Updated: Jun 15, 2022
“You may have heard the law that says, ‘love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” (Matthew 5:43-46).
Twenty years ago, America had an enemy. The terrible events of September 11, 2001 did more than take down two landmark buildings in New York City—it shook Americans to the core. An attack of that magnitude hadn’t happened since Pearl Harbor.
Beyond the tragic loss of almost 3,000 lives, it drove a wedge between many Americans and their fellow citizens of the Muslim faith. As you’ll remember, the three airplanes were hijacked by Saudi Arabians, who were reported to have yelled, “Allah is great” in Arabic on the radio just before the impacts. The following year, incidences of hate crimes against Muslims rose from 28 the previous year to 481.
Some half dozen years after 9/11, I felt God’s nudge to reach out to “the other,” especially to people of other faiths. I discovered an interfaith community in Seattle, which at the time was planning to support a major interfaith event culminating in a speech by the Dalai Lama at Century Link Field. During the week, there were breakout sessions at various rooms at the Seattle Center.
One day, roaming around visiting various faith presentations, I spotted a sign welcoming people to learn more about the Muslim faith. Even though my niece had married a Moroccan and I had worked with people of other faiths, I knew very little about those who followed Islam. I went into the sparsely filled room and listened to the panel of about six speakers talk about various aspects of their faith. At the end I introduced myself to several of them, who as it turned out were mostly managers and executives in the local tech industry.
One of them was a middled-aged man who had a high position in a major company here and was also an imam, the equivalent of a pastor. Over the course of the next months and years, we became friends. Our friendship is not an interfaith kumbaya. Neither of us pulls any punches about our respective beliefs. Nothing in terms of our respective faith journeys is off the table to discuss, including the divinity of Jesus, who, by the way, is mentioned more than 100 times in the Quran. However, what we have in common are the main tenets of our faiths—love, peace, justice, mercy, and respect.
I have worked with him and other Muslim leaders over the past years on furthering peace and reconciliation in the area. We have prayed together with the awareness that the father of both of our faiths is Abraham. I have been to his Islamic Center on many occasions. One time, after visiting him in his home, I noticed I had a flat tire. I assumed I’d call road service, but my friend insisted on changing my tire himself—in the rain.
There is a great difference between the events of September 11, 2001, and the events that shook America on January 6, 2021. However, the challenge and opportunity for followers of Jesus is the same, I believe. That is to accept our calling and mission as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) by reaching out to “the other,” those of different faiths, cultures, and colors. How about getting to know those who don’t think like ourselves politically? “The other” may be a nearby neighbor or an acquaintance with different social values. “And those who are peace-makers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).
I came across the following in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which sums it up nicely:
A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to really want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am blue in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.