Zack - Equal Access International

Zack

Earlier this year there was a new initiative started near the border of Syria. It was a simple concept done in a complex situation. They called it Building Leaders for Peace (BL4P). It was a one-week leadership / peace camp for young adults. The attendees were Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Iraqis and from Western Countries.

The schedule for the camp was based roughly around these themes:

  • Meet together
  • Share together
  • Train together
  • Serve together

This one-week was life changing for all involved. It tore down walls of hostility and racism and created true peace, with the attendees now meeting regularly in different cities to actively make peace in their communities. There is so much that could be said about this. I encourage you to watch the video and check out the Facebook page, as they continue on to set up many more BL4P's in other places.

I'm often asked where Muslims and Christians can come together. How do we find common ground?

I also find myself asking, where does peacemaking start? How do I initiate the process of making peace?

The word compassion literally means, "to suffer with". It was the crux of every act Jesus did, and it's the first description God uses for himself in Exodus 34. There also seems to be a whole lot in the New Testament about mourning, especially mourning with those who mourn. These aren't just nice, but powerless, sayings. They are key components in the good news Jesus brought.

This is not a whole answer, but I'm finding more and more that tears are a meeting place God offers to us. They remove walls of suspicion and hostility. They leave no room in our hearts for apathy. They are never cheap, and like Christ, all true compassion (suffering with) leads to a genuine act of love. I offer this as a great first step when you feel you don't know where to start.

If you're wondering how to engage with people who are different from you (especially your enemies), then maybe a good, humble place to start would be to ask God to give you compassion (suffer with), and enter into the pain of the "other".

I recently saw Syrian refugees deeply impacted by others crying with them while they shared their tragic stories. It was a first step towards what became lasting genuine friendship. For those refugees, this act of 'mourning with' overcame centuries of division.

So my questions for you and myself are “Who do I need to make peace with? Can I have compassion for them? Do I mourn with those who mourn?”

The first recorded action of God was to speak the world into being. Then he formed humans and gave us a voice with which we communicate and can relate intimately. Our voice is not just our vocal chords, mouth, and tongue working together to produce sound. Our voice is our whole self. Like 'they' say, 90% of communication is nonverbal.

In a world where there are many voices, good and bad, how are we to live? Is it ever justified to restrict or remove another person's voice?

Jesus was surrounded by many voices and messages that completely contradicted his. There were endless opportunities for Jesus to say, "Be quiet!”

Amazingly, at no point did he silence another's voice. He never dehumanized another. People were free to hear Jesus amidst the roar of other voices. There was no control or coercion. No shouting over the top. He taught when people were willing to listen. And in the midst of that he listened a lot. He was at parties, with the poor, on the roads, in houses, in synagogues, in the desert. In every circumstance his actions spoke the loudest.

God has called us to have a voice through action and words. God has also called us to listen to the voices of others. Like when God spoke to the Hebrew prophets, he gave them something to say, not someone to silence.

Similarly for Muslim-Christian dialogue today, will we follow the example of the Prophets, and Jesus? There is a great need for peace amongst Muslims and Christians. The true peace of God can only come through love and humility. Both of which require listening.

Do I remove anyone's voice (in reality or in my heart) because they're a different religion? How can I listen more?

Often the greatest walls of the heart are removed just by the sense of being heard.

What do Muslims believe? Why do they dress/act/talk the way they do? Is it true that they (fill in the blank)? In my last post about 'loving past our fears' I wrote about how the greatest barriers to relationship with people of other cultures/religions is within our own hearts. But what's next after "Hello"? What about all the crazy things we've heard about these people? What about the tragedies we see everyday in the news?

I recently ran a weekly gathering of people at my house that wanted to learn about Islam. Amidst a rising culture of Islamaphobia around them, this group wanted to be better equipped in reaching out in friendship across faith traditions. It was a genuine assortment of people who were ready to change themselves for the sake of others. In the first meeting I asked them what they knew about Islam. There were few who said with confidence “(fill in the blank) is what Muslims believe”. Mostly people just wanted space to ask questions.  After filling a small whiteboard with what they knew and what they had questions about, I asked them (gently), "Where did you hear these things? Have you ever asked a Muslim what they believe? Have you ever spoken to a Muslim? Have you ever watched a YouTube video of a Muslim explaining what they believe?
   
I shared with the group about what love could look like. “Let’s try putting ourselves in their shoes. Wouldn’t you want someone of a different faith to ask you about your beliefs—and then really listen—before making any assumptions about you? Wouldn’t you want them to come to your place of worship and read your holy scripture in order to understand you better? If that’s the case, and you’re wanting to love your Muslim neighbors as yourself,” I said, “then here’s your homework”:

  1. Watch a YouTube video of a Muslim telling you what they believe.
  2. Meet a Muslim and ask them what they believe.
  3. Go to a mosque and ask for a Quran and say you would like to understand Islam better.

I thought afterwards that for sure I’d handed out too big an assignment for our first meeting.

The next week we met together and to my surprise more than half the group had done all the homework. One guy who had gone to a mosque was my neighbor, John. He's in his 70's, British, and had never intentionally spoken with a Muslim. He asked me to come with him, so together we walked the 2 blocks from our houses to a new mosque up the street. Three surprised men were there to welcome us warmly. After exchanging names, we found ourselves sitting and listening to the Imam share about his faith. But before he said anything about his beliefs he greatly honored us by saying, ”You guys are really brave. Thank you so much for coming and listening to us. Most people are afraid of us. You guys are really different.” From there he did his best to explain the Quran, different traditions, and Muhammad. There were no questions off the table. John was able to honestly ask questions about some of the negative things he had heard and seen. The Imam graciously and patiently shared his heart about these topics, and we ended up with new friends as well as an invitation to bring along anyone from our churches to a community BBQ the mosque planned to host. As we were leaving the Imam kept expressing his astonishment and gratitude for our coming. And John and I walked away with a whole lot more context for building friendships with Muslims in our community.

I was told when I was a kid that it's better to talk with someone than to talk about them. It’s something I'm still learning. Let's listen. Let's Love.

Zack will be a regular contributor to the Equal Access blogs, bringing a very practical application that is relevant to all. We encourage you to circulate this via electronic media.

 

Is peace between Christians and Muslims possible? Can we be wholehearted friends? Are the walls too many and too high? Where do we even begin? The news and social media tell a story that peace is impossible between Christians and Muslims—that our differences in culture, politics and theology are too great to make our way beyond. But I’ve discovered that the only real barriers to relationship were within my own heart.

Recently a friend of mine saw an Instagram post in the morning that said "Love past your fears". It stirred him. Later in the day he took his children out to a playground and noticed a Muslim family arrive, sitting down across the park from him. The quote popped into his head again. "Love past your fears”. What to do? What to say? How? He made the decision to go over with just two words, rehearsing them as he crossed the park to sit on the bench next to the father. "Ramadan Mubarak!” (meaning "Have a blessed/generous fasting"). The surprise on the man's face was quickly turned to a smile and excited response of "Salaam Alaikum" (meaning "God's peace be upon you”).

Very quickly the man opened up about his life. They are Syrian refugees who’ve been in Australia for 2 years and he’s been working hard to learn English so that he can provide for his family. Not too long ago he was working as a high school teacher in Syria, but that feels like a world away now. The conversation moved through many subjects, culminating in phone numbers exchanged and plans made for sharing dinner as families. My friend found that loving past his fears had opened a door to a new friendship, a new perspective, and to peace.

I'm sure of this, that you can only take one step at a time, and the first step in relationship is "Hello". Beyond that is a world of discovery that proves how small these walls that separate us really are, and how great a thing love is.

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