Kurt Willems: Muslims have been 'demonised'
US Anabaptist preacher and writer Kurt Willems has offered a challenge to Christians to build community and relationships with their Muslim neighbours.
The third largest faith group in the States, after Christianity and Judaism, the exact figure of Muslims living across the pond is not known, but it is on the rise. This is despite what many see as a culture of increasing hostility to Islam and its followers, especially in the wake of 9/11.
It is this culture that has propelled Willems to pen a blog in which he praises the hospitality of Muslim Palestinians on a recent trip to the Holy Land, and underlines the importance of engaging with and loving the Muslims in our own communities.
"It seems to me that since 9/11 we white Americans have marginalised an entire people group. As followers of Jesus we are invited into reconciliation, and it seems to me that this is one of the areas that Christians ought to be pursuing," he writes.
"To be clear, loving our Muslim neighbours doesn't mean attempting to convert them," Willems continues.
"Loving our Muslim neighbours doesn't mean engaging in conversation with an underlying agenda....[or] arguing theology with them so we feel dominant in our own religiosity. Loving our Muslim neighbours doesn't mean that we demonise them and mischaracterise their faith by calling it inherently violent or evil.
"Loving our Muslim neighbours means allowing them to shape us as much as we shape them...entrusting them to God and not our own cunning evangelistic methods. Loving our Muslim neighbours means naming our common ground, specifically that Abraham is the father of both of us...[it] means that we learn how to follow Jesus by appreciating the piety with which they follow the Quran."
Willems goes on to share his own experience of reaching out to some Arab men he met by chance in his home town of Seattle. "Having friends like them helps me learn more about their culture, and helps put human faces on a religion that has been demonised by the religious right for the last decade," he writes.
He also notes that it's important to recognise the beauty in other religions, despite our differences: "Genuine people devoutly seeking a higher power – there is something to appreciate even if we think they are pursuing God in a limited way".
This means, Willems contends, that we should work to reconcile with people of other faiths; holding onto what unites us rather than that which divides. "In the case of Islam, our commonalities might be closer than any other religious pairing (they accept Jesus as genuinely from God). So I'm convinced that we are not enemies, but distant cousins longing to be reconciled," he writes.
"This doesn't mean all of our differences should be glossed over or compromised, but rather that we can learn to love each other with no strings attached. How else will they know just how much Jesus actually loves them?
"Reconciliation is the centre of the Gospel of Jesus," Willems concludes. "Jesus invites us to be reconciled to God. Jesus reconciles people into community. Jesus is reconciling the whole cosmos back to God. Jesus invites us to love our enemies toward reconciliation of relationship.
"Where there's friction, especially the kind that people ignorantly label as 'Christian', we're called to see the humanity in the other. As our so-called enemies are humanised, they become more than enemies, and perhaps even friends."