What I Like About Muslims
Loving my everyday enemies is a good title because each of us have people in our lives that cause us grief. It could be…
- A cranky spouse.
- An unfair boss.
- A friend that has betrayed our trust.
- The server at Chili's who is rude.
These people become, for a brief moment, an enemy, and a lesson about patience, kindness, and forgiveness would be helpful to smooth out the rough spots caused by these kinds of folks.
Muslims, however, seem to be a common denominator type of foe these days because of the violence committed by Islamic extremists in various countries. Of course, not all Muslims subscribe to terrorist tactics in order to advance the cause of their religion. Like Christianity, Islam is a proselytizing religion that aggressively tries to recruit converts. However, unlike the Christian faith, Islam sees worldwide domination of this religion as its ultimate goal. There is simply a difference between factions within Islam about how this goal should be attained, but moderate and extremist alike agree that complete domination is what their scriptures (Koran) teach.
The followers of Jesus, on the other hand, seek to proclaim Jesus to all nations but the kingdom established by Jesus that exists in this world has its ultimate fulfillment in the next. As a matter of fact, Jesus warned His disciples that their number would always be in the minority ("...the way is narrow...and there are few who find it." Mt.7:14), and for this reason the Christian faith does not share the earthly aspirations that motivate much of what violent Muslims are doing these days.
This being said, it is easy to see why Muslims in general seem to be everyone's enemy at this time in history. Here in America we are divided politically and socially, but when it comes to Muslims there is a general agreement as to how we feel about them. Feelings that range from suspicion to fear, and from fear to a desire to eliminate them and their religion in this country, and eradicate the violent fanatics that have infiltrated and destabilized other countries abroad.
You can see, therefore, that writing about what I like concerning Muslims can be quite a challenge, especially when considering 9/11 and the thousands of American men and women who have died or been wounded at their hands. If it will help, please remember that this article is not about politics, this is a lesson meant to help us as Christians deal in a Christian way with a very real and powerful enemy.
Perhaps we can rediscover the very important principle that God's ways are not man's ways, especially when it comes to dealing with our enemies today and every day.
Loving Your Enemies
Christians love to cite Jesus' command to love one's enemies as a way of staking out Christianity's moral high ground. There are two passages with this teaching:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
- Luke 6:35-36
We believe that loving one's enemies is the crowning virtue that denotes unmistakable spiritual maturity and the acid test of true Christ-likeness. After all, Jesus forgave the people who were in the act of unjustly and cruelly executing Him.
Unfortunately, not all enemies are equal when it comes to the application of this teaching, especially when it comes to those who follow Islam. Of course, those who espouse violence and hatred in the pursuit of this religion have created social upheaval and suspicion in many countries including our own.
That thousands of American lives have been lost because of these fanatics has created a natural rejection of all Muslims and an easy excuse for hating their religion and culture. This national mood resembles the feelings that Americans had after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces that ultimately led to the shameful internment of innocent and loyal Japanese Americans in WWII. The rhetoric of war stirs up mass hatred that often blinds us to what is true and just. We become twice victimized, once by the attack of our enemies and a second time by the unrestrained hatred it creates in us.
Like illicit drugs or alcohol, hatred causes us to do things that, in our right minds, we would never think of doing or thinking. Satan's strategy for destruction is not simply provoking us to war, it includes a provocation to hatred which, in the end, destroys the soul as surely as war destroys the body. You see, wars eventually end, but hatred continues from generation to generation. We may win the military battle, but Satan achieves his end-game by infecting us, as a nation, to hate.
And so, in order to find some balance in our approach to actually obey Jesus' instruction to love one's enemies and avoid the slippery slope into the destructive cycle of hatred, I'd like to share some qualities that I like and admire about Muslim men and women. After all, in order to love you have to begin somewhere, and "like" or "admire" can be a good starting point.
What I Like About Muslims
1. Zeal for Their Religion
They, in general, have a true enthusiasm for what they believe. I'm not talking about the zealots/extremists who manipulate and coerce in order to empower themselves using any means to win. You can use the Koran to justify plain murder and other forms of lawlessness, but evil men hiding behind religion is not a tactic restricted to Islam. For example, some have used the Bible to justify murdering abortion doctors, harassing mourners at military funerals, even as a way to justify slavery! We read of Catholic priests who used their position of trust to lure young boys into sexual activity. Does this mean that all Bible believers are ready to murder abortionists? All Southerners are racist? All Catholic priests are pedophiles?
What I admire is the zeal of the ordinary Muslim to practice and share his religion. Many years ago I had a Christian friend who went to work in Saudi Arabia. He would write to me and say that once anyone (barber, mechanic, neighbor, etc.) knew that he was a Christian, they immediately wanted to share their faith with him. I like this kind of enthusiasm.
- I don't like or admire the Muslim religion.
- I can show where it is lacking theologically/historically/socially.
What I admire is their enthusiasm for it. It is important to them and central to their lives, and it shows.
2. Their Sense of Modesty
Again, the extremists (like the Taliban) get the publicity when:
- Women are punished when raped and men go free.
- The wearing of full-body covering (Burka) is legally enforced.
- Honor killings are permitted by families of women guilty of nothing more than dating a non-Muslim.
But if you look at the majority of Muslim women in regular families, the goal is simple modesty based on the principle that they do not want to provoke lust from men because of the way they dress and carry themselves. A good example of this is the recent victory that Muslim female athletes won concerning their dress while competing in the Olympic games. They acquired the right to compete in the Olympic volleyball competition wearing more modest dress like shorts and T-shirts with sleeves, instead of skimpy bikini bottoms and tops.
Muslim women recognize the power of sexual attraction and try to minimize lust in men by under-exposing themselves rather than over-exposing themselves. Jesus said,
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
- Matthew 5:28
We shouldn't ridicule or hate a group because they understand this idea and try to do something about it. We may think that their approach (veils and strict rules about dating only with chaperones) is strange, but what they are trying to achieve is right and beneficial to society.
- Do we really need more nudity?
- Do we really need more 13 year old girls dressed like prostitutes?
- Do we want more sexually transmitted diseases?
- Do we want more single teen girls having babies?
I am not saying that we should dictate by force how women should dress or impose any laws on how or who people should associate with. What I am saying is that Muslim women take the virtue and practice of modesty seriously. Women in Muslim countries who strive to be modest are not considered weird. In other words, I like the goal that they are striving for, but not necessarily the tactics that some use to achieve that goal.
A third thing I like about Muslims…
3. The Respect They Have for Their Holy Book
Muslims believe that the Koran was not only inspired by God, but also written in a special language by Him. This is why not only the contents are considered sacred, but the physical book is also highly regarded. Of course, we have seen that this high regard has been manipulated to induce violence, but the fact remains that whether or not there is a riot or simply a strong objection when the Koran is attacked or mistreated, the world is well aware of their attitude towards their holy writings.
I like the idea that a person respects what is sacred about their religion and is willing to defend it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that rewards disrespect and sacrilege in public discourse.
- Where a person who places a crucifix upside down in a jar of urine is hailed as a great artist and his "work" is given attention and featured in famous art galleries ("Piss Christ" Andres Serrano - 1987).
- Where comedians and writers can disrespect our president (whoever he/she is) and get paid millions to do it.
Thankfully, in this nation, we can disagree and fight against any president's policies or ideas, but personally dishonoring our leaders lowers our value as a nation and weakens us before our enemies. Many applaud those who find ways to lower the honor of sacred institutions like marriage or the church, thinking that nothing or no one has a right to be valued more highly than the individual. We are fast becoming a nation of common denominators where nothing is truly sacred, except our sports heroes.
I like the sense of respect that all Muslims, from the greatest to the least, have for their holy book. A respect shown by how it is handled physically to the central place it takes in each Muslim's life.
I would not trade the Koran for the Bible. If you compare them objectively you will easily note that the Bible's historical accuracy, theological depth, literary beauty, and miraculous elements (fulfilled prophecy) far surpass the content of the Koran. And yet, those who follow the Koran go to great lengths to protect the dignity and use of their sacred text.
I am saying that as a religious person myself who has a high regard for the Bible, I admire their respectful attitude for their scriptures.
Love Your Enemy
Let us, therefore, go back to Jesus' command to love our enemy. For the Jews of the First Century, the greatest enemy was the Roman Empire. They were pagans, ruthless and cruel, guided only by their lust for power, wealth, and pleasure.
When Jesus was crucified, the Jews conspired to frame Him, but it was the Romans who tortured, humiliated, and executed Him in the most painful way they knew how. So bad was crucifixion as a mode of execution that it was not permitted for Roman citizens. By comparison, a road-side bomb is a quick death. Crucifixion was slow and painful on purpose! They wanted maximum suffering before a person died.
When Jesus said, "Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34), He was referring to the Romans as well as the Jews. If Jesus was taken prisoner today by Islamic extremists, then tortured and beheaded as many have been, I believe He would say exactly these same words.
So, we may hate Muslims for 9/11, the wars they have caused, and their efforts to infiltrate different places with their religion, but this hatred is not there because Jesus is commanding or encouraging us to do so. His admonition remains that we should love our enemies. Unfortunately, His voice is being drowned out by the drumbeat of war, the pain of grief over our dead soldiers, and the manipulation of worldly leaders who profit when men hate each other. Loving your enemy is hard, and loving this enemy seems impossible considering our present circumstances, but what is the alternative?
- More war?
- More hatred?
- More death?
I know that Jesus' command is not politically popular or correct at the moment. It is not even practical or safe. Let us be realistic, it is very difficult to love someone who hates you, wants to do you harm, wants to conquer you. But we belong to the kingdom of light, not the kingdom of darkness, and loving our enemies is our basic standard of conduct:
- Whether it is your enemy at the office who continually annoys and provokes you.
- Or the enemy in your family who does nothing but judge and criticize you.
- Or the enemy at church who has betrayed your trust and treated you unfairly.
- Or even the enemy half way across the world who prays to Allah five times a day.
The same passage applies to all of these. The approach may be different, but the goal is the same: that in the end we are at peace with all men and we owe nothing to anyone except to love them (Romans 12:18).
The President and his military have a different responsibility with authority to defend the country given to them by God. MY responsibility, however, is clear. I am to love my enemy, whoever that may be.
As for myself, I have found that a practical way to do this is to take baby steps at first. I begin with trying to like something about them that is true, worthy of praise, etc. (Philippians 4: 8). For Muslims it is true and admirable that in general:
- They have a sincere zeal for their religion and it is noticeable in their practice of it.
- Muslim women practice modesty and this virtue is highly prized and sought after among them.
- Muslims show a high regard for their holy book that influences others to respect it, even if they don't believe it.
These traits are generally seen in Muslims but are not unique to them. Other religions, including Christianity, have similar features worth praise. But I have noticed that Muslims practice these at a higher level than others and this accounts for much of their success in gaining converts. People are naturally drawn to a religion whose adherents are enthusiastic, have high moral standards, and are serious students of their own holy writings. This may be one of the reasons why Christianity is losing ground in countries where both religions are vying for a majority status, places like Africa for example. Not that our religion is inferior!
It is the Christian faith that has:
- The inspired writings confirmed by fulfilled prophecy.
- The risen Savior witnessed by hundreds.
- The 2,000-year-old church.
- The promise of eternal life based on a system of faith, not a system of salvation by works (which Islam, like all other religions, have and promote).
No, it is not our religion nor our Savior that is the problem. Many times the problem is the poor practice of our faith compared to theirs that waters down our effective witness for Christ.
The Muslims' main arguments against us are:
- We are lukewarm about our faith. If we had to suffer for ours like they suffer for theirs, we wouldn't last very long.
- They say we are immodest in our attitude and dress. I have to agree when I see how some choose to dress when coming to public worship.
- They charge that we lack respect for our own Scriptures. They riot in the street if someone throws away old Korans. We remain silent while public figures and entertainers blaspheme the name of the Lord, make fun of the Bible, and ridicule the people who believe it.
In the end it is not that Muslims hate us, they just do not respect us!
I believe that despite the influence that Islam has in the world at the moment, our country is not in danger of being overrun with Muslim extremists any time soon. They may be our enemy, but they are still far away. However, each of us has some every day enemies in our families, at work, school, or in our neighborhoods. These people are very real and we do have to deal with them. The question is, "Where do I begin in order to love my enemy?"
- Pray for them?
- Look for the good?
- Forgive them?
- Speak only when you can speak well of them?
Any one of these can be a good starting point, but to be like Christ in this matter requires that we continue moving in the direction of loving our enemies, not finding reasons to hate them more. More hatred is Satan's strategy and it only leads to the destruction of the soul and body. Of course, our end game as Christians is that the loving of our enemies, no matter who they are, will eventually lead to their love, not of us, but of Christ and their entry into the eternal life He promises to all...friends and enemies alike.