Dr. Amir Arain is a trusted friend. We’ve worked together on several projects in the time I’ve lived in Nashville. Amir is a top Neurologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center and leading professor at Vanderbilt University.
He also happens to be the chief spokesperson on matters of faith and culture for the Nashville Islamic Center. Amir is from Pakistan but is now a U.S. citizen with all the rights and privileges I enjoy. He is as devout to his country, faith, city, and family as I am to mine.
In Dearborn, Michigan—just 20 minutes from where I grew up—some of the most loyal citizens of the U.S. make up the single largest concentration of Arabs in the world, outside of the Middle East. These leaders are doctors, teachers, military servants, and spiritual directors. They are part of the fabric of our nation, the most diverse nation in the history of the world.
I start by describing Amir and Dearborn because I immediately thought of these friends and places as the images, religion, and identities of the two brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon emerged in the news media last week.
As a pastor, I find it problematic that so many professing followers of Jesus continue to buy into the myth that most Muslims are hateful, violent, and vengeful people.
We are still barely able to make sense of the horrific and despicable actions allegedly carried out by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. If they are indeed guilty of these crimes (as it appears) their actions represent the worst of human capacity.
The (Wahhabi) segments of Islam that are committed to terrorism, violence, and radical jihad are a major problem and need to be dealt with at every level of life: government, society, religion, development, and education. However, it is not fair to assume that a billion people are violent because of a small minority.
Today, Muslims and Christians make up nearly half the world’s total population. Eighty percent of Muslims around the world do not live in the Middle East and do not speak Arabic.
Islam is as diverse a religion as we have on Planet Earth.
But here, in the U.S., Muslims make up a tiny minority (conservative estimates range from 4-6 million—there are more Detroit Tigers fans than Muslims).
As a pastor, I find it problematic that so many professing followers of Jesus continue to buy into the myth that most Muslims are hateful, violent, and vengeful people. Are we really willing to suggest that 1.2 billion people are evil?
Consider this for a moment: In ancient Israel, during the time of Jesus, Samaritans were a substantial rival religious group to Jews inhabiting a region between Galilee and Judea. Samaritans were like Jews, but not like Jews.
In Jesus’ parable of the “good” Samaritan (Luke 10), he tells the story of two orthodox Jewish leaders who see a fellow Jew beat up on the side of a dangerous road. Both religious leaders look but they don’t see; they choose not to help. Until a Samaritan walks by, the Jew in the ditch has no hope.
The Samaritan comes upon the left-for-dead Jew and has compassion. The Samaritan looks and he sees.
The parable is striking because Jesus essentially challenges his Jewish audience to put themselves in the ditch and imagine who they would least likely expect or desire to rescue them from a precarious situation.
Jesus wanted his audience to see the Samaritan as capable of showing much more mercy than the average Jew would allow.
Jesus wanted his audience to see the Samaritan as a person capable of providing intense mercy.
In addition, Jesus made a Samaritan a hero and he taught and healed in Samaritan regions of Israel.
He also taught, honored, interacted, and healed Samaritan individuals. When Jesus’ disciples wanted to literally kill a group of Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them.
Many leaders today call for Christians to be afraid of Muslims, not to trust “them” because “those people” only want to kill, harm, and destroy Christianity and Western Civilization.
Others, of a different ideological viewpoint, insist that all religions—including Christianity and Islam—are the same; that we are all “traveling up the same mountain, taking different paths.”
Just because I don’t call Amir Arain my brother in the faith, doesn’t mean he isn’t my neighbor.
According to Jesus, everyone is a neighbor, and there’s no one who’s not my neighbor.
Yes, I disagree with Amir on the precise meaning of Jesus’ life and because of this—not in spite of— I believe that the real test of my disagreement with Amir is in the depth of my commitment to loving Amir as Jesus has loved both us.
Because the real test of the Christian faith, in the foreseeable future, is in the church’s willingness to love those who do not subscribe to the Jesus Way.
Dr. Josh Graves is a minister and writer in Nashville, Tenn. (www.ottercreek.org). He is the author of three books: "Tearing down the Walls: a Guide for Muslims and Christians in North America" (2013), The Feast (2009), and "Heaven on Earth" (2012, with Chris Seidman). Josh completed doctoral studies at Columbia Theological Seminary focusing on the relationship of Christianity and Islam in the United States. He blogs at www.joshuagraves.com and tweets from @joshgraves.