Following the Example of Jesus in Muslim-Christian Relations
FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
STORIES OF HOPE
With so much news of ‘religious’ violence from Kenya to Pakistan to the Philippines; it is important to be reminded that although violence is a dominant narrative, it is not the only one in Muslim-Christian relations. Indeed, in recent days a few encouraging and hopeful stories of Muslims and Christians uniting together are being written about, for example this one on the Egyptian Streets blog:
Poor Muslim families brought blankets to the Christians who lost their homes, and together we formed a civil front– not Christians against Muslims– but civil society against extremism.
Similarly, Ramez Atallah, Director of the Bible Society of Egypt, reports that:
Egypt is not on the verge of civil war! On the contrary, most Egyptian Muslims and Christians are more united than ever in their common vision for the future, as together they have rejected extremist “Political Islam,” and are working towards the noble task of establishing a civil society which recognizes all Egyptians as equal citizens.
The Bible Society of Egypt is also printing extracts from the Sermon on the Mount for wide distribution with the goal of presenting the principles of Jesus and the Kingdom he embodied.
These stories brought to mind our stated vision: ‘to see Muslim-Christian relationships transformed through shared academic study and by following the example of Jesus Christ.’ It is not difficult to see how shared study of the Muslim-Christian interface can help to transform relationships (read our recent post on Building Respect and Seeking Truth), but how might ‘following the example of Jesus’ help in this area? A year or so ago we actually asked some friends of the Centre — both Muslim and Christian — to reflect on this very question, and briefly respond to us.
A CHRISTIAN REFLECTION
One response was from Julian Bond, Director of the Muslim-Christian Forum. He reflected on the well known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37):
This is a huge challenge for us. In following Jesus, we must see the radically different as God’s creations, loved by God, equally capable of showing God’s love, and God’s agents of mercy and compassion.
We are often far behind the founders of our religions in living out core values of our faiths governing how we relate to others… Jesus’ people had dogmatic differences with the Samaritans, but Jesus showed that love and humanity comes first; difference and identity are for others, not against them. Christians and Muslims should be united in seeking to worship God and make practical sense of this—love your neighbour.
In saying ‘love your enemies’, Jesus challenged the idea of ‘enemies’. Jesus’ followers do not make or invent enemies. In Jesus’ society, the idea of neighbour was tightly drawn. People of other religions and ethnicities were unclean and to be avoided if you were going to worship. Jesus’ message stood that on its head. The Christian message welcomes, seeks radical equality, and makes a place for the other. Some say inter-faith dialogue is new, designed for days of reducing church attendance, and for liberals who ‘water down their faith’. But have they experienced inter-faith dialogue, and wrestled with what it means to see ‘the Samaritan’ binding up the wounds of the assaulted or to be someone else’s ‘Samaritan’?
A MUSLIM REFLECTION
Shaffiq Din wrote a thought provoking reflection, contrasting ‘edict’ with ‘example’:
‘Compatibility’ for want of a better word, seems on the face of it easier for Muslims than for Christians! After all, Muslims consider Christians ‘People of the Book’ and believe in Jesus, albeit in a different way. And the Qur’ān states clearly:
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Surah 2 Baqarah [Cow]:62)
For the Christians, there is no mention of Muslims and the claim of further religions in the Bible nor of the man called Muhammad (peace be upon him). But maybe this is irrelevant. The concept is the important factor. There are some important questions to ask of each other but if the concept is ‘even God himself claims he will judge us in the Hereafter’ or ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ then universal love for Humankind is easily identifiable within Scripture.
And this is the key to answering this question, do we follow the ‘edicts’ of religion or do we follow the actual example? I’m ashamed to say that certainly in the Islamic tradition these two things are often confused. Sometimes this has to do with tradition and sometimes with the ‘passing down’ of religion.
And maybe through this process both traditions take a long hard look at the difference between what we currently follow and what our shining examples showed us.
BACK TO YOU
So what do you think? How can following the example of Jesus Christ transform Muslim-Christian relations? We would love to hear more responses — just leave a comment.
 The scare quotes indicate my uneasiness with simply designating any kind of violence as straightforwardly ‘religious’; ignoring the interplay between a host of other motivating political, economic and psychological factors.