I would express my understanding of Sarah’s feelings. Islam is an impressive faith when someone is a pious, good Muslim. Particularly if one’s own faith is lukewarm or lacking, Islam is very appealing. When I lived and worked with Muslims in Palestine, I was challenged by their piety. It is natural that she should be drawn to it, especially through a friend.
Islam is definitely not idolatrous. No images of God are permitted. Christians may be viewed as idolatrous by Muslims because of pictures in stained glass windows and elsewhere in churches. We may also be viewed as polytheistic because of the doctrine of the trinity. Muslims believe in the same God we do, the God of Abraham. We all believe in the one true God.
When Muslims bow down toward Mecca, they are not worshipping idols but are simply facing east. Similar prayer positions are found throughout the Old and New Testaments with meanings such as “worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully” There is certainly nothing wrong in this approach to God almighty. The Islamic view of God is very high, one of reverence.
Christians often think that Allah, the Arabic word for God, is a false god, different from the God we serve. In the Arabic Old and New Testaments, this is the word used for God the Father. Arab Christians use this word in prayer and Scripture reading. Allah is none other than the same God we know and serve.This misunderstanding of who Allah is may be why Sarah’s mother thinks she has committed idolatry. Reassuring Sarah is no problem, but it is important that there be significant dialogue with her mother as well. I certainly do not want to put a wedge between Sarah and her mother. In talking with Sarah, I would want to have some one on one time with her mother regarding her concerns.
This is not to downplay real differences between the two faiths. The centrality of the meaning of the cross is a huge difference. There is also the issue of Jesus’ divinity, his death, burial, resurrection etc. This is not what should be focused upon however. The Quran says things about Jesus with which we disagree, but there are also teachings from which bridges of understanding may be built.
As Christians however, we need to realize that we are called to relate to those beyond our circle of church friends, beyond other Christians, knowing that God by the Holy Spirit is already at work whether we recongize God’s presence or not. Our desire in relating with those of other faiths should be to break down those barriers that divide us, to see the “other” as one made in the image of God, to understand that not all Muslims are right wing, fanatical terrorists, any more than all Christians are out to support Israel and destroy Islam and Arab peoples.
Sarah could certainly learn about Islam and remain a devout Christian. The Quran has much to say about Jesus. In exploration of what it says, it would be helpful to compare the Quran and the New Testament concerning Jesus—to see similarities and differences. Working from the commonalities, we can discuss the differences frankly. Sarah and her friend could perhaps work on this exercise together. Her friend could bring to the conversation what the Quran teaches of Jesus and Sarah, what the Scriptures teach.This way they can both learn from and teach each other.
In my previous experience with Muslims in Palestine, what made dialogue and understanding viable between Christians and Muslims was mutual respect of each other as persons. Friendship and trust was the basis of religious discussion. Involvement in such relatioships did/does not mean we set aside our own beliefs for the sake of pluralism.
David Teeter, head of Project Redemption wrote concerning such interfaith relationships, “They came to respect Jesus as they saw him in our lives, and we came to respect their devotion to God as they understood him in their faith [Islam].” When we see each other’s humanity, the dividing lines that erect enormous barriers between us blur. When I first moved to Bethlehem, the Islamic call to prayer from the nearby mosque was at the very least an annoyance, something that at the time even seemed demonic. By the time I left, it was a welcome reminder of the devotions of my friends to God as well as a challenge to me to be as faithful as they were in prayer. Sarah, as I did, could certainly learn more about Islam and still be a Christian. Ignorance and Christianity are not synonomous terms.
How would you respond?
How would you respond?