“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.”
“Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”
Assumptions have been called our “windows to the world”; they affect how we view everything. Ever since 9/11, followers of the Islamic faith have been facing what I will call a crisis of assumption: due to the cruel, violent and divisive behaviors of some self-identified Muslims, ALL are facing suspicion and mistrust. Some Christians who live by the tenets laid out by a prophet known as the Prince of Peace are having a difficult time accepting a faith based on a holy scripture that calls for the death of nonbelievers; Muslims who reject such concerns seem deluded at best and disingenuous at worst. It is a challenging time to be known as a follower of Muhammad outside of the confines of Islamic strongholds.
The two quotes that I opened with are from the great prophets Muhammad and Jesus, still leaders of legions these many eons after death. Muslims argue that Muhammad, like Jesus, was a peaceful man of great character. Unlike Jesus, however, there is some dispute as to how peaceful Muhammad was in his actions of leadership. There is conflicting evidence on this question and it is difficult to ascertain the “truth” of events that happened 1400 years ago. We have much more reliable evidence, for example, of the dubious and in some cases despicable behaviors of the revered founding fathers of the United States of America:
George Washington earned the nickname “town destroyer” from Native Americans for ordering indiscriminate attacks on their villages. Thomas Jefferson, he of “all men are created equal” fame, could not have maintained his estates without the free slave labor he employed his entire life; as a man in his 40’s he also notoriously fathered children with one of his teenaged slaves, waiting to “emancipate” his own offspring until after his death. Benjamin Franklin was a celebrated drinker and womanizer. So why do we not question their leadership when faced with overwhelming evidence of their moral failings?
Perhaps you believe that founding a country and founding a religion are not comparable. I would say this is an assumption that would be difficult to prove, based upon the rigor with which most Americans uphold the principles of our constitution. I have heard it argued that Muhammad is an unworthy prophet because, according to some sources, he killed in defense of his newfound faith. Many of the founding fathers killed in the name of our newfound democracy. In fact, because of our so-called “Manifest Destiny” the slaughtering of Native Americans was justified by the promoted belief that we are a nation called to a special destiny by (a Christian) God.
Does the founding of this country not qualify then as a holy war, asserting Christian rights over those of the indigenous people? The Crusades, a brutal and relentless campaign instigated by a Pope, asserted the superiority of Christian rights initially over Muslims, but later also sanctioned the murder of Jews. Because these wars seem unjust in retrospect, you might argue that Christianity cannot be judged by these dark, aberrant episodes. We may only judge the religion by the words spoken by its true leader. Then I ask you consider this: look again to the quotes I opened with; would you be surprised to learn that the latter contains the words of Muhammad and the first was spoken by the “Prince of Peace”?
Assumptions can be a tricky thing. Very few of us have devoted the time or energy to reading the entire Bible or Quran, let alone memorizing every nuance. Those that argue the Quran advocates violence while turning a blind eye to the equally-if-not-more violent Old Testament are being blatantly hypocritical. If you rightfully point out that Jesus asked his followers to willfully ignore much of the “word of God” as originally presented (“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”) you are still denying the powerful existence of so-called Christians who use the words of the older book to justify their prejudices and sometimes evil and violent behaviors.
Christian “activists” like the Westboro Baptists and the sort of people who murder health clinic patients and workers in the name of God are certainly not representative of my beliefs or the beliefs of most Christians I know. Is it fair to make assumptions about us by the deeds and words of those who pick and choose their Bible passages carefully to justify hate and murder?
In the wake of the Paris attacks, a heartbreaking tag #ExMuslimBecause became a top trend. Some of the reasons given for abandoning the faith: “I am NOT an abomination by virtue of being gay”; “I couldn’t debate or criticize Islam without my parents yelling or… threatening me”; “I’m a woman who believes in equality”. Even a highly respected world leader recently severed ties with his lifelong religion because of its insistence that women be viewed as “subservient”.
Except that world leader was Jimmy Carter, and his religion was Southern Baptist.
In fact, what struck me most resonantly was how many of the ex-Muslim tags could apply to mainstream branches of my own religion. How many acts of hate and violence have been perpetrated in the name of a Christian God? Adolf Hitler used the Bible to justify the Holocaust: “In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.” Hitler murdered 6 million Jews, a staggering number that makes ISIS look like lightweights. So to all of you who take the Old Testament literally but cast a suspicious eye on Muslims who do the same with their own Holy Scripture, I have a quote from your prophet for you: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?”
When we make assumptions about things we ultimately have very little firsthand knowledge of, chances are greater than not that we are making an error. But there are actually two definitions of the word assumption: the first being “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof” and the second is “the action of taking or beginning to take power or responsibility”. It is the latter definition we should strive towards in today’s turbulent world.
We need to start taking responsibility not only for our own beliefs, but for understanding the beliefs of others. If you are afraid of the Muslim community based on the information you have, perhaps it is time to seek new information. Not from Wikipedia, not from FOX News…from actual Muslims.
Attend a service at a mosque; get to know your neighbors. The famous prayer of St. Francis challenges us to understand as we are understood; if we do not wish to be judged by the hateful words and actions of others who call themselves “Christian”, can we justify judging all Muslims by extremists? Jesus explained our modern dilemma quite well: “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?”
We have to assume responsibility for our voices, Muslims and Christians alike. It is unreasonable to expect Muslims to take the lead in disempowering their radical fringe when we are not answerable for our own. Can we understand and implement the great wisdom of Muhammad when he taught: “To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil”?
Image credit: “Light & Shadow” captured by tantan555