Monday, April 13, 2009

WWJD about Muslims?

What Would Jesus Do…about Muslims?Dennis Ingolfsland

In 2002, three Christian missionary hospital workers were murdered while providing medical care for Muslims in Yemen, another Christian missionary was shot to death while providing medical care for Muslims in Lebanon and yet another missionary Martin Burnham, was killed after ministering to Muslims in the Philippines.

In 2001 fifteen Christians were murdered by Muslims during a morning church service in Pakistan and the year before that (Dec 2000) ninety-three Christians were slaughtered in Indonesia for the crime of refusing to convert to Islam. All of this, however, pales in comparison to the atrocities of rape, slavery, torture and murder being committed on a mass scale by Muslims against Christians in the Sudan. Considering all of this, is it only human to respond with anger and desire to seek retaliation. In a country like America, in which so many people call themselves Christians, it may be well to ask the question, “What would Jesus do about Muslims?”

The question may seem a little silly since Islam was not founded until hundreds of years after Jesus lived, so Jesus never addressed the issue of Islam. In Jesus’ time, however, there was an interesting parallel that may provide some insights. To explore this parallel we need to take a brief excursion back through history to a tale of two kingdoms.

In the tenth century BC, Palestine was divided into two Jewish kingdoms: The northern kingdom of Samaria and the southern kingdom of Judea. The political tension between these two kingdoms escalated into religious strife when Samaria established an alternate place of worship in opposition to the Law of Moses.

In 722 BC the Assyrian empire forcibly relocated large numbers of conquered peoples to Samaria. The result was that the Jews of Samaria began to intermarry with these foreign peoples. Political and religious strife intensified as ethnic considerations where added to the mix.

Eventually, Judea was also conquered and most of its inhabitants were deported. When these Jews were finally allowed to return to their homeland, the Samaritans used everything in their power, including threats of violence, to prevent the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem and their temple. The political, religious and ethnic strife escalated into hatred of the two groups for each other. The situation, however, eventually went from the frying pan to the fire.

By the mid 100’s BC a ruthless Syrian king known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes is said to have slaughtered and/or enslaved 80,000 Jews! Even if the numbers were exaggerated, the extent of the terror and grief felt by the Jews is impossible to exaggerate. There was probably not a single family in all of Judea that had not personally been affected by this terror--so when the Jews discovered that their Samaritan neighbors to the north actually supported this campaign of terror, we might imagine that the level of Jewish hatred for Samaritans was almost beyond comprehension.

This hatred continued all through the lifetime of Jesus. In fact, not long before Jesus’ public ministry began, a group of Samaritans defiled the Jewish temple in Jerusalem with dead carcasses. While to us this may sound like an act of vandalism and intolerance, to first century Jews for whom the temple was sacred, this act was undoubtedly an atrocity. By the time Jesus began his public ministry, therefore, the Jewish people felt very justified in their hatred toward Samaritans.

It is with this background in mind that a story about Jesus recorded in the fourth chapter of John stands out in startling contrast. According to this story, Jesus was traveling back to Galilee from Jerusalem. Rather than crossing the Jordan in order to avoid traveling through Samaria as was the usual Jewish practice, Jesus deliberately traveled through the heart of Samaria and started a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This was notable not only because she was a Samaritan but because first century Rabbi’s didn’t usually engage women in public discussions.
After extended conversation which eventually included the local townspeople, Jesus and his followers accepted an invitation of hospitality and stayed with the Samaritans for several days before continuing on their way.

So what does all this have to do with Islam? Notice the similarities: 1) Samaritans recognized Moses as a prophet and the Jewish Torah (with modifications), as authoritative. Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet and the gospels (with modifications), as authoritative. 2) Samaritans and Jews had both perpetrated violence against each other. Islam and Christianity have both perpetrated violence against each other. 3) Samaritans and Jews felt they had good, solid reasons for hating each other. Many Christians and Muslims feel they have good, solid reasons for hating each other.

In fact, if any people had good reasons to hate another group of people, it was the Jews against Samaritans! Yet even though Jesus was fully Jewish, according to the story in the Gospel of John, he did not hate Samaritans! He was not violent toward them and he did not insult or verbally abuse them. Instead, he apparently treated them with kindness and respect, conversing with them and accepting their hospitality.

So what would Jesus do about Muslims? Since Jesus did not directly tell the Jewish rulers how they should address the Samaritan problem, this article is not intended to address the complicated political issues involved in international relations. On a personal level, however, since Jesus treated even Samaritans with kindness and respect, it is hard to imagine that he would have treated Muslims differently. Christians should be known as those who reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors just as Jesus reached out to Samaritans.