Dear Mr. Graham,
I’d like to introduce you to some friends of mine. The first friend is Golnaz. Golnaz is a bright and beautiful young woman from Iran. My husband first met her while working on a project at Harvard University. It was an instant friendship and soon after he met her, he invited her to come to our home. We got to know her and her young son, inviting them to Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas open houses. At the time, Golnaz was single-parenting. She had no family around, and little community. In the seven years we have known her, we have watched her get a masters degree, work through the difficulties of a complicated divorce, and raise an amazing son.
Here’s another set of friends: They live in San Diego in a lovely home that they open up to us whenever we are in the area. Rehan is a brilliant geneticist and Ghazala is a physician. Their house reflects their Pakistani heritage, and their living between worlds reality. They have two sons: One in university and the other heading quickly into his high school years. Both are brilliant and personable, like their parents. Ghazala and Rehan have a strong faith and wake to the call to prayer on their alarm clock each day. We share history, stories, and deep conversations of faith together.
I mustn’t forget Ali Reza. When Ali Reza left the United States for Denmark, we all cried. He brought his parents to visit right before we left. We sat on our couch, on a warm summer evening drinking mint tea together and talking. We talked and talked – even though we only know phrases in Persian, and his parents only know a couple of phrases in English. No matter, we found that the connection, the friendship, was a gift. We communicated across the boundaries of faith, language, culture, and world view. Ali Reza was like a son to us during the year he was in the United States.
There are so many more! There are Payman and Farnaz, a lovely couple who make their home in a suburb of Boston; there is Hamra – an extraordinary artist living with her husband and baby near Harvard Square.
It would take too long to list everyone, and I want to get to my main point, which is this: I am deeply troubled by the comments you made publicly about Muslims and immigration and I believe you are culpable for many of the negative attitudes toward Muslims in the Evangelical church.
I would ask you to hear me out on this one: All of the friends I mentioned above are Muslims, along with many more Mohammads, Alis, Fatimas, Khadijahs and more. They all subscribe to different truth claims than we do; they celebrate different holidays, they have vastly different cultural backgrounds. And we count it a deep privilege, a joy, to walk through this thing called life together. They no more wear the ideology of terrorism than you wear the ideology of Westboro Baptist Church. They are as afraid of radicalization as you are. This is truth. They fear God and they seek to live well between worlds in their adopted country. And that country is the United States.
Let me give you a little history of my life: I was raised in the country of Pakistan, daughter of Christian missionaries. The call to prayer was my alarm clock, curry was my staple food, and Muslim women and girls were my aunties and my friends. I experienced extraordinary hospitality at the hands of the people of Pakistan. They offered us friendship, safety, and amazing food. Early on in life, my father would take us to see men praying at the large mosque in our city during the Eid celebrations. I would watch as a sea of white-clad men, all with prayer caps on their heads, bowed in unison as the muezzin chanted from the microphone attached to one of the tall minarets. I did not see terrorism, I saw devotion. I did not see anger, I saw zeal.
My husband and I went on to raise our own family – first in Pakistan, and then in the country of Egypt. We love the Middle East and we love our many Muslim friends, both sides of the ocean. And so when someone like you, with a reputation for doing good, someone with a vast following of Christians, makes the sort of statement that you made the other day about Muslims, I worry. A lot. Because I believe that the other day, in trying to express compassion for marines who were murdered, you misspoke and abused your position. I believe that you had a right to be angry, but your choice to exhibit the extreme racism and ethnocentrism that came through in your words was not wise. In fact, those words were angry, hurtful, and should be retracted.
You see, it’s not enough to do Operation Christmas Child on the other side of the world. Kindness and love of God needs to extend to people here as well.
As a leader, you have the ability to make friends and foster deep relationships with some of the Muslim leaders of this country. Muslims who are not radicalized, Muslims who fear God and long for change.
The lens through which we view the world is shaped by many things. And because of where I was raised, I am perplexed by the vehemence and hostility with which people who bear the name ‘Christian’ respond to the Muslim world. This was not something that my Christian parents taught me, not something that I was familiar with as a child.
Hear this Mr. Graham – You do not need to give up your truth claims to have dialogue. You do not have to give up the things that you hold dear, that you believe with all your heart, to be willing to form friendships and talk within relationship. In fact, your truth claims should guide you into those relationships without fear, without fear-mongering, but with humility and a desire to love and to understand. I am not asking you to not be angry about terrorism. I am not asking you not to express outrage at attacks against others that are carried out in evil malice. I am asking that you not stoop to the low-level of stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists. I am asking that you, as a Christian leader, walk the high road.
To build relationships with people of other faiths is not compromising our faith. Rather, it’s living out a faith that is not threatened but firm.
I am a little person in this big, wide, internet. But, should you want to talk, I would love to talk to you about this. Having spent a majority of my life living and working in Muslim countries, and with so many friends from Muslim majority countries, I believe I may be able to, in humility, offer a perspective.
Because you received excellent and Godly modeling from a man we all admire, and I would hope that you would be willing to listen.
This article was originally posted on Marilyn R. Gardner’s blog Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture