Saturday, July 6, 2013

Interfaith Dialogue and the Danger of Losing Meaning

What would you do if a young Muslim man came to you and told you he was not finding truth in Islam and wanted to learn about Christianity? I was shocked yesterday when an executive at a Christian University told us the story of how a young man came to her this way and she told him to go back to Islam to find truth. She beamed proudly as she talked about how he eventually came to peace with Islam. She identified herself as a Christian, but she worshipped the false god of interfaith dialogue and sacrificed this young man on the altar of her idolatry.

Superficial dialogue is not the path to peace or reconciliation. Sheikh Abdullah and I have been friends for a year and a half now. It would be fair to describe both of us as deeply committed to our religious beliefs. We've talked about spiritual issues before as friends, but never with great spiritual depth. There has been a fear that going beyond superficial dialogue would destroy our friendship. We had gone as deep as one could without addressing the real issues of faith that divide Muslims and Christians.

I decided this week to go beyond superficial dialogue and talk about important things, so I paid a visit to Abdullah at his home. After some chitchat I told him that I wanted to talk about serious things. I asked him “If I died today, where would I go?” He didn't want to answer at first, but I kept prodding him with “Truly, truly.” He got that embarrassed smile on his face that he gets when he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and said “You're going to hell.” He immediately asked me that same thing and I told him “You're going to hell, Abdullah.”

We laughed and hugged and it was like a weight lifted from our shoulders. He loves me and wants me to become a Muslim so that I won't burn in hell. He understands exactly why I love him and want him to follow Jesus. We started talking about all the things we had both wanted to talk about for a year. He wanted to ask me “What do you think of the Quran? What about Prophet Mohammad? Why are there four Gospels? Wasn't your Bible just written by men?”

We enjoyed it so much that he invited over Sheikh Zechariah, a mutual friend of us both. After I told Zecharaih that he was going to hell and I was praying for him to be saved, he jumped right into the conversation. He told me how the Quran was a mircale of God because the message was so beautiful. I told him the beautiful parts were lifted right out of the Bible and that there were some parts I found really ugly.

That brought us to Surat 9:5, one of the “verses of the sword”. It commands Muslims to go out and kill infidels unless they become Muslims or agree to pay the jizya tax. I asked him to read it aloud. As he chanted it in a beautiful voice I could tell he was realizing the implications. “The sound is beautiful but the message is ugly,” I said when he finished. “It tells you to kill me.”

No contextualization can make these words beautiful to an infidel.

“That is only for those who refuse to become Muslim or pay Jizya,” he offered weakly.

“I don't want to say Shihada and become Muslim,” I replied, “so that just leaves me paying Jizya tax. I'm a man. Do you think I want to pay a tax to you Muslims because I am a Christian? That is an ugly idea. Do you want to pay a tax to me because you are Muslim?” He was really left speechless, unable to defend the ugliness of what he had read .

Folks, that's real dialogue, and it's the sort of topics we must confront if we want to live in peace with one another.

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