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,