I received an email this morning quoting the following letter, written by Fatma Al-Lawati, PhD., a distinguished scholar who is also a Muslim woman. She is a Fulbright scholar at the University of Virginia, and is committed to Muslim/Christian interfaith work. She recently experienced just how willing some Christians are to discriminate against Muslims. I think every contemplative Christian needs to read this as a grim reminder of just how easy it is for Christians to mistreat practitioners of other faiths. May God help all of us to treat those who differ from ourselves with kindness, respect, and in a manner consistent with the love of neighbor to which we are called.
Dear Dr. Lindsay Sadler, Jr.,
I feel obligated to write to you given your position of Senior Pastor at the Baptist Church in Charlottesville, about my recent and unforgettable very first visit to your Church. Regretfully, visiting the First Baptist Church was the worst experience I have ever faced or imagined facing at a place of worship in my entire life.
On Saturday May 1st, 2010, I visited the First Baptist Church on 735 Park Street after hearing about a presentation by an Egyptian-American woman who converted to Christianity from Islam. As part of my Muslim/Christian interfaith group, I decided to attend in order to share my experience to the group. I was particularly interested since I am a Muslim and have not encountered many such converts.
The presenter described her harsh upbringing in a family without a father; her mother let her at the age of 13. Later in life, she was abused by her husband. I felt sorry for her and sympathized with her experience. However, then she blamed her misery in the past on her old religion that she did not practice; she concluded that Islam promotes abusing women. She went on to verbally attack my prophet Mohammed (s) and the prophet of Muslims worldwide under the watch of some of the Church’s leadership and congregation.
This came as a real shock to me! I did not expect that at a place of worship, a presenter would blatantly attack the principles and figures of another religion. I thought that when one presents on a holy altar, she would do so with honesty and integrity rather than twisting truths to spread hate and fear. I assumed your Church would try to reach people through love instead of demonizing the religion of 1.6 billion Muslims, world’s second largest and fastest growing, at a time when mutual understanding and acceptance is of utter importance.
What is the logic behind inviting such a speaker whose sole aim is to stir people’s emotions against another religion? Is it the intention of your church to arouse the hatred of your congregation towards Islam and Muslims? I requested a chance to say a few words after the questions and answers period and after the congregation prayed for the speaker. I wanted to introduce the audience to the true concepts of Islam and introduce them to my experience as a Muslim woman, and share how Islam portrays Mary and Jesus. However, before I could say much, the speaker ordered the microphone be disconnected. Why did a visiting speaker command authority in your Church?
I started my small discourse by thanking everybody for receive me among them. Them, I told them who I am: I am the daughter of a man who has five daughters and one son: all with college degrees, including: a Ph.D., M.S., and M.D. I come from a middle class family with a loving mother and a wise father who instilled faith in us and the love of education as commanded by Islam. I have five successful children, two daughters who will be receiving degrees in Medicine and Chemical engineering this year. I never felt abused neither as a daughter nor as a wife. I felt respected, loved and endowed with the freedom to pursue my dreams. I am here in the United States as a Fulbright scholar from a country in the Middle East, Oman. I never felt discriminated against as a female by my government or culture. I have a loving husband who helped me finish my education and a Ph.D., in spite of my early marriage which was my very own choice. I have the freedom to learn and earn.
However, I could not continue to speak because the microphone was disconnected per the speaker’s order. She interrupted and asked me to answer her question by saying either “yes” or “no” or she would disconnect the microphone. I refused by saying “there is no black and white”. She asked me again, “Can you become a Christian? Yes or no?”
I said: “I will not choose to be a Christian because I already believe in Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad, may peace be upon them. I already believe in Jesus as a prophet.” And your Church disconnected the microphone. They came and got the microphone from me and an old man escorted me out, while yelling horrible words at me. It was such an unbelievable experience, where, despite hearing talk about the LOVE of Jesus numerous times, I did not see any evidence of love.
I must say I feel bad for your congregation who I hope were not deceived by the speaker’s words: presenting domestic violence as Islamic violence. She is a product of an unhealthy family and was unable to distinguish between her own experience as an abused child and later an abused adult, and her rights as a woman in Islam. The rights Islam entitles women and men are the basis used to establish the Human Rights code in the UN.
It is frustrating to see people holding double standards. When a problem arises in the Middle East or the Arab world, Islam is the culprit. A similar problem in the United States is viewed as domestic abuse. In the Arab world, whatever happens is the fault of Islam. In the West where the many forms of domestic abuse present from a father abusing his daughter, an unfaithful president, even bishops and priests abusing children, and church scandals, yet the cause of all of these are not attributed to religion. However, when an ordinary person such as your speaker is abused in a Muslim county, Islam is to blame! I reject blaming of either Islam or Christianity because these are divine religions that strictly reproach all evil.
I send you this letter in the hopes you would take steps to stop hatred from emanating from your Church and instead carry the message of peace and love as revealed by Jesus. I hope your Church will build bridges of love with the religiously diverse Charlottesville community and reach out to those of different beliefs in a peaceful way. I would be glad to have the opportunity to speak at your Church and introduce the true concepts of Islam that enrich my life.
Finally I want to point you to a quote from the Quran that narrates the story of Jesus. I hope it will serve as a good first step to emphasize the similarities between Islam and Christianity in their shared love and respect for Mary and Jesus in the hope of promoting peace and understanding.
He spoke: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, (30) And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, (31)And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. (32) Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (33) Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt (34) It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. (35). (Qura’n, 16-19)
Thank you and peace be upon you,
Fatma Al-Lawati, PhD.
University of Virginia
While I received this letter from a friend via email, I looked around online to make sure it is legitimate. It is. Dr. Fatma Al-Lawati is a real person and is indeed a distinguished scholar. Her letter can be found at various locations on the Internet, including a full reprint of it on the Muslim Observer website, at this link: www.muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6348. This is real, and it just happened two months ago. May we all learn to be more compassionate and to treat one another with dignity and respect.