A good friend of mine, pastor Bob, is an expert on Christian-Muslim relations.
Today at lunch I asked Bob, “If you could say any one thing about Islam or Muslims to American Christians, or to Americans generally, what would it be?” As he started talking, I started taking notes. This is what he said:
“I would say that most Muslims are just as apathetic about their faith as most Christians are. The vast majority of Muslims are just like all those Christians who only come to church on Easter and Christmas—culturally religious, but not strictly or observantly so. They question the reality of God; they question the faith system they grew up in; they have times in their lives when they’re more or less religious. They appreciate the value of what their religion can bring to their lives, but aren’t necessarily inclined to make it the focus of their lives. Muslims know they’re supposed to kneel toward Mecca and pray five times a day, but most don’t do it. Just like most Christians don’t go to church every Sunday. Same thing.
“I would also say that just like most Christians don’t want anyone thinking that Christianity is well represented by the Aryan Nation, the KKK, Timothy McVeigh, abortion clinic bombers, or any violent group that adapts the mantle and symbols of Christianity, Muslims are absolutely appalled by the idea that anyone would actually believe that Muslim terrorists are representatives of Islam. They hate the terrorists as much as anyone does.
“I guess that’s the other main thing I would like to say: too few Americans understand what a warped, crazy view of Islam and Muslims we get from our media. I was recently in a conference session filled with working reporters and journalists. All of them had written human interest stories about typical, everyday American Muslims: people involved in outreach efforts, who were spearheading education initiatives, who ran non-profit organizations that benefited their communities. And not one of those writers could get those stories of theirs published. Their editors didn’t want them. No one did. They had given up trying to tell those stories.
“The business of the American ‘news’ business isn’t to deliver news at all. It’s to deliver the kind of emotionally inflammable stimulus that gets and keeps people excited and riled up—and coming back for more. Enraged Muslims burning American presidents in effigy sells soap and cars—so that’s what we get on our televisions. Meanwhile, a billion Muslims around the world can’t understand why no one in America seems to understand how horrified they were by 9-11, too.
“I recently met with a sheikh here in San Diego. (Pronounced “shake,” a sheikh is a scholar and acknowledged Muslim community leader.) Someone asked him why he, in coordination with the Muslims in his community, wasn’t more outspoken in his condemnation of Muslim terrorists. He smiled wearily, and said, ‘We’ve condemned and condemned and condemned; we’re tired of condemning. We did it for years on end. No newspaper or television people attended our public pronouncements. No publications ran our press releases. No one covered our demonstrations for peace. No one listened. How long can you keep saying the same thing to no one?’
“Also,” continued Bob, “evangelical Christians and traditional practicing Muslims are like two peas in a pod. They have identical conservative values: anti-gay, pro-family, the sanctity of marriage, the father as the head of the family, being a good citizen, fostering community, living a disciplined life, showing hospitality. Conservative Christians have more in common with traditional Muslims than they do with any other group. They should see them as their strongest allies and partners. Instead, conservative Christians are the most critical of their Muslim counterparts!
“Which reminds me of one more thing. Most Christians have no idea how much Muslims love Jesus.”
“They do?” I said.
“Love him,” said Bob. “Muslims love Jesus.”