As I sat on the warm hard floor I looked to my left at the end table in the corner of the room filled with books and knickknacks. One of the items sitting in view was a thick book with intentionally elegant designs across its red cover. “Apa itu?” (what is that?) I asked my host with the sparse Indonesian I knew. He stared at the book for a moment before gently lifting it from its position on top of the array of miscellaneous items. Thumbing through it briefly, he looked at me and slowly said with great enunciation, “Quran”. He read some of the Arabic text to me, which he likely could not comprehend, before returning the book to its place.
This was my first real exchange with someone who is Muslim about anything remotely related to faith. This man and his wife went on to graciously host my teammates and me for three nights. At no point did they offer us anything but their best. Their hospitality was unquenchable. Their willingness to give was never exhausted. Their openness to sharing their lives with us was without hesitation.
I spent some time during one of the warm Indonesian nights following that home-stay calf-deep in the ocean just staring out into the open sea, at the far off islands, and up at the vast canvas of stars. The methodical power of the ocean continued patiently pulsing against my legs as I just stared in awe. This was the first moment I realized there are billions of strangers across this magnificent planet, just like my host, just like me, who have lives full of depth and significance. Simply because I do not know them does not mean they are not known and loved.
The three beautiful Muslim students who were murdered in North Caroline were known and loved, even if I never had the opportunity to meet them. It seems that within their communities they were ones who offered an unquenchable hospitality, had a willingness to give, and had an openness to sharing their lives. Not only were they students, Muslims, and humanitarians, but they were also someone’s son, daughter, brother and friend. They were people.
Many of the comments and misperceptions about Muslims, particularly from some American Christians, are infuriating. I care for the Church dearly, but if it pushes me on this one I will push back. The Messiah we cling to is one who cares for the outcast, breaks bread with the other, protects the oppressed and died for his enemies. To be a community who engages the world in any manner other than this is to fall short of our place in this grand narrative that is God’s pursuit of humanity.
The Church, Americans, and Western society in general must stop demonizing the Muslim community. Ignorance and fear will not be offered a place in interfaith conversation and relationship. I highly recommend that you read this post by Farah Momen about the need to change the way we talk about Muslims. I might also suggest that you go back and read the post I previously wrote about the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
This world is a very large canvas with a myriad of shades and shapes. Do not try to paint with a single brush. You will smear God’s elegantly delicate masterpiece.