The ABC documentary “Different Books, Common Word” – produced by the Baptist Center on Ethics, better known by its Web site, EthicsDaily.com – featured stories of positive communication and cooperation between Baptists and Muslims from around the country. Such cooperation is based on the fact that both religions call to love God and one’s neighbor. It was a nice alternative to all the negative stories we have grown accustomed to hearing on radio and television.
An objective inquiry into our histories would reveal that “adherents” of both the Christian and the Muslim faiths have committed atrocities in the absence of respect and cooperation between and among our peoples. Any one person can claim to be a Muslim or a Christian. There is no single entity that gets to validate or deny “membership” in either faith. Disputes and divisions within both faiths have developed and continue to do so around varying interpretations of the same book, be it the Bible or the Quran.
You can get almost all Muslims to agree on the following five articles of faith: belief in God, angels, revealed books, Judgment day and divine decree. There are also five other “pillars of Islam”: the testimony of faith, five daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, Zakat (or supporting the needy), and pilgrimage to Mecca for those who can afford it.
Aside from this short list, there is a wide range of interpretations and schools of thought that will accommodate any and every taste. Of course, one is discouraged from following one’s desires, but let us be honest: who doesn’t?
I follow the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Both provide me with stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, John and many others. Their stories are filled with perseverance, tolerance, kindness, generosity and compassion.
Anyone, Muslim or Christian, who comes to me with an interpretation of the Quran – and quotes a verse telling me the Quran encourages violence – does not understand the message therein. Each verse should be interpreted within the context of the message. The Quran was revealed in sections, with the purpose of guiding Muslims with regard to certain challenges at specific times and certain groups of people.
Muslim scholars, while exercising great caution and good intention, have erred at times in such interpretations. This cannot be avoided, but what can be avoided is the tendency of “radicals,” who take one verse or decree and ignore all others.
It is bad enough when a Muslim does this to Islam, but there is an even graver misguided practice: namely, when a person of another faith focuses on verses in the Quran that speak to a certain issue while ignoring everything else that is contrary within the same book. I am equally disturbed by Muslims who quote a single verse from the Bible without referencing anything else.
There is a difference between studying a culture or a religion and examining it. Studying begins with intrigue and a desire to increase one’s knowledge while examining is often defined by a mission. If one starts out looking for a verse that invites violence, there is a good chance he or she will find it in either book. The undeniable fact is that the overwhelming majority look for and find peace in both books.
Radicals want us to distrust one another and each other’s faith. In doing so, they distort both Islam and Christianity. In the end, I believe our struggle is not defined by Muslims against Christians, but more so by what moderates say and do to keep radicals at bay!
Our collective system of values and morals should protect us from hating – or worse, acting on such hate. When we love one another, we risk nothing. And when we don’t, we risk it all.
Daoud Abudiab is president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn. Abudiab is featured in EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” which began airing on ABC-TV stations in January. Click here for more information.