I recall reading once the following statement: “Focus on it, and it will grow.” Our Islamic center was burned to the ground in February 2008. The blessing that followed this heinous act was that many in the community decided to focus on the good. As president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn., I wanted to make sure that we did just that.
Along with our Christian and Jewish friends, our Muslim community in middle Tennessee put aside all that we disagree on and focused on what we have in common. Incidentally, it seems to me that all of us are capable of putting aside our differences on the job, in the park, at the gym, at college and almost everywhere else, so why not in doing God’s work in our communities?
Like so many, I believe that our relationship with God is what brings us together.
I recall a comment made by a Columbia woman in response to a newspaper article. She praised local churches for their “Christ-like” behavior toward our Muslim community, but she also expressed doubt about the merit of such kindness toward Muslims. I rarely respond to such comments, but I did in that instance.
I wrote that I thought our Muslim community also acted “Christ-like.” None of the Muslims ever responded with hate, none of us ever pointed a finger at any Christian other than the three who were arrested for firebombing our house of worship. We accepted help from the Christian community and welcomed the invitation to pray in a church. It took courage, confidence, tolerance and understanding to offer and to accept such an arrangement that went on for several months.
Such goodwill in either direction is often challenged by the hype in certain media venues that focus on what divides us. Some would have you believe that God belongs to them and only them. Given such an agenda, everything is portrayed in a certain color when it comes to the other group.
I could not help notice that none of the recent media reports relaying the story about the sentencing of one of the three men guilty of the firebombing started with, “A Christian man guilty of firebombing …” It is on record that the act was done in the name of Christianity and explained in context of the teachings of the Bible. I must say that I am pleased with the fact that all the articles I read simply stated “a man.”
I grew up in Jerusalem and attended a Christian school. Many of my best of friends are Christian. My children have Christian aunts, uncles and grandparents. I know that the behavior of the three men is not representative of Christian teachings.
I am often distressed when every harmful act a Muslim carries out is attributed to the teachings of Islam. Is it because such individuals truly believe that Islam teaches hate? If so, is it because they attended schools with Muslims and base their knowledge on what they have learned from Muslims?
Ever since Sept. 11, it seems that many who speak about Islam do so without actual knowledge or experience of Muslims. My Muslim faith prohibits me from offending a Christian in his or her faith. When I read or hear someone read from the Bible, I do so with the knowledge that it is gospel to you.
It is inappropriate for me to read the Bible with the intent of finding material that promotes violence and takes passages out of context or of attempting to lift a sentence and claim to generalize what I managed to understand from a single phrase for the whole religion.
I do not believe that it is fitting for me, as a Muslim, to explain Christianity to Muslims. Rather, I prefer to have a Christian explain Christianity to Muslims. For that, I invite Muslims and Christians to host programs where all get a chance to represent their respective faiths. When done properly, such activities promote a greater understanding and a chance to build relations that are built on respect.
As a Muslim, I would venture say that Christ would want us to speak of things we know, not of things we know not! I am grateful for my non-Muslim friends who often rush to defend and speak well of Islam and Muslims. They know Muslims like I know Christians. Those are the ones who are “Christ-like” to me.
Daoud Abudiab is president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn. Abudiab is featured in EthicsDaily.com’s upcoming documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” which begins airing on ABC-TV stations in January.