with one who is just as ruthless, but who is considered righteous because of his present tendency to support our policies. Christians must not allow support for US global domination to become the definition of righteousness.

8. When I speak of keeping earthly or temporal political issues within the realm of rational, as opposed to mythological solutions, I do not mean to isolate us from our faiths. A rational solution can and should be supported by our faith, for in the search for peace and in a commitment to compassion, we find means that accord very well with the ends envisioned by our beliefs. Our faiths look toward a time of peace and universal welfare. That so many think this is achieved through violence should not mean that we give up on the true nature of our beliefs. Rather, we should condemn those impulses within us that betray the very meaning our faiths. Christians and Muslims must not hesitate to speak out for fear of angering the hostile minorities within our communities.

It seems to me that the real issue facing us as people of faith is prophetic. All of us, as servants of God in the tradition of Abraham, are given a vision of expanding peace and goodwill. Abraham himself was called by God to leave behind his nation and its idols and to live by faith. It was a step beyond the xenophobia of nationalism.

The Hebrew prophets continually challenged the Children of Israel to trust in God, not in power, wealth or weapons. Even under dire threat from encircling enemies, Isaiah told the king in Jerusalem to abandon his trust in weapons and international coalitions and to trust in God alone. It is out of this confrontation with his king that Isaiah delivered that beautiful prophecy of a day when even the lion would rest peacefully with the lamb. Obviously, this is a message more difficult for the lions of this world to hear, than for the lambs. But our faiths demand that we act and speak resolutely in support of this vision. Isaiah's message was that this vision will come to pass if we believe in it and act without fear. It does take great courage to believe in something so unlike the status quo of domination and power. That is our calling.

Jesus took this even further by choosing not to join the movement of violent militants who sought to take Jerusalem by force. His example of self-sacrifice contrasts starkly with the justifications made for the Crusades and by religious advocates for power down through the ages. His example speaks powerfully against the idea of politically or militarily presupposing the Kingdom of God. In fact, it demonstrates the logical fallacy of all these movements; the contradiction of believing that domination can ever bring liberty.

Later in Islam we have the concept of community, which also transcends nationalism and promises peace. The Holy Quran's statement regarding God's purpose for the nations is not that they should clash in interminable conflict, but that they were created to afford us the opportunity to honor and get to know one another. (Sûrah 49.13 "O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.")

Obviously, each faith has wrestled with this vision, and often lost sight of it. The Jewish people repeatedly turned to what their prophets described as the idols of bow and sword. They insisted upon having a king and the accouterments of national power, even though according to God's Word, this was a rejection of him and the age of peace that he sought to establish through Abraham.

Christianity, losing sight of Christ's example, became a domineering empire after the conversion of Constantine. He declared that the Cross of Christ was a sword, leading to the brutal persecution of non-Christians, and incessant wars against the perceived enemies of Christendom.

9. The problem isn't then, that Islam or Christianity is violent. Our shared problem is those things in our common heritage that in spite of the clear intent of the prophets still tempt us to violence. How is it that many Christians have historically and still today find justification, even in the peaceful example of Jesus, for the most awful forms of hatred? That Muslims too might lapse from the vision is no surprise.

This temptation to power is something that we have in common; it is not the sign of predetermined separation described by the religion of Clashing Civilizations. Muslims and Christians, even if viewed through the cold lens of secular history, are not religious communities in isolation. We share the prophets and historical tradition. Our origins are in a common soil and heritage.

In our common temptations and our common potential we bear responsibility for one another, we are a family, and when one of us falls, the other will be profoundly affected. Let's not fall into the relational dysfunction of accusations, and simplifications. That will not serve the cause of peace or truth.

This then is my call to you today. Let us speak prophetically to one another, to our own communities and to the world at large. Let us urgently proclaim the vision of Abraham for peace. Let us fight the ideology that trusts or finds its security in power and violence. Let us put our trust in God.

By Matthew Hand, contribution for the 'Christianity and Islam Beirut Symposium', ……


Washington Post, November 18th 2001 The 700 Club, February 21, 2002, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have takenissue with our esteemed president in regard to his stand in saying Islamis a peaceful religion. It's just not."

Charles Colson, "Bloody Borders Islam Hijacked?"(http://news.crosswalk.com) Allan Dobras, "Franklin Graham Scolded by NBC News for Denouncing Islam"(cultureandfamily.org/report/2001-11-21) Matthew Rothschild, "Interview with Robert Fisk," (The Progressive, December 2001)

Jeffrey Kaplan, "The Context of American Millenarian Revolutionary Theology: The Case of the 'Identity Christian' Church of Israel," (Terrorism and Political Violence, Spring 1993)

Michael Bray, "A Time to Kill: A Study Concerning the Use of Force and Abortion" (Oregon: Advocates for Life Publications 1994)

Reinhold Niebuhr, "Moral Man and Immoral Society" (New York: Scribners)

Reinhold Niebuhr, "Why the Christian Church is not Pacifist" (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1940)

Mark Juergensmeyer, "Terror in the Mind of God," (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000) pp. 31-32

Martin E. Marty, "Fundamentalisms Observed" (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991)

Edward Said, "Thoughts About America," Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 Feb 2002 Issue No. 575

Canon Sell, "The Historical Development of the Quran", (Tunbridge Wells: People International, 1988.)

F.E. Peters, "A Reader on Classical Islam," (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.)

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