|A screen capture of Google Image search for Muslim - which image comes to your mind?|
Not sure what it was about this particular tweet but I felt provoked. Islam is a diverse religion, with many different aspects and forms to it. As I read this tweet I thought of my muslim friends - people who have shown unbelievable kindness toward me and my family - and I responded.
140 characters - brevity wins over subtlety and something humanising is lost - A number of other responses followed:
It took me by surprise. Am I defending Islam? Am I naive? Am I a jackass? Why is an internet troll-ster defending me, using an argument I don't agree with?
I think what provoked me more than anything is that the people who were characterising muslims as having a 'primary goal' of beheading people and of being murderous and questioned my knowledge, intelligence, naivety are people who are believers in Jesus.
What struck me as wrong is the 'alienification' (I just made the word up) of muslims - 'they' become a murderous mob, 'they' are waiting to kill me - not simply on the streets of Helmand but around my corner and in my neighbourhood. 'They' are the enemy and the sooner we are rid of them the better.
However, I can't reconcile that with the truth of and about Jesus. If these are murderous men and women then they need the gospel as much but with more urgency than everyone else. If they are evil in their intent then they are a ripe harvest field for the gospel.
I lived in a muslim majority area of the UK during late 2001 - a house nearby was raided by police and the occupants were taken away in the early hours of the morning. Women in Hijab were so common a sight I thought it extraordinary on a day when I didn't see the formal and full dress code. My muslim neighbours never failed or faltered to show us kindness, warmth and friendship - to such an extremity that we became like extended family to them and they to us.
It would be naive to imagine that all muslims are like my neighbours - but it is foolish to argue that they are they only 'good' ones out there or that all the time they showed love toward us they were thinking "how can I best decapitate this family?". You see, 'they', muslims, are real people. Real people are incredibly complex. Real people defy stereotypes, caricatures and polemic.
In a world where tweeting and status updates enable us to frame arguments in neat packages, where we are instantly able to attack people we've never met and reduce discussion to argument, complexity can take a backseat and eventually be silenced and ignored. We do that to our peril. We do that to the loss of the gospel.
The issue that I think Daniel was touching on in the first tweet that sparked the discussion was one that I DO think brings up an important question. In many democracies where muslims are in a minority there is a muslim voice calling for the validity of their perspective and beliefs to be honoured and recognised - for freedom to exercise their religious practice without fear or intimidation. Rightly so. The irony is that those same rights are vigorously denied to faith minority groups within muslim majority countries or nations ruled by Sharia law.
For the record - I'm a Christian, not a muslim, I believe that the unique and eternal revelation of God in Jesus is particularly and exclusively true. I therefore believe that any system of belief which modifies or denies that Jesus is God in flesh (born of a virgin, lived a sinless life in order to die as the perfect sacrifice and rise from death the vindicated Saviour of all, ascending into Heaven as the Sovereign King to return one day as the Ultimate Judge and Saviour) is deficient and inherently untrue.
But also for the record - I don't believe that this assertion about Jesus, my relationship with God through Jesus, demands me to hate people, denigrate a race, deny rights to individuals or characterise any other religious grouping on the actions of a few or even the many. I'm not defending Islam - but I am defending the right of people to be muslim and to do so without fear or intimidation. I would hope that friends in muslim nations would do so for me, equally, but even if that were not true - it wouldn't change my voice or perspective on what is the right thing to do.
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke's Gospel 10:25-26 (English Standard Version)