The first batch of beer I ever brewed was in the home of a Muslim.
I have been a homebrewer, on and off (mostly off these past few years), since I got a homebrewing kit for my twenty-seventh birthday, in 1992. I was in the Marines then and not yet bold enough to brew right in the barracks (though that would change), so a Marine in my platoon, who was married, offered to let me brew my first batch in his house on base. He was Puerto Rican. His wife, a native of Morocco, was Muslim.
I had a vague sense that beer and all alcohol was taboo for Muslims, but I was too young and stupid back then to fully appreciate what it must have meant for her to let me brew an alcoholic beverage in her house. Looking back almost thirty years later, I think I should have been on my knees in gratitude, and maybe also should have sent flowers (though I did thank her profusely, as I recall, for letting me take over her kitchen that Sunday afternoon).
For a long time, I never thought much about Islam, even after my time in Mogadishu. Then along came 9/11 and I went on a years-long hate of both Islam and Muslims. I got over that, thanks in part to getting to know this couple once again on Facebook. But also, one day I was telling someone that he should not judge all Catholics by the Irish Republican Army, or by the crimes of a handful of pervert priests, and I realized that I was guilty of exactly that: judging all Muslims by the acts of a handful of fanatics.
I now publicly repent of that, and I apologize for it. I was wrong and I am sorry.
A groundbreaking visit
All this came rushing back to me this weekend when I saw this story: “Muslim leaders join Holocaust survivors to pray at Auschwitz in ‘groundbreaking’ visit.” The occasion was to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary (which is Monday) of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army in 1945.
The delegation was led by Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the secretary general of the Saudi Arabia-funded Muslim World League, and is thought to be the most senior group of Islamic faith representatives to ever visit a Nazi death camp.
“To be here, among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and Islamic communities, is both a sacred duty and a profound honour,” Mr Al-Issa said during the ground-breaking visit.
“The unconscionable crimes to which we bear witness today are truly crimes against humanity. That is to say, a violation of us all, an affront to all of God’s children.”
The Muslim leaders stood side by side with figures from the oldest Jewish advocacy group in the United States, the American Jewish Committee, which had helped organise the trip.
We want to succumb to hate and fear. It is easy, as I know too well. But it also is lazy. Hate and fear are the refuge of a coward. It is nothing to hate. It is everything to love. To fail in love is, as Mr. Al-Issa said, an affront to all God’s children. Indeed, the God worshipped by all three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, commands us to love.The Quran has much to say about love. So do the Jewish and Christian scriptures in the Bible. God says in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is this passage that Jesus—honored by Muslims and worshipped by Christians—quotes in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Meanwhile, in America
I guess it was no accident that the same day I saw the story about Muslims and Holocaust survivors praying together in Auschwitz, I also saw this story: “Christian protesters confront Muslim school children: ‘Repent or go to hell—you worship a false God!’”
The protesters were adult men, and the Muslims they shouted this at were children. Children. Who had simply traveled to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt to celebrate Muslim Day.
To his everlasting credit, one Kentucky state legislator, Rep. David Hale, a Republican and a pastor, “rebuffed the protesters, saying he ‘would die for their right to worship the god that they so choose.’”
I do not know what lies have been told to the men who threatened these children with hell, but without in any way judging their souls, I can say that there is nothing even remotely Christian about what they did, that it in no way reflects the spirit of the Gospel.
I also do not know why God would reveal himself in such different ways to different peoples, not only around the world, but also to people who practically live on top of each other. But I imagine that an infinite being just might have a purpose that completely escapes my capacity to understand, and I trust him enough to do what he tells me to do in the Faith in which he saw fit to plant me.
Specifically, the Mother of Jesus, also honored by Muslims and Christians, tells us, “Do whatever he tells you,” meaning Jesus. And what Jesus tells us is to love. So that’s what I’ll do.
My Marine friend and his wife? I am grateful for both of them, and I love both of them. I have not seen either since I left the Marine Corps and I probably will not see them again in person, at least in this world. But whatever Heaven is, I hope we all meet there, to bask in love for all eternity.