Faithlink Discussion: Understanding Islam
by Jacob Juncker
And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.
When I was a kid attending Vacation Bible School, I always looked forward to singing silly songs with even sillier hand movements. We sang “The B-I-B-L-E (Yes that’s the book for me!)”, “I’m in the Lord’s Army”, “Deep and Wide” and “Father Abraham.” I was particularly keen on “Father Abraham.” It has been playfully dubbed the “Christian hokey-pokey.”
As I’ve grown older and learned more about world religions, this song (Father Abraham) has taken on a whole new meaning. The astute Marine at the end of the above clip, is on the right track: “No, but you know what? That’s everybody’s religion.” Now, its not “everyone’s religion,” but three of the world’s major religious traditions derive their faith ancestry from “Father Abraham:” Judaism, Islam and Christianity. From these three, other religious traditions have sprouted, like the Mormon and Baha’i faiths just to name a few.
Abraham was an important historical figure and he links all of the great monotheistic religions together. If you want to know more about this, you might be interested in Karen Armstrong’s book, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“We the people of the United States of America” are now religiously diverse as never before, and some Americans do not like it. For the Fourth of July edition of the Los Angeles Times a few years agao, I wrote an op-ed piece on the many places we might find the American flag flying on the holiday–on the grand staircase of the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, for example, or next to the blackboard in the fourth-grade classroom of an Islamic school in Orange County. A few weeks later I received a letter from a gentleman in Tampa, Florida, expressing astonishment at my article… He was clearly upset by the piece and proffered his own conclusion: “If this is indeed the case, as you have alleged, then I wonder how all these people got here. Now is the time to close the doors. I suggest they go back where they came from.” It is clear to me that the religious controversies of the American public square are just beginning.
I have often suspected that many Americans, like the man from Tampa, do not really know how much more complex our “sweet land of liberty” has become.”
America is well on the way to becoming a “minority-majority” country, with the numbers of foreign born higher than at any time in the past century. How we move from being a nation that puts up with what are infelicitously called “aliens” to being a naiton that welcomes newcomers of every religion–how we move from being strangers to neighbors–is one of the great challenges of America’s new century of religious life. Nothing is more central to most religious traditions than hospitality toward the neighbor, even toward the stranger. But we also know too well that our suspicions of neighbors, nurtured in an environment where walls are many and bridges are few, can create the climate in which neighbors become enemies overnight, as we have seen so tragically in multiethnic nations around the world.
A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, by Diana L. Eck (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), page 294-296.
It is my prayer that we (Christians, Jews and Muslims) can work together–as people of faith with the same spiritual forefather–to meet the needs of a hurting world. We don’t have to agree, but we all need to learn to live together peaceably. If we are to live together in peace, then we must fight against religious ignorance, intolerance and stereotyping. We mustn’t allow misunderstanding to breed fear and hatred. We must build bridges. We are all called to be neighbors.
What do you think keeps people from building bridges and being loving neighbors with persons of other religous backgrounds?
In order to facilitate a healthier understanding of Islam, I have included some links to resources below.
Called to Be Neighbors and Witnesses: Guidelines for Interreligious Relationships from The United Methodist Book of Resolutions as found on www.UMC.org
Session 8 from Interactions: World Religions by Jacob Juncker. I wrote this Bible Study several years ago to promote religious tolerance and to show that there are many things we, as Christians, can learn from other faiths’ spirituality. If you plan on using this portion of the study in anyway other than personal reflection and study, please let me know.
A Prayer of Confession
God of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, God of Isaac and Ishmael, we pray for your peace within the human family. We confess that we may not have always borne witness to the truth about our Muslim neighbors. We ask for your forgiveness and your guidance. Show us what it means to love our neighbor in word and in action, and make us unafraid to follow where you lead us. Amen.
adapted from Faithlink: Connecting Faith and Life,volume 16, number 18, August 29, 2010
(Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010)