Christians are required to love Muslims

Christians are required to love Muslims.

And with those six words, I’m probably starting a riot among my friends on social media. Especially the Americans.

Yes, 9/11 happened. Yes, the perpetrators called themselves Muslims. Yes, a large number of Muslim or Muslim-majority nations of the world actively persecute their national Christians in one form or another. Yes, Iran’s leadership consider America (and by extension the West in general) to be their enemies. Yes, all of that.

Even so, Christians are required to love Muslims. What part of “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” did you think was optional? Did you think the parable of the Good Samaritan was told the way it was because Samaritans were really great people who loved the Jews?

Unlike most of the people spewing anti-Islamic rhetoric into my Facebook news feed, I’ve actually lived overseas in a Muslim-majority nation. I’ve been in a mosque. I’ve had Muslim friends. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert as such, but I can talk about what I’ve seen and experienced.

The country in question was in no way without its problems, but the people were almost without exception courteous and hospitable to this Western Christian in their midst. Hospitable to a fault, actually; the local tradition basically considered guests to be an expression of Divine trust and favour. You can be trusted to take care of guests properly.

I was there when 9/11 happened. I saw it through television reports in a majority-Muslim country.

No-one celebrated. The news coverage wasn’t “see how the Great Satan has fallen”; it was shocked disbelief that anyone could be evil enough to do such a thing.

Over the next couple of months, the streets around the US embassy filled with flowers for blocks in every direction.

My American wife (only she wasn’t yet my wife at the time) only had to let it out that she was an American for the sympathy to pour out.

-We are so sorry.

-Did you lose anyone?

-Are your family ok?

-We hope you find the evil people who did this.

-We are with you.

-We are all Americans today.

They weren’t doing this because someone told them to. They weren’t doing it because they were rebelling against some kind of Islamic tyranny. They were doing it because they were decent human beings and it’s what you do.

I’ve seen the clip that always gets played when people want to tell me the Muslim world was celebrating at 9/11. And I mean “the clip”; I’ve only seen just the one. It was somewhere in the Middle East, not where I was. And what I noticed about the clip was not that people were celebrating and dancing, but how few in number they seemed to be and who exactly it was that was celebrating.

What I saw was a group of no more than 50, and probably around 20, composed entirely of little old ladies and children. People who, not to put too fine a point on it, probably didn’t know any better. And only ever that one clip, which has somehow entered the American public consciousness as “the Muslim world were all partying in the streets”.

Well, I never saw them doing that, anyway.

Every time I make a comment about Christians needing to show love and respect to Muslims, I get a barrage of comments telling me how “they hate us”, “they want to kill us”, “they hate Israel”, “you hate your wife and daughters”, etc. I’ve seen people posting ignorant memes that “Muslims have contributed nothing at all to world civilisation”.

Enough.

Yes, there are Muslim fanatics that hate America and/or Christians. Tell me there aren’t Americans and Christians that hate them. And we have far less excuse, because their religion does not command them to love their enemies. Ours does. In my experience, most of them just want to get on with their lives and don’t hate Americans at all.

But they can read, and they can see, and they can hear. They hear our claims that Christians love everyone, and they can see America emplacing entry bans on people from Muslim countries. They’ve also heard our claims that “America is a Christian country”, which reinforce their pre-existing beliefs shaped by the fact that places like Iran and Saudi Arabia really are Muslim countries in terms of the national and legal structures of the state being Muslim. That’s the way they tend to interpret our claims of Christian countryhood; they think that there’s no difference between the actions of the USA as a nation and the actions of the Christian church.

Many of them get frustrated by the church’s apparent blinkered support for the State of Israel. This is a thorny issue replete with biases and half-truths and unclarity on all sides including mine, and I don’t want to say a lot about it right here, but the fact is that many Muslims think we believe that the State of Israel can do no wrong, ever.

That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. Note that I didn’t say that was an accurate belief, just that that’s what they think.

I’m not even going to dignify “you hate your wife and daughters” with a proper response. It’s a deliberately contrary-minded, ignorant comment that equates loving Muslims with support for the fanatics’ agenda. I’m a Christian and I love my sisters and brothers in Christ, but that does not mean I support the perverted agenda of every cultist who’s ever claimed to represent the True Church.

And “Muslims have contributed nothing to world civilisation” is, if possible, even more ignorant. In the period of the Crusades, the Muslim world were far more advanced than the Christian nations, particularly in science, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. While the Christians were struggling to do simple arithmetic using the unwieldy Roman numerals, the Arabs had a place-notation that we still use today in modified form. It’s not for no reason that we call them “Arabic numerals”. Muslim astronomers like Avicenna (ibn Sina, to use the proper form of his name) made observations of the heavens that wouldn’t be equalled in Europe for hundreds of years. And well into the 1600s every European court had its Arab or Moorish (ie black North African Muslim) physician, because the Christians were dangerous incompetents more interested in bleeding you than healing you. Most of what Western Christian and post-Christian scientists have discovered about science builds off of work done by Islamic scholars in the Middle Ages.

But even if they were just as ignorant and stupid as we are, still we would be required to love them.

It is, after all, one of the commands of Christ. How can we claim to be obedient servants of the Lord Jesus if we obey everything except the bits we don’t like? If we love only those who love us, how are we better than demon-worshipping pagans?

We’re commanded to love our enemies. There’s no listed exception clause that says “but if they hate your country then you don’t have to”. There’s no exemption for people that don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God; in fact, the focus is specifically on those who do not believe. The ones who were persecuting and spitefully abusing when Jesus said those words were pagan Romans, many of whom thought the Jews were too troublesome to live, and the Christian sect of Judaism was even worse.

If we are going to call ourselves His followers, we do not get to pick and choose who we love.

We don’t have to support the agenda of the radicals. We don’t have to decide that they’re right in what they believe. But we do have to love them.

This begins with being respectful. Being friendly. Taking the time to get to know the alien and stranger in our midst, about whom even the Old Testament Law was quite firm: “do not despise an alien, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt”. Find out what help they need. Act like a good neighbour. It’s not rocket science.

They aren’t robotic avatars of The Islamic Threat, or whatever you think is driving them. They’re just people, like you and me. They have kids that they want a better life for, they have sports fandoms and hobby interests, they mistrust the secularising influences around them just like many Christians do. God made Selim just like He made Simon, in His image and likeness. God loves Aisha¬†just as He loves Alice. Muslims really aren’t that different from you and I. Just people whom God loves and wants to come to a better and deeper knowledge of Him, made in His image just like me.

And Jesus commands us to love them. Hadn’t we better be about it?

When I Survey

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

We’re familiar with the hymn. But it’s easy to mouth words without thinking about them.

I was personally struck by the words while at work the other day, because I got to play at being a surveyor.

I work in construction, but on the survey type end of things. However, most of the time I don’t get to go off and measure and store point locations for stuff like property corners, and it’s kind of fun.

Now, I know this isn’t technically what it means by “when I survey”, but bear with me.

Surveying is a profession that depends absolutely on precise and accurate measurement and precise and accurate record-keeping.

If you’re a surveyor, it’s in no wise good enough to say “the property line runs along the treeline”. Nor even “the centre of the road”. A line of trees may be planted along the property line, but the actual line is defined not by tree lines, but by the relationship of an absolute boundary to the iron rods or posts or markers that are used to delineate it.

Because money is often involved with precisely where the boundary runs, you have to measure accurately.

Once, the centre-line of the road may have defined the boundary. But the off-the-beaten-track asphalt roads that are often meant can shift over time, pressed by the wheels of countless vehicles. I’ve seen “centre-line of road” buried iron rods three quarters of the way to the outside edge.

Precise observations and precise records are vital. The records tell you where to look and what you ought to find; the observations tell you what’s there.

It occurs to me that this might be an interesting metaphor for gazing upon the cross, like in the words of the song.

It may not be enough to just glance at the cross. To vaguely say that Jesus died for our sins.

Sometimes, we need to be more detailed in our examination. To really look at the cross, take in its detail, imprint its wonder and mercy on our hearts.

We have the record. The Bible accounts written by those who were there; who saw with their own eyes. People have repeatedly challenged the authenticity and accuracy of these accounts and come up short. People have claimed that the record has been altered, or that it was made up. But if you want to claim that, you have to deal with the amount of attested, accurate historical detail that the Bible records, and the sheer volume of manuscript evidence. We’re not looking at a situation like with the Qur’an, in which the fourth Caliph decided what the authentic Qur’an should look like and burned all deviant manuscripts. We have the scribal errors; the transposition of letters and misspellings. 99.9% of the errors do not affect meaning one way or the other; the few remaining do not materially affect the overall message.

We can say with a high level of confidence that we have accurate records.

But all the records in the world won’t tell you where your property line runs in the actual world of fields and forests.

In order to do that, you have to take your records and study them, and then go out into the real world and see if what actually exists matches the records.

Again, this is something which we can have a fairly high level of confidence in. Giving proper regard to genre – not trying to treat a poetic passage of Scripture as accurate history, for instance – and with due regard to the limitations of understanding in the times in which it was written, the Bible record matches a lot of what we know about the world.

We observe that people do bad things. Even the best of us make mistakes. No-one acts with perfect love all the time. This accords with what the Bible says that we ought to see.

When faced with the cross, we don’t have a reason for pride before God. The highest expressions of human justice, philosophy and religion all conspiring to take the life of the sinless Son of Man.

Jesus was without sin. He always acted in perfect love. If we’re going to do it ourselves, that’s what a holy God requires. Sin hurts people that God loves; He’s not willing to stand by and just overlook it.

But the cross isn’t just a miscarriage of justice; it’s an act of salvation. He died for us; an atoning sacrifice for sins.

And God is pleased to look on Jesus’ sacrifice and declare me righteous.

Where is pride? I don’t deserve it. I don’t act with perfect love all the time. No; but God is “the Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate God; slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and faithfulness; maintaining love to thousands and forgiving rebellion, iniquity and sin“.

Even if I’m a pretty good person by human standards, I have no cause for pride. I’m not doing anything extra; I’m not even doing all that God really wants. It’s like a pickpocket demanding to be let off because when they picked a man’s pockets they didn’t also knife him.

But the wonder of the cross is that God in His justice and mercy toward those that sin is hurting is willing to die to make an end of it and release those held captive by it.

That’s worth a closer examination.