Muslims are invading our land!
Not content with persecuting Christians in their own lands, they are moving into countries like Australia and slowly taking over. Every Muslim is in on this evil plan. They have a multitude of strategies: building mosques everywhere, marrying Christian girls, training terrorists in Muslim schools, forcing Prayer Rooms to be provided in public places, insisting on praying five times a day, wearing the veil … where will it stop?
Beware of any Muslim you meet – they cannot be trusted! They are sneaky by nature. They don’t have loving families like we do – they just have children to populate the world with Muslims and to send them off to become suicide bombers.
Does the above worry you? I confess it worries me greatly. Those words are the kinds of words I hear occasionally from people, both Coptic and non-Coptic. The thing that worries me most about them is that they are not Truth. As Christians, as followers of Christ who called Himself “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, we should be concerned with the truth above all else.
Now it is undoubtedly true that there are Muslims who are fanatical in their approach to their religion. Not in a nice way, that would make them pious and ascetic and full of works of charity (yes, giving to the poor is often commanded in the Quran), but fanatical in a way that says, “We are superior to everyone else and everyone else must submit to us”. Of course they don’t say it that way to themselves. To themselves, they say, “Our religion is superior to all others, and therefore everyone in the world must submit to Allah of Islam”.
Strange that they should take the foundational name of their religion, “Islam” and twist it so. It was meant to refer to a willing and free choice of the person to submit himself to an All-Powerful God. Instead, the fanatics twist it to mean forcing people to submit to God through submitting to them, here and now, politically rather than spiritually. That’s the fanatical fringe that gives Islam a very bad name. But they are only a minority.
Yes, it is very disappointing to see that often Muslim leaders do not stand up to this fringe and set them straight. For example, when 9/11 occured, I was incredibly disappointed that for a long time, no significant Muslim leader came out and publicly stated that this was an abomination and a disgrace to any religion. Instead, we heard Muslim leaders trying to change the subject and ask, yes, but why did the terrorists do this? Solve the problems of Palestine and you wouldn’t have 9/11s. Of course, this is ridiculous. It’s like saying to someone whose father has just been murdered by an irate neighbour (as was recently in the news) “Well if your father hadn’t expressed his opinion he’d be alive now – don’t blame the murderer!”
Put it another way: if Copts committed some horrible act of terrorism, what do you think Pope Shenouda and all the Coptic leaders would say? I’m pretty sure (going on past precedent) that His Holiness would immediately come out and condemn the violence, perhaps even excommunicate those who practice it or condone it. He would make it very clear that such violence has no place whatsoever in the life of a genuine Christian. I wish the Muslim leaders would do the same, and to be fair, they have moved a little in that direction in recent years, though not nearly enough, I suspect.
And yet, I fear that Christians have nothing to feel superior about here. The History of Christianity itself is strewn with horrible and vioolent acts, all perpetrated int he name of religion. Think of the Crusaders, the Byzantine army in Egypt after Chalcedon, Ireland of the 1970’s … Today we see clearly that this sort of behaviour is totally incompatible with authentic Christianity, yet the ‘Christians’ who performed those awful atrocities managed to twist their faith so much as to find support for their actions from it.
But put all that aside for a moment. What about the average Muslim ‘on the street’ so to speak. What has he / she to do with the fanatics? I believe the majority of Muslims are not in sympathy with the fanatical side of their faith. To wear the veil, to want to pray regularly every day, to fast and to go to the mosque – these are not acts of evil, these are acts of loyalty to their god, and this is not something to criticise. Considering what I wear out every day, I would be the last one to criticise a Muslim woman for taking the veil which seems so alien to Australian culture! And given the state of my facial hair, could I condemn the devout Muslim who grows his beard?
My experience with Muslims has taught me this – they are as varied a group of people as any other, and to stereotype them and pigeon-hole them is grossly unfair. We should take each individual for what s/he is as an individual. Certainly, there is a background of faith and culture that we do well to understand, but there are those who take the best of the Muslim faith and live by it, and there are those who take the worst. And many in between.
I recall that in Egypt soon after my ordination as a priest I encountered both extremes. On the one hand, is a group of little children, probably no older than 10, whose game of street soccer I walked past one day. They saw my clerical clothes and cross and stopped their game long enough to hurl abuse at me, and one even picked up half a brick and tossed it in my direction. Scary.
On the other hand, was Muhammad, the grocer in the shop near the flat were I was staying. Whenever I would enter his shop he would actually ask all the other customers to please wait while he served ‘the man of God’. He explained that it didn’t matter that I was Christian. By honouring me in this way he was honouring God Himself.
And everything in between…
We have to be very careful about stereotyping people, foir this is a form of judging others, and a very subtle and sneaky way the devil leads us to feelings of self-righteousness and superiority and pride. Yes, we should rejoice at the beuaty and purity and truth of our Orthodox Christian faith, but not at the expense of putting down others. Nor should we condemn a person, passing judgement and sentence on them without ever really understanding who they are and what they are like, simply because they belong to a particular race or a particular religion.
That is not how God looks at us. He looks at the Christian and the Muslim and everyone else and asks, “What is the best this person is capable of?” And then He strives to bring us to that ‘best’. Do not look for the evil in people, but look for the good, and strive to be the hand of Christ that leads all people to Him who is Truth and Mercy.