At least weekly I see articles or hear news stories about anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Most of them go something like this: Islam is said to be a peaceful religion yet non-Muslim American citizens don't trust this claim, and they're jumping to conclusions if they suspect that "the Muslim next door" could actually be the terrorist they'll read about in the newspaper tomorrow. These folk are as bad as "Red Baiters" and "anti-Semites" and they should be completely ashamed of themselves and completely ignore what they see and hear in the news every day about the violence in Muslim nations. Most of the articles do nothing to promote a fair and honest discussion of how non-Muslims came to be suspicious of the claims that Islam promotes peace, and why they fear it. Indeed, the articles about anti-Muslim sentiment in America are presented right beside headliner articles such as "Al Qaida vows to seek revenge for bin Ladin killing" or "80 killed in suicide bombing." It leaves me scratching my head. What about suicide bombing and vows for revenge would lead one to the conclusion that the religion behind the violence is a religion of peace?
Turn next to the Christian community. At least weekly I see articles or hear news stories about the "Religious Right", or I can tune in to American Radio or other Christian radio programs and hear something like this: "Christ tells us to love one another and bring one another to God" and "Abortion is murder" and "we" must "stop it at any cost" ...followed by support for the wars in the Middle East and how we as a "Christian nation" cannot possibly afford to provide health care coverage for our American citizens yet, we can give tax breaks and subsidies to Big Oil and the like who post record profits quarter after quarter while the cost of food and energy keep rising. This point of view, like the one that bashes non-Muslim Americans for fearing an "Islamic agenda", also leaves me scratching my head. We have a not-so-subtle support for the domestic terrorism of abortion clinic bombing and the murder of physicians who provide legal abortions stations, a very un-Christ-like failure to support Christ's values of "healing the sick and feeding the poor" alongside political agendas to keep money and power in the hands of the wealthy, and a failure to embrace the fact that Christ threw the money changers out of the temple. Yet...fundamentalist Christians feel they are persecuted because we have American citizens who insist on sticking to our constitutional separation of the church and state.
Both faiths claim to be misunderstood. Both claim to support only peace. Both seem to downplay the relevance of extremism within their own faith body, as if they somehow have no association with it, no responsibility to acknowledge how it damages their credibility to those outside of their faith body. The moderates of both faiths are strangely very silent about extremism within their own faith body, and what they could or should do about it.
I am neither Christian, nor Muslim. My faith is eclectic, and I am a member of what is commonly called "the unchurched." I am a social worker by training and by profession, and I've worked in the mental health field for the past 15 years or so. If it’s one practical thing I’ve learned from that work, one useful technique that we all can use if we’re interested in self-growth, it’s this: ask yourself what you have done to be a part of the problem, and ask yourself what you can do to be part of the solution to it. That’s right: what *you* can do. Not what everyone else can or should do. What *you* can do.
It's clear that extreme fundamentalism is a problem for the life and liberty of the non-extremists. And so, it's time we ask ourselves, What we have done within our own hearts and minds, and within our own faith communities, to stop blaming others, resist the temptation to fall into a victim role, etc., and become a part of the solution to the violence and myopia of extreme fundamentalism? Who's willing to ask his or her self this question out loud, in front of everyone, and answer it honestly? I believe that we are way overdue for some calm, frank discussion about this topic from active Muslims and Christians in America. (Can we do calm and frank?)
I'd like to propose that we try something new. Instead of ranting and raving about "the other", let's discuss ourselves. Let's pose a question to practicing American Muslims and American Christians, both. This is not a sarcastic or rhetorical question, not a judgment or subtle put-down. It's an attempt to stimulate some self-examination by the larger faith bodies about how they can be a part of the solution to the angry actions and rhetoric of extreme fundamentalism within those bodies. So when answering the question, please focus on yourself and your *own* congregation only...not on "the other" or what "they" should be doing.
The question has 3 parts and the question is:
What have you and/or your congregation done to:
1. Openly discuss the problem of extreme fundamentalism within your larger faith body vs. discussing the problem of the *other* larger faith body?
2. Take responsibility for calling out the extremists within you own immediate faith community and send them the message that it is not acceptable to your immediate faith community?
3. Reach out to those in your neighborhoods who seem to be in fear of you and your faith, to those who seem to be persecuting you for your faith, and asking them with ears wide open, "What can our faith body do to better allay your fears and concerns?"
In other words, what have you and/or your faith community done to stop blaming others, resist the temptation to fall into a victim role, etc. and become a part of the solution to the violence of extreme fundamentalism?
Are we able to begin internal reflection, and productive discussion, about what the faith bodies can do to address the problem of radical fundamentalism within their own bodies? Let's at least give it a try. Perhaps it will take us somewhere better than where the blame-game has taken us. Let the discussion begin...!