Love thy Muslim neighbour
I have been somewhat surprised and saddened by the increasing number of anti-muslim comments and posts by some friends and Christian leaders recently on social media.
The recent coverage of IS brutality, beheadings, torture, crucifixions, stories of abductions – all available in high definition on our smart phones and tablets – has created a climate of fear and helplessness. Therefore, the desire to do something, anything, is understandable.
I completely understand the natural response to the violence we see. We want to use our superior force to overcome theirs. We want revenge. We want justice.
But is this the way of Jesus? Is this the narrow path he spoke about? Is this the more excellent the apostle Paul spoke about?
The current crisis with IS cannot be solved by violence, force or systematic bombing. It requires much deeper thought and patient action.
The goal of terrorism is to inject fear into a culture. Technology has added a whole new dimension to this. But a fear based response to terrorism ultimately will not achieve lasting peace and stability.
Carl Madeiros, an international expert on Muslims/Christian relations, says:
“His way is not passive. The way of the cross is perhaps the most aggressive stance towards evil ever taken. The love that God offers the world, in Christ, is not wimpy – it is a robust affront to the systems of our day that cry out for blood and revenge. The way of Jesus is the hard way. Forgiveness, love, choosing to lay down our lives is the most difficult path in the face of real enemies. Evil is real. But love is far more powerful.”
Jesus ushered in a Kingdom with different values. It was an upside down Kingdom. A Kingdom where servants were crowned kings, where the way to life was through death and sacrificial love won the day.
The solution to this current crisis cannot be resolved quickly. We may feel a certain amount of gratification that our superior force has been able ‘degrade and destroy’ a few thousand radical Muslims in the Middle East but what consequences will have been unleashed across the world?
I don’t have lots of answers but here are a few questions I think we need to ask.
- Why are they so angry?
It is estimated that around 500 young British Muslims have travelled to Syria to join IS. Why have they done that? What have we done to provoke that? What could we do to stop it?
There are 1.5 million Muslims living in Britain. 46% of those were born in Britain.
They are British. 36% of British Muslims are leaving school with no qualifications, while a fifth of 16 to 24-year-old Muslims in Britain are unemployed. Forty per cent of British Muslims are in low skill jobs and nearly 70% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani children live in poverty.
26% of the prison population, 21,462 prisoners, was from a minority ethnic group. This compares to around one in 10 of the general population.
An article in the Guardian, ‘Young, Muslim and British’ quoted,
“Many young British Muslims feel insecure, lacking self-confidence and identity, haunted by failure and by personal experiences of deprivation, racism and, since 9/11, oppressive anti-terrorist measures and increasing Islamophobia: these are some of the elements which give such compelling force to the common identity this generation finds in being Muslim and the increasing confidence with which they assert it as a political identity.”
Deprivation. Lack of opportunity. Racism. Are these some of the reasons for the deep seated angry in many young British Muslims? This in no way justifies their actions but may go some way to helping us understand why they may be susceptible to radicalisation.
2. What logs are in our own eyes before we try to eliminate the specks in eyes of others?
Are we in the west so very different?
You may say we don’t behead innocent children. But we do create an environment where children are forced to work in squalid conditions creating goods for the western market. They lose their childhood and their innocence for the sake of our desire to look good or have a more comfortable lifestyle. Young girls are trafficked half way across the world to satisfy the sexual appetite of those in the west.
Dr Roger Haydon Mitchell in a recent blog, ‘Enemy-love – still the only lasting hope’, wrote,
“IS is simply more extreme and manifesting its foundational violence in the now. But both IS and the West are the result of accepting the principle that says the only way to peace is by the exercise of the instruments of sovereign power in the interests of the culture and desire of me and my group over the other, the different and the alien. These instruments consist in taking territory by violence, maintaining it by our own particular version of law, and sustaining it through economics of one kind or another. In the days of Roman empire and the Christendom partnership that followed it in the formation of the West, this was the way to the current democratic ‘peace,’ such as it is, and it is superior fire power, nuclear capability and unequal advantage in the global economy that maintains it. Western representative democracies are simply overlaid on this deep structural system, and will last only as long as our military, legal and economic advantage does. Unless the deep structures of violence, law and money are replaced by enemy-love, restorative justice and hospitality then the west will be constantly challenged by extreme forms of its own image, whether the Third Reich, the Soviet Union or the IS Caliphate and however we vote, the poorest and most vulnerable of the human multitude will continue to pay the price.”
In the decade since the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion, the US has spent a fortune training and arming the Iraqi army in the hopes of readying it to secure the country once America left. That meant arming the Iraqi army with high-tech and extremely expensive American-made guns, tanks, jeeps, artillery, and more.
But the Iraqi army has been largely a failure. When ISIS invaded northern Iraq from Syria in June, the Iraqi forces deserted or retreated en masse. Many of them abandoned their American equipment. ISIS scooped it up themselves and are now using it to rampage across Iraq, seizing whole cities, terrorizing minorities, and finally pushing into even once-secure Kurdish territory. All with shiny American military equipment.
According to a new study for Congress, overseas weapons sales by the United States totalled $66.3 billion last year driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions.
This accounts for more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.
There are some big logs we need to think about.
3. What seeds are in my heart?
If we take time to examine our own hearts we can find the very same seeds of prejudice, hatred, envy, lust, greed, pride and the desire for control of our own destiny that we see graphically portrayed on our screens day after day. It is challenging to realise that these are the very same seeds that we see manifest in the brutal IS regime.
Jesus said of the self-righteous Pharisees, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” Matthew 15:19
Given the right, or wrong, set of circumstances where would I be? How would I act?
Maybe IS acts like a mirror that shows us what we are really like?
Having asked those questions we need to ask, what can we do?
We participate with God in the unfolding of His purposes through prayer. For some of us that is frustrating because we would much rather ‘do’ something.
Saul had just overseen the summary execution of Stephen. Just think how shocking that would have been posted on YouTube? He was intent on murder and the persecution of Christians. But God dramatically met him on the road to Damascus and turned this man of violence into a man of peace.
Who knows what affect our prayers might have on the individuals caught up with IS, or Boko Haram, or Jund al-Khilafa, or whatever group appears next?
Stand up for peace
Peter, the follower of Jesus, said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9). Hatred only breeds more hatred in response; in contrast, grace and forgiveness can end it. This is a really big ask and requires great courage in the face of escalating violence. But we are followers of the One who is described as the Prince of Peace and as followers we must be a voice for peace.
Again, in his very helpful blog, Carl Madeiros, says,
“Jesus was rooted in Middle Eastern culture. He understood the power of shame and employs it brilliantly in three simple strategies in the words from Matthew chapter 5 – the Sermon on the Mount.
Each strategy is used by Jesus to show that the one who is being abused can take power back from the abuser by taking charge of the situation. “Turning the other cheek” wasn’t being passive – but a way to force the man who struck first to think about what he was doing before striking again.
Forcing a civilian to carry a pack an “extra mile” was actually illegal – so the Roman soldier would be in big trouble from his superiors if someone saw what was happening.
Taking off your “outer cloak” and showing your nakedness would have been a huge shame on the one who saw – not the one who took it off. Shaming is Jesus’ clever way of granting power to the powerless.
What if we spent a billion dollars on creative ways of shaming ISIS – what might we come up with?”
Another helpful article posted on Huffington Post site by Salam Al Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, is entitled, ‘The Key to Defeating IS is Islam’, where he uses the teachings of Islam to counter the ideology of IS.
Roger Haydon Mitchell affirms non-violent action, with this statement,
“This was true of the most famous examples such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but it is true of all who non-violently resist including the tortured, raped, martyred, beheaded and crucified who refuse hatred, vengeance and violent response on the front lines of the clash of empires. When Jesus said “they will put some of you to death … but not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18) he set the hope for the future that his own life, death and resurrection opened the way for. Those who needs must die daily are the ones with the most glaring public opportunity to overcome by love and prove whether the resurrection really can be the first fruits of a new humanity. We need their stories, and in the days and years to come they will become the foundations of a new culture of peace. This is why those who take their lead from Jesus must do all we can in prayer, giving, going to stand in the gap and non-violently resisting with and on behalf of the innocent. It is also why we must resist the status quo of violence, vengeance and affluence at the foundations of the Western system. It is why our lives wherever they are positioned have to become channels of mindset change, behaviour change and a new politics of enemy-love that can yet carry the day. This is the call of our time.”
Love thy Muslim neighbour
Our neighbours are Muslim. By that I mean the people who live next door to us. How can I love those people?
Our local Indian restaurant is run by a Bangladeshi Muslim family. How can I love those people?
According to the 2011 census there are 9,900 Muslims living in Southampton, the city I live in. How can I love those people?
I believe it is time to intentionally engage with our Muslim neighbours. It is time to find common ground that will create more cohesion in our communities and will go someway to addressing the challenges of radicalisation affecting our world.
We cannot demonise all Muslims because of the actions of a few so called radical Muslims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims reject the ideology of these radicalised groups. We must not live in fear but in love. Those of us who are followers of Jesus have a narrow path to walk. We have His example to follow. We cannot be swept along on a wave of reaction and desire for vengeance. The road to lasting peace is long. The solutions will not be easy but the first steps we take will determine our future destination.
Some helpful articles: