Muslims, Christians, and Jesus
- Thursday, February 19, 2009
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Connections by Carl Medearis (Bethany House).
This book began in 1983, when I first moved to the Middle East. Back then, the majority of Americans knew little about the Middle East or Islam. The Reagan administration was in its first term, and Communism and the Cold War crowded the headlines. Baath-party socialist Saddam Hussein had been in power for only four years, and the secular government of Iraq was at war with its Shi'ite neighbor, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The news also brought us occasional stories about the Afghan campaign against Soviet troops, Libya's Muammar Khaddafi as a top-shelf bad guy, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had replaced the CIA-sponsored Shah of Iran. Still, there was little to no fear or suspicion of Islam in the West, mainly because the reality of terrorism was not yet on our doorstep. All was quiet on the Middle-Eastern front.
As the world watched smoke and ash spew into the Manhattan sky on September 11, 2001, I was busy in Beirut, Lebanon, trying to console my friends and family. My phone rang all day. Muslim friend after another called me, each in shock. One friend, Ahmed (not his real name), came by our house, sat on the couch opposite me, and rubbed his face with his hands. "Carl," he said, "these terrorists have just shattered the peace we have worked so hard for."
"What do you mean?"
"America will go to war," he said, shaking his head, "and I am afraid that it will not end for years."
"The West does not understand us. They see an Arab and they feel fear. They hear talk of Islam and they are suspicious. I am afraid that things will spiral out of control and that hatred will grow between my people and your people." He sighed. "Again."
"Ahmed," I said, looking him in the eyes, "we are each other's people. We are both followers of Jesus, friends of God, and brothers in a way that boundaries cannot take from us."
"I know," he said, "but to see Islam and Christianity at war once again is something that will break my heart. I have so many loved ones on both sides." A tear slid down his face and he tried to wipe it away before I noticed.
* * *
I lived in Lebanon from 1992 until 2004. If 9/11 was going to rip the world apart, I was going to do everything I could to stop it. We had worked long to build friendships, and the last thing I wanted was to let them be torn away by international politics, hatred, and misunderstanding.
During that time I made several trips into Iraq. The war in Iraq had torn up the status quo by the roots, and my Iraqi friends were practically pleading with us to come over.
It was surreal, to say the least. At the border, we halted at a coalition checkpoint and for the first time in years I heard the Midwestern accent of an American in the middle of the desert: "Welcome to Iraq; may I take your order?" The troops were enthusiastic—GIs doing their job. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and hit the road again, southbound for Basra.
A few weeks later, my life nearly ended, along with the rest of the team. As we returned north on the route at 160 clicks per hour, we were overtaken by a black Mercedes with one notable distinction: rifles. We were forced to the shoulder and escorted out into the sand and out of sight, below the lip of a wadi—a dry riverbed. There we were dragged from our vehicle, then lined up in the sand on our knees, hearts pounding and palms sweating.
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