By Jacqueline J. Holness
While listening to a talk radio program, the idea for this column presented itself. A Christian caller criticized the Christian host, saying that he seemed to favor Muslims over Christians. By the end of the ping-pong, vitriolic exchange, the caller put all Christians into one category and all Muslims into another. It was one of those “us and them” moments that make me uncomfortable because no group is a monolith or entirely blameless in world history.
Ever since the September 11 attacks, Americans’ opinions of the Muslim faith has continued to deteriorate. For some, that tragedy was all it took to decide that all Muslims are violent. And for others, after a series of tragedies such the Boston Marathon bombing, ISIS slayings, Boko Haram kidnappings, and the Charlie Hebdo shooting, they have concluded Islam is synonymous with violence. Last July, the Arab-American Institute conducted a poll concluding that “favorable attitudes” toward Muslims continue to dwindle, from 35 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2014.
Attitudes toward American Islam have been in the news:
At this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama warned Christians to not be so quick to elevate ourselves over other groups, according to The Washington Post. Obama said, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” His statement came a day after meeting with Muslim leaders who “argued that their community has faced unfair scrutiny in the wake of terrorist attacks overseas.” It was President Obama’s first roundtable with a Muslim-only group, according to the article.
On the spectrum’s opposite end, Franklin Graham, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association president, blasted Duke University’s decision to allow the Muslim call to prayer from the bell tower of the campus chapel earlier this year. “As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism. I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed,” Graham said via his Facebook page. The school backed away from its decision.
Although we may instantly link Islam and terrorism in our minds, is Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil as prevalent as it seems? Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says no. Kurzman is the author of several reports regarding Muslim-American terrorism. He reported, “Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 37 lives in the United States, out of more than 190,000 murders during this period.” He also found that approximately 14,000 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2013, compared to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which was responsible for four lives plus the life of one of the perpetrators. Based on his findings, Islamic terrorism on American soil is not as much of a threat as some perceive.
Armed with this type of data, is it possible for Christians and Muslims to develop relationships, despite enmity between both groups? Fouad Masri, a Lebanon-born Christian minister who now lives in Indianapolis, believes so. Masri founded the Crescent Project in 1993 to “nurture transformational relationships between Christians and Muslims and overcome misconceptions about Islam and Christianity,” according to the project’s website. They have trained more than 18,000 Christians to share their faith with Muslims.
So what can we personally do to mitigate the “us and them” mentality between Christians and Muslims, specifically in America? How can we move past the temptation to stereotype all Muslims as violent?
The first step is to get to know Muslim people in our communities and ask the taboo questions. There is a mosque nearby my home that I’ve been wondering about for years. We must also know the facts. Based on the numbers previously cited, Muslim-American terrorism is not what it seems to be, and violence does not define all Muslims. And in these relationships we develop, let’s tell Muslims about the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Great Commission calls us to do for all people whom God has created. Hopefully we can learn not to be afraid of those in the Islamic faith, as we hope they will not fear us, and form friendships as we continue to live out the love and grace of Jesus.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).