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An encounter with a God-fearing Christian

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By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

I spent a pleasant afternoon on a warm sunny day in southern California in the company of a God-fearing Christian who was concerned about what he perceived to be the evils of Islamic ideology. It was evident that he considered the religious movement as one that would threaten his world and existence.

That is hardly unusual as there are perhaps many with similar sentiments. In the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 with the bombings of the World Trade Center towers in New York, many could have been forgiven for considering that such a threat was indeed credible.

Such sentiments were cemented when the President of the United States, at the time, George W. Bush declared a crusade against the perpetrators, invoking a disturbing scenario of an impending clash of civilizations. In creating the "good versus evil" and "you’re with us or against us" doctrine, Mr. Bush further solidified his stance when he used the term "Islamic fascists".

My companion that afternoon had done his research. He had read many books on the Hadith and Fiqh, and translations of the Holy Qur'an. His argument was that Islam is inherently violent and on a collision course with other religions. He quoted examples of verses or incidents in religious scripture to back his suspicions.


Eight years of Mr. Bush spouting in the same vein and a highly unpopular war in Iraq did not help foster closer understanding. Just the opposite was true. Muslims were quickly portrayed to be the bad guys in the Western media, who had sinister intentions against a peace-loving Western world. Every act of terrorism committed by some nut calling himself a soldier of Allah or a jihadist was considered a well-planned and deeply covert operation sanctioned by the more than 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet.

I tried to explain to him that the West faces no threat from Islam. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and not by force but by acceptance of its values and message, and it really is a religion of peace. Islam forbids forced conversions. More significantly, it is a religion that focuses on the individual and his salvation.

It is also a universal religion that ignores nationality, race, rank and color. To become a Muslim, one must believe in one God, acknowledge Muhammad as his Prophet, recognize the Holy Qur'an as the word of God, pray five times a day, provide for the poor through the payment of zakat and, if possible, make a journey once in a lifetime to Makkah to perform the grand pilgrimage or Haj. The God Muslims worship is the same God Christians and Jews worship.

Islam’s tolerance toward other faiths has been well documented. The oldest Christian communities in the world are all in Muslim countries. There have always been Christian and Jewish communities in the Muslim world. The disputes the West considers as clashes of ideologies in today’s Middle East are not religious; they are actually about secular matters, with the principle element being the unresolved Israeli occupation of Arab lands.

Why then were there not voices of opposition to the acts of terrorism, no public condemnation or outrage, my companion demanded? If the truth be told, there have been countless such acts of censure by various religious or government figures across the Muslim world. Media personnel across the Middle East have been relentlessly attacking such cowardly acts as well. Unfortunately, such words of condemnation do not grab the headlines. The demonization of Muslims is good for business. It sells a lot of print. There has to be a bad guy, with a multitude of other evil plotters lurking in the shadowy background.

I would not deny that terrorism exists. But it exists among Muslims, Christians and Jews. For the guilty Muslims, it is their 15-minute moment of fame as they hold their heads high proclaiming themselves to be jihadists and the Western media loves it. Their twisted and immoral acts dominate prime time TV or print space. But they do not and will not be representative of the billion plus peace-loving Muslims living in many countries of the world.

I suggested to my companion that the way to better understand Muslims and Islam is to reach out to them and not necessarily just in the United States. Go visit some of the Islamic countries, I said. The way to combat the fanaticism and improve inter-faith understanding is to extend the hand of friendship to ordinary Muslims. He would find that their primary concern is with their existence and making a living just as anyone else in other parts of the world. They are not spending their free moments engrossed in grand designs to destroy the West or other cultures and faiths. To slander and libel Muslims and Islam as such is grave injustice. It smacks of bigotry.

And to make up one’s mind on the basis of information garnered through translated versions of religious transcripts leaves one often at the mercy of the interpretation which can be deceptive.

It is best for one to witness with his eyes and mind what the other part of the world sees in him. Over a cup of coffee, that is what I recommended to my companion as a first step toward better understanding.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena.]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)
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