There are about 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and about 2.2 billion Christians. That means half of the world is either Muslim or Christian. So one in two people you encounter on Earth will identify with one of these two religions. Let that sink in a minute.
Now think about the message our media outlets like CNN, Fox, Al Jazeera, Al Arabyia and BBC send about these two groups. Do they share stories about how we are working together, as friends, or at least as civil acquaintances? Yeah right. Instead the message you will find says - we are enemies.
Are we enemies?
I have a white American Christian background and I have spent time in the Middle East and North Africa, most recently in Iraq. If you consider my background, many would assume (and even sometimes say) a person like me is crazy to go to these places because it’s - enemy territory.
Yet every time I go, I am met with immeasurable hospitality and friendship. How can that be if they are my enemy and I am theirs?
Often the people I meet, in mostly Muslim countries, are eager to invite me to their house for a good meal, some tea and conversation. And you know what we talk about? Our children, our families, our shared hopes for our kids to get a good education. Our desire for better jobs, better pay. The shortcomings of politicians and governments around the world. We laugh and tell jokes. We talk about sports, movies and Angelina Jolie (she always seems to come up)
And we even talk about religion. This may come as a surprise but Christianity and Islam share many of the same holy books, prophets and teachings. We even share a deep love and admiration for Jesus. So talking about religion is easy, if we let it be.
This works both ways as well. Recently I had a friend from the Middle East, who now lives in the US, tell me about how welcomed he has been here. He talked about how in our city he doesn’t have to deal with problems for being Arab and Muslim. He said it was like people in our city were blind to this, in a good way.
I have also worked with an organization in Iraq who brings delegates to the US to experience the typical American life. They see the suburbs, farm lands and they meet average Americans who are welcoming and kind. It’s like an America that they never knew existed. One that is filled with friends, not enemies.
You might be thinking yeah but what about what just happened in France or in Germany or with Adam Livvix in Palestine or with Anders Breivik in Norway. Or yeah but what about Boko Haram or Al Shabab. Or yeah but what about the KKK and pastors who want to burn the Quran or 9/11 or the crusades.
Yes, bad things do happen in this world. Horrible things. Sometimes claimed in the name of Christianty or Islam. So do things like what I just listed mean we are bound to be enemies? Can we not mourn these tragedies together? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything I just listed was led by people that I want influencing decisions in my life. Like who I should consider an enemy.
Pick up your tent and move
If you are anything like me, you may be drawn to a point of view or perspective that begins to shape your thinking on broader issues. For example, if you listen to predominantly Democratic or Republican opinions you may be more inclined to trust that group’s position on a certain topic. It’s almost comforting to know you are following the lead of a majority (groupthink) I have fallen victim to this many times.
The same can be true with religious leaders. There may be a pastor or Imam who has influenced your life in some really positive ways. And because of that, you may be more likely to align with their opinions on issues without truly investigating them for yourself. But what if the message that is being shared is that Muslims and Christians are enemies? Sometimes it can be subtle, even unintentional and often wrapped up in theology that seems sound. But is it? Are you sure?
If the camp you are in says Muslims and Christians should be enemies, it might be time to pick up your tent and move.
See the problem clearly
Almost certainly, there will be people who claim the problems are within the religion of Christianity or Islam. And since those won’t change, there is no hope. Clearly the religions are different in some pretty important ways. But are those differences justification to just give up and accept that 4 billion people on this planet should be enemies? Of course not.
As humans we disagree all the time about important stuff and about 99.9999% of the time we do not respond by dropping bombs on the other person or by driving a car bomb through their house. The religion isn’t the problem, we are.
Love your Neighbor
Fortunately, we have a way out. It is a simple teaching, shared by both religions. It says we should love each other as neighbors, regardless of our differences. It might sound vague or even naïve but have you, personally, ever tried it? Have you walked across the street to introduce yourself to the family who piles in a minivan each week to go to church? Did you start a conversation with the woman wearing a headscarf (hijab) at your child’s school events?
One of the difficulties with the teaching of Loving your neighbor is that we discredit it before we ever try it. Like I mentioned before, this could be a result of the camp you find yourself in that sends an intentional or unintentional message that Muslims and Christians are enemies. It may also be because of fear, which is understandable when everything around us is saying we should be enemies.
But the way of Loving your neighbor does work. It’s highly effective and quite frankly a very joyful way to live! It brings people together as friends, not enemies. It shows older generations what is possible and gives our children a snapshot of what the future could be.
As you wrestle with the idea of Christians and Muslims as friends, not enemies, consider this; half of the world is Christian or Muslim giving us about 4 billion reasons to make this work.
*If you or your organization is ready to start Loving your neighbors, The Nations is here to help. If you have questions feel free to email Rich directly at Rich@thenations-dsm.org.