The following article was originally written for an Arab audience not a Western one. However, the author agreed to provide a free translation of the pertinent essay hoping that others can see our struggles, fears, as well as hopes.

Many Christians in the Middle East fear from Islamic extremism, fundamentalism and political Islam. Indeed, after the violent events that happened against some Christians in Iraq, Gaza, Egypt and other places in the world, many Middle Eastern Christians are afraid and feel threatened. At the same time, many local evangelical churches tend to favor separatism and isolationism shunning away from a serious engagement of Islam. Several evangelical voices dream of a world that is empty of Muslims and insist on looking at Muslims only from a doctrinal lens. Several blogs on “Christian” webpages seem to look down at Muslims and even consider them a curse that dominated over the Middle East or an epidemic that inflicted our world. In light of the aforementioned depiction, I would like to make few pertinent observations.

First, we need to repent from the sin of stereotyping Muslims. Often, we forget to mention the diversity within Islam highlighting Islamic fundamentalism as if it is the only expression of Islam. We fail to observe that Iran is different from Turkey and the latter is different from Saudi Arabia or Jordan. Gaza is different from Ramallah or Bethlehem, Um El-Fahem and Kufr Cana are different from Nazareth and Jaffa. French Muslims are different from Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, similar to Christianity, Islam has many expressions. Further, there are several different interpretations and exegetical approaches within Islam.

Second, we need to repent from the sin of distorting the image of Muslims or their faith. Although I assert that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that the Bible is the Word of God, I need to be careful in relating to other religions in a fair way avoiding distorting their assertions and taking them out of context. Sadly, several Christians invest all of their efforts in highlighting all the “negative sides” of the Quran, Hadith, and the life of the prophet of Islam. Although the Bible is not compatible with many Islamic assertions, it is not accurate to think that the Bible disagrees with everything in the Quran. For example, both the Quran and the Bible accept and advocate the doctrine of the oneness of God. Both agree on several ethical and social issues such as honoring our parents. Consequently, Christians need to affirm everything in the Quran or the Hadith that is congruent with the biblical worldview. Christians need to remember that due to God’s grace, there are a lot of blessings outside the church. There are great genius people, musicians, and gifted individuals among Muslims and other faith groups. We value their positive contributions and their input that is compatible with our faith. Put differently, we need to reveal the whole truth about Muslims. By highlighting the negative aspects without pointing out the positive contributions of Muslims, we are distorting their image and misunderstanding their faith. Imagine that we try to interpret the Bible only through holy wars in the Old Testament. Imagine that we ignore the historical, cultural, and canonical backgrounds in our interpretations. No doubt, the end result will be a distortion of Christianity.

Third, we need to repent from hating Muslims. Although there are important differences between the Quran and the Bible, such differences cannot justify ignoring that Muslims are created in the image of God. The Creator loved them and Christ died to save all humans including Muslims. Indeed, God has called us to be light, salt, and servants to all the nations. God has placed us in a country in which there are millions of Muslims. These brothers and sisters are a gift from God. God called us to love them and serve them. It is ungodly to hate them or to distort their assertions and depictions. Let us walk into the path of love without abandoning truth.

Fourth, we need to repent from looking at Muslims only from a doctrinal lens. Let us avoid bigotry, narrow-mindedness and the lenses that feed hatred as well as alienating the other. Instead, we should be open minded and build bridges with Muslims. As Middle Eastern Christians, we are a religious minority. However, we are not an ethnic minority and we have a lot of common historical, cultural, and social grounds with our Muslim co-citizens and compatriots. We live on the same ground, study together and play together. We go to the same schools and shopping centers. No doubt, our society can prosper only with their important input as well as ours. Thus, it is important to build bridges between the mosque and the church as well as between pastors and Imams without compromising our uniqueness and core beliefs.

Fifth and last, I assert in this essay that we are called to be light, salt and yeast of love among Muslims. Let us serve Muslims in this country cooperating with them in fighting Islamic extremism or any other form of extremism. In light of this call, I hope that many churches will dedicate some of the worship time on Sunday to pray for Muslims in the Middle East. Such humbleness will bring down the blessings of God on both Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. Such humbleness is the first step on the path of revealing the loving and Just Christ to Muslims. The first step might be followed by actions that reflect God’s love and holiness. The Christ that appears through the church and our good works will catalyze Muslims to compete with us in seeking to reveal God’s holiness and justice. Let us open our churches and our hearts for Muslims apologizing for every wrong attitude, action, or behavior against them. We might say: forgive me my Muslim brother; forgive me my Muslim sister for they are our brothers and sisters. Both of us are created by the same God. They might not be our brothers and sisters in our Christian faith but they are our brothers and sisters through creation. May we live the message of Christ, not by words only but also by action and service! May we serve all the peoples of the Middle East and always speak truth with grace. Sola Deo Gloria.
 

Rev. Yohanna Katanacho, Ph.D.
Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and Galilee Bible College