Sharing Muslim Stories

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Last week, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, called for a stop to all immigration of Muslims because, “Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized.” He then looked to the U.S. treatment of Japanese during WWII as inspiration for a solution.

His comments did not cause me any shock and awe. Since elementary school to last night, I’ve heard different versions of racist, bigoted, or uninformed comments about Muslims.

Like the one time, somewhere between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, when I received an email from a friend in ministry. It was a joke that read something like this:

A cowboy, an Indian, and a Muslim walk into a bar. The Indian said, “My people used to be very great in number, but now are very small.” The Muslim replied, “My people used to be very small in number, but now are very big in number. Why do you think this is?” The cowboy responded, “Because we ain’t played cowboys and Muslims yet.”

I reminded him my father is a Muslim from Iraq, so I found the joke theologically tasteless and unfunny. My friend replied that he understood, but as a Christian I should be more concerned with being on “God’s winning side.”

As a Christian pastor with a Muslim immigrant heritage, I’ve watched with sadness and anger at the trend, in both church and politics, of creating Muslims as “the other.” A less than human entity without a face or a story.

But my family has pretty common Muslim stories: being kids, falling in love, a first kiss, suffering loss, trying to get an education, wanting to have a family, looking for jobs, going on vacations… in other words: common human stories.

Through Jesus Christ, God is redeeming our little human stories into his great divine story. The nature of the incarnation puts us face to face with real people with real stories. When we choose to distort or willfully ignore another’s story, we deny the incarnation and change what is happening. We need to get our stories straight.

There are Muslims who commit horrible acts of violence, but violence is not unique to Islam. It is common to all humanity. In our fallen depravity, all of us are capable of being radicalized by sin. But the gospel doesn’t discount anyone from grace and salvation, even terrorists. Take Paul, who started out as a religious militant, overseeing the execution of those he saw as infidels.

He went on to become the apostle author of most of the New Testament.

If we believe in prevenient grace—that Jesus is pursuing every person—we can only know what he’s up to by entering into their story through holy love. How can we join in if we are running in fear from, discounting, or demonizing those made in the image of God? Dehumanizing may be a casualty of war, but it should never be a casualty of the gospel.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing your faith, your story, and your viewpoint. I agree with your thoughts about how we are to treat others, including Muslims, from the perspective of Christians in America.

    I am sick of hearing self-proclaiming Christians making radically un-Christian suggestions about how to treat Muslims, both here and abroad. The concept of loving others, especially your enemies, has been lost on so many of these people. The Proverbs tell us to provide support for our enemies if they are in need. Jesus tells us specifically to love our enemies. How then can a Christian suggest that we do anything other than love Muslims, most of whom are not really enemies, especially Muslims who want nothing more than to be our neighbors? (Note that I am not intending to start a discussion on non-violence or Just War against militants. That is a different topic for a different day.)

    As far as being American, too many forget that this country was built by immigrants. Proclaiming to stop immigration for a specific group, or in general, is forgetting the whole reason that drove so many of the founders of our country to make a dangerous trek here in the first place.

    And as far as who can be radicalized, it takes a very short search in recent news to see that no culture, race, or group is immune to radicalization. Pointing a finger at a specific group is essenitially sticking your head in the sand to the realities of this world.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Pastor Rikabi!

    I am praying with many others that your message contributes to the dynamic conversion of many like Paul, who not only came to faith in Christ, but also was converted from a pattern of persecuting a religious minority to Christ’s Way of treating “the other.” Thank you for your witness of the redemption of Christ, and for being a “witness” for people you know better than I.

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