Saturday, March 5, 2011

What's a Muslim?

"What's a Muslim?" my 4-yr-old son Braden asked me in response to a conversation he overheard. In the next few moments I knew I had a choice - do I highlight the differences or the common ground? I knew that this was a potentially formative moment for my son. How do I hope Braden will interact with our Muslim friends and those he will meet in the future? I know about Jesus' warnings about not causing these little ones to stumble...something about a lake and a millstone...

I answered, "Well, Muslim people believe in one God, they believe in giving to the poor, and prayer. But they don't believe that Jesus is the special Son of God the same way we do." I thought that sounded pretty good; but then Braden asked the obvious question...

"But we're right aren't we?"

Hmmm... How to answer. I know he won't let me off the hook here. I said, "Of course I think I'm right, but so do people who believe differently than I do. And I think it's more important to be kind and respectful than it is to show others that we're right. Do you understand?"

"Yep."

"Good."

I have to admit I have been a little surprised by the recent increase in hostility many in the media and in my life have expressed toward Muslims. I keep thinking that we are starting to move past our prejudices and irrational fears and I start to become hopeful. I just don't get it. I remember right after 9/11 being so impressed at our president's comments about Muslims. I remember good old Dubyuh saying that Islam is a religion of peace and that we should treat our Muslim neighbors kindly and that we should not try to retaliate against them personally or against their religious Mosques. At least that's how I remember it.

It's interesting to me how much hatred has been generated since the whole "Ground-Zero-Mosque controversy. The reason given by survivors and pundits for not allowing the building is because the sight is sacred ground. And yet to my knowledge their have been no organized efforts to clean up the surrounding area from drugs, prostitution, greed, etc.

In many ways I think it is fitting and strangely beautiful to think about a place where so much suffering and tragedy occurred as a sacred space. A similar controversy was raised in Auschwitz with the establishment of the Holocaust Memorial. A request was made to remove nearby Christian symbols. The Jewish people agreed this is a sacred space because so much suffering occurred. I believe that eventually some of the nearby monasteries were moved.

Jesus' words regarding these issues resonate so deeply with me - "Love your enemies." He says (essentially), "It's easy to love your friends, so what. Now loving your natural enemies that says something." Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus sometime surprise me by witnessing to the truth of these words. When natural enemies are able to see the humanity and the light of God in the other and can find healing and reconciliation, I find it endlessly beautiful. And when we obsess over the potential threats and the other-ness of our neighbor it is just so predictable and unoriginal and bleh. At least that's my gut response.