Islam, Jesus, and People Who Don’t Act Like Him

This past week at ACU was Summit, the event formally known as Lectureship.  It was an exciting time where scholars from around the nation (and world) gathered for a forum on issues that are pressing hard against the Christian church (as a whole) in today’s world.  Topics covered were in a wide range from worship, to biblical study, to social work, to recycling, and more.  The following is a write-up on one particular Summit class that I went to, called “Jesus and Muhammad”.

The second Summit class I went to was on Monday afternoon and it was a follow-up to the “Just 3 Questions” lecture from earlier in the day.  At the previous lecture, an Islamic scholar and a Christian scholar asked each other important questions that were relevant to the problems facing the modern world and the clash of its two largest religions.  The “Jesus and Muhammad” class was presented by a different Christian scholar (Dr. Lynn Mitchell) and the same Islamic scholar as earlier (Dr. Ibrahim Sumer) and was divided into two classes over two days: how Christians see Muhammad and how Muslims see Jesus.  Since the first lecture was about how Christians see Muhammad, Dr. Mitchell did most of the speaking.

The presentation itself was Dr. Mitchell’s attempt for Christians to rethink how they see Muhammad.  He opened with the statement that “Muhammad was not a child molester” which caught some people off-guard and perhaps made them a bit uncomfortable.  He pointed to a real myth that the prophet had been a child molester, briefly tried to show it was false, and then tried to get people to reevaluate their assumptions based off of things they may have heard someone say at one time.  After that he proceeded to present some factual information on Muhammad so that the Christians in the room would have a better idea of who he was – as a real person.  What did he stand for?  Why did he wage holy war?  And many other interested questions were raised.  I think this went very far towards reconciliation; spreading truth and dispelling falsities makes room for peace.

After about thirty minutes Dr. Mitchell stopped and opened it up for Q&A.  There were some genuinely good questions, such as asking about the divisions in Islam (Sunni, Shia, etc) and another question about Islamic spirituality.  However, the spirit of reconciliation was broken when a man took his turn.  He was sitting front and center and proceeded to stand up to address the speakers (no one else had done that, so already it was a belligerent move).  He started talking about something, and instead of asking a question just kept talking.  At several points he turned towards the audience to address us and then back to the speakers.  He would ask questions to the presenters but when they would try to answer he just keep talking and even raise his voice over theirs in order to keep talking.  And he talked, and talked.  He probably talked for about ten minutes, and after perhaps one minute, everyone in the audience was cringing, shaking their heads, and wondering when he would be quiet and sit down.  His point was something along the lines of this: “We Christians have gotten the idea of an eternal soul from pagans, and it’s wrong. [fill in some logic here] God doesn’t send souls to burn in Hell forever, that would be against his moral character. Muslims believe that ‘infidels’ burn in Hell forever, and so therefore their concept of God is absolutely wrong, and that’s why Isalm is wrong.”  He held in his hand, nearly the entire time, a Qur’an, and at one point started to quote from it.  To think that he had the audacity to quote the Qur’an to an Islamic scholar is baffling.  It would be like quoting the Old Testament out of context to Dr. Mark Hamilton or Dr. Geza Vermes or [fill in brilliant Christian scholar here] in order to make some convoluted and poorly supported point for purely belligerent reasons.  It was absurd!

The entire time that this man was speaking, Dr. Sumer patiently listened to his hateful rhetoric, tried to respond (and very politely too), and never once grew angry or upset over this man’s numerous offenses.  The most ironic thing about it all was that Dr. Sumer was more like Jesus than the supposed Christian who stood up and used the forum of reconciliation as his own personal soap box.  How is it that a non-Christian gets to be the most Jesus-like in the entire room?  It taught me a lesson about tolerance, peace, and patience.  Dr. Sumer, my hat is off to you for displaying the tenets of your faith in adversity, but also the tenets of mine.

The next day, this man apparently tried the same thing.  He stood up and starting talking before the Q&A even started, cutting off Dr. Sumer entirely.  He even asked a question, and since Dr. Sumer had done most of the talking that day he tried to answer it but the man cut him off saying, “I’d like Dr. Mitchell to answer this since he’s looked at both sides.”  Can you believe that?  Just how rude can you be?!  Thankfully, at this point several of the Bible faculty told him to sit down and be quiet.  He didn’t listen to the first person to tell him, so another spoke up which is when he finally sat down.  Afterwords, several people went up to him and confronted him about his belligerent behavior, but I doubt it did any good.

Frankly, I was shocked that such a thing would happen.  That someone would come to a forum on reconciliation and use it to blast the one of another religion is beyond me.  It’s not because I am naive enough to think that Christians all act like Jesus (ha!) but rather I’m lost as to what he hoped to accomplish.  No one in the room was looking into converting to Islam.  No one in the room was sacred about Islamic theology.  Furthermore, the Islamic scholar was not going to have a sudden conversion and ask to be baptized, nor was he going to apologize for a misrepresented view of his faith by an ignorant person.  I honestly fail to see what he hoped to accomplish by his actions, other than embarrass every other Christian in the room.  No, we’re not all like that, I promise.  A lot of us really do what to understand Islam and live in peace with our Muslim neighbors.  If we are ever to show the world what Jesus was like, it’s got to start in how we treat others, and that includes those of other faiths.  If you’re a Muslim, please let me apologize for people like that – that’s not what most of us are like.  If you’re a Christian, join me in making sure that the world sees Jesus in our lives.

Peace to you,

James

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3 thoughts on “Islam, Jesus, and People Who Don’t Act Like Him

  1. Thank you so much for your posts and website. Ive said it before, but I always get a lot out of it.

    The guy in question sounds quite rude and not exactly well informed. In fact, if he stands up and starts stating herecies, Im not sure we can say he is a Christian. So in no way am I trying to defend him. But I do question the idea that tolerance, peace, patience, and the whole idea of inter-faith reconcilliation is “Jesus-like”. Not that any of us are perfect, but Jesus came down pretty hard and with an “in your face” attitude with those of a false religous belief/ work rightous attitude. Somehow calling people children of the devil, brood of vipers, and knocking tables down while you whip folks, etc. does not fit the image. I would also say that Paul, the 11 disciples, and other early church founders didnt have this tolerance attitude. That is part of the reason they were all slaughtered so terribly. (Phillip really jumps out in my mind here!) Im not sure where we see it in the OT either, first case against it that jumps to my mind is Elija.

    I’m not calling for idiocy or violence. But I am driven crazy when I see things like interfaith prayer or to a much lesser extent interfaith reconcilliation when it seems like the problems are so incredibly lop-sided and the folks attempting to reach out are incredibly lop-sided the other way.

    It might be too complicated, but can you give some scriptural basis for such tolerance to false religions? And why not bring up (in an intelligent way) the problems with the other religion or its founder, especially when they build so much of their actions and theology on that founder? (for example, I assume the pedophile comment comes from the 6-9 year old bride he supposedly took) Of course I want to stress the point of doing so intelligently, and not like the guy you described.

    • Jerry,

      Thanks for your kind words. I apologize for taking so long to get back with you on this. Grad school keeps my busy. :)

      You bring up some good questions, and I’m glad you’re pushing back a little bit on this tough issue. You’re approaching it from a different perspective than what I did, which was just pure outrage at the rude man’s behavior. There are deeper questions and underlying issues. Is tolerance and peace a “Jesus-like” attitude with regard to inter-faith reconciliation? I don’t think we’ll be able to answer that question completely, at least not in this context (and maybe not ever), but there are a few things that come to mind.

      There are so many threads one could pull on here to slant this discussion either way, but it’s much too complex to have one finite and easy answer. For instance, the holy war found in Joshua would seem to point to a complete intolerance of pagan religion. On the other hand, Jesus himself notes that both Elijah and Elisha engaged with Gentiles. In the case of Elisha, it was a pagan general who after being healed by God still asks for forgiveness that he will still bow down to the idols in the temple of his king! The latter prophets in the Old Testament speak of a people who were too tolerant of their pagan neighbors and an attitude of religious pluralism. Archeologists have even uncovered inscriptions from ancient Israel that say “For YHWH and his Asherah” which would seem to imply that at least some Israelites were mixing Judaism and paganism by giving God a female consort goddess. The prophets also speak of a time when all the nations will be reconciled to God and during that time the pagans will grab believers and say “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:23). The ministry of Jesus was mainly to the Jews, but we feel his tones of reconciliation in John 10 when he talks about sheep that are not of the (Jewish) flock but which he is bringing to himself (v 16). The disciples of Jesus engage the real world of the nations in ways similar to the OT prophets (by no coincidence). Paul speaks of a time when all creation will be reconciled to God, but also commands us to be separate from pagan practices. What are we to make of this? There is truly no easy answer.

      My opinion on the matter is that the only way we will be able to convert someone who is committed to another religion is to actually be Jesus to them and the world. That means embodying scripture, which calls us to be set apart (e.g. not engaging in pagan practices) but also having compassion on people who may not know God. Being Jesus means I love my enemy, pray for those who persecute me, turn the other cheek, love my neighbor as myself, and many other very hard practices. As far as interfaith reconciliation goes, we can take one of two stances: either we work towards it or we don’t. The blunt truth is that there are people in this world who hold different faiths than Christians and they aren’t changing their faith any time soon. We have to live with them on the same planet. They very least we can do is understand one another to make room for social peace. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them.

      This probably didn’t answer your entire question, but I gave it my best shot. :)

      Peace,
      James

  2. Thank you for your reply. I will definitely think about some of what you said.

    Perhaps part of the issue is the meaning of reconciliation. It seems like a very similar situation came up in the past. I see a lot of similarities with the way the people (both nations and Christians) handled the Nazi movement, their world view, their actions, etc. There was lots of reconciliation going on as they continued their ways and lied during the so called reconciliation. (Of course my understanding, from listening to former Muslims and what I have read, Islam instructs Muslims to lie to non-Muslims to win them over.) Similarly, I don’t think Christ would have had his church “reconcile” with the communists. And much like the communists, Islam is causing a lot of Christian persecution and martyrs around the world.

    I admit these are not scriptural examples and I should be careful using Nazi and Communist examples. Or for that matter how someone like Phillip supposedly and his family were slaughtered rather than reconcile with the pagans, how the early Christians didn’t reconcile with the Romans, etc. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth that ACU couldn’t have at least invited a former Muslim to explain Islam to help us understand them better and reach out in a Christ like way. I have a few Jewish friends who when Christianity is brought up the so called reconciliation with the Nazis they feel the Christian church did is still a stumbling block. I don’t think it was the correct meaning of turning the other cheek then, and I don’t think it is now. However, I also admit that I don’t know what the answer is.

    As I said before, I will think about some of the scriptures you referenced. You have definitely changed the way I study the scripture and appreciate your blog!

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