One of the programs we are currently running at Musalaha is the joint Muslim-Christian volunteering initiative. This is an 18-month program in which 30 young adults from the Bethlehem region get together and study themes related to reconciliation. This month, the group of 30 went into the desert and followed Musalaha’s classic reconciliation activities. Some of these activities include a hiking trail, ice-breaking games, structured presentations and discussions, and an opportunity to meet new people and develop new friendships. After the program ends, these individuals who are led by their own core committee of five persons, are committed to return into their communities and volunteer together by promoting reconciliation in the wider society. Please watch our short video of this group sharing their experiences of the desert trip (LINK).
This group has made me reflect upon Muslim-Christian relations in Israel/Palestine, especially considering the way people are reacting to the recent events in France. And I would like to highlight four problematic patterns I have identified with some Christian attitudes towards our Muslim neighbors.
1 – The Islamophobic approach. I often hear some Christians making generalizing and sweeping statements about Islam and its relationship to violence and militancy. These statements are very problematic. We need to be careful how we speak about “Islam”, for there are many different interpretations of Islam in the world. Moreover, when we speak of Muslims, we are talking about a group of 1.8 billion people. Of the 1.8 billion, only one in five Muslims are Arab, while the majority live in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc.
It deeply troubles me when I hear some Christians and religious leaders conflate popular expressions of Islam with terrorism. People often try to justify their racism by asking, “but what about the terrorist? They are very real”. True, Muslims can be violent like any other people group, and this must be condemned. However, the truth is that most Muslims condemn violence perpetrated by other Muslims. According to the The Gallup World Poll, 91 percent of Muslims interviewed believed that the attacks like 9/11 and London 7/7 were unjustified. Another fact rarely discussed is that 358 Muslim employees died in the World Trade Center. Why is this information not communicated to Christians? Why are mainstream Muslims not receiving media coverage? Are we actually listening?
2 – The isolationist approach. Some Christians try to limit their contact with their Muslim neighbors as much as possible. Despite living in close quarters, it amazes me how segregated we can become when we want. At best, this approach limits interaction with Muslims to particular necessity-based functions in society. For example, the isolationist might say, “I like Muslims, I work with many of them all the time, I have many Muslim friends”. At worst, this approach will refuse to have Muslims live in the same neighborhood, street, and apartment block. When was the last time you became friends with a Muslim who was outside of your obligatory environment? Or is this a love of convenience?
3 – The evangelistic approach. Some Christians only want to interact with Muslims so that they may be ‘saved’. When one digs deeper into the evangelistic approach, you can start reading between the lines. Often, Christians want to convert Muslims to Christianity, and along the way, also adopt their political ideology. As a result, Jesus is used as a tool to persuade Muslims to support a political movement or state. Regardless, approaching Muslims with the desire to ONLY convert them neglects their humanity and eliminates the space to develop authentic relationships. Are we imposing our worldview and religious culture on our fellow Muslim neighbors? Do we only care about their souls, or also their bodies and minds?
4 – We are all the same approach. Often, some liberal leaning Christians say, “everything is O.K., there is no difference between us, we are all humans.” Yes, we are all humans, but significant differences do exist. This approach seeks to avoid confrontation with the problems between Muslim and Christian communities. To ignore the competition between religious groups in Israel/Palestine is the new ‘color blindness’. Are we going to become observers and passively watch the contest over symbols, holidays, businesses, etc. unfold? Ignoring problems usually leads them into crises.
At Musalaha we believe in an alternative approach. We believe that loving your Muslim neighbor means seeking to understand individuals and approaching them as equal humans. We believe in nourishing friendships that seek to build a better future for all. Indeed, it is through relationships that we share and learn about each other’s faith, culture and language in a genuine manner. And by doing so, overcoming our fear and prejudice towards them and learn how to serve one another. Moreover, we strive to serve our greater society and environment together, regardless of the “benefitted outcome or community”. Especially during these times, there are many uniting concerns calling us to collaborate. How are we managing the pandemic? How can we work together to prevent ecological disasters? On October 31st, the group of 30 are meeting to reflect upon their desert trip to identify opportunities to serve both Muslims and Christians in the Bethlehem region. Let us do the same, how do we approach our Muslim neighbors? And where and how can I partner with Muslims to serve for the inclusive goodness of all?
Musalaha Business and Organization Development – Daniel Munayer