Respect Should Be Two Ways, Not One Way
Respect is a good cornerstone on which to build human relationships. In the United States today, as in all Western countries, there is a growing Muslim population. Increasingly many of us have Muslim neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and doctors. Moreover, radicalism is on the move around the globe as well. Islam is currently the world’s second fastest growing religion and is gaining ground worldwide, including in Asia, Africa, America, Central Asia, and Europe. As I was writing this column, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA), an anti-Islam movement, had a meeting. They met with representatives of like-minded groups from fourteen different European countries in the Czech city of Roztoky to plan a European wide demonstration for Feb 6 to rally against the Islamization of Europe. The U.S. has been witnessing the same sentiment as well, a phenomenon that has been becoming more apparent since U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims who want to come to the United States. Since then, a large numbers of state governors have also threatened to bar Syrian refugees from their states following the deadly attacks in the US and Paris. We all know that Christians cannot convert all Muslims and that Muslims cannot convert all Christians. So the solutions is to learn how to live together and to respect one another, given that only God can change the hearts and minds of people.
It is an important and urgent need for Christians to be both informed and engaged. How do Christians and Muslims plan to reach Muslims in their own communities? How do we respectfully disagree with each other’s beliefs? Can Islam be reformed? The need for peaceful co-existence among the people of different faiths and cultures has long been recognized. For a couple of years now we have seen a need for more efforts to sustain the hope for a peaceful co-existence. One argument on respect and disrespect posits that Muslims respect Jesus while Christians do not respect Mohammad as a prophet. Another proposition shows that Muslim men can safely marry Christian women, but Muslim women cannot marry Christian men because Christian men might harass the Muslim wife by ridiculing her faith. We should respect other religions as a belief system as well. I respect other religions as an established system, but not as the absolute truth. Most importantly, churches, temples, and mosques do not have to preach hate to get the truth across. Truth does not need to defend itself; it is its own defense, but truth is not hate because hate accomplishes nothing.
Respecting other religions such as Islam does not mean one cannot express his own belief. It does mean that seeking to undermine or attack the religious faith and beliefs of another has always been a source of problems and separation. If religions such as Islam and Christianity believe Allah or God is in control of everything and only Allah or God can change people’s hearts, then the role of people is to build a bridge, so that God can walk on that bridge to change people’s hearts in order to draw them to himself. Our role, then, is to build the bridge not to destroy the bridge. The way we build a bridge is to respect one another’s faith. Philosophers since the times of ancient Greece have disputed with one another about the nature of God, man, knowledge, and the universe. If people since the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C have never been able to agree on the subject of religion or anti-religion, we should expect that they will continue not to agree on everything now either, so it is important to respect one another’s views. Every human being with a genuine faith has taken great consolation and joy in his religion. In the past walls have separated us, but now we live in a global village and are united by the web. Consequently, the way to live in harmony is to respect one another’s beliefs.
I believe that in the Western world the last two giants of faith will face each other, but followers of both faiths are ignorant about each other’s faith. Christians are ignorant about Islam, and Muslims are ignorant about Christians’ faith. Both sides have not adequately educated their followers, because each is trying to defend its faith, so that they can increase their membership. Until now some of the faith based groups, mosques, churches, and even governments have all focused on the two faiths’ commonalities but have ignored the real differences. The problem is not commonalities between two faiths; the real problem is the differences. Churches need to be teaching the true nature of Islam in their Sunday schools classes, so that church goers will know what Islam is, making Sunday school more relevant to living as well. Mosques, likewise, should teach the true tenets of Christianity instead of labeling Christians as infidels. Teaching commonalities is nice. We have things in common with cats, dogs, and birds as well because we are all God’s creatures, but, really, the differences are very important.
The differences are essential to convey to the members. There are so many topics for Sunday school teachers; for example, are Allah and God the same? Did Jesus really die? The Christian and Muslim perspectives about the creation of the earth are enormously divergent. Was Jesus resurrected from the dead? Love, forgiveness, and violence are only a few of the countless relevant topics on this subject. When teaching about Islam, the sources is important as well. Who is going to teach the tenets? Of course, if the leader makes the History Channel series or the PBS series on Islam the centerpiece of teaching, then they are not going to contribute any positive things. The History Channel and PBS series on Islam in many ways misrepresent the traditional orthodox Islamic ideology. For example, it portrays that the God of Christians and Allah of Muslims are the same God. In reality they are two different Deities. Both series hold that both roads lead to Rome, but in reality each road takes a different direction ending up in different places.
The real problem with pastors in general on this topic is the personification of what is going on in the main media with regard to Islam. Because the middle road approach only depicts these bad guys such as ISIS, Al-Qaida, and Boko Haram as intolerant, racist bigots who try to portray Islam in bad ways. It might be true that ISIS and Al-Qaida are not the true faces of Islam, but the truth is that every true Muslim’s heart will be filled with joy and yearning to be ruled by Sharia law, so the difference is that the methods of ISIS and Al-Qaida are wrong, not the essence.
It is important to get the attention of Christians and Muslims and to begin urgently needed conversations to respect one another’s view. It is important be able to talk about our differences as well as our commonalities in that if we are able to respect our differences, then we already agree on our commonalities making this discussion on commonalities unnecessary. The common ground should be respecting one another’s faith. Sometimes false information can cause us to make some bad mistakes. It can even prevent an individual from getting true information. False information can come from many different sources: religious theology, academics, society, or professionals. Many of these parties want others to believe things just to suit their interests. Today Islam is on the defensive and has a public relations crisis. The reason Islam is very strange and extreme to Western and non-Muslim societies is because religion does not dominate everyday life in the Western and non-Muslims societies, whereas Islam is a way of life for Muslims and makes no division between the secular and the sacred.
Muslims believe in Divine Law, that Sharia law should be taken seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important. Muslims believe Islam and Christianity do not have a different origin. Together with Judaism, they trace their lineage from the prophet and patriarch Abraham. They all see Islam as descending from Abraham’s eldest son Ishmael, the son of Hagar. On the other hand, the lineage of the Judeo-Christian faith comes from the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac. Muslims teach that prophets such as Job, Moses, and Jesus came from Ishmael and culminated in the last prophet, Muhammad. Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to Mohammad and is the only revelation protected from corruption, and indeed that other Holy books, especially the Bible, have been corrupted. According to the Quran, Abraham built the city of Makkah (Mecca) in honor of Hagar after her death because she had lived there with Ishmael until her death. The shrine he built, the Ka’abah, is the place towards which all Muslims turn when they pray and visit in their pilgrimage.
Both Islam and Christian believe in prophecy, God’s messengers, revelations, scriptures, the resurrection of the dead, and the centrality of religious community. Both Christians and Islam have great emphases on community, so that what the church is to Christianity, the Umma is to Islam. Despite the significant number of similarities, however, Islam and Christians have a number of crucial differences. If the purpose is not to engage in any kind of polemic discussion, but to foster better understanding, then those major distinctions must be addressed. True conversation and respect between the two faiths can built a meaningful bridge of understanding.
Respect is earned, not given; also respect should be two ways, not one way. We live in a free society where everyone is free to choose whether they believe in God, Jesus, Allah, or nothing, but insulting other’s sacred values or threatening each other for converting to another religion cannot be explained with humanistic values. A person must always be straightforward and consistent in his actions and words. He should respect the sacred values of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and other traditions as he expects his own religion and values to be respected. Hate speech designed to cause more violence in an abuse of the freedom of expression. It violates the rights and freedoms of others while pushing humanity towards conflict in an age of atomic weapons.
We should aggressively promote respect for the sacred values of all religions. If someone changes his or her religion, he or she should not be killed for that decision because we should be respected for our beliefs. That does not mean we believe that all religions lead to the same truth. I believe there is only one truth and that one way will lead to heaven, but that is totally dependent upon the individual choice to make. I believe if a person genuinely and wholeheartedly seeks the truth, he or she will find it. If he knocks and seeks, the door will be opened and his searching will be answered. I believe everyone must respect diversity and freedom of religion, because free speech and expression cannot be restricted. It is true that while the views of the majority certainly deserve respect, the views of minority groups must also be treated with the same level of the respect. This includes non-Muslims who live in majority Muslim countries.
Many Muslims feel that everyone should respect their book, religion, and last prophet regardless of those people’s own beliefs or lack thereof. In addition, they think that no one should criticize or question their religion, their book, or prophet. Actually, we have seen Muslims riot in anger on a number of occasions in recent years. Why should they expect non-Muslims to respect something they don’t believe? If we look at Hinduism, according to their faith, the cow is holy and sacred and thus should be venerated. I can say that I show no deference at all for Hinduism because I like cow meat, and most Muslims like the meat of cows too; indeed, kebabs are a delicious Middle Eastern cuisine. Likewise, I have no reverence for Dianetics and put no stock in alleviating psychosomatic illnesses by their practices, but neither Ron Hubbard in the past nor Tom Cruise now would pronounce a ruling against me for my criticism. I can insult all Hindus mercilessly, and while a number of Hindus might be bothered by my disrespect, they are not going to demand I esteem their religion or to riot in protest of my not doing so. I doubt, however, that there are very many Muslims in the world who will stand up and say that I should show Hindus or Scientologists some respect even though they want everyone to respect them because many of them move along one-way roads.
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