I am a registered member of Islam.com, which is a discussion forum that has been in operation for a long time. There are heartbreaking requests for help on the forum, on every topic from marriage difficulties to personal struggles for moral conduct. Few things are more tragic than people trying to live up to a standard of virtue without the indwelling of the Spirit to give them victory over sin, and a Saviour to wash away their iniquities.
If there’s one thing that such sites demonstrate, it is that the ISIS version of Islam is not the majority persuasion, and that Muslims are people with all the foibles, eccentricities, and challenges common to the human race. It gives a human face to what lies beneath the surface of a vast religious umbrella.
I first signed up to Islam.com when I was at college, now nearly two decades ago. Back then it was more of an information site, with a discussion forum tacked on. These days the discussion forum is front and centre of the site.
All those years ago, September 11 was still raw and the war in Iraq was raging. “Shock and awe” was the catch-cry of George W. Bush. Interacting with Muslims there, I learned a great deal about how to speak to non-Christians. I came to realise that respect and gentleness – while not always easy – is the key to dialogue and to opening doors for the gospel. Crusader-like arrogance closes doors.
I also learned that dialogue is not a filthy unorthodox word. In fact, when Christians stop speaking to Muslims (and vice versa) the only options remaining are violence, segregation, fear, paranoia, and religious conflict. Through dialogue, I discovered that some of my conceptions were false, and I learned that Muslims likewise have a whole mess of misunderstandings and misconceptions about Christianity.
To speak to people of other faiths with the intention of learning about them is important. This is especially so for an orthodox, believing Christian. How else can we persuade people to listen to the gospel if we do not talk to them? And how else can we overturn their prejudices and fears of us if not by explaining to them what we believe? And how else can we make the ears of Muslims willing to listen, if we do not listen to what they believe? How else are we to gain insight into how the gospel may be best presented if not by dialogue?
Islam.com carries a front page link to an article that documents a spate of religiously-motivated crimes in the United States. Principally, the article outlines the mosques that have been torched, and the fears of the Muslim community of violence directed at them.
Now there are those out there – whether they could be called “Christians” is debatable – who celebrate religious violence of this sort. They lump all Muslim together. In their perverted and twisted outlook, Muslims are guilty by mere religious association. Since ISIS are monsters, all Muslims share their blood-guiltiness, no matter how law-abiding they might be. Thus, all Muslims ought to suffer for the crimes of others.
In fact, some of these folk would claim these actions, though illegal, are commendable. They think this way even when St. Paul commands us to be in subjection to authorities tells us that the “man of God” must be kind to all men. Torching buildings is neither showing respect for God-ordained rulers (who, in general, are not a terror to those who do right), nor does it remotely hint of kindness.
Liberals and secularists cry out in horror against such things. They wring their hands in despair at the thought of discrimination against Muslims. The usual response by conservatives is to say, “Well, you don’t show such passion about X or Y or Z”.
Yet, liberals use the same comeback. Both sides of politics are unending in accusing the other side of hypocrisy, and both sides of politics are right. Liberals and conservatives are equally selective about their outrage and their targets of concern. All are hypocrites.
But Christians are not to be like that. We are not to function on the same basis as the world and its political structures. We are meant to be people of truth. To have bedrock principles that we defend regardless of what a political tribe might say. This means that we may sometimes need to join our voices with the liberals in proper reasoned defence of the marginalised and maltreated. At the next minute, we might need to join our voices with the conservative forces who protest against same-sex marriage or abortion.
When Muslims are threatened in this way then religious freedom as a principle must be defended. For if these mosques burn today without justice, you can be sure that churches will burn tomorrow.