Dear Muslims And Non-Muslims - Embrace one another. Open your arms to make space for the other, to welcome one another. Wrap your arms around each other, to comfort one another, and to keep one another safe. For it is most important to do it, when it is most difficult to do.
On my trip meeting Muslims in America, I have mainly met with Sunni Muslims. Yesterday I met with a Sufi Muslim. Jamal Rahman, originally from Bangladesh, has an abiding faith in the power of heart-to-heart connections to encompass differences and dissolve prejudices. He enjoys programs that celebrate life and unity through delight, laughter, and food. Imam Jamal is adjunct faculty at Seattle University and a popular speaker on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Jamal's passion lies in interfaith community building. He remains rooted in his Islamic tradition and cultivates a "spaciousness" by being open to the beauty and wisdom of other faiths. By authentically and appreciatively understanding other paths, Jamal feels that he becomes a better Muslim. This spaciousness is not about conversion but about completion. I met with Jamal early in the morning over a cup of coffee at his favourite coffee shop. We talked about interfaith engagement between people in a world of pain. In the course of our conversation, Jamal told us that when he meets other people from other traditions these days he asks them – what do I need to do that would help to bring healing to the hurt we have caused one another? And it struck me this is the key question we need to be asking one another at times like these - what do I need to do that would help to bring healing to the hurt we have caused one another?
Today I met with a Sunni leader who told me he once would have described himself as a “Salafist”. The Salafi movement is often described as being the same as the Wahhabi movement, but Salafists consider the term "Wahhabi" derogatory. The Salafi movement is an ultra-conservative orthodox movement within Sunni Islam that references the doctrine known as “Salafism” that can be summed up as ‘a fundamentalist approach to Islam emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers — al-salaf al-salih, the “pious forefathers”.’ Salafists, are associated with a strict, closed approach to their religion, that typically regards non-Muslims, like me, as enemies of Islam. Yet here we were, talking about a meeting at the Apex Mosque that he had arranged for me to speak at!
I asked Iyad how it had come to pass that he had changed to such a degree that he would invite me – whom he once would have considered an enemy of Islam - to speak on a Friday night at his mosque.He told me that it all started when he had to migrate to the U.S. after the invasion by Iraq of Kuwait. Settling in America, he had to rub shoulders with non-Muslims every day. Iyad said it was a slow process, but gradually he began to move beyond his default closed-mind-set and really open himself up to the ‘others’ who were around him. As he did so, he says, he realised that many of ‘them’ were not ‘kaffar’ - or ‘unbelievers’ - as he had been led to believe. And when Iyad eventually met Thomas, and others from the Peace Catalyst movement, who are sincerely committed to peacemaking and promoting reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, he said he found in ‘them’ other people of faith pretty much like ‘us’. So it was, when Thomas suggested to Iyad that the Apex mosque host a meeting with me to discuss ‘The Jihad Of Jesus’ he said he was more than happy to arrange it.
About 75 of us, 50 Muslims and 25 Christians, gathered for the meeting at the mosque tonight. With the news coming out of France, of extremists killing over 150 people, we started our meeting at the mosque in prayer for all those who have suffered and will suffer as a result of this attack. We acknowledged both sides are afraid. Non-Muslims fear more explosions. Muslims fear more reprisals. We affirmed that we all believe, ideally, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Christians believe we should 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' and Muslims believe we should 'Do unto all people as you would they should do to you'. But the reality is, that in these circumstances, our fear of one another often dissipates our capacity to love one another. ‘When fear arises, we harden our bodies and our hearts, closing inward to protect ourselves. We build walls, call up armies, and pay governments to protect us from danger as we try to minimise the risks.’
There was another time in history when people ‘were together, hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid. And Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you! Be not afraid!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. And again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!” And then he said to them, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” (John 20 v 19-20) It would seem that Jesus knows where to find us at times like these. He seeks us out wherever we are 'hiding, behind our locked doors.' I don't know how he does it, but somehow or other he manages to walk through the walls we hide behind, and he speaks to us now as he spoke to them then, saying, "Be not afraid.” A saying that is repeated over three hundred times in the bible. "Be not afraid. Be not afraid." He says, "God is love. Being held safe in the ever-lasting, never-failing arms of the perfect love of God means you have no reason to be afraid”. He says to both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike, “Salam Alaykum. Peace be with you. Receive my spirit”. “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” "As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” To embrace one another. To open your arms to make space for the other, to welcome one another. To wrap your arms around each other, to comfort one another, and to keep one another safe. And Iyad said, ‘it is most important to do it, when it is most difficult to do’.
I'm sad, grieving, angry.
And I am soul searching,
praying and deeply reflecting on the Beattitudes.
I so need to do this in the midst of all this turmoil.
Bismillahi Rahmanir Rahim
(In the name of God,
the Most Gracious, the Most Compassionate)
I want to identify more with the poor ‘in spirit’
I want to grieve more over injustice in the world.
I can get angry, but vow never to get aggressive.
I seek to do and serve justice, even to my enemies.
I want to extend compassion to all those in need.
I want to act with integrity, not just for the publicity.
I would to work for peace in the midst of the violence.
And finally: I would rather feel suffering myself, rather than inflict suffering.