Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
“There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment,and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)
“2015 San Bernardino attack,” from Wikipedia (12/21/2015):
“On December 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, California, 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in a terrorist attack, which consisted of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in the city of Redlands, California, targeted a San Bernardino County, California Department of Public Health training event and holiday party of about 80 employees in a rented banquet room. Farook was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who was a health department employee. Malik was a Pakistani-born lawful permanent resident of the United States.
“After the shooting, the couple fled in a rented sport utility vehicle (SUV). Four hours later, police pursued their vehicle and killed them in a shootout. On December 3, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a counter-terrorism investigation. On December 6, in a prime-time address delivered from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama called the shooting an act of terrorism.”
In the face of this terrible, terrible tragedy, we feel a mass of emotions, including anger at the perpetrators, sorrow for the victims, and, sooner or later, fear. Mass shootings have become more and more commonplace over the past few years, so that we sense that what happened in San Bernardino could easily happen to us. Whatever other “rational” thoughts we might have, we want to feel that we and our loved ones are safe.
In this case, we sense danger from what some people call “radical Islam” – the idea that a certain percentage of Muslims adopt the belief that God wants them to commit acts of terrorism. Since several recent terrorist attacks in the US and around the world have been linked to this philosophy, we begin to suspect Muslims in general, wondering how many other potential Syed Farooks are out there, or, even worse, living here, in our neighborhoods, planning their own acts of terror.
This way of thinking is natural. Throughout American history, we have always harbored suspicion of those who are new, and who are unlike us. Catholics, Germans, African Americans, and Japanese Americans are just a few of the peoples that have suffered because of suspicion that something about their group beliefs or ideas represented a danger. Our society has a long history of overreacting when we feel threatened by those among us who are different. Therefore, it is no surprise that American society overreacts today.
Thus far, in 2015, 19 non-Muslim Americans (out of 319 million) have died from acts committed by people claiming to be motivated by “Muslim” ideology, less than 1 in 10 million. These odds are much, much lower than, say the odds of being killed in gun violence perpetrated by non-Muslims. While the attacks in San Bernardino and Chattanooga are worthy of our attention, blaming Muslims at large for the deaths of 19 people makes little sense in the face of 13 thousand other Americans killed by guns so far in 2015.
What then is the best response for Christians – those of us who seek to put God first in our lives? We know that God calls us to love all people, including our enemies. But what about our fear? Again, fear is natural: We do not need to condemn the feeling. But there is action that Christians must take in the face of fear, as quoted at the top of this post: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
The Christian call, therefore, is to show love to Muslims who live among us. In real terms, this means acting genuinely kind, welcoming, hospitable – all of the things we know about “love” from 1 Corinthians 13. It also means offering protection and support. Many Muslims have a hard time these days, as attacks against Muslims and their mosques have been on the rise. Muslims are also painfully aware of relentless anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, much of it from our leaders. Might Muslims be forbidden from travel, or have to make a special registration with the government? True love means working to alleviate the real discomforts Muslims face, and speaking out against anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice.
Despite what some will say, the vast majority of us are in no danger whatsoever from Muslims – or from people who call themselves “Muslims.” The prospect of harm to Muslims in our neighborhoods is much more real. As people called to truth and love, let’s be a help to those who truly are facing difficult times.