“Reiterating the shared view of a single God and the command to “love thy neighbour”, the letter strips away the baggage of history and culture and produces a blank sheet for a new relationship.”
This comment was made in a BBC article about a document recently produced by a group of moderate Muslim leaders. The document is in the form of a letter to the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Christian leaders, which the authors hope will become a basis for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Essentially it seems to try to point out that dialogue will be achieved by a recognition of similarity, rather than a focus on differences. The similarities are essentially two: monotheism, and love for neighbours. The Koran, they say, points out that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God. It also points out that Muslims should treat Jews and Christians with friendship and respect.
The question is, of course, if these fundamental similarities have always existed, why is there such hatred between Muslims and Christians? Why do Muslim converts to Christianity regularly get killed for their decision? Why do Muslims try to convert Christians and Jews, and why do Christians do the same? If we are all basically the same, why do we try to get each other to change? And what do we do with the last thousand years of conflict, hatred and killing?
There is a basic problem. Christians believe that Muslims are mistaken, that what they believe is simply not true, and that the revered prophet of Islam, Mohammed, was a false prophet. Muslims are so angry about this that many of them will kill Christians because of it. If a Muslim converts they are rejecting the prophet, which Muslims believe is a crime worthy of death, even if Jesus said to love your neighbour, and to worship the one true God. There have been times when Christians have reacted to their own concept of heresy in the same way – by killing the heretics. Generally that is not the way of present day Christians, although perhaps if it was, Muslims would have more respect for Christians. As it is, Muslims seem to see Christianity as an insipid, immoral religion of misguided souls who need to accept the teachings of the only worthy prophet, Mohammed.
There has been too much killing. Muslims have killed Christians and continue to do so. Christians have killed Muslims, and in the minds of Muslims they continue to do so too. What can possibly be the basis for dialogue between two groups of human beings who have been killing each other for so long? Is it enough to say simply, look at our similarities and lets put the past behind us? What do we do with our differences? Our belief that the other is wrong?
Reconciliation comes at a cost. The cost is humility, and forgiveness. Humility means to admit that we have done wrong and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness means to acknowledge that others have wronged us and “let them off the hook.” Both of these things go directly against human nature. But Jesus asked his followers to do them. How many times must I forgive my brother? Seven times? Jesus’ disciples inquired of him. Not seven times, replied Jesus, but seventy times seven. How many of us Christians do that? How should we treat our enemies? Kill them? No, said Jesus. Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.
He also said, love your neighbour as you love yourself. But who is my neighbour, his followers asked? The person who believes the same thing as me? No, said Jesus. The person who needs my help. In the story he told about neighbours, it was a Samaritan. When he said love your neighbour, he explained it using the example of a person who had a different belief system to his listeners.
Some years ago Youth with a Mission organised a “Reconciliation Walk.” It was an opportunity for Christians to retrace the route of the Crusades and ask Muslims on that route for forgiveness for the actions of their Christian ancestors. It took some years. But it served as a basis for reconciliation. It created the opportunity for dialogue. The opportunity to show love, not hatred between traditional enemies. But it required a certain degree of humility on the part of Christians who did it.
The basis for dialogue, it seems to me, is not to look at our similarities and to say, in a thoroughly modern and new age way that we are all the same really. We are not all the same. We believe different things, things that are diametrically opposed to each other. But that does not mean we cannot love one another. We can love each other, but only if we follow the teachings of Jesus, and go against our human tendencies. If we decide to love our enemies, rather than hate them. If we decide to forgive those who have hurt us or our people, rather than get revenge. If we are willing to acknowledge that we have done things that are wrong, and completely against the teachings of Jesus, even if we claim to follow him.
I am not sure if Mohammed taught his followers to love their enemies, or to forgive those who had wronged them. I have not read the Koran. If he did, then world peace would be helped by Muslims following his teachings. Apparently the Koran does teach Muslims to love their neighbours. That is a good thing. The question is, of course, the same one as the disciples asked Jesus: who is my neighbour? I wonder what Mohammed’s answer would have been.
World peace comes at a cost, just as halting climate change comes at a cost (see my post of a few weeks ago), for all involved. The question is whether we are prepared to pay that cost, or whether we will go on fighting each other until we annihilate ourselves. The letter of moderate Muslim leaders is a step in the right direction, but ultimately agreements at the highest levels can only be effective of they are accompanied by fundamental changes at the grass roots. And that can be so hard…