Articles on Christians and Muslims



Christians and Muslims

Christianity and Islam are not at war
by Father Dave

Christianity and Islam are not at war – they never have been and they never will be!

I don’t mean anything particularly profound by this. I merely mean to state the obvious.  Christianity and Islam are not at war and cannot go to war with each other because they are systems of belief, and systems of belief can’t wage war any more than they can wrestle or play cards!

Christian and Muslim people go to war, and may go to war with each other, just as they may do any number of more creative things together, such as share meals or play cards, but the bodies of doctrine to which these people subscribe don’t do anything apart from sit still and look authoritative!

There is, as I say, nothing profound about this observation and yet I believe it is the vital starting point in untangling religious conflicts. Our religions are not at war with each other, and neither is there any battle taking place between our gods such that we need to rush to the field in support, lest our god be somehow crushed by the opposition! That type of scenario might have made sense in the theology of the Vikings but it has no place in the 21st century, especially amongst monotheists!

This is my first point – that religions do not go to war. My second point is equally simple – that the Bible and the Qur’an are not at war with each other.

By this I mean to again state the obvious – that books do not fight with each other – but I also want to say more than this. I want to also say that it’s never ‘what the Bible says’ or ‘what the Qur’an says’ that is the problem. It’s what believers think their Scriptures say that is the issue. Nobody ever went to war simply on the basis of what their Scripture said. It’s always a matter of interpretation. It’s what you think your Scripture says that is important.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that there is no connection between what is written in the Scripture and how it is interpreted. I’m not even suggesting that the Qur’an isn’t a more fertile source of martial inspiration than the New Testament. Even so, the variety of denominations and sects within both Christianity and Islam are testimony to the fact that both the Bible and the Qur’an can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and indeed, there are preachers of violence and non-violence within both religions!

Unfortunately I have heard numerous Christian apologists citing inflammatory passages from the Qur’an with complete disregard for how the passages are interpreted by those who treat them as Scripture, and of course they do so as if there were no inflammatory passages within their own Scriptures! The truth is that both the Qur’an and the Christian Bible contain significant amounts of potentially inflammatory material, but it all depends upon how it is interpreted.

“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” says the Psalmist (Psalm 137) in one of any number of Old Testament verses that could be used to incite a holy war! And those who think that such jihadist catch-cries are limited to the Jewish Bible forget how the words of Christ used in the parable of the great feast“force them to come in” (Luke 14:23) – were used by the Crusaders to justify forcing Christian conversion on Muslim peoples they conquered.

Of course I don’t believe that the words of Christ in the parable were meant to encourage forced conversion any more than I believe Psalm 137 justifies violence against children. If you want to know how I and the vast majority of Christians interpret these passages you only need to ask us. Likewise though, if we want to know how Muslims deal with passages in the Qur’an that sound inflammatory to us then we need to ask them how they interpret these passages, and surely we should ask them before jumping to conclusions.

This seems obvious to me, which is why I find it hard to understand why so many Christian people who in every other respect seem to be quite sensible people continue to quote isolated verses from the Qur’an to warn us as to ‘what Muslims really believe’ without ever consulting a Muslim in the process!

Why would anyone do this? It only makes sense if there’s an initial assumption that the Muslim community is quietly plotting against everyone else on the religious spectrum while deliberately concealing their intentions. Many people do actually believe this. Their phobia started with the 9/11 attacks in New York and it has been consistently drip-fed ever since by a media narrative that interprets every act of violence perpetrated by a Muslim as an insane act, inspired by their hateful religion!

Of course the circle of ignorance and fear is a self-affirming, self-perpetuating circle. When we are ignorant of what a group believes we become suspicious and fearful as to what they are up to. Because we are fearful we isolate ourselves from the group and listen to rumours which justify the isolation and increase the ignorance and fear, and so the cycle of isolation, suspicion, ignorance and fear deepens and perpetuates itself. There is, of course, a very straightforward path out of this circle. We sit down and talk with each other, and preferably over a nice meal.

Let me share my testimony with you:

When the September 2001 event occurred I knew zero Muslim people and knew almost nothing about Islam. Along with a vast number of Australians, the twin towers attack left me deeply suspicious of both the religion and its adherents. No doubt I should have tried to dig a little deeper into the matter before allowing my prejudices to settle. Even so, I had a full plate and other priorities. Then, six months later, a local Islamic centre made a large group booking at the bush retreat that I manage. They were organising an Islamic youth camp on my property! I was deeply concerned!

What were these Muslims going to get up to in the bush? Would they be learning to make bombs? I decided that if this camp were to go ahead I needed to be there in person and keep a close eye on exactly what was happening.

Of course the Islamic youth group turned out to be the most respectful group we’ve ever had at our bush camp and their teacher, Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, went on to become my dearest friend. That weekend was the beginning of a whole new learning curve for me that has led me on great adventures around the world and introduced me to so many wonderful people! In the process, of course, I left behind any suspicion and fear I had towards my Islamic sisters and brothers. On the contrary, I found in the Muslim community people who model for me what a Christian life should look like better than any Christians I know!

None of this is to deny, of course, the major tensions and conflicts that exist between Christian and Muslim communities around the world. This is a serious issue. Indeed, I believe it is the most serious issue of our generation. Even so, we cannot properly address these conflicts until we understand the underlying issues, and we cannot understand these tensions and difficulties until there is open and honest dialogue.

Let me conclude by returning to my two points – that our religions are not at war and that our holy books are not at war. These two points are, of course, really the same point. The point is that what we have today in the burgeoning worldwide conflict between Christians and Muslims is a people problem. It’s not a religion problem and it’s not a Scripture problem. It’s a people problem, and at the heart of this people problem is people who aren’t talking to each other!

If Christians and Muslims were talking to one another then no one would be making money in the Christian community by writing inflammatory books like ‘An Idiots Guide to the Koran’ – aimed at warning Christians about what Muslims really believe – because Christians would already know what Muslims believe because their Muslim friends would have told them!

If Christians and Muslims were talking to one another then Christians would quickly realise that there is as much variation in belief within Islam as there is within the church, and that the crazy Islamic lunatic fringe is as much feared and despised by most Muslims as the Christian lunatic fringe is by the church!

If Christians and Muslims were talking we would not be fighting, and the truth is that the war-mongers can only keep us fighting by stopping us from talking!

I appreciate that the worldwide tensions between the monotheistic religious communities are complex and will not be solved overnight. Even so, the first steps towards the solution are simple and straightforward and within easy reach of us all!

So I appeal to you, my Christian sisters and brothers, to do something revolutionary – talk to your Muslim neighbour! Better still, invite your Muslim neighbour over for a meal! Better still, since your Muslim neighbour only eats halal food they will probably suggest you go to their place, in which case you’ll get a free feed on top of all the other benefits that will flow from the breaking down of prejudice, ignorance and fear!

There is a saying in Arabic that translates roughly as “how can you be my enemy if we have broken bread together?”  So start the revolution today! Break bread with your Muslim neighbour! Begin to build a better world and enjoy some nice halal food while you’re at it!

Father Dave Smith

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four. www.FatherDave.org

The article reprinted in part below is one that should be read by every Christian who believes in evangelizing the Muslim world.  Evangelical church-leader and scholar, Nabeeh Abbassi, is evidently a great believer in evangelism. Even so, he does not believe that this is a matter of turning Muslims into Christians.

Abbassi makes a distinction between religious affiliation and spiritual transformation. The former is simply a classification of tribal identity. The latter is the work of God! The two are very distinct! Unfortunately though these two are always being confused, which is why religious faith so readily degenerates into tribalism. Tribalism leads to arrogance, imperialism, discrimination and violence, whereas the Spirit of God takes us in the opposite direction!

Father Dave

Christians and Muslims in fellowship at the Arrahman Mosque in Kingsgrove (Sydney)

Christians and Muslims in fellowship at the Arrahman Mosque in Kingsgrove (Sydney)

from: The Christian Examiner

Evangelical scholar says no need for Muslims to become ‘Christians’

by Joni B. Hannigan 14 May, 2015

In a place where Christians and Muslims increasingly have faced hardships due to radical Islamists who are bent on the eradication of Christians [ie. Jordan], Abbassi said it is especially important to remember the way families are identified – and the culture – when reaching out with the Gospel message.

“I don’t think we are commanded to change people to become Christians,” Abbassi explained. “I think we are commanded to reconcile people to God through Jesus Christ — and that happens in their heart — this is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Abbassi, who is also founder of Arab Center for Training and Consulting Services (ACCTS), an official NGO serving refugees in the Middle East, said a careful presentation is important for Easterners who are a “tribal and social” people, lest problems lead to violence.

“We don’t want to bring calamity and war. We want people to reconcile to God without rioting,” Abbassi said. “We know this is not easy and there is a price for people following Him.

“What I am trying to say is that we are not to encourage people to become ‘Christians,'” Abbassi said, with the understanding that “as Arabs, this means you were born in a Christian home and part of that family or that clan.”

People “don’t have to call themselves Christians” to change the culture, Abbassi said. “They need to have hope, joy and peace with God through Jesus Christ to be able to impact their society.”

It’s a spiritual work, not an “identity change on paper,” he said. “We want to see people improve their love with God through Jesus Christ and that’s the Good News.”

Read the full article here: http://www.christianexaminer.com/article/evangelical.scholar.says.no.need.for.muslims.to.become.christians/48941.htm

You’ll find below an excellent article from my friend and colleague in Malaysia, Dr Chandra Muzzafar, regarding the latest tragic deaths of refugees fleeing Libya for safer shores in Europe.

Amidst all the finger-wagging that is going on in Western countries, targeting these pour drowned souls, Dr Muzzafar makes the obvious point that most of these people are trying to flee to the very countries that destroyed their own country and made a leaky and overcrowded boat their best chance for survival!

The hypocrisy of professed concern exhibited by the US and its European counterparts in this regards is simply nauseating, and Australia’s attitude is no better. Our leaders claim they wish to ‘turn back the boats’ out of humanitarian concern for those at risk! It’s like a burning building where people are jumping out of windows to their deaths. Australia’s humanitarian solution is to close all the windows! And to extend the analogy, what makes this approach especially despicable is that, in many cases, we not only helped start the fire but are continuing to stoke it! We might as well be dancing on their graves!

Father Dave

with Dr Chandra Muzzaffar - July 2013

with Dr Chandra Muzzaffar – July 2013

MEDITERRANEAN CATASTROPHES: TIME THAT THE PEOPLE OF EUROPE STOOD UP

By Chandra Muzaffar

About a fortnight ago — just before midnight on the 18th of April 2015 — the Mediterranean witnessed one of the greatest catastrophes that has ever occurred on its waters. More than 800 migrants in a small fishing boat were drowned off the coast of Libya as a result of a collision with another vessel.

This was the latest in a series of tragedies of this sort. Just before the 18th April episode, there were two other shipwrecks that left 450 people dead. In September 2014, 500 migrants drowned when the traffickers navigating their boat rammed it in an attempt to force the passengers on board to get into another smaller vessel. In October 2013, 360 Africans perished when their tiny boat caught fire within sight of the Italian coast.

There is clear evidence now to show that migrants packed into untrustworthy boats dying in various disasters on the Mediterranean is increasing at an alarming rate. This year, up to the end of April, at least 1750 of them were killed crossing the Mediterranean. This is 30 times more than for the same period in 2014!

These desperate, largely poor migrants are from different countries. Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis, Sudanese (both North and South), Somalians, Eritreans, Malians and even Bangladeshis would be some of the nationalities involved. The vast majority of them are fleeing to Europe from the turmoil and chaos in their countries, often typified by unbearable violence, or are seeking to escape grinding poverty and gnawing hunger. The media portrays their countries as “failed or “failing” states.

What the media does not highlight is the role of certain Western governments in creating the chaos and violence in a number of these so-called failed states. In the case of Libya for instance which now supplies some of the traffickers and generates many of the migrants, it was the NATO engineered ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 that set into motion the forces that are responsible for the current upheaval in the country, as a consequence of which there is no functioning government. Gaddafi’s violent overthrow — it is worth emphasizing over and over again — was primarily to enable French, American and other Western companies to control Libya’s vast oil reserves and to nip in the bud his plans to ensure that Africa would not be under the sway of Western imperial interests.

Likewise, if hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their country in the last three years, including those who are trying to cross the Mediterranean, it is mainly because of a brutal, violent uprising orchestrated by the US and Israel, with the active collusion of regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and executed on the ground by fanatical religious bigots like the Jabhat al-Nusra and Da’ish ( ISIL ) which seeks to eliminate Bashar al-Assad who is a critical link in the resistance to Western-Israeli dominance over West Asia. Yet another example, it is the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 that triggered sectarian violence leading to the present instability which has now conduced to a situation where a group like Da’ish is able to control a swathe of territory further driving Iraqis from home and hearth. Needless to say, the principal reasons for the imperial conquest of Iraq were control over oil and buttressing Israel’s position.

Turning to another country in the Arab world which has produced a number of migrants seeking refuge in Europe, it appears that by helping to create South Sudan in pursuit of their own agenda, Western powers and Israel have only exacerbated an already dire situation. Somalia is another country which has only known perpetual instability since the early nineties partly because of US meddling through its proxies in the region. The inevitable outcome of this is the exodus of migrants as the Somali presence in a number of boat tragedies in the Mediterranean reveals. One can expect US collaboration with Saudi Arabia in the latter’s assault upon Yemen to give rise to yet another exodus, a portion of which will find its way to the Mediterranean.

As with Libya, Syria and Iraq, US direct and indirect intervention in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and other countries, sometimes abetted by other Western powers and Israel, has undoubtedly made life much worse for the affected people and in many instances forced them to brave the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean in search of security and certainty. In looking for solutions to the tragedies occurring in the Mediterranean, European governments and European civil societies should focus upon this paramount issue: how US, Israeli and other Western agendas aimed at control and dominance — or hegemony — have been a fundamental factor in creating chaos and instability thus compelling millions of men, women and children right across West Asia and North Africa (WANA) to risk their lives in the hope that they will reach other shores that will provide them with shelter and succor.

This does not mean that there are no other causes for the outflow of people from WANA. Bad governance within a nation-state, especially massive corruption, oppression and religious and ethnic discrimination have all contributed to the exodus, to people fleeing the land of their birth and ancestry. But incontrovertible evidence convinces us that the determined drive by the US and its allies to pursue their hegemonic agenda in WANA and elsewhere has been the principal — sometimes the root — cause of people trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe for a better life.

The people of Europe some of whom have been deeply moved by the 18th April catastrophe should demand that their governments cease to support a hegemonic power on the other side of the Atlantic or participate in hegemonic adventures that bring death to so many and cause so much pain and misery to their fellow human beings.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

Joseph Wakim is a friend and an inspiration. He’s a sincere Christian man who has been in the forefront of upholding the rights of the Muslim community for as many years as I can remember. His depiction of the current plight of Australian Muslims is spot on! Whether or not public condemnations are made in response to every terrorist act, they are damned if they do and dammed if they don’t!

Mind you, the problem Wakim highlights not only affects Muslims in Australia but Arabic Australians of all religions and none! After the recent ‘Sydney Siege’ I received a press release from the “Arab Council of Australia” (nb. not Wakim’s “Australian Arabic Council”) condemning the actions of the gunman. Why a secular Arab organisation should feel the need to distance itself from a self-appointed Sheikh who was not an Arab illustrates the degree to which this country has come to accept the equation ‘Arab = Muslim = Terrorist’.

There are deep currents of prejudice and fear running across Australian society. Thank God for men like Joseph Wakim who confront these diseases of the public mind with clarity and wisdom.

Father Dave

Joseph Wakim

Joseph Wakim

Condemnation by Muslim leaders of atrocities is now expected to be said even louder, without delay

by Joseph Wakim

If they are silent in the face of atrocities that incriminate their faith, they are seen as complicit. Their silence is construed as consent and they are treated as collectively guilty by association until proven innocent.

If they condemn the atrocity, they feed into an unquenchable hunger for submission, as if their condemnation does not go without saying.

Does the condemnation guarantee that their equal citizenship status is restored? On the contrary: it guarantees they will be condemning forever.

It guarantees that their loyalty remains in question because they continue to answer that question.
This is exactly how the bullying cycle is perpetuated. The bullied know their place and recite the mantra on cue, every time, as soon as the bullies flex their muscles.

The cycle runs along these lines. A crime is committed by misguided ‘‘Muslims’’, in Australia or abroad. Their brethren are asked: are you part of ‘‘them’’ or part of us – Team Australia? The brethren plead: we hate them! We love you! Please believe us! Thus, they perpetuate the perception of the powerful bringing the powerless to their knees.

How do I know this?

Because I have been involved in public advocacy for Middle Eastern people for nearly 30 years. I have written and received hundreds of press releases, condemning the other, denouncing the other, distancing ourselves from the other. It has been a struggle to have these condemnations published, only to find letters columns accusing Muslim leaders of ‘‘silence’’.

Has the hunger for these public condemnations diminished because it finally goes without saying?
No. The stock standard condemnation is now expected to be issued even louder, without delay, without reservation.

So I stopped writing them and stopped encouraging them.

When asked about the atrocities, the answer should be, ‘’Please Google all previous condemnations on the public record. Why would our position be any different today? What part of the word condemn don’t you understand?’’

To those addicted to condemnations, and those hoisting the pen as a flag of free speech, it is time for new questions and new condemnations.

Yes, we should link arms in silent solidarity after the 17 cold-blooded murders in Paris.

But if we are serious about free speech, where were the Je Suis Gaza banners last July when Operation Protective Edge claimed more than 2100 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians and children?

Where was the arm-in-arm international condemnation by world leaders?

Is death less painful or less cruel if bombed from above?

Is it less of an atrocity if sanctioned by the state?

Is human life not precious if the victim is not Western?

During this war in Gaza, the Sydney Morning Herald published a cartoon on 26 July that caused profound offence to readers. The elderly Jewish man in the cartoon was sitting in an armchair ‘emblazened with the Star of David …[which] closely resembled illustrations that had circulated in Nazi Germany.’

The Herald decided to ‘apologise unreservedly for this lapse, and the anguish and distress that has been caused.’

Hence, the pen of cartoonist Glen Le Lievre was trumped by this ‘serious error of judgement.

This was not the first time that freedom of expression was sacrificed at the altar of ethnic or religious sensibilities.

In April 1996, actor Marlon Brando claimed that ‘Hollywood is run by Jews. It is owned by Jews and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of people who are suffering.’

After a swastika was pasted across his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was threatened that the rest of his life would be a ‘living hell’, Brando apologised for his ‘anti-Semitic vulgarities.’

Unlike Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, it was the artists, not the critics, who were condemned. It was freedom from offensive expressions rather than freedom of expressions that prevailed.

While those offended resorted to ink rather than blood to voice their outrage, the examples highlight the hypocrisy of those who defend some offensive cartoons but condemn others.

If Muslim leaders are expected to stand in solidarity and continuously condemn crimes, could they expect some reciprocation? Where was the condemnation when Australia voted against a UNSC motion to end Israeli occupation within 3 years and to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders? On 30 December, the USA was the only other country to vote against the motion in the 15 member Council. By voting against a ‘just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution’, Australia voted to perpetuate the misery of the Palestinian people.

To condemn or not to condemn, that is the question.

Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of continuous condemnation, or to stop the cycle and invite condemnation of all inhuman atrocities, equally.

Joseph Wakim, Founder of Australian Arabic Council, Former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner, Author ‘Sorry we have no space’, www.josephwakim.com.au

An edited version of this article was published in Adelaide Advertiser on 16 January, 2015

What follows in printed form is the address I gave at the Arrahman Mosque, Kingsgrove, on September 27th. It was a great night and was captured beautifully in the video tribute put together by the guys from the mosque. Sheikh Jehad Ismail is a beautiful man. I hope to work closely with him in the future in building bridges of community and understanding.

Father Dave

Beyond Tribalism!

Salaam Aleykum, Peace.

In the name of God, merciful and compassionate (bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm), and  with respect to the traditional custodians of this land (elders past and present), let me thank all of you, my brothers and sisters, for the gracious hospitality you have shown me this evening and for your warm welcome.

I bring you greetings too from my Archbishop – his grace, Rev. Dr Glen Davies. The Archbishop asked me specifically to pass on his salaams to you, as he asked me to share with you his hope that our common belief in a God of peace might lead to greater peace and understanding between our communities.

I read a book recently entitled “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” It’s a book by American Christian social activist Brian McLaren about Christian identity in a multi-faith world, and I thought it was a very good book. Indeed, I it is one that I think almost everyone here would enjoy so long as they could get beyond the apparently irreverent title.

The title, which most readers would appreciate is a play on a very ancient joke about chickens crossing roads, doesn’t really have a lot to do with the book as a whole. Even so, the author does begin by asking us to imagine what it would be like if these four characters did cross a road together.

I appreciate that it is an entirely fanciful image. Even so, can we imagine what it would be like if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed found themselves on one side of a road together, each preparing to cross? I think it impossible to imagine exactly what would happen but I think we can be very sure as to what would NOT happen. A fight would NOT break out!

We cannot imagine Jesus saying to Mohammed ‘you must cross behind me’ any more than we can imagine the three monotheists shouldering out the Buddha and telling him that he’d better find a road of his own to cross!

It is a fanciful scenario, but I imagine that if such a crossing were to take place these men might not only cross the road together but might then sit down and break bread together! They might discuss God and life at length and perhaps they would disagree with each other on some matters (indeed, I suspect that the Buddha might find himself constantly on the defensive) but I think we all know with complete confidence that any such discussion would take place in an environment of mutual respect and openness.

The obvious question then that this scenario brings to mind is, ‘if we all know full well that Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed would show respect to each other if they met, why do their followers have so much difficulty doing the same thing?’ ‘Tribalism’ is the answer to that question, I believe.

Tribalism is the great enemy of inter-faith dialogue. Indeed, I would suggest that tribalism is the greatest enemy that religion itself faces – not just Islam or Christianity or any particular religion but all religion.
Throughout history, religion of every brand has shown a tendency to degenerate into tribalism, and every time religion degenerates into tribalism we find that instead of the signs of the presence of God we find intolerance, violence and war!

Tribalism is allowing your faith to divide the world into us and them. It is supporting your faith in the same way you support a football team. You go to the games, you put on the colours, you cheer for your team, and you come to a very self-conscious awareness of your identity as a supporter of your team in contrast to them – the supporters of the others teams whom you might be tempted to despise!

I am a supporter of the Newtown Jets Rugby League team. Some Sydney-siders might not have even heard of the Jets as we are not now in the first grade Rugby League competition. We were in the first grade though when I was a teenager, and that’s when I started supporting the Jets.

For those who don’t know, the Jets are still playing in the New South Wales Cup competition, and I’m happy to say that we still have a strong following, especially amongst old die-hards like myself – the over 50’s brigade who have been following the Jets since we were boys!

And one of the most fascinating things about being involved in Jets-supporters gatherings is that you find the old rivalries never die! Us old die-hard supporters still think of our team as a group of battlers – a working-class team from a working class suburb, and this despite the fact that Newtown is now anything but a working class suburb and our team is made up almost entirely of imported Pacific Islanders (like most of the other teams)!

What this demonstrates very well, I think, is that you can be a tribal supporter of your team without knowing anything about your team. Indeed, you can be a die-hard tribal supporter of your football team without knowing anything about football! All that is required is that you turn up to the games, wear the colours, and cheer loudly for your team, boo the other team, and curse the referee whenever a decision goes against you (even when the decision was entirely legitimate).

This is the essence of tribalism, I think, and it’s not a serious problem when football is the focus, and yet it becomes very serious when people treat their religion with the same level of superficiality. I can proudly assert myself as a Christian without knowing anything about Christianity and without displaying any of the signs of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ. I thus define my identity with reference to my tribe and equally with reference to the tribes I am not a part of!

Being a Christian means that I am NOT a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist or an Atheist. If you ask me what I know about Islam or Judaism or Buddhism or Atheism I probably know even less about these other religions than I do about my own religion, and I probably won’t feel very comfortable talking about any of that unless, of course, it is with ‘one of us’ – another like-minded person from my tribe who will reinforce me in my identity and remind me that whatever it is that these other tribes might believe, we know that it is inferior to what we believe (whatever that is)!

Now … I don’t mean to be simplistic. A degree of tribalism – a degree of us and them – is unavoidable in religion, and indeed it may even be desirable!

Tribalism is a part of the horizontal dimension of religion – that aspect of religion that binds us to each other – in contrast with the vertical dimension that binds us to God, and I think we all want to affirm the importance of the communal dimension of faith.

Religious faith, properly conceived, is never simply a private affair. It always has a communal dimension. Our fellowship with like-minded worshippers and our common identity as a community of faith is as essential a part of Islam as it is of Christianity and of Judaism. Even so, I think we all recognise that our communal identity as a people of faith (the horizontal dimension) can only properly be built upon a genuine vertical axis where there is a real relationship with the Almighty.

It is when we lose the relationship with Almighty God altogether but maintain our tribal identity that our faith degenerates into the kind of tribalism we see unfolding so tragically across our world.

What we see with the so-called ‘Islamic State’, for instance, is an example of tribalism at its worst, and it bears the two common characteristics of what I might call ‘extreme tribalism’:

  • Firstly, the tribe is defined with extreme rigidity. You don’t simply have to be a Muslim but a Sunni Muslim with the right sort of Sunni Muslim doctrine.
  • Secondly, extreme and disciplined religious piety are substituted for a genuine relationship with God.
    This second point is a personal observation and is a reflection, I think, of the way that people with political power always operate in our world.

They say that there is always a direct relationship between the number of times words like ‘democratic’ appear in your country’s name and the lack of actual democracy in that country. In other words, if you call your country ‘the true and democratic people’s republic of …’ you can be sure that you’re dealing with a totalitarian dictatorship.

Similarly, when any government wants to conquer and destroy another country and steal their resources they will always talk in terms of ‘liberating’ the people and acting out of a ‘humanitarian concern’.

Similarly, when a tyrant wants to commit godless atrocities and establish a merciless and tyrannical state we can be we can be sure that he will embed his actions in obsequious religious rhetoric about the mercy of God and do his best to appear as the most pious of men!

In the New Testament it says that the signs of the presence of the Spirit of God are ‘love, joy, health and peace’ (Galatians 5:22), and I think we would recognise that these signs of the presence of the Spirit of God are as absent from the ‘Islamic State’ of Al Baghdadi as they were from the ‘Christian state’ established in the same land by the Christian ‘Crusaders’ many centuries earlier.

When tribalism is all you’ve got, religion degenerates into savagery. For those of us though who wish to build our tribal identity around a genuine relationship with God, the question that needs to be answered is ‘how should we relate to persons of other religious tribes?’ and this is the question that I want to devote the rest of my time to this evening – at least with regards to how Christians should behave.

As to how Muslims should treat persons of other tribes and faiths, I will not presume to answer. I will leave that to my dear brother, Sheikh Jehad, and to other Sheikhs and experts in Islam. My focus will be on how followers of Jesus should treat persons from other religious traditions, as I believe the Lord Jesus spelt this out for his followers very clearly.

In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, chapter 10, it is recorded that a teacher of religious law came to Jesus with what is perhaps the most fundamental of all religious questions – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” To this the answer was given,

These were words quoted by Jesus from the Torah – the law of God (from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to be exact).

The lawyer though, we are told, was looking for a loophole (as one might expect for a man in his profession) and so he asked Jesus “but who is my neighbour?”

The religion of the Jews, then as now, was very tribal. There was a very strong sense of us and them, and if you look at the verse from the Torah that Jesus was quoting, it is clear there that the ‘neighbours’ being referred to were other Jews.

This helps us understand why this man of religion asked for clarification from Jesus as to who his neighbour was. When the commandment was originally given, it was given to a relatively isolated and homogeneous Jewish society. Times had changed and the Jews were now living under occupation in a relatively cosmopolitan society. They were constantly interacting not only with fellow Jewish believers but with Greeks and Romans as well as with persons from various other countries from across the region. The lawyer therefore wanted Jesus to confirm for him that the love that God commanded him to show to others need only be extended to members of his own tribe.

 And Jesus told him a story:

“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead” (Luke 10:30)

Perhaps you have heard this story before. Perhaps you have not. It is known amongst Christians as the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’ and I’ve been hearing this story read and reflected upon since my youth.

What comes next in the story is that various good religious people – persons like the man questioning Jesus – came upon the scene and they ‘pass by on the other side’ without helping the injured man.

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw [the injured man], 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.” (Luke 10:31-32)

As I say, I’ve been hearing this story read and reflected upon since my youth, and I can tell you that it is a popular pastime amongst Christian preachers at this point to speculate upon why these religious figures did not help the suffering man.

  • Perhaps they were running late for a synagogue service?
  • Perhaps it was because they feared that the man might be dead and hence ritually unclean if they touched him?
  • Perhaps they feared that the criminals who had attacked this man were still lying in wait and would pounce on them if they hung around?
  • Perhaps indeed the whole thing was a setup and the apparently half-dead man was really in good health and only acting as bait?

These and various other scenarios are ones that are often suggested. It was my friend Stephen Sizer though, whom I met up with earlier this year in Tehran, who pointed out to me that Jesus has already told us exactly why these clerical figures did not stop to help – it was because the man had been left ‘stripped’ and ‘half dead’.

The assailed man was naked and unconscious, and because he was naked and unconscious these good religious Jews had no way of telling whether the poor man was a member of their tribe – whether he was one of us or one of them!

These are the ways you distinguish between us and them. We distinguish people by their clothes and by their accents. That’s as true in today’s context as it was then!

Whenever, as a Christian, I see a woman in a hijab – she is one of them! Conversely, of course, many of you may think ‘ah, she is one of us!’ Conversely, whenever I hear that lovely Aussie ‘how ya goin’ mate’ I know he’s ‘one of us’, whereas for many here your immediate reaction may be ‘Ah! He’s one of them!’

In 2004 I made my one and only trip to Israel. I went to see my dear friend Mordechai Vanunu when he was released from prison. For those who don’t know Morde, he was the man who told the world about the secret Israel nuclear stockpile and indeed published a series of photographs from inside the Dimona nuclear reactor in the London Sunday Times in 1986.

Morde served 18 years in Ashkelon prison for his ‘crimes’ and I almost got killed by going to see him when he was released. My visit though was covered by Australian TV’s “Foreign Correspondent”, and the team there were good enough to allow me the services of their driver who drove me around and ferried through various checkpoints in his taxi without every once being stopped by the soldiers at those checkpoints.

I asked the driver (whose name was also David) why the soldiers never stopped him. He told me it was because they knew he was Jewish and not Palestinian. “But how can they tell?” I naively asked him, as I didn’t think his complexion make it obvious? He told me that Palestinian taxis always had more bling in them (hanging from the rear-view mirror, etc.) and that if the soldiers had any doubts they only had to casually greet him, as once they heard his accent it would remove any doubts.

This is how we tell if someone is one of us or one of them – we listen to the way they talk and we look at the way they dress (and the way they deck out their taxis). Jesus makes clear though that the man in the parable not only has no taxi but no clothes and he cannot speak, and hence he has no way of communicating to those who might be in a position to help him whether he is a neighbour, a brother, a sister, a friend, one of us or one of them – in other words, whether he is worthy of their time or whether he is somebody else’s problem.

The man in Jesus’ story is naked and unconscious, and so the good religious Jews can’t tell whether he’s a Jew or a Palestinian. He could even be a Roman for all they know! He could have been an Australian!
Well … he probably couldn’t have been an Australian as a 1st Century Australian would have had a distinctive complexion, and he definitely would have been ‘one of them’ (as he generally still is in white Australian society today).

The hero in Jesus’ story is a Samaritan – a Palestinian of sorts and most definitely ‘one of them’!

“But a Samaritan traveller who came upon [the beaten man] was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’”” (Luke 10:33-35)

This ‘outsider’ is really too good to be true, and this is the sting in the tail of the story. He is one of them and yet he knows how one of us should behave better than we do ourselves. Just when we thought that we knew where to draw the line between light and dark and good and bad and us and them we find one of them clearly displaying the presence of the Spirit of God better than any of us. And we had been so sure up to that point that God was one of us!

I will leave Jesus’ story there but I hope you have caught the sting in the tail of this story. It is a story that blurs the lines between us and them. The hero is one of them. The characters who are a part of our tribe fail miserably to do what is right and have to learn from the godliness of the man from the other tribe, and indeed that man’s godliness is seen in the very fact that he does not seem to care whose tribe you are a member of! He acts in love regardless of tribe, and Jesus concludes the story by saying to the man who questioned him “Go and do likewise!”

As I say, I think it is entirely clear for followers of Jesus as to how we should behave towards persons from other faiths and tribes and religious traditions. What Jesus teaches us is that love does not recognise tribal boundaries!

Sisters and brothers, moving beyond tribalism is not easy, and if we look around our world we will find no shortage of reasons to view members of other tribes with suspicion and fear. Even so, as the Apostle John said “perfect love casts our all fear” (1 John 4:18) and we can move beyond fear and beyond tribalism to follow a God of love – moving beyond us and them and recognising that in the end it’s just us!
For we are all in this together. We are all God’s children – all of us! Salaam Aleykum.

 

 Earlier this month a delegation of Catholic Bishops from the USA visited Qom in Iran and met with leading Shia clergy from the ‘Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers’. The American delegation was led by the ever-impressive Bishop Richard E. Pates,  chairman of the U.S. bishops’ ‘International Justice and Peace committee’.

The joint declaration reprinted below was an outcome of that meeting. It expresses not only solidarity between Catholics and Shia Muslims but between all ‘peoples of the book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims). Further, it boldly states a common commitment to humanity, including the goal of dismantling all weapons of mass destruction.

Those who see Iran as a centre of religious bigotry are indeed out of touch. I was in Qom myself earlier this year and had the privilege of visiting the great ‘University of Religions’ located there. It is a unique institution worldwide, I believe, and entirely dedicated to fostering inter-faith dialogue and mutual respect between religious groups. Far from being closed to ‘the West’, my friend Rev. Stephen Sizer (another Anglican priest) was even invited to be on the faculty!

Father Dave

Bishop Richard E. Pates

Bishop Richard E. Pates

June 14, 2014 —16 Sha’bān 1435 AH

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE COMPASSIONATE, THE MERCIFUL

The belief in One God unites Jews, Christians and Muslims, and calls us to work for the common good of the whole human family. It is our conviction that human societies need moral guidance and that it is incumbent on us as religious leaders to share the ethical teachings that flow from our respective traditions.

Christianity and Islam cherish a common heritage that emphasizes, above all, love and respect for the life, dignity, and welfare of all members of the human community. We found this in our recent dialogue between Catholicism and Shia Islam. Both of our traditions reject as reprehensible all forms of transgression and injustice. We oppose any action that endangers the life, health, dignity, or welfare of others. Catholicism and Shia Islam hold a common commitment to peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

These foundational moral values unite us in raising fundamental moral questions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Shia Islam opposes and forbids the production, stockpiling, use and threat to use weapons of mass destruction. Catholicism is also working for a world without weapons of mass destruction and calls on all nations to rid themselves of these indiscriminate weapons.

We call on all societies and persons to respect religion and its role in sharing moral guidance in the public square. As religious leaders, we condemn all forms of disrespect for the religious traditions of others. Just as importantly, we commit ourselves to active inter-religious dialogue that transcends governments and national boundaries and serves the common good of the whole human family. It is our mutual intention to engage in a sustained dialogue based on our shared values.

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