Christians Must Reject Islamophobia

Christians Must Reject Islamophobia December 20, 2019

Fibonacci Blue: Protesters Against Islamophobia and Hate Speech /flickr

Christians are expected to promote the dignity of every human person. To do this, they must protect the rights of everyone. They must especially protect everyone from the harm which is caused by false accusations. This is because, when people are falsely accused of things they have not done, this is often done so that the lose some, if not all, of their rights, and therefore, their human dignity.  While not all defamation is successful, nor does all of it have the same desired end, all defamation is dangerous and must be protested, no matter who it is that is being defamed.

Christians are expected to protect the dignity of all, and not just those who are fellow Christians. We are to treat everyone with the dignity and respect we ourselves would like to be treated. “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets (Mat. 7:12 RSV). This is true, no matter who it is we are talking about, and what they have done, or would do, to us. Christians cannot suggest how they think others will act against us means we have a right to disregard their basic dignity. We are to follow the law of Christ, the law of love, which means we are to do good to all, even to those who we consider to be our enemies. “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk. 6:27 RSV). We are not expected to follow the way people treat us, but rather, the way Christ has told us to treat everyone. We are called to do good, to help people, even if they would not help us, indeed, even if they would persecute us.

But the truth is, many Christians disobey Christ. They will treat others as enemies, even if they wish us no harm. They will persecute others, doing to others what they want to do out of power rather than out of love. And they will justify their actions based upon false premises, or worse, upon defamation of others. Throughout history. false accusations and misrepresentations of the other have led many Christians to unjustly persecute and destroy many who wishes them no harm. Some variation of: “You don’t want to experience what they would do to us if we don’t do this to them first” has been commonly used to justify the unjustifiable. This is especially true in regards Christians with Muslims. Many Christians spread misinformation and fear about Islam in order to justify discrimination and abuse against Muslims. And when people respond to them that Christians should not be like that, the response is “but the Muslims will abuse you if you don’t act like this.”  What is clear is that many Christians are willingly turn their back on Christ, on all that is meant to be a Christian, so that they can attack those who they consider to be their enemies.

This has been a problem for a long time. Christian treatment of others, especially Jews and Muslims, but also indigenous peoples around the world, has been far from Christians. They have not respected the rights and dignity of others. This is why Vatican Council II took the necessary initiative to teach in Nostra Aetate that religious liberty should be promoted, and respect should be given to everyone so that they can be free from religious discrimination:

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven. [1]

But, Vatican II understood, Jews, Christians and Muslims have much in common, being the three main Abrahamic religions. They not only share the same God, they share the Abrahamic tradition concerning that God with each other. Islam has much in common with the Christian faith, though of course, Muslims are not Christians because they hold significantly different religious doctrines from Christians (such as on the Trinity, the incarnation, and soteriology). But these theological differences do not change the fact that they share much in common, and Christians historically can and did recognize much within Islam as being worthy of respect, even as they recognized and honored many noteworthy Muslims.  This could have, and should have, led Christians and Muslims to work together for the greater glory of God. Instead, the differences have often left many Christians and Muslims fighting each other, creating various polemics against each other, which have promoted a great deal of misunderstanding and prejudice against each other. Christians and Muslims, far from rejoicing in their commonality have come to embrace, in history, an active and bitter hostility towards each other. This, Vatican II said, should be put to and end:

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.[2]

To be sure, the reality of history, shows that just as there are Christians and Muslims treating each other poorly, there is also the reality of Christians and Muslims (and Jews) coming together, working together, treating each other with respect and working for the common good. This is exactly what needs to happen again. When Christians are in the majority, they should welcome, and not reject, Muslim immigrants, finding ways for them to share in the common good. They should follow the example of Abraham and his hospitality to strangers. Muslims, likewise, should do the same in their nations for Christians, Jews, and anyone else who would live with them. This was a part of the message which St. John Paul II gave when speaking about and to Muslims:

There have been in the past, and there continue to be in the present, unfortunate instances of misunderstanding, intolerance and conflict between Christians and Muslims, especially in circumstances where either Muslims or Christians are a minority or are guest workers in a given country: It is our challenge as religious leaders to find ways to overcome such difficulties in a spirit of justice, brotherhood and mutual respect. Hence, by considering the proper means of carrying out mission and da’wah, you are dealing with an issue which is important both for religious and for social harmony.[3]

Thankfully, Christians are no longer secluded in the world. They are not meant to be. Those who would like such an option only try to cover the light of truth which they have been given.  Thankfully, such an attitude toward the world remains a minor, albeit dangerous, position, as the reality of history brings Christian face to face with non-Christians from all religious traditions. And, as the Guidelines For Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims indicates, by living together, instead of trying to stay separate from each other and the world, Christians and Muslims are working together, doing much good with each other for society as a whole:

Christians and Muslims find themselves nearly everywhere living together in a world that moves painfully towards unity. Whether deliberately or not they are collaborating for human progress, working together for the well-being of all, side by side with many people, believers, and unbelievers; those who belong to the great historic religions, to recent religious movements and to modern ideologies. [4]

Christians and Muslims in many lands, such as the United States, have come together for centuries, showing that they can put aside their differences for the good of all. In doing so, they can see many of the prejudices and misrepresentations polemicists have made are false. But the sad fact is, while this is going on, and many Christians and Muslims have grown to know each other, and respect each other, even learn from each other, others are not following this ideal, and instead are engaging in more and worse xenophobic polemics. In the so-called Western world, many Christians continue to universalize what a few bad Muslims do and use it to represent Islam and justify hatred towards Muslims. This must stop. Christians must be true to Christ. No matter what they think of Islam, what they think of Muslims, they must forgo all such hate and hateful polemics, and instead engage Muslims with the love Christ expects Christians to show everyone. Pope Benedict XVI, understanding this, said:

I call upon the Church, in every situation, to persist in esteem for Muslims, who “worship God who is one, living and subsistent; merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.” If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism. In her social apostolate, the Church does not make religious distinctions. She comes to the help of those in need, be they Christian, Muslim or animist. In this way she bears witness to the love of God, creator of all, and she invites the followers of other religions to demonstrate respect and to practise reciprocity in a spirit of esteem. I ask the whole Church, through patient dialogue with Muslims, to seek juridical and practical recognition of religious freedom, so that every citizen in Africa may enjoy not only the right to choose his religion freely and to engage in worship, but also the right to freedom of conscience. Religious freedom is the road to peace.[5]

Islamophobia is every bit as anti-Christian as anti-Semitism, although for differing reasons. Many anti-Semites will recognize Christians and Jew share a belief in the one God in common, but anti-Muslim polemics tries to remove that basic unity. Thus, it is important for Christians to point out to each other that a belief in the monotheistic God, especially belief in the monotheistic God which is tied to history through Abraham, no matter how that God is understood, will always be belief in the one God which is. Jews, Christians, Muslims, deists, monotheists all religious and philosophical traditions, all are addressing and believing in the one God, even if they are doing so in a way apart from the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Since it is common for Islamophobia to encourage a disconnect between Christians and Muslims, it is important to reiterate that despite different understandings of God, Christians and Muslims worship the same God in common, and indeed, share many beliefs about that one God. St. Thomas Aquinas would not have been be able to use Muslim philosophical literature to talk about the existence of God if Muslims worshiped a “different God.”

Christians are called to esteem Muslims, insofar as they follow God, and their actions demonstrate a true and honest attempt to follow God and the righteousness they understand God would have them have. Christianity is not a purely intellectual endeavor where righteousness is held by those who best can talk about God – that line of thought leads to Gnosticism and the belief that most Christians are doomed as most of them will not be able to properly theologize about God (if any!). Christianity is a religion of faith and fidelity to the God who is love. Many Muslims show themselves faithful to God based upon their understanding of God, and in doing so, show their understanding relates to God with notions of love and not just simple obedience. Muslims can love God, and realize the love of God in their lives, even if they have yet to come to the fullness of revelation in Jesus, and as Muslims do this, they are to be respected. To try to attack them for their differences, and possibly for the errors within their tradition, and use that to justify discrimination, abuse, and hate, is only to ignore Jesus himself taught.

Yes, Christians and Muslims will disagree, just as Christians and Jews will. But that doesn’t discount their connection to each other, nor does it justify polemics which uses the differences to create unseemly caricatures of each other’s faith. When Christians act in this manner, they only justify non-Christian polemics against Christianity, as the actions of Christians will be used against them. Thus, as Vatican II stated, as Popes have stated, Christians need to do better, and that means, getting to know Muslims and the various forms of Islamic thought, coming to respect and learn from Muslims in the process (and those who would discount this must reject St. Thomas Aquinas who learned much from Muslims in his scholarly readings and research). Thus, as John Garvey wrote:

The image of a unilaterally intolerant Islam presented by modern Islamists can obscure the fact that, historically, Islam has accommodated a range of interpretations, from the tolerance of Sufism and the relatively harmonious period during the first years of Islamic occupation of Iberia during the early Middle Ages, to the puritanical rigor of the Wahabist form of Islam that dominates contemporary Saudi Arabia. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, the majority of them chose to migrate to Islamic countries rather than Christian nations; they could count on more tolerance from Muslims than from Christians.[6]

Christians have created all kinds of black legends about Muslims, including terrible, polemical accounts of Muhammad. Not all Christians have had this attitude; indeed, some, even early on, like Paul of Antioch, have speculated that Muhammad could have been a true prophet (who worked to promote monotheism, preparing the way for the acceptance of Christian revelation), but that position does not need to be held to contend against unhistorical polemical attacks on the founder of Islam which try to impute every base motive and deed to him.  Thus, it is very important for Christians to forgo many of the black legends they hold against Muslims, similar to the way they have to reject similar polemics against the Jews, and rather, learn anew history from the Muslims themselves, overturning centuries of bias. In doing so, as Pope Francis pointed out, that means welcoming Muslim migrants, showing them our love, giving them the freedom to practice their faith we would like to have for us, and in doing so, we will find partners in the world who we can work with and find we have more in common with them, in a practical sense, than not:

In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.[7]

This will go far in the kind of reconciliation which is needed. Just as Jacob and Esau found themselves reconciled, so Christians must be like Jacob, working to reconcile ourselves with our fellow monotheists, especially those who are our within the religious family tradition of Abraham, as St. John Paul II explained: “The history of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims is marked by patches of light and shadow and has unfortunately known some painful moments. Today we are aware of the pressing need for sincere reconciliation among believers in the one God.”[8] So long as polemics against Muslims (or Jews, or people of other faiths) continue to promote the worst kind of lies in order to justify ungodly hatred for the other, Christians are not living out their faith but are following a Satanic perversion of it, the kind which the Gospels show Christ was tempted with in the desert. We are not to seek power in the world, the power which such polemics generate: we are to rather show the world the true power of Christ, the power of love.

[1] Nosta Aetate. Vatican Translation. ¶5.

[2] Nosta Aetate, ¶3.

[3] St. John Paul II, “Address to a Delegation of the World Islamic Call Society” (2-15-1990).

[4] Maurice Bormans, ed., Guidelines for Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims. Trans. R. Marston Speight (New York: Paulist Press,1990), 13.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI. Africae Munus. Vatican translation. ¶94.

[6] John Garvey, Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 49-50.

[7][7] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Vatican translation. ¶252.

[8] St. John Paul II, “Address to the Conclusion of the Concert Dedicated to the Theme of Reconciliation Among Jews, Christians and Muslims” (01-17-2004). ¶2.


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