Muslims, Christians, and Jesus
- 2009 19 Feb
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.
Let me tell you, when an AK-47 stares at you, you find an incredible capacity for introspection, along with a unique closeness to God.
I asked myself, If I had to do it all over again, would I spend my life in the Middle East, living among Arabs, trying to be a visible expression of Jesus to them?
I had my answer immediately. The Holy Spirit spoke inside of me so strongly that my body trembled. I heard the words, I love these people.
That's when I realized the truth: I loved these Arabs too. But it wasn't my love that drove me—it was his love for them. I was simply a part of the story.
* * *
Sadly, when my wife and I returned to the United States, we found that the temper of Western Christianity was markedly different. TV, radio, magazines, pulpit messages: so many voices, so much conflict.
Some called for the destruction of Islamic nations, and even Islam on the whole. Others disagreed, but it seemed that almost no one knew what to do, what to say, or even what to hope for.
Entering the arena were many religious voices who found an outlet where they could iterate their political allegiances and use them to fire upon Muslims, Arabs, and sometimes non-Christians in general.
At this juncture I came to a horrifying realization: The momentum within Christianity was moving rapidly into the realm of politics. Some people who felt wounded and vulnerable from the 9/11 attacks found it relatively easy to assume terrorism was synonymous with Islam, making it justifiable in their eyes to beat our plowshares back into swords. I know this is an observation that does not include all Westerners, Americans, or Christians. I also know I am treading on sensitive ground with this subject. But a problem resurfaced that had not been seen since the Crusades. The causes of men were falsely aligned with the causes of God, linking our military successes to his will and broadcasting the message that God is "on our side."
At least that's how my Arab friends saw it. The Christians are coming. Again.
* * *
After we had moved back to the United States, I received invitation after invitation to speak at universities, churches, and other places. I was puzzled by my newfound popularity. One day I realized the truth. It wasn't me that people were interested in; a thirst had awakened, a desire to become more familiar with this religion called Islam. My ego wasn't deflated at all. In fact, my heart surged with hope. Many Christians are now choosing the road less traveled, driven to learn about Islam and thirsty to see if there is a way to reach out to Muslims.
In fact, when I'm asked—as I often am—what is the answer to the issues in the Middle East and I answer "Jesus," I am often mocked as being simplistic, even by my committed Christian friends.
They are looking for a political answer that simply doesn't exist.
When I can't make sense of something, I pull everything back to its simplest point, stripping away the confusion and noisy complexities. What matters is what has always mattered:
* * *
Maybe you're reading this book because you want to understand your Muslim friend or neighbor. Maybe you want to go to the Middle East to share Jesus' love with people. Maybe you're just curious about what makes a Muslim different from you. In any case, my intention is to give you some information to help you befriend a Muslim and practical tips on how to live a life that's truly Good News to a Muslim. I cannot hope to speak for every perspective on every issue. I'm not infallible, I'm not the final word on Islam. I'm only a follower of Jesus who loves Muslims. This book is not intended—in any way—to be the complete and final treatise on this matter; just helpful and genuine.
I've had Muslim scholars read each of these chapters, and they have agreed that what I've said is fair. At the end of many chapters are sections entitled "A Christlike Perspective," which are what I believe would be a response sanctioned by Jesus Christ. For those of us looking to live our lives as much like Jesus as possible, I lay out what he might want us to do with the subject at hand.
Throughout the book you will also find sections called "A Story of Faith," where I recount some of our family's most special experiences. Many occurred during our times in the Middle East, but I believe they will provide important insights—and inspiration—for the interactions and friendships you might have with Muslims anywhere.
Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Connections
Copyright © 2008 by Carl Medearis
Published by Bethany House Publishing, a division of Baker Publishing Group
PO Box 6287 Grand Rapids MI 49516-6287
Used by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.