A couple of years ago, I was presented with an opportunity to travel to the Middle East and visit the Grand Mosque in Bahrain. I was on a Worldview Teaching Trip, and decided if I wanted to have a comprehensive worldview I had to begin understanding how one of the largest faiths in the world functions. I walked up to the Grand Mosque and met one of the lead administrators who took almost 2 hours to walk me through the building and explain the worship of Muslims in Bahrain.
It's no secret Islam is one of the fastest growing faiths in the world, and on my journey I'm moved to figure out why. What does Islam teach? What are the daily practices of Muslims? What questions to life does Islam answer? And How am I, a devoted follower of Jesus, intended to respond in a greater world around me.
I believe there are a couple of different approaches.
1.) I can begin learning about the 'other' side and start segregating the differences in religions. I can point out the problem areas between Christianity and Islam and create an "Us versus Them" Worldview whereby we can create division. I've found this could be a viable approach and is often used by people on both sides of the issue to justify the reasons why they choose one team over another, but doesn't really help the larger issue at hand; mainly the violence occurring in both.
2.) I can begin finding common issues of both faiths i.e. The Love For One God, Jesus, Love your Neighbor, and the like; leading to a pseudo compromise of both faiths. I've noticed some scholars trying to unite the two faiths under one banner which leads to a Universalism of sorts.
3.) I can educate myself. I can understand at a deeper level why someone would devote their lives to either faith and learn how to develop relationships/friendships without negotiating the core values of my faith. I can continue to ask the old question "What would Jesus do?" and find places of commonality in relationship while allowing the differences in faith be something of personal conviction.
On my trip to Bahrain I found option 3 to be most beneficial.
The administrator of the Grand Mosque was kind enough to share all things about their faith with me, and I viewed it as a college course in Middle East studies. It was probably one of the most interesting tours I've ever taken in my life, as I began to understand the practices of Muslims around the world so foreign to my own faith upbrining.
Yesterday, I taught a group of students how to continue to understand the depths of the faith they follow, but still be sensitive to loving people above all else. When Jesus said, "To Love God...and To Love your Neighbor as yourself" I believe it when He claims "All the law and the prophets hang on these to commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)
We don't have to create an Us versus Them Mentality. We need to focus more on what the centrality of our own faith is SO THAT we can reach out and love our neighbor, even if it's someone who believes something entirely different than I do.
The challenge is helping students overcome the need to Win. There is a deep seeded need to 'be right' in our culture, but when we take a second and reflect on the nature of 'being right' we find a tsunami of arrogance which turns our heart against the available love God has for all mankind. (John 3:16-17)
I don't have to stand up for God. He's well equipped to Stand up For Himself. But when I try to create an environment where I believe God's divinity is dependant on my own relentless need to share His rightness, I loose sight of loving people who believe in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or any other organized religious affiliate. It doesn't mean I negotiate my belief Jesus is the only way to God. (John 14:6) It just means I have a confidence in my faith, and a compassion for others.
It's a hard concept to buy into because we are so conditioned in the Us vs. Them way, but I believe as we search the heart of Jesus, we have to remember our position is to be in obedience to Him. We have an obligation to share the hope we have in our own faith (1 Peter 3:15) but we'll need to be able to reach out from our own conviction to live with other people.
After all it was God in Human flesh that decided heaven could wait while "The Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us." in the form of His Son Jesus. (John 1:14)
I can't wait to watch these teenagers who are at KIVU, continue to dive into their own faith understanding, while learning how to love people that think differently than they do.