The images of 9/11 still haunt many Americans today. Families were forever changed as loved ones were taken away from this life without regret or care. News travels quickly about the attack on United States soil. President Bush is at an elementary school as children read from a book when he receives the news. I am in a class with Professor Reese as Professor Schantz sticks his head in the classroom, quickly interrupting and asking that we come and watch the television because the United States is under attack. Our entire college meets after watching the horrifying events unfold in the gymnasium. We all sit together, most of us crying. Some crying out of fear for what might happen next. Some crying for the lives that have just been lost. Some crying because the emotion of over 100 students, staff and faculty are all holding hands and crying together is just too much. The scene is impacting and makes an everlasting imprint on your memory.
As details begin to unfold in the following days, names of the terrorist hijackers are released. They all have one thing in common. They are Islamic extremists.
They are bent on death.
On what they call their “Jihad.”
I must admit that I do not have a firm understanding of the Islamic faith, but have a deep desire to learn more about them. To understand more about their faith and what drives them to be who they are. I see Muslim families periodically in different towns I visit. Not in my small town here in Illinois, but in bigger places like Springfield, St. Louis or Indianapolis. As I have been honest with myself, I have come to realize that the people who call themselves Muslims, the people who practice the faith of Islam, they are in our culture. They are a part of us. They are a part of the United States of America.
Many were born here.
They are citizens.
And I know very little about them.
While almost every group, race or gender has certain stereotypes they carry, I think none are greater than the stereotypes that have been attached to Muslims. Within Christianity, there are extremists. They hold bull-horns and protest signs. They preach hell and damnation at funerals of dead soldiers. They march in “Crusades,” killing anyone with a different perspective. They are bent on nothing but destruction, the tearing down of anyone who disagrees with them.
They thrive on war.
They live for debate.
They wallow in hate and misery.
They do it in the name of their “Jihad.”
As I have contemplated the idea of “Coffeehouse Christianity,” I have pondered many topics for dialogue. One that has continually come to mind is the chance to open up a dialogue between leaders of the Islamic faith in our country and leaders of the Christian faith in our country.
Bring them together.
Sit them down.
Side by side.
Not to lob dogmatic bombs at each other from our separate corners, but to come to the middle and talk. I believe that the Christian and Islamic faiths are different in many aspects. The biggest difference, and the very topic that I believe will keep us from ever seeing eye-to-eye completely is the issue of the Divinity of Jesus. Christians believe Jesus was Divine, the God-man. Fully God and fully man at the same time and that the entire Old Testament points to Him. God’s entire plan was meant to lead to Jesus Christ. Muslims hold Jesus in high regard as a prophet, but do not hold to his Divinity. For them, Mohammed was the last of the prophets, God’s final revelation was given to him. This is a major division between the two faiths.
I had the chance to sit down at a dialogue between members of our community, some with Christian backgrounds, and the special guests from Springfield, who were Muslims. We were able to ask them questions, to hear from them, to sit and talk without dogmatically abusing each other. Myy eyes were not opened to what they would consider to be the truth of Islam, but they were opened to the fact that they are people.
Their hands are the same as mine. Their eyes are the same as mine. They want a great life for their kids, as I do mine. They want a happy life here in America, as do I. It is my firm belief that if followers of Christ wish to make any progress with people of Islamic faith. We must come away from their media sound bytes and email forwards that do nothing but preach hatred toward Muslims. We must get to know people who hold to the Islamic faith on a personal level.
Shake their hands.
When did Jesus ever reach someone by destroying bridges and sending hateful email forwards? When did Jesus reach someone by calling them “terrorists” and ignoring them? It is my understanding of His life and ministry that He never did. Not once. He reached them through His love.
Ate with them.
Why aren’t the followers of Christ, the followers of His example, doing the same with an entire faith of people that live among us? Maybe it’s time for the followers of Christ to do the same. Maybe it’s time for Christian leaders to lead the way in bridging the gap with people of Islamic faith. Is it possible for us to blend the same love and understanding that Jesus had for the people and culture of His day with the true message of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament? Is this a divide that followers of Christ think simply can’t be bridged? Is it a bridge worth building? I say yes. What do you say?
This video has been used in FBI sensitivity training. I would like to get your thoughts on it as well.