This week I got a phone call by a well-intentioned Christian group who wanted to present “the facts” about Islam, to people in our city and were wondering if we at Fort McMurray Alliance would host a seminar. I checked the group out and discovered that one of their convictions is that an evil movement like ISIS or IS is simply “pure Islam.” They were wary of anyone who might say, as American President Obama has said, “that ISIS doesn’t represent true Islam.” They wanted to be able to demonstrate from the Koran the direct correlation between pure Islam and the emergence of groups like ISIS.
Hey, I too am greatly disturbed by the slaughter of fellow Christ followers among so many others in places like northern Iraq. I get that ISIS just might one day follow through on its threats and do damage in Canada. I get the bravado that arises on Facebook among Christians and others who used to joke about being prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse, transferring that to a real enemy. BUT …
This week as I often do, I also connected with a few young Islamic guys in my city of Fort McMurray. For the most part they were not born in Canada, but they or their families came to Canada to find a bit of peace, stability and economic well being that was so hard to find where they came from. Yes they are passionate about their Islamic faith. But they personally don’t believe that Islam, as they understand Islam, leads to ISIS. They believe quite the opposite. Yet they are concerned that as tension mounts worldwide with the advance of groups like ISIS, they will be less welcome in our city.
Over the centuries our two faiths have exercised incredible violence towards one-another appealing to our scriptures to justify our behaviour. The “Christian Crusades” of the middle ages had goals that were not all that different from ISIS today. Hundreds of thousands of Christians took a pledge to be Crusaders with the promise of eternal reward for the slaughter and pillaging of non-Christians, mostly Muslim although some Jews as well. Historians vary on how many died in this conflict, but it’s at least a million.
To the Christian community I would simply appeal, do not label all Islamic people with the same brush, just as we ought not to paint all Christians with the same brush. We both have our extremists movements attached to us, that poorly represent us.
Yes my faith is passionately Christian. The Christian understanding of the world is that it is one beautiful yet messed up place, full of beautiful yet messed up people. We believe that because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that people can be made right and whole through a personal relationship with Jesus. Further, with Jesus living in and through us, it causes us to be people who bring mercy and peace where there is conflict and war. Just read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, it’s a pretty powerful picture of what a Christ follower should look like.
Jesus taught his followers “to love your neighbour as yourself.” He said, “blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be children of God.” He taught us “not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.”
So to my Islamic neighbours in Fort McMurray and across the country, I want you to know that I and many other Christ followers love you. I will not put you in a box that you have asked not to be put in. I will work with you for those causes that we both cherish, including peace in our city and world. I look forward to getting to know more of you and learning more about your faith while you perhaps allow me to talk about mine. And know that I am praying for peace in the Middle East and worldwide and for your peace and well being here in Fort McMurray.
Oh and if you’re interested, 10:30 on Sunday morning November 2nd, I’ll be giving a message called “Relating with Our Islamic Cousins,” as part of a series of messages we’ll be doing called “Understanding My Neighbour’s Faith.” Feel free to join us, or even send me some thoughts as to what you think I should be dealing with in that message! God bless!
(This post is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in Fort McMurray Today on September 26th.)