Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard that last week an army psychologist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 people. You’ve probably also heard the inevitable discussion that follows senseless violent tragedy, focusing on the nearly-unanswerable question “Why?” From a ‘systems thinking’ point of view, there are many legitimate facets to put on the table, including mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, the general morale and collective mental state of troops involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and – yes – the influence of radicalized, fundamentalist Islam.
All well and necessary. But what happens when fundamentalist Christians – and their more respectable evangelical neighbors – ignore 3 of the 4 above factors and generalize the last one, painting all Muslims as a potential fifth column ‘sleeper cell’ in our midst? It isn’t pretty. I’ve been avoiding the typical watering holes for such ‘reasoning’ – Fox News, CBN, WorldNetDaily. I know better. But one place I’ve been unable to avoid seeing it is on my own Facebook network. In some cases dear friends making statements like “If three friends from my local [Christian] congregation were involved in shootings, I don’t know if you could claim that my religion is peaceful. Hmm.” What follows is some of my tentative, in-process response, to my friends and family members who are scared, and want to know how followers of Jesus should respond in the wake of this tragedy.
Where to begin? First off, I do agree that Major Hasan had some shady connections. Not only was he not investigated for those connections, but he was actually appointed by the Bush administration to be high up in Homeland Security if this source is to be believed! This is very odd, and needs to be investigated.
But I’ve gotta be honest with you: It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people compare the best of their faith with the worst in others’ faiths. Of course your truncated version of Christianity will come out smelling like a rose! But we cannot forget that we have a legacy of violence, terror, shame, and intimidation along with the worst of Islam. We too have ‘texts of terror’ in our sacred scriptures, and we do best to handle them with the utmost care so as not to let their volatility spill out into the fragility of our interconnected lives. How is caricaturing a faith held by a billion people worldwide loving our enemies? How is it going to show them the love of Christ?
I agree that PTSD doesn’t excuse someone for their actions. But as someone who personally suffers from anxiety-related issues, I can assure you it’s very real. Radical Islam is doubtless a factor in this man’s thinking, but it’s equally obvious to me that he tried, repeatedly, to get discharged so that he would not enter an arena of war that is increasingly demoralizing our troops – troops that he dealt with frequently as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed hospital. Suicide and domestic violence rates are up exponentially among troops involved in our neverending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we Christians wish to focus our indignation somewhere, perhaps it should be on why we entered these zero-sum conflicts to begin with.
Does The Qur’an Uniformly Promote Violence?
So we all hear the ‘naughty bits’ of the Qur’an trumpeted daily via sources like FAUX FOX news and WND, and on increasingly hysterical and polarizing talk radio. But have we ever heard these passages?
“On that account: We (Allah) ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (The Noble Qur’an, 5:32)”
“Fight in the cause of Allah (God) those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah (God) loveth not transgressors. (The Noble Qur’an, 2:190)”
“But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah (God) : for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things). (The Noble Qur’an, 8:61)”
“If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear God, the cherisher of the worlds. (The Noble Qur’an, 5:28)”
“Allah does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes. Allah loves just dealers. (The Noble Qur’an, 60:8)”
“And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah (God). But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers. (The Noble Qur’an 2:193)”
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (The Noble Qur’an, 2:256)”
“Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it):……(The Noble Qur’an, 18:29)”
“If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? (The Noble Quran, 10:99)”
“Say: ‘Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger: but if ye turn away, he is only responsible for the duty placed on him and ye for that placed on you. If ye obey him, ye shall be on right guidance. The Messenger’s duty is only to preach the clear (Message). (The Noble Quran, 24:54)”
“Say : O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine. (The Noble Qur’an, 109:1-6)”
Allah Almighty loves those who restrain anger: “Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for Allah loves those who do good. (The Noble Qur’an, 3:134)”
“And you (O Muslims) shall certainly hear much that will grieve you from those who received the Scripture before you (Jews and Christians) and from those who ascribe partners to Allah; but if you persevere patiently, and become Al-Muttaqoon (the pious) then verily, that will be a determining factor in all affairs” (The Noble Qur’an 3:186)
Narrated Aisha(prophet’s wife) : “Whenever the Prophet was given an option between two things, he used to select the easier of the tow as long as it was not sinful; but if it was sinful, he would remain far from it. By Allah, he never took revenge for himself concerning any matter that was presented to him, but when Allah’s Limits were transgressed, he would take revenge for Allah’s Sake. (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Limits and Punishments set by Allah (Hudood), Volume 8, Book 81, Number 777)”
The Prophet said, “When Allah had finished His creation, He wrote over his Throne: ‘My Mercy preceded My Anger.’
…these are just a few passages that some quick research pulled up. They adequately illustrate, I think, that the Qur’an is a multifaceted work that requires thoughtful interpretation; a text that provides ample inspiration for living a life of peace and love toward God and each other…just like the Bible for Christians. (No, I’m not saying their identically equivalent, nor am I saying that the Qur’an is my holy book. Only that we shouldn’t blithely quote a few less-than-flattering passages out of context and then claim that terrorists are ‘being good Muslims’ by emulating them. That’s not good hermeneutics for any faith. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and all that jazz.)
Extending Hospitality in the Name of Jesus
Some of my friends are upset that I’d quote peaceful passages from the Qur’an and spend so much energy defending Muslims from their detractors. “Why defend a false and hateful religion?” they implore. This makes me think of the psychological term projection. We tend to externalize what we most fear within ourselves. People who find falsehood and hatred in others’ faiths might be anxious about their own collective legacy of deceit and mistreatment of outsiders. If we don’t deal with our shadow sides, we tend to see them writ large in the external world. As Richard Rohr puts it, “If we don’t transform our pain, we transmit it.”
Jesus tells us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about the current state of affairs: I know that there are violent Muslims in the world, and I know that I would not want to live in several countries where extreme interpretations of Sharia law are in place – laws that severely restrict the freedom of women, of faith, and of conscience. Please understand this, all friends who think that I (and hordes of ‘self-hating liberal Christians,’ I suppose) am simplistically giving the entire Islamic world of all facets a blank check. I had a great Global Civilizations teacher in undergrad days – s/he had ties to US Intelligence. And I’ve kept up with reading since then. I am not hiding my head in the sand from certain harsher global realities. What I am doing, though, is soberly acknowledging the truth of Jesus’ words – violence begets violence. A cursory examination of the past thousand years of world history – of Christian Crusaders versus Muslim Crusaders, of the West versus the Ottoman Empire, of America funding Islamic leaders over and against Communism during the Cold War when it suited our purposes, then reversing support – shows a vicious cycle of manipulation, domination, and propaganda against ‘the Enemy’ – on both sides. And now, thanks in part to the Internet, peace-loving people on all sides of this conflict are saying ‘Enough!’
For me as a follower of Jesus, I believe that hospitality is the antidote to violence in our day. In the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, God commands us to show love and hospitality to three kinds of people: Strangers, Neighbors, and Enemies. (Also Widows, Orphans, and Immigrants, but those can be considered under the previous headings, yes?) Jesus came to offer us a Way out of the patterns of violence and oppression that beset us. In first century Palestine, the ‘ways of being’ in the world were either that you were with Empire (as a Roman citizen and/or a member of the Herodian ruling Jewish elite), warily alongside empire, but focusing on personal piety (like the Pharisee party), a separatist (like the Essenes), or a violent revolutionary (like the Sicarii or Zealot Party). Jesus accurately predicted that these four options would lead to death and destruction, especially for the people of God, as they were all based on fear of ‘the other’ and self-preservation. (This happened, by the way, in AD 70, as Jerusalem was consumed with a bloody civil war and then finished off by Roman armies. It was the end of an epoch; this is what Jesus wept over.) The only way out of this deadly impasse, ironically, was to lose one’s life in self-giving love – especially toward The Other.
So which is it, contemporary Western Christians? Are Muslims our neighbors? Frankly, we have to do a much better job getting to know them – as people, and on their own terms – before we have the right to refer to Muslims living in our locality as our neighbors. So are they Strangers? Probably. Are they enemies? Probably not, not any Muslims you personally know. (Remember, projection! What have the actual Muslims in your community, and at your job, ever done to you? Sit with God a moment and see what shadows seep out from within; name them for what they are, and release them back to the compassionate and truthful One. See how this enlarges your perspective.) But even if they were enemies, even if all Muslims were our honest-to-God enemies – then what is our responsibility toward them? Jesus once again has a real counter-intuitive zinger:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (from Matthew 5)
Perfection according to God is expression love and doing good toward “the just and unjust” alike. This shouldn’t surprise Christians, since our Scripture boldly proclaims that God is love, and that those who have love have God. This is certainly the scandalous, prodigal inclusion Jesus practices toward the ‘Muslim’ of his day, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Think about it: First century Samaritans were to Jews what 21st century Muslims are to Christians: Same family tree, divergent ideas about God, legitimate prophets, and worship. Many Jews of Jesus’ day – like many Christians of our own – shunned the SamariMuslims, finding their worship and culture backwards and oppressive. But Jesus, while he did get a word in edgewise about the technical correct-ness of Jewish worship (I guess He couldn’t help Himself), re-oriented the both of them to a coming eschaton where the minutiae of theology and modalities of worship would fade away in light of the brilliant soon-coming epoch were all people would worship together in spirit and reality. We might not be quite there yet – and we shouldn’t gloss over differences, but discuss them, passionately, once we have a relational right to – but abundant, joyful hospitality to strangers, neighbors, and enemies is the Royal Road of Love that Jesus invites us to walk.
It’s Really All About God
A book by this title by Christian pastor Samir Selmanovic has been saving my sanity in these tumultuous times. Do yourself a favor and read it. If you’re too cheap to immediately spring for a copy merely on my recommendation, listen to this recent talk he gave. And hear him read excerpts from his book. But then buy it! You’ll be glad you did.
While you’re reading, I’d also recommend Sufi poetry, by folks like Rumi and Hafiz. The point in gaining appreciation for the peace and love expressed by the vast majority of Islam is not to convert to Islam, or to excuse the very real atrocities carried out by a minority of those professing Islam. Rather, by comparing their best to our best, Christians can have better conversations and relationships with real-life Muslims who suffer – a lot – whenever an incident like the Ft Hood Shootings splash across the media.
Recommended Contemporary Muslim Reading:
Placing the shooting in perspective
Muslim Communities Rally To Support Victims of Fort Hood
Why Home-Grown Islamic Terrorism Isn’t A Threat
Don’t blame Islam for Fort Hood killings, Baptist leader says
The Fort Hood Shootings and the White Privilege of Disassociation
Fort Hood and Prejudice
Five Futures for Muslims by Sohail Inayatullah
That’s it for now. Shalom, Salaam, and Pax Christi.