The healing power of Christian-Muslim dialogue

A Christian Science perspective: The fatal attack on an unarmed British soldier in London by alleged Islamic extremists just a few weeks after the bombings at the Boston Marathon calls for a renewed effort to find ways to promote harmony among people of all faiths.

The fatal attack by two men on an unarmed British soldier in the streets of London last Wednesday has been severely condemned by Prime Minister David Cameron. One of the alleged attackers was filmed voicing extreme political views consistent with beliefs promulgated by a small minority of Muslims who hold radical views.

Few on either side of the Atlantic could fail to be shocked by the nature of this crime. It follows not long after the bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, also reportedly by individuals who held views consistent with radical Islam.

As a result, some on both sides of the Atlantic may be tempted to allow fear, anger, or dismay to govern their response to these events and to give in to irrational prejudice or even the hope for revenge toward Muslims. British Muslim organizations have already voiced concern that law-abiding Muslims could be the targets of unfair reprisals, and already there are reports that abusive incidents against Muslims in London have increased since the attack.

I believe that a better, more helpful response would be to turn in thought and action toward a direction that can help heal the misunderstandings and hatred that lead to such attacks. In proportion as citizens of the United States and Britain change any impulse toward seeking revenge or retaliation to one of love, respect, and understanding toward those who practice the world religion of Islam, we will aid the progress toward healing the hatred and violent motives held by the few radicalized, extreme individuals who have committed terrorist acts.

An initial and basic approach might involve one of the most innovative views espoused by Christ Jesus – the idea of loving your enemies rather than seeking revenge against them. He said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus himself practiced this ideal, forgiving even those individuals who crucified him.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, published an article titled “Love Your Enemies” in her book “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896.” Elsewhere in that book she wrote, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them” (pp. 210-211). If we can love those who hold the view that our society is the enemy, we will be living in accord with the healing approach that Jesus advocated.

Recently, a friend recommended a book devoted to the subject of dialogue and cooperation between Muslims and those of other faiths. It’s called “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America,” by Eboo Patel, an American Muslim who has worked in the field of interfaith dialogue for many years. He says, “[B]y far the most important quality for an interfaith leader is an orientation toward love” (p. 167).

In his efforts to bring Muslims together in harmony with those of other faiths, he has found that the quality of love brings the greatest results, even among those groups who have the most antagonism toward each other. He believes that love between faiths will help heal the rifts that cause violence between faiths. 

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a Muslim, who sincerely lived her faith. I gained great respect for the diligence with which she practiced the disciplines of Islam, for example, in adhering to the fasting requirements of Ramadan, despite the apparent inconvenience or even discomfort the fasting sometimes caused her.

I also had the opportunity to do some research on Islam for a work project. I became somewhat acquainted with the principles of its faith tradition, including the ways in which Islam shares a number of ideas and principles with Christianity. These opportunities have helped me maintain my respect and appreciation for Muslims and Islam during the recent challenges regarding events in Boston and London. 

The most fundamental principle of the Judeo-Christian tradition – the worship of the one God – Christians share with their Muslim brothers and sisters, who refer to the same omnipotent God as Allah. 

In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy emphasizes the power of the one God to heal divisions and discord between people: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, – whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (p. 340). 

Let us hope that the recent attacks in London and Boston will only redouble prayerful efforts to bring harmony and love between Christians and Muslims around the world.

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