George W. Bush was the first political candidate to try to weave U.S. Muslims into America's religious fabric. At a recent panel discussion, Beliefnet founder Steve Waldman noted that where politicians traditionally speak of our "Judeo-Christian heritage," candidate Bush made a point of referring to "churches, synagogues, and mosques." Since becoming president, he has hosted Islamic leaders for a Ramadan dinner at the White House, had a Qur'an photographed on his desk, and courted Muslim countries in his foreign policy. Immediately following September 11, 2001, he assured the American public that Islam is a religion of peace. Clearly, he is inviting immigrant Muslims to become the kind of citizens he wants them to be.
Theologians at Fuller Theological Seminary are also welcoming Muslims by helping Islamic leaders work out what it means to be a "religion of peace." In the late '90s, ethicist Glenn Stassen led a team of 23 Christian thinkers (mostly just-war theorists) in creating a set of principles for finding alternatives to war. Now Stassen and his Fuller colleagues are walking Muslim leaders through a similar exercise based on their own scriptures and traditions. This effort "has important implications," Stassen says, "because it can result in Muslims teaching each other practical practices of peacemaking."
In December, we talked with American Muslim leaders who are trying to bring together Muslims from a long list of countries to form a truly American Islam. Acceptance of Islam into American culture is very important, they told us, for how Muslims overseas perceive the United States. If Muslims feel truly welcomed, they can help defuse anti-American sentiments.
These Muslim leaders drew an analogy between their situation and the experience of U.S. Catholics at the beginning of the 20th century. Those Catholics came from places like Ireland, Poland, and Italy, and most Americans perceived their religion to be as foreign as their cuisines. But the pathbreaking theologian John Courtney Murray worked out a philosophy that laid the foundation for democratizing Catholicism. Today, many of the same Protestants who resisted the Catholic influence at mid-century look to Catholics like Henry Hyde and William Bennett for cultural leadership.
Can conservative Christians help Islam make a similar transition in a Western democracy? Yes, but not without risk. Fuller's efforts drew fire when the Los Angeles Times reported that Fuller faculty had agreed not to proselytize Muslims. In fact, the faculty members involved had agreed not to proselytize in the context of these peacemaking discussions, but they had also made it clear that their "evangelical faith would not let [them] renounce evangelism in the rest of life." Indeed, Fuller faculty involved in the project have evangelized Muslims both in North America and abroad.
We must be up-front about our commitment to share the good news of Jesus with everyone, yet we must also keep clear the purposes of each interaction. A December 8 exchange between Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham and Sudan President Omar al-Bashir provides a good model. After they discussed the importance of religious freedom for ending Sudan's tragic civil wars, al-Bashir said, drawing laughter, "I want freedom of religion because I would like to convert you. We will try to make you a Muslim." Graham responded in kind. After a peace agreement is implemented, he said, "I would like to come back to Khartoum and preach, because I would like to convert you."
Neither the Muslim president nor the Christian evangelist was reticent about sharing their faith, but both were willing to defer that desire while they worked to solve political strife. We face a pivotal moment in history when we can help Muslims redefine their place in a modern world. Seize the day.
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Other CT articles on Islam include:
Fuller Seminary to Create Interfaith Code of Ethics | Statement prohibits "proselytizing," but school leaders say "gracious evangelism" still acceptable. Huh? (Dec. 08, 2003)
Islam and the West | Islam in Context shows a religion at a crossroads (Nov. 12, 2003)
The Defender of the Good News: Questioning Lamin Sanneh | The Yale historian and missiologist talks about his conversion, Muslim-Christian relations, Anglican troubles, and the future of Christianity. (Oct. 01, 2003)
Comments on Islam Endanger Missionaries, Letter Says | Baptists in Muslim nations plead for restraint in public statements by American Christians. (Jan. 17, 2003)
Muslim Phobic No More | Verbal attacks on Islam sabotage evangelism. (Dec. 16, 2002)
Deconstructing Islam | Apologist Jay Smith takes a confrontational approach. (Aug. 30, 2002)
Doors into Islam | September 11 has only intensified the dangers and rewards of Muslim evangelism. (Aug. 19, 2002)
Outpaced by Islam? | The Muslim challenge is growing faster than our Christian outreach. (Feb. 04, 2002)
Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus? | The answer to this question reveals the heart of our faith. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Does God Hear Muslim's Prayers? | We must remember that God does not deal with theologies; he deals with persons. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Letter from a Muslim Seeker | Christians aren't the only ones asking 'Why?' after September's tragedy. (Dec. 5, 2001)
Is Islam a religion of peace? | The controversy reveals a struggle for the soul of Islam. (Dec. 28, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner: Covering Islam | Getting beyond the feel-good bromides. (Oct. 8, 2001)
A Many Splintered Thing | Though Muslims shared allegiance to Muhammad and to the Qur'an, Islam faced division as soon as the prophet died. (Dec. 28, 2000)
Is Islam a Religion of Peace? | The controversy reveals a struggle for the soul of Islam. (Dec. 28, 2000)
How Islam Is Winning Black America | Now is the time to turn the tide, says apologist Carl Ellis. (April 3, 2000)
Islam, U.S.A. | Are Christians prepared for Muslims in the mainstream? (April 3, 2000)
CT coverage of controversial comments on Islam include:
Jesus Freak | Franklin Graham remains unashamed of the Name, despite public criticism. No generic prayers for him. (Dec. 2, 2002)
Riots, Condemnation, Fatwa, and Apology Follow Falwell's CBS Comments | President of the All India Christian Council: "I prayed that the broadcast would not reach India." (Oct. 17, 2002)
Give Franklin Graham Some Slack—and Some Credit | The evangelist shouldn't be defined by his opposition to Islam. (August 23, 2002)
Southern Baptists Boot Gay Protesters | Messengers at St. Louis convention pick Prestonwood's Jack Graham as new leader. (June 13, 2002)
In 2000, Christianity Today focused on Muslim-Christian relations in a series by Wendy Murray Zoba. Articles included:
Islam, U.S.A. | Are Christians prepared for Muslims in the mainstream?
Islamic Fundamentals | Christians have a responsibility to understand our Muslim neighbors and their beliefs.
How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don't understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith.
Engaging Our Muslim Neighbors | The Church faces a challenge not just to understand Muslims, but to befriend them.
Adherents.com is the place to go for statistics related to the adherents of any religion.
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