By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Muslims are considered strangers in Europe and the U.S., and the refugee crisis has raised the question of whether Muslims can be good neighbors or are a threat to non-Muslims.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all consider the greatest commandment to love God and one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28-33) to be a moral imperative of their faith. The difficult question is, Who is my neighbor? In Mosaic Law a neighbor is “one of your people” (Leviticus 19:18) as well as the stranger or alien (Leviticus 19:33,34; Deuteronomy 10:19). Jesus was a Jew who answered the question with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), in which an apostate Samaritan was a good neighbor to a wounded Jew while other Jews passed him by. While the Qur’an does not include the greatest commandment, Islamic scholars have affirmed it as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
The perception of Muslims as good neighbors among Jews and Christians in the U.S. and Europe has deteriorated, perhaps because of continued violence against non-Muslims and the enforcement of apostasy and blasphemy laws in Islamic cultures. It seems that most Muslims in Islamic cultures do not consider Jews and Christians as good neighbors but as unbelievers who are condemned by God as a threat to Islam, this in spite of the assertion of Islamic scholars that the greatest commandment is a common word of faith. The result is that today fewer Jews and Christians consider Muslims to be good neighbors than they did five years ago.
The refugee crisis in Europe has exacerbated the fear that Muslims are a threat to Western libertarian values and cultural standards, if not basic security, and right-wing politicians in Europe and the U.S. are stoking those fears to promote their own interests. The best way to counter such suspicion and fear is by developing personal relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims, and interfaith dialogue groups provide a means to do that.
Synagogues and churches should promote interfaith dialogue groups, but few do, perhaps because most are exclusivist religious institutions that promote their religion as the one true faith and ignore the moral imperative of the greatest commandment to love their unbelieving neighbors, or strangers, as they love themselves. Most Muslims are also exclusivists who consider it their evangelical duty to convert those of other faiths to Islam. One of the first rules of an interfaith dialogue group is to respect those of other religions and not try to convert them.
The trend toward religious polarization needs to be reversed before it enables radical Islamism to claim victory in the first phase of its Jihad, with Jews and Christians seeing Muslims as a threat rather than as good neighbors, and vice-versa. With the forces of globalism creating more religious pluralism, religious reconciliation is essential to world peace. While no one religion can dominate the world, it only takes one religion to bring war to the world if other religions do not resist religious polarization by seeking reconciliation. Religious polarization has led to wars in the past, but it should not be allowed to happen again.
No matter how bad things seem to be in Islamic cultures overseas, the freedoms of religion and speech in the libertarian democracies of the West should prevent religious violence. When Jews, Christians and Muslims can come together and get to know one another, and no one seeks to convert any others, religious differences can be discussed and better understood without those of a minority religion being threatened by those of a dominant religion. That is what good neighbors are expected to do, and in a world of increasing religious plurality, people of different religions must consider those of others religions as good neighbors rather than threats.
Believers must resist the contentious political and religious rhetoric used by political and religious leaders to polarize their constituencies and promote their power with the fear of the stranger among them. Jews, Christians and Muslims must all remember that to love God they must love their neighbors as themselves, and that includes their unbelieving neighbors.
Notes and References to Resources:
Previous blogs on related topics are: Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation into the Family of God, January 4, 2015; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? January 25, 2015; Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness, February 8, 2015; A Fundamental Problem with Religion, May 3, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing, June 7, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, June 14, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; The European Refugee Crisis and Radical Islam, September 6, 2015; and Politics and Religious Polarization, September 20, 2015.
Behind a warm welcome for refugees in Sweden, there is a growing backlash against Muslim refugees. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/behind-swedens-warm-welcome-for-refugees-a-backlash-is-brewing/2015/10/17/b5f4110c-661d-11e5-bdb6-6861f4521205_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines.
A model for an interfaith dialogue group is provided in the Resources to the J&M Book at http://media.wix.com/ugd/a8edf7_1502053c58a4441197ed1acade7287bd.pdf.
Some evangelical Christians in the U.S. are working with Muslims to oppose religious bigotry. See http://www.religionnews.com/2015/10/23/fighting-perceptions-evangelicals-muslims-commit-oppose-religious-bigotry/.
David Brooks has noted the lack of traditional values that once governed U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy, and the decreasing influence of religion in shaping those values. See http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/syndicated-columnists/article40497270.html.
Michael Gerson has argued that in the Middle East and America religion has become more dysfunctional and sectarian and lost its primary value of helping those in need, regardless of their religion. He asks, “Is the Christian faith merely a cover for tribalism? Or will it demonstrate its essence in service to the refugees of another faith who did nothing to deserve their fate?” See