Christians and Muslims in America have an image problem. The rest of the world sees us as intolerant, belligerent, prideful, nationalistic, and extremist. As the daughter of Christian and Muslim parents, I feel like a kid stuck in a bad marriage, trying to salvage my parent’s reputation and begging them to get along. As a child I remember feeling conflicted in a home that followed two religions and suffering shame after the 1979 hostage crisis. Today I encounter this drama played out in our country.
Tragically, the Fort Hood massacre, along with 9-11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, perpetuate a climate of religious polarization. It has launched a backlash against innocent Muslims and made Christians look like bullies. It’s blurred the lines between many peaceful Muslims and a few dangerous ideologues; and many caring Christians and a few conspirators who use the church for political purposes.
We can’t afford to repeat the last decade. We desperately need a new generation of American Christian and Muslim leaders, who embody our nations’ decency, to stand up and show the world that we can overcome our fury and work toward reconciliation, accountability and mutual respect. Most importantly, America needs leaders to remind the public, in a fresh and relevant way, of Jesus’ teachings to love our neighbors (even if they feel like enemies). Military containment, humanitarian work, and hard borders, however, will not be enough. We must sow seeds of trust and confidence.
After many years, I am finally sharing some of my story of why I think it took me so long to leave Islam and become a Christian. I am sure that I focus on some things and fail to see some of my own personal failures, pride and otherwise, that contributed to the timing of my conversion. I pray that you give me a break and read it as a Christian who was, is, and most likely will always be a mess—getting some points and missing larger more fundamental points.
So, what took me so long to declare myself a Christian after years of being a Muslim? Of course, there were my own intrinsic weaknesses and faults, but I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t acknowledge that one major factor in keeping me away from living the truth was Christians. I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt and was surrounded by congenital Christians—people who read their Bible, faithfully attend church, could craft an elegantly worded prayer, and knew by heart the words of more than ten hymns. It was these same Christians who baffled me because they told me that God was love; that Jesus called them to love all people, including their enemies; and yet I just didn’t seem to see the love.
What I experienced in my life on the buckle was hateful words directed toward gays, liberals, Muslims, Catholics, and the list just seem to grow more and more. I also experienced being on that list and was the recipient on more than one occasion of those hateful words. It just didn’t add up. What did add up was that I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with those Christians. The problem was that they were unavoidable. In life on the belt buckle, they surrounded me in Walmart, the Dairy Queen, college classes, sitting around me in the DMV, the doctor’s office, just about everywhere. As soon as they heard that I was a Muslim, out came the Bibles that were used as a weapon against me, my beliefs, and the ones I loved. When that tactic didn’t work, I was either labelled as deceived by Satan or just ignored, cut out of their lives. The latter was the most common occurrence.
The wild reality was that inwardly I loved Jesus and had come to believe that He was not only the Lord and Savior, but He was my Lord and Savior. I just couldn’t stand being around Christians. I will never forget one interaction with a Christian who told me what I believed as a Muslim and when I responded that I didn’t believe that, he said that I was practicing taqiyyah (a form of planned lie). Unfortunately, I got angry and told him that if he wanted to know what taqiyyah really was he might look at Christian missionaries who lie about why they travel to Muslim populated countries and live there. Instead of saying that they were professionals hired to convert Muslims, they said things like they were helping build the infrastructure. While it wasn’t a total lie, it was what my Roman Catholic friends called, lying by omission. That scene didn’t go very well. It was not one my proudest moments, but hey.
Muslims Celebrate how God Ransomed Abraham’s Son with a Sacrifice
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”