American Muslims and Protestants, Can We Talk?

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

This article was published April 26 on Middle East Online.

American Muslims and Protestants have a lot of work to do. There needs to be more dialogue between the two faith communities.

Last week, the Pentagon rescinded their invitation to speak at a National Day of Prayer event for pastor Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, because of his past and current sentiments about Islam. Speaking about the decision, Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said, “This Army honors all faiths and tries to inculcate our soldiers and work force with an appreciation of all faiths and his past comments just were not appropriate for this venue.” In 2001, Franklin Graham said, “We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.”

In 2006, he didn’t back down saying, “I know about Islam. I don’t need an education from Islam. If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, just go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home. Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, I mean, go and live under the Taliban somewhere. I mean, you’re free to do that.” Then, in a Wall Street Journal piece, Graham wrote: “the persecution or elimination of non-Muslims has been a cornerstone of Islamic conquests and rule for centuries. Graham also said the Quran “provides ample evidence that Islam encourages violence in order to win converts and to reach the ultimate goal of an Islamic world.”

Pretty tough talk from a major Christian pastor. It also seems that a majority of Protestant ministers agree with Franklin Graham. Nashville-based LifeWay Research conducted a poll of 1,000 Protestant ministers and read them a negative statement about Islam from Franklin Graham and then read them a statement by George W. Bush that Islam is a religion of peace and charity. Forty-seven percent agreed with Graham’s statement, twelve percent agreed with both Graham and Bush, and about twenty-five percent agreed with Bush alone.

“This means a majority of Protestant pastors chose statements that agree with Franklin Graham’s statement,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, to the Tennessean newspaper. Stetzer also said, “This should not surprise us — Protestant Christianity is, in a sense, a competing faith, and that comes through in the survey.” Most ministers also said Muslims and Christians do not pray to the same God.

This means that American Muslims and Protestants have a lot of work to do. There needs to be more dialogue between the two faith communities: not to convert each other’s flock, but to promote increased mutual understanding. American Protestants need to understand that their American Muslim neighbours do worship the very same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, and Jesus. They need to understand that the name, “Allah,” is just the Arabic form of the Aramaic “Alaha,” which is what Jesus Christ called God. American Protestants should know that Islam reveres and honours Jesus Christ, who is mentioned more by name in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Contrary to the contentions of Franklin Graham, Islam does not preach the “persecution or elimination of non-Muslims.” Rather, Islam sees itself as the culmination of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and it honours its Prophets and traditions. The Quran says, “Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve” (2:62) More of our Protestant brothers and sisters need to understand this.

Are there some Muslims who believe that Christians and Jews are Islam’s enemies? Yes, most definitely. But they twist and distort the message of Islam and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. Their misunderstandings should not be projected upon the whole of Islam any more than, for example, the crimes of pedophile priests should be projected upon all of RomanCatholic Christianity.

The poll’s findings, however, were not all negative. Despite the fact that most pastors held negative views regarding Islam, 60 percent believed Muslims and Christians should coexist peacefully in the United States.

Said Ed Stetzer, “The fact is Protestant pastors tend to hold a negative view of Islam, but they also believe they should seek to coexist.” This should be the starting point of Christian-Muslim dialogue. Once both communities come to learn about one another, bonds of friendship and trust will develop, and the forces that seek to divide our people along religious lines will be resisted and their voices of discord can be muted for good.


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