This post was written about two weeks ago. I hope that you still find relevancy in what was written.
As cliche as it sounds, I will always remember where I was on September 11th, 2001. It was a Tuesday and I was in high school. A mere 16 years old, trying to sleep in because I didn’t have to be at school until 9:30 that morning. I remember waking up to someone yelling at me to turn on the TV. I wasn’t too happy about it, After all, it was my day to sleep in. Begrudgingly I woke up and turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit the towers. I was in a state of shock. For those of us who were old enough to remember what happened the rest of that day and the following weeks and months, the images we saw and the feelings we experienced are ones that are forever etched into our consciousness.
What sets my experience apart is the fact that I watched it on TV, hundreds of miles away from danger in a suburb of Chicago. But for others, the events of that day are too horrible to recall. They are too real to ever forget; too painful to deal with. It is no wonder there is opposition to the building of a mosque 2 blocks away from Ground Zero. For some, it is a direct insult to those affected by the tragic events of that day.
However, one must not forget that it was more than just white God-fearing Americans who were lost that day. People of all races, creeds and colors became the victims of the attack of those few extremists. Perhaps the greatest forgotten victims of the events of Sept. 11th are Muslims all around the world. In a brief moment, an entire belief system was thrust upon the world stage with a tag that read, terrorist. The ensuing persecution of Muslims throughout the US was fueled by fear and was nothing short of cowardice hiding behind a veil of nationalism and religious conviction.
It’s nine years later and what can we say about mending that divide? Not much. To be sure there are those who have moved on, those who know how to separate a group of extremists from an entire religious system, but still there remains ignorance and intolerance. What does not help the situation are the articles appearing on the web and in newspapers about strict muslim countries and how people within those countries are forced to live.
One example of this is an AP article from Tuesday Sept. 7, 2010 entitled, “EU calls ‘barbaric’ plans to stone Iranian woman.” The article was about a woman being held in prison awaiting execution because she was convicted of committing adultery. It is almost laughable for most Americans to consider execution the punishment for adultery. Lets face it, if adultery were punishable by death in this country, there would be a lot more prisons with an innumerable amount of people awaiting executions.
Before we laugh this off as Muslims being intolerant, we Christians need to look at our own Bibles. In Leviticus 20:10 God’s law commands the death of those caught in adultery. It is not surprising then in John 8 when the woman is brought before Jesus by the Pharisees who are trying to trick Jesus into going against the law. But Jesus, being the sly fox that he is, eludes their trickery and the woman walks away, uncondemned. As great of a story as it is, it should serve as a reminder about judgment. Before we start looking to poke holes in someone else’s religious system, lets not forget about our own. Before we start talking about September 11th, lets remember the Crusades and the Inquisition.
But still, some clamor loudly against Muslims whether they understand Islam or not. It is because of American, and especially Christian, intolerance that Muslims have been forced to curtail their pious expression of the faith they possess. In a Washington Post article entitled, “Muslims toning down Eid festivities in honor of Sept. 11,” Tara Bahrampour explains how Muslims are working hard not to offend Americans on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. For those of who do not know, Eid is a celebration which marks the end of Ramadan, a holy month in the Islamic faith. It is their equivalent to our Christmas. Because Muslims go by a lunar calendar, the exact date of Eid changes each year. This year marks the first in which it coincides with Sept. 11.
In an effort to show sensitivity and compassion toward Americans, many Muslims around America are curtailing their celebrations by toning down the revelry and holding the celebration on days other than 9/11. I highly doubt Christians would be as sensitive if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot. For so many of us we think that because have the truth it means we can wave around like a flag in the face of anyone. For example, one church in Florida, The Dove World Outreach Center, was planning on burning copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, on September 11th. (See CNN.com for article.) Why is it that we cannot show the same compassion, sensitivity, and tolerance that is shown to us?
I can already hear the voices crying out how we shouldn’t have to be tolerant. How tolerance is weak because it forces us to hide the truth. How we are being persecuted by the government forcing out the Ten Commandments and “under God” from the pledge of allegiance. I can hear the outcry of those who want to “Restore Honor” to America and restore the Christian ideals upon which she was founded. To these voices I simply reply, let it go.
I say this for two reasons. First, Jesus said it would happen. The whole New Testament but if you want a quick reference, John 16:33. Read it. Second, Christianity is not now, nor will it ever be about an ideal, a piece of knowledge, or some abstract notion. It is and will always be about flesh and blood. It wasn’t an ideal that came down because the world was suffering, it was flesh and blood. It wasn’t an ideal that died on the cross, it was flesh and blood. It wasn’t an ideal that rose again and told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, it was flesh and blood. It was Jesus the Christ.
Perhaps nobody better understood the flesh and blood aspect of our faith than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His work during the Civil Rights movement was always about people. Flesh and blood people. People he saw suffering, rejected, and forgotten. It was King who audaciously believed that, “Peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” His legacy should inspire future generations to act when they see injustice, no matter where it perpetrated.
But why should we care? What does it matter if a woman in Iran suffers? Because we are all part of a brotherhood known as humanity. Whether we like it or not we live in a diverse world. As King reminds us, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” Or perhaps more aptly put, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
It is about people, not belief systems. It doesn’t matter if a woman is oppressed by a Muslim because people have been and are oppressed by Christians. It doesn’t matter if she herself is a Muslim. Sometimes its hard to look past the faith of a person because we see their belief as a sin. Why is it we claim we can love the sinner and hate the sin but end up hating both? It is because we have forgotten that the details are not what matters, the person is. Our brother or sister. Our Muslim brother who is forced to curtail an important part of his faith walk. Our Muslim sister who is going to be stoned.
Instead of isolating ourselves and creating spheres of false piety and purity we should be called to action by our faith. Paul succinctly puts it this way in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” In other words, outward signs of pious Christianity does not count for anything, what counts is love. 1 Corinthians 13 echoes that point emphatically. Jesus takes it to the extreme saying we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Love is not a state of mind or feeling, it is known only through the action of another. You know your wife loves you not because she says so but because of what she does. The same is true for everyone. I don’t mean to downplay the role of truth or theology. Those things matter a great deal. But they do not and will never matter more than the person who is afflicted and forgotten about. Issues never supersede individuals.
In the end the voices will still clamor. Hatred will still exist. Intolerance and ignorance will always be heard. People will still be put to death under heinous regimes. Terrorist attacks will still happen. Some people will not be able to move on. But you and I can. We can take a step forward. Empowered by the love of the one who came down for us we can enter into the lives of others and help. We can bring an end to one persons suffering if we are willing to take the step. It doesn’t matter what they believe. What matters is that they, like us, are flesh and blood.