Two particular articles published in the Church Times this week caught my attention. Both involved an act of solidarity between Christians and Muslims.
The first told how a group of travellers on a bus in northern Kenya were held up by gunmen from a Somali al-Shabab group. They sprayed the bus with machine-gun fire and then forced the passengers to disembark and separate themselves into Muslims on one side and Christians on the other. Their intention was to kill the Christians. The passengers, some already injured, refused to separate. They stood together. All were wearing Muslim attire so that the non-Muslims were hard to identify amongst all the passengers. One of the Muslim passengers reported “We stuck together tightly. The militants threatened to shoot us all [if we did not separate] but we still refused and protected our non-Muslim brothers and sisters. Finally they gave up and left, but warned that they would be back.”
The Interior Minister of Kenya, Joseph Nkaissery, praised their bravery. “These Muslims sent a very important message of the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans and that we are not separated by religion.”
The second article told how a Christian lecturer at an Evangelical college in the United States made a decision as part of her “Advent worship” to stand in solidarity with Muslim women by wearing the hijab (Muslim headscarf) through Advent. Hate crimes against Muslims in the United States are on the increase. She said that her action was to show solidarity with those who like her, a Christian, were “people of the book,” and therefore worshipped the same God.
She had the blessing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to do this. But not, apparently, the blessing of her Christian college. She has been suspended, “placed on administrative leave owing to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements she has made.”
The suspicion of her Christian colleagues saddens me deeply. Muslims, Christians and Jews are people of the same book. Each faith finds its roots in the story of Abraham, and therefore we are known as the Abrahamic Faiths. If we believe that there is only one God, then that God has to be the same God. The story of Abraham includes the story of Hagar and Ishmael. The scriptures that we as Christians read tell us that Hagar was promised that her son Ishmael would be the founder of a great nation and that God would be with him. Today, that great nation embraces Islam, and it should be plainly stated that Islamic State no more represents Islam than the Nazi regime represented Christianity.
Yes, there are some passages in the Quran that puzzle and bewilder us. Can we say that there are not also passages of our own scriptures that also bewilder us? Can we read the stories of horrific genocide in the Bible and say with ease “This is the word of the Lord”?
We would praise the actions of the Muslims on the bus who refused with great courage to identify the Christians in their ranks and watch their murder. Can we not praise Dr Larycia Hawkins for doing what she can to stop the hate crimes in her country by identifying those things which unite her to Muslim women rather than separate them?
Both are acts of solidarity which in their way oppose non-violently the actions of violence and hate. I believe we should honour all such oppositions and be open to finding our own. For the way of non-violent opposition was the way of Jesus whenever he saw injustice, oppression or hatred to his own faith or another.
Rev Carey Saleh