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Afternoon Prayer

Muslim- Christian Relations

In a world of polarizing views, increasing discrimination, and greater divides between religions, how can Christians in the United States, love their Muslim neighbor better?

By Marjorie Anne Foster

RE 610

October 31st, 2020

What role do Christians have in defending their non-Christian neighbors?

According to a 2017 FBI report, there has been a 17 percent spike in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States over the last five years. More recent reports have shown an increase in hate crimes and in violence against individuals [1]. Globally, events such as the New Zealand terrorist attack, leaving 51 people from two mosques dead, has brought to light the pressing need for interfaith action to emerge in order to disseminate Islamophobic actions. 

This interactive map, created by Professors and Students at Grinnell College reveals the steading incline of hate speak, hate crimes, and discrimination faced by Muslims in the U.S. from 2012-2018. 

In the U.S., negative news framing, Islamophobic politics, and the rise of Xenophobic hate groups have framed attitudes towards Muslims. In post-9/11 America, many media outlets have used terrorist attacks to build negative, fear-inducing, and unwelcoming images of Islam for its audiences [2]. A 2018 study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that those accused of plotting a violent crime who looked or had a “Muslim sounding name” received seven times more 

media attention than their non-Muslim counterparts, despite similarities in their alleged crimes [3]. Similarly, Muslim-perceived perpetrators accused of violence were referenced in the media at four times the rate of their non-Muslim counterparts [4].

Within President Trump's first month in office, he enact Executive Order 5680, which banned all travel and refugees from eight predominantly Muslim countries, an order many Muslims feel branded Muslims as potential terrorists and created an illusion of security. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 940 hate groups were active in 2019, revealing a 55% increase in White Nationalist Groups for the second year in a row [5].

Personal Reflection 

Below I highlight insights from interviews with people supporting anti-Muslim sentiments in order to better understand their perspective [6]. These individuals alluded to or blatantly stated, “Muslims are dangerous.” One man claimed, “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims” [7]. This prompted me to collect the data, which you will see on the map below.

 

The researchers who collected this data discovered non-Muslim, far-right plots and attacks outnumber Islamist incidents by almost 2 to 1 [8]. See below, the red pins signal right-wing activity. As one can see it rivals, if not overwhelms, the Islamist instances (green pins). 

According to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published in October 2020, “White supremacists and other like-minded extremists conducted two-thirds of the terrorist plots and attacks in the United States in 2020, according to new CSIS data” [9]. In 2020, 67 percent of attacks and plots have come from violent, far-right, white supremacists, and anti-government extremists. 

“Religious Extremists,” which my interviewees claimed all Muslims were, accounted for 7 percent of attacks. This percentage includes all extremists, not solely Muslims [10].

 

All of the conversations I participated in came back to one point; Because Muslims do not share their Christian beliefs, they must be inherently wrong and pose some type of threat to our “Christian nation” [11].

 

In one instrumental conversation, I was taking an Uber to a closing ceremony of a conference where I presented my research on the status of College-Age Muslims in North Carolina. After hesitantly describing my project to the driver, she asked me why I had let “Satan infiltrate my mind through the study of liars.” After 30 minutes of her unleashing a heart-felt conviction that I was helping the “devil’s work on Earth,” I stepped out of the car with tears in my eyes. 

What if by some chance she had picked up a Muslim student and not me? Would her convictions prompt her to be violent or would her words just cause that student to be silent? It was conversations like this one that have motivated me to help educate my Christian community about Islam in order to decreases instances of verbal abuse, and in some cases, physical abuse. 

In her book, From Lament to Advocacy: Black Religious Education and Public Ministry, Anne E. Streaty Wimberly calls the church and religious educators to “pay attention to persons’ woundedness, grieving, and the call for lamentation” [12]. She later calls on educators to create spaces where people can share their stories to provide an opening for grief work and lamentation. Wimberly encourages her readers to begin with grief and to meet people where they are, and from there, move from outrage to “resilience centered on optimism and action toward change” [13]. Wimberly asks her readers to acknowledge the pain religious people have caused, but to move out of that pain and into tangible change. 

 

In an effort to move into tangible change, Interfaith Leader Eboo Patel writes, “Religious pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus.” He continues, “It is a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.” [14]

In the hopes of building this type of religious pluralism Patel writes about, I have constructed a list of books that discuss the benefits of interfaith encounters and the obligation Christians have in loving and caring for their Muslim neighbor. These instances of hostility and anger towards Muslims can be shifted when a person educates themselves about the religion and takes the steps in building a relationship with the individual. 

Further Reading

 Bussie, Jachqueline A. Love Without Limits: Jesus' Radical Vision for Love with No Exceptions.

S.l.: Fortress Press, U.S., 2022. 

Bussie's book speaks to faith communities' desire to love across differences and divisions. Through personal stories, theological reflection, and accounts of boundary-bursting friendships, Bussie creates a work that calls its audience to practice radical love. In a time when politics, violence, economic inequity, and sickness plague our everyday lives, Bussie's work provides hope for cultivating a love that strives to heal hurt- even amongst Muslims and Christians in the U.S. today. Bussie argues that this "radical love" is not only possible but essential in building sustainable unity and peaceful coexistence amongst people of faith. 

Daniel, Ben. The Search for Truth about Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction.

Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013. 

Presbyterian Pastor Ben Daniel examines a multitude of common stereotypes and misconceptions that tend to define Islam in the minds of mainstream Americans. Are Muslims infiltrating American society? What does Islam really teach about women's roles? Does the Qur'an condone violence? These are some of the many questions Daniel seeks to answer in order to dissipate lies and decrease fear amongst Christians surrounding Islam. In order to prove his claims that Christianity mirrors Islam's violent sentiments, Daniel looks at Christianity's own history of war and manipulation. Daniel uses interviews, anecdotes from travel, and personal stories to debunk the myths and humanize Islam in America. 

 

Peace, Jennifer Howe, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley. My Neighbor's Faith: Stories of

Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014. 

My Neighbor's Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation is a collection of personal narratives about the impact of interfaith dialogue, study, and action from the voices of religious educators, community leaders, and activists. This collection is gathered from academic conferences, backpacking excursions, apartment tales, and comedy clubs. Each story reflects a distinct connection that the author holds to their tradition and one that was different from their own. In a world filled with news of religious traditions fighting over land, culture, and the claim to truth, this book sheds a bright, hopeful light on the possibility of transformative interreligious encounters. This novel successfully presents the variety of ways interreligious encounters take place in the lives of ordinary people while participating in their everyday activities. Peace’s work is a valuable asset to those studying interfaith and the ways in which stereotypes are challenged, narratives are shifted, and mutual understanding is achieved. 

 

Taylor, Barbara Brown. Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. New York: HarperOne,

2020. 

Holy Envy is a novel describing Barbara Brown Taylor’s journey from Episcopalian priest to world religions professor. Originally designed to be a book about how her course would change the lives of students, Taylor discovers her own spiritual transformation. While examining her own tradition alongside other major traditions, Christianity begins to lose its appeal. In teaching the traditions of the world, Taylor recognizes the harm in her religion’s exclusivist claims for the first time, prompting her to reevaluate her commitment to the faith. This vulnerable journey helps those of all faiths realize the power of questioning your own tradition and allowing the space to examine the experiences of other religions.

 

Womack, Deanna Ferree. Neighbors: Christians and Muslims Building Community. Louisville,

KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Deanna Womack’s Neighbors: Christians and Muslims Building Community successfully establishes the foundation of Christian-Muslim relations through a historic and modern-day lens. Womack creates a work that fosters understanding, communication, and interreligious engagement in the face of increased rates of Islamophobia in the U.S. today. The detailed history of both Islam and Christianity and their encounters provides a look into the religion's complex relationships. This is further complicated with modern phenomena and common preconceived ideas Christians hold regarding Muslims. Womack highlights models of empathy and mutual awareness as a mechanism to move beyond misconceptions into constructive dialogue and meaningful relations between Christian and their Muslim neighbors.  Womack’s work is a valuable tool in proving the need for Muslim-Christian dialogue and providing steps to build a deeper understanding between the two traditions. 

Questions to Consider:

  • Have you ever been in community with someone of a different faith?

    • If so, what did you learn about that individual and their faith?

  • Do you know the principal beliefs of other religions, explained by a follower of the tradition?

  • How does being a Christian change the way you interact with others?

  • Do you see religious diversity in your neighborhood, social circles, and/or place of worship?

  • Do you know a Muslim? (If not, take a second to google “famous Muslims in the U.S.")

  • Is there an area or space in your life where you can love your neighbor of a different religion? 

  • What role do Christians have to defend non-Christians, specifically our Muslim neighbors?

  • As a religious educator, how can you create space for non-Christians to share their grief?

White and Cream Community Church Present

Notes

[1] “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017.” FBI. October 15, 2018. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2017.

[2] El-Aswad, E. (2013). Images of Muslims in western scholarship and media after 9/11. Digest of Middle East 

 Studies, 22(1), 39-56. doi:10.1111/dome.12010

[3] Rao, Kumar. “Equal Treatment? Measuring the Legal and Media Responses to Ideologically Motivated Violence in the US,” 2018.    https://www.imv-report.org/. 

[4] Ibid

[5] “White Nationalist.” Accessed October 28, 2020. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/white-nationalist. 

[6] Although some individuals may think this perspective is redundant and should not be taken into consideration or even be written about, I am under the impression that without knowing the thoughts of these individuals, it is impossible to know what we should be educating the public about and how to go resolving the root issue. I was not interested in continuing this conversation with those already on my side, but rather with those who have drastically different views than I do. Each of these conversations took place in relaxed settings where they were the first ones to bring up the topic. 

[7] Personal interview 11/20/2018

[8] Neiwert, David. “Interactive: 9 Years of Homegrown Terror,” 2017. https://apps.revealnews.org/homegrown-terror/. 

[9] Jones, Seth. “The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States.” The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States | Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 24, 2020. https://www.csis.org/analysis/war-comes-home-evolution-domestic-terrorism-united-states. 

[10] Ibid

[11] Personal Interview 10/20/2019

[12] Wimberly, Anne Streaty, Nathaniel D. West, and Annie Lockhart-Gilroy. From Lament to Advocacy: Black Religious Education and Public Ministry. Nashville, TN: Wesley's Foundery Books is an imprint of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church, 2020, 4. 

[13] Ibid, 24.

[14] Eboo Patel, Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 66.