Surrender to dialogue so ‘that you may know each other’
One of my favorite verses in the Qur’an declares: “Do you not know, O people, that I have made you into tribes and nations that you may know each other.” (Surah 49:13)
Of course, “to know each other” is an important goal in the practice of interreligious dialogue, particularly the dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters regarding building a mosque – or “prayer place” – in Mukilteo.
“Knowing each other” requires breaching social, ethnic, gender and religious boundaries. But Muslims often cite other Qur’anic advice about religious pluralism: “If God had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but his plan is to test you in what he has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues.” (Surah 5:51)
Given the negative stereotypes about Islam that have created opposition to building a mosque in Mukilteo, coupled with fire bombings of mosques throughout the United States and physical attacks against our Muslim brothers and sisters that seem to happen every day, I think it might be well to counter the fear about establishing a mosque with a few facts about Islam.
First, the literal meaning of the Arabic word Islām is surrender. He or she who surrenders to God’s will is a Muslim. But, it’s one thing to surrender to God’s will; it’s quite another thing to understand how to surrender to God’s will throughout Islam’s 1400-year history.
So, Muslims test and measure this “how” by trying to conform to the Qur’an, whose words, which Muslims believe, are the actual words of God revealed to Mohammed through the Angel Gabriel and the Sunna – or “custom” – of the Prophet Mohammed. The Sunna is a collection of stories about what Mohammed did or said.
Second, both the Qur’an and the Sunna explicitly forbid: terrorism, slavery, forcing people into any religion, sex trafficking, the exploitation of women and employing aggressive violence for religious reasons – all of which are activities engaged in by ISIS.
Anyone engaging in terrorism, Muslim or otherwise, is not surrendering to God’s will to live justly and compassionately in community. In other words, “Islamic terrorism” is a fiction; such groups are simply terrorist.
Likewise, there are no Christian or Jewish terrorist groups. Groups like the KKK or persons who fire bomb a mosque or a synagogue who claim to be Christian or Jewish are neither Christian nor Jewish, but they are terrorists. Faithful Muslims are not terrorists.
Finally, monotheism is fundamental to Islamic, Christian and Jewish teachings and practices. All three ways stress surrendering to God’s will that human beings live justly and compassionately in community with one another and with the sentient beings that share life with us on planet Earth.
Of course, the meaning of “surrendering to God’s will” is tweaked differently. Muslims test and measure the meaning of surrender by the Qur’an, our Jewish brothers and sisters by the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures – and Christians by the New Testament, particularly the four gospels and the epistles of St. Paul. Of course, there are differences, but the differences pale in comparison to what all three ways share in common.
For these three reasons, no one in the city of Mukilteo need be afraid of building a mosque in this city. Human beings are one in our diversity, as all three religious ways affirm. The most faithful way to surrender to God’s will is through engagement in interreligious dialogue so “that you may know each other,” and thereby learn from each other.
Life is too short to live in fear of our neighbors.
Paul O. Ingram is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. A resident of Mukilteo since 2006, Ingram is also a member of Pointe of Grace Lutheran Church, a Mukilteo worship site of Trinity Lutheran Church. For more information about the Lutheran church, go to www.pointeofgrace.org.