The question seems to be on the minds of many Christian North Amercians today: how do we relate with Islam? Is there space for Christian-Muslim dialogue? Many fear Islam as the great threat to Western civilization, but just as many others are tired of being afraid, and would prefer to understand this religion which commands the devotion of over 1 billion people across the planet.
As with any people group, there lingers in their collective memory a catalogue of ills perpetrated against them. These can stir up very powerful emotions. For our Frist Nations people, for example, foremost in their memory is the horror of the Residential Schools, the pain of which will be many, many decades (or centuries!) in fading. And for Muslims, one of the ways the Western world shot itself in the foot regarding positive Muslim-Christian relationsin was the creation of the state of Israel. The injustice of that acts still looms large in the Muslim mind. The Arabs Muslims had controlled much of the land currently know as Israel for about 1,200 years, but the slogan for the creation of the nation of Israel was “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Though some have argued that all this meant was that the Arab Palestinians were not a homogenous “people group” and therefore Palestine did not have a “people,” most critcis have taken this as a fundamental rejection of any claim by the Arab Muslims to the land — the statment presumed that they did not exist, and so the land was free for settlement. It was an implicit wish that “those people” would just go somewhere else.
It’s not my intention here to get into the debate over whether the nation of Israel is a legitimate political entity, or whether their actions, especially toward Arab Muslims living in the land, have been above reproach. I simply want us to be more critcal of the support we may feel Israel is due, and, more broadly, to become aware of the grievances of Muslims and the ways in which our actions can unconsciously offend other people groups.
Though no one I know was involved in the actual creation of the nation of Israel, the Christian world in a sense owns the burden of the callous way in which it was carried out and the wars that have ensued. Can we then start off in our interactions with Muslims from a stance of humility rather than one of superiority, anger, or judgement? Do we have the ability to say we are sorry for the erroneous attitudes we have had toward Muslims, and the prejudices we have exhibited? Do we have the courage to rethink our commitment to blanket support for Israel and other ideas that leave Muslims out in the cold?