Friday, October 10, 2014

Can We Trust Muslims?

Recently I have had some dialogue (via email) about Muslims with a Thinking Friend who is a retired Baptist pastor.
Responding to a questionable email he had forwarded to me, among several others, I wrote, “I think we (Americans and/or Christians) must be careful not to consider many if not most Muslims to be radicals. Islam should not be judged by looking at the radical Islamists any more than Christianity should be judged by looking at the KKK.”
In response, my TF wrote, “The credibility of separating radical from moderate Muslims lies in the fact that Moderate Muslims, who are the majority, do little or nothing to denounce the radical movement. Christians make no bones about denouncing the KKK, the Jim Jones radicals and others under the rubric of Christianity who deny the basic ideals set forth by Jesus.”
He went on to say, “I personally believe Islam is evil to the core based upon the nature of Allah and the teachings of the Koran. It is a religion of war and conquest rather than love and acceptance (grace).”
My response to that was to send him several recent articles about moderate Muslims speaking out clearly in opposition to ISIS and radical Islam: articles, for example, that you can read here and here.

In this same vein, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the World Council of Churches general secretary, recently welcomed publication of an open letter by 126 Muslim scholars to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” condemning the atrocities committed by ISIS. (Here is that link.)
In the most recent email received about this issue from my TF, he wrote about recently seeing on Fox News an interview with an anonymous Muslim who “specifically referred to the speeches of [moderate] Muslim scholars . . . as a way to deceive Americans to get in their good graces, thus working their way into business, government, education and even religion.”
That was a rather scary interview, which you can see here.
So my TF concluded, “I'm just not convinced of the good intentions of the ‘moderate’ Muslim community. [It is] all deceitful talk.”
But is it?
My TF failed to mention that the same Fox News program, to their credit, also had an interview with Qanta Ahmed (M.D.), associate professor of medicine at SUNY. She spoke out in no uncertain terms against ISIS.
Last month Dr. Ahmed wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled, “My beautiful faith is being overtaken by the beheaders I’ve studied.”
Further, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, in August reiterated its condemnation of the “un-Islamic and morally repugnant” violence and religious extremism of the ISIS.
CAIR rallies against ISIS have recently been held in Tulsa (9/19) and in Houston (10/3). The leader of the former rally was quoted as saying, “ISIS not only represents the worst of humanity, but their actions are without a doubt the antithesis of Islam’s teachings.”
Of course, it is possible that Dr. Ahmed and especially CAIR are being deceptive and that we American Christians (and others) should not take seriously what they say. But that seems like a cynical and, most probably, unnecessary stance.
It is not good to be gullible. But neither is extreme suspicion and rejection of statements made in good faith a commendable position.
Even though there are, no doubt, some Muslims whom we cannot and should not trust, most Muslims in this country are probably as trustworthy as most of the people of other religions.

16 comments:

  1. Well said, Leroy. This is a most important issue that we must deal with -- our own prejudices about Islam. I find myself wondering if your TF friend actually ever heard any Christians publicly denounce the KKK and/or the Jim Jones radicals. I can't remember any such denouncings. I just assume we would denounce such things.

    We all need to read the Qur'an, study Islam, and get in touch with the Muslim community. Only then can we clarify our differences in an unprejudiced and informed manner.

    What I find weird about all these enthusiastic "Christians" comparing Islam unfavorably with Christianity is the total avoidance of any mention that Christianity's Lord and Savior apparently taught us to love our enemies. Hm...

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    1. Many thanks, as always, for reading and responding to my blog posting.

      Several days ago I said something to my son-in-law about working on this article, and the first thing he said about the TF was, "I wonder if he has any Muslim friends."

      My quick response was, "I seriously doubt it."

      And my guess is that the more Islamic friends/acquaintances a person has, the less likely they will be to criticize/condemn Islam and Muslims.

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  2. I'm not a public theologian or anyone of note, but I have, among friends, denounced the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. I would be horrified to think that anyone thought I was merely hiding my real intentions and that my talk was deceitful and I was actually trying to advance that group's agenda. How absurd! I think we owe Muslims the same respect and benefit of the doubt we would wish to receive. Matthew 7:12

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    1. Good point, Debra! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Leroy, I share your concern. There have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of public condemnations by Muslism all over the world. All you have to do is do a search on "condemnation of Muslim extremists" and you get pages of them. Muslims are discouraged by the relentless false accusation of doing nothing. Read, for example: http://en.qantara.de/content/debate-about-the-role-of-muslims-in-fighting-islamist-terrorism-is-is-not-just-a-muslim.

    Since strengthening moderate voices is probably our best long-term defence against religious extremism, the exhaustion of some is bad for all. A critical insight for our time is understanding how to care for and sustain the kind of leaders we want to shape our world. It is no longer an option to assume that voices for light are adequately sustained by their own foundations. We must take responsibility to think carefully about how to encourage and support even those not in our immediate communities. "Hearing" and actively, publicly appreciating constructive voices is one way to do this.

    We must confront our own bigots with the damage they do to our security by tearing down precisely the people they ought to be building up.
    I'm thinking about establishing an online repository/catalogue of known statements since 2001. A good web researcher could gather that in a few weeks. It would help expose the ignorance of the critics and, I believe, send an important message to moderate Muslims - they have appreciative allies!

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    1. Ron, thanks so much for your very significant comments

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  4. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who comments often and always thoughtfully and helpfully, writes,

    "Thanks, Leroy, for sharing parts of your dialogue with your TF.

    "Perhaps the question should be, 'Can Muslims trust us?'

    "Islam is not well understood by outsiders, and not even by some Muslims (i.e., ISIS members). The term 'Islam' means 'submission' (to the will of Allah). What this entails is a deep sense of humility and compassion.

    "Although the Qur'an contains some verses (or ayat) that strike me as vile, one must remember that the Bible also contains some vile verses. Most of the verses in the Qur'an where violence is condoned are purportedly from the mouth of Allah and involve actions that only Allah and the heavenly host will take as Allah is the only true judge.

    "Except for self-defense, the Qur'an does not generally condone violence by human beings. (Note, however, Sura 47 ['Mohammed'] where it says, 'When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly. Then grant them their freedom or take ransom from them, until War shall lay down her armor.'

    "The beheading is urged only 'on the battlefield'; that is, during a battle; it is clear that beheading someone after he has been captured is not condoned.)

    "I have met Muslims who are deeply religious with a strong sense of humility and compassion. What they dislike about the West, and perhaps the U S specifically, is our materialistic, consumerist, hedonistic culture. They think we are trying to force this culture onto Islamic lands.

    "It should be noted that Muslims, generally, have a deeper sense of economic and social justice than we realize, or practice, in the U S.

    "Much, perhaps most, of the violence in the Islamic world is motivated by nationalistic or ethnic concerns. Islam is a unifying force or culture, which is being used to justify violence motivated by other factors.

    "One important distinction in Islam is between 'jihad' or the personal struggle to submit to the will of Allah, and 'jihadism' or the fight against non-Islamic 'occupiers.'

    "Instead of killing more Muslims with bombs and drones, or supporting 'lawn mowing' in Gaza by Israel, the U S needs to stand up for human rights, the dignity of ALL human beings, and nonviolence. But to do this, we must first show that we stand for these values in our own country."

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  5. Dr. George Takashima, my Thinking Friend who is a Japanese-Canadian pastor, writes,

    "I agree with you that we must not judge all as being extremists. Yes, there are the radicals (ISIS) who seem to receive an awful lot of publicity; however the majority are in my opinion people whom we can trust to be good citizens in the countries they reside.

    "I am reminded of the experiences that Canadians and Americans of Japanese ancestry had to endure during WW2. The majority of us were very much loyal citizens of Canada and USA and we abhorred the evils and atrocities committed by the Japanese military; yet we had to endure the wrath of the Caucasians, especially those living on the west coast because that is where the majority of the CJs and AJs lived. No matter how much we tried to convince the governments and peoples of our loyalty to our respective countries, we were removed from our homes and placed in 'internment' camps.

    "I believe most of the Muslims are good people and good loyal citizens. Some of them will speak out against the extremists and their unacceptable activities. I am also reminded, though, that many fear to speak out because they have families back in the countries they came from and the fear of course is that these family members' lives could be at stake.

    "I have known of several instances where because someone spoke out (here in Canada), their family members 'back home' were threatened, taken captives, some tortured and put to death etc.

    Many of our aboriginals who had good experiences attending residential schools in Canada do not speak out and refute statements made by aboriginal leaders because they have family members still living on the reserves and they can easily be ostracized for comments made by those family members who succeeded in the main stream--but that is another story."

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  6. Here are very interesting comments by Thinking Friend Patrick Crews, who now lives in California:

    "I taught English at a language school in Jakarta, Indonesia for about nine months back in the early '80s. Indonesia has a majority of Muslims. All my encounters with people of the Islamic Tradition there were positive ones.

    "I, at the time though, had one of those blanket opinions about Islam. In my thinking it was an inferior tradition, because it lacked the teaching of Grace, and was therefore a religion of law and obedience to law.

    "The school janitor, an Indonesian Muslim asked me to pick something up for him when I went to Singapore. I entirely forgot about it, including that he'd asked. So I didn't understand why he was cold to me later.

    "I asked him why, and he reminded me. I apologized and asked his forgiveness, which he enthusiastically gave with an attitude of gratitude for being given the opportunity to forgive.

    "Then he asked me the question that overturned my blanket assumptions:

    "'Do Christians also believe in forgiveness?'"

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  7. Dr. Glenn Hinson, my esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky, sent this significant comment:

    "I agree with you, Leroy. This is a very touchy subject, of course, but we must not let fears aroused by ISIS distort our relationship with Muslim friends. The main opponents of ISIS in Syria and Iraq are Muslims. Many of them risk their lives to stop this scourge."

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  8. In the United States, Islam has become one more political football. This is not to say that there are no problems in and for Islam, as Fareed Zakaria discussed in a Washington Post article October 9: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-islam-has-a-problem-right-now-but-heres-why-bill-maher-is-wrong/2014/10/09/b6302a14-4fe6-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html?wpisrc=nl-headlines&wpmm=1

    The fact is, the greatest terrorist threat in United States currently springs from largely Christian origins. So-called "sovereign citizens" and other rightwing groups have engaged in sporadic attacks, even on law enforcement. Abortion clinics have been bombed, and their doctors shot, such as the shooting of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, by a Christian, in Dr. Tiller's church, on a Sunday morning. A few years ago, a number of politicians had to (temporarily) recalibrate their rhetoric, when Timothy McVey acted it out by literally blowing up a Federal office building in Oklahoma City. Perhaps we should remember Jesus' advice to get the beams out of our own eyes before we work on the specks in our brothers' eyes.

    One Muslim I recently heard on the Charlie Rose Show especially impressed me. Her name is Irshad Manji, and she was discussing her book, Allah, Liberty and Love. Her website is: http://irshadmanji.com/ The subtitle to the book is "The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom." I ordered her book, and was very impressed. It currently is out on loan. Such Muslims are out there, if we are willing to see them.

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  9. Dr. Will Adams, a Thinking Friend who is a retired political science professor at William Jewell College, writes,

    "I agree with your views on Muslims, and would add that many Muslims who would denounce extremism live in cultures that are hostile to their views and they may therefore fear for their safety if they speak out.

    "Every major world religion has had extremists who resort to violence against those who disagree with them. If the only things we knew about Christianity were the stories of the Crusades, the 30 years war, the 100 years war, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials, to say nothing of the KKK, we would probably take a dim view of Christianity. Yet the perpetrators of these acts, while professing Christianity, had little affinity for the teachings of Christ.

    "I think the extremists of any faith have little in common with the tenants of those faiths."

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  10. Dr. Ed Chasteen, Thinking Friend and founder of Hatebusters, writes,

    "I find it useful to assume that the minds and hearts of those who hold opinions and world views I do not share are as honest and well motivated as I am. Unless I assume that of them, I cannot expect them to make that assumption of me. Without that mutual assumption, we both lose."

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  11. Here's a link to my review of the book "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism" by Karima Bennoune. It's a book that tells the stories of many different moderate muslims who opposed extremest versions of their religion.

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    1. Thanks, Clif, for linking to the review of that interesting book (that I did not know about). That book seems to strongly support the point I was trying to make in this blog article.

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  12. I much appreciate the gracious response made by the Thinking Friend with whom I dialogued, leading to the writing of this blog article. Here is part of what he wrote:

    "I believe you dealt fairly with our dialogue and I appreciate that. Obviously, my point of view is not shared by your other TFs. I respect that but I still feel in my gut that Islam is deceitful and dangerous.
    . . . .
    "Thanks again for your fair treatment of our dialogue and this subject."

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