by Peter Hoover
Green and white mosque, freshly painted, in Africa, India, or the Middle East?
None of the above.
Waking to the sound of many birds in the jacaranda trees of New Amsterdam, Guyana, diked-in Dutch town on the north coast of South America, I hopped out of bed, put on my sandals and went out for a walk. With so many people already out, at the break of day, I looked for a quiet place to pray. The mosque — why not? In Costa Rica I had often found refuge in the great churches of San José and Cartago, always quiet, always open to the public.
Here I was not disappointed. Only the main part of the mosque was locked so I found my way up a steep spiral staircase to the second balcony of its lone minaret. The muezzin's perch. And there, with a lovely view of the city, studded with clumps of banana plants, flamboyas and coconut palms along the Berbice river (just down from what had been the Moravian community of Pilgerhut) I prayed the Kyrie Eleison until a sound from far below, in the courtyard, drew my attention.
A young man with a bicycle stood there scowling up at me. "What do you want?" he shouted.
Bolting down the stairs two at a time, I shortly found myself face to face with Shan Mohammed Abdul Razack, an East Indian, nineteen years old, introducing himself as the assistant Imam. Curt at first, he melted quickly when I told him I had been praying. "Come on in, and I will tell you about prayer," he told me, pulling out a ring of keys.
For the next 45 minutes, Shan Mohammed and I not only toured every corner of the mosque, upstairs and down, but fast became friends. Interested in learning Spanish he had me help him with his last lesson, while he told me all about his recent trip to Mecca and the training course he had done at Medina, Saudi Arabia. "They pay our way over," he told me, "and treat us really well."
Typically for Guyana, Shan Mohammed told me his father was a Hindu and his mother Church of Christ. He had tried both, he told me, but without success, and now he was full of Islam, a word meaning peace (from S-L-M, pronounced Salaam in Arabic or Shalom in Hebrew), peace through submission to God.
Remarkable, I thought to myself. Are Islamic people really models of peace? But then again, what can be said of Christians, the supposed followers of Jesus, Prince of Peace?
This picture, for instance, is not of another church destroyed by Islamic terrorists. It shows the ruins of one of three mosques in Yelwa, Nigeria, burned by Christian militia of the region, stripped to the waist, painted with charcoal, on a 24-hour looting, raping and killing spree. Two hundred and fifty Muslim victims buried in a mass grave, hundreds more missing.
An isolated event, perhaps — something that only happens in Africa?
Since the birth of Islam, six hundred years after Christ, Muslims (those that walk on the Islamic way) have stood under nearly constant attack by the Christians of northern Europe, and more recently, America. Hundreds of thousands — and by now, millions — of Christian soldiers, beginning with the crusades and the reconquest of Spain in the Middle Ages, up to the US attack on Afghanistan and Iraq, have marched against Islamic countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Not a day has gone by in the last twenty years without Bible-carrying Christian soldiers pointing machine guns at Muslim women and children, screeching overhead in military aircraft, rolling into terrified villages on US tanks and hummers, guns pointing all directions, or bombarding Islamic cities at night, brightly lit with flames.
Muslims rightfully speak of Christian terrorism, Christian infiltration, Christian determination to destroy everything they believe and stand for.
Picture Islamic troops doing in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin what American troops are doing in Pakistan today.
For well over a thousand years, Muslims have only paid back in kind — and that, during recent decades, in enormously reduced, almost pathetic attempts at warding off the vastly more powerful and destructive forces of the Christian West. A Christian world that attacks not only with bombs and tanks and fighter planes (plus the constant threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, nuclear warfare), but through the movies, the fashions, the music, the degraded values of Western society corrupt to the core.
Sadly, I do not speak here of Mediaeval Roman Catholics, or of only "nominal Christians" only.
Nearly seven, of the last fifty years, I have spent in the United States of America. What did I see? "Born-again" Christian terrorists to the right, to the left, everywhere I looked. Evangelical churches flying the exact flag that appears on F-16 figher planes, along with "We Support our Troops" and "God Bless America" banners. Common people, nice people, God-fearing farmers, housewives and businessmen, "Pray for our Troops," applauding the war, sending their sons to battle so filled with anti-Muslim fanaticism, paranoia, and propaganda it reminded me for the world of that "Down with the Huns" spirit of my grandfather's time.
One nice man that often visited our Elmendorf community in America, elder of a Pentecostal church in Iowa, came one day with pictures of his son, serving in Iraq. Smiling soldiers holding their caps for a group photo? Not this time. Soldiers in camouflage pointing their guns at a wounded Iraqi youth, kneeling blind-folded, holding up his hands, tattered, streaming with blood. "Just having a bit of fun with one of the captives," the Pentecostal elder chuckled.
* * * * *
We live next to the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, and work with Muslim immigrants all the time. They have become great friends to us, but yes, we have also seen (and shuddered at) the photos of headless Christians dragged through the streets of that country, Christians getting kicked, tortured, killed in Indonesia and other Muslim lands. Atrocities about as bad as those committed by Joshua and King David in Bible times. Or by the Christian Kings of Mediaeval England. We have also seen the photos of Al Ghraib, of torture in US military bases, and Susan and I lived for twenty years in Latin America, saturated with the horrors of Fort Benning.
"Those that take the sword," Jesus said, "will perish by the sword." Christians, in Indonesia (Sumatra), keep making the news for protesting laws to keep Muslim women in dresses and veils. They insist it is unconstitutional and infringes upon women's rights. Christian women (to whom these laws do not apply), dress in shorts, put on make-up, and cut their hair. Christian men, including pastors, frequently have long hair and Indonesian Christian churches make the news for playing pop or rock music (you can watch it live on the Internet), clearly identifying with the American religious scene. Bearing arms, defending oneself, and serving in the military, for Indonesian Christians is not wrong. In fact they see the American army, and the Western Feminist movement, as messengers of liberation. And, thanks to their Evangelical theology, they see the eventual triumph of the state of Israel as central to God's plan for the human race.
Any wonder they draw Muslim attacks?
The more I hear of Voice-of-the-Martyrs-type stories from Muslim lands, the more suspicious I get. A Christian lady in Somalia shot for refusing to wear a veil. Christian soldiers under attack in Afghanistan for passiing out Bibles. Hmmm. All this sounds more and more like a re-run from Foxe's Book of Martyrs — people dying in religio-political conflict, not so much for what they believe, as for which side of the struggle they have chosen to support.
* * * * *
Any conflict that demonises its opponents, turning them into fearful monsters (the Huns) to galvanise support against them, or to drum up missionary fervour, is a conflict in which Jesus' followers can take no part.
Yes, the Good News of Jesus must reach Muslim lands. But it will never reach the most sincere, it will not accomplish the right thing, in stars and stripes.
Making common cause with American Evangelicals to reach the Muslim world is like wearing swastikas to reach the Jews, or playing rock music to attract the Amish. Who would you get? Modern missions (all miracle stories and visions notwithstanding) thrive on their appeal to Muslim women only too eager to throw off their veils, put on jeans, and stand on equal footing with their husbands, or to Muslim youth addicted to I-pods, mobile phones and Hollywood stars.
Mission work in the midst of religio-political and social strife easily becomes a less-than-honourable matter of switching sides. People working it out which side has the most to offer.
Jesus, always and only offers the cross.
* * * * *
Scary Muslims. Muslim terrorists — the greatest threat (through their high birthrate) to Europe and America. Since you keep sending me this information, these flashy news items and mission reports all the time, I must tell you about my friend Issam.
Issam got onto my bus in Copenhagen, Denmark. White-haired, not speaking English or any Scandinavian language, he had a problem. Carrying many bags and boxes, boarding a nearly full bus, he discovered his seat already taken. He pulled out his ticket, checked the number, pointed and gesticulated. But the burly Swede that had taken his seat simply stared out the window and ignored him.
Issam, badly disoriented, the bus already beginning to move, looked close to tears. Rather than trying to explain, I simply left my seat, motioned him to take it and found room elsewhere. He thanked me profusely, in whatever language he spoke.
Later, after changing at Bremen, in Germany, we found ourselves close together on a large bus from Elblag (Elbing, Westpreussen) to Amsterdam. After rummaging around in his bags, setting out a number of things, Issam leaned over and motioned for me to join him.
In his very limited Nederlands (a language resembling the Plattdeutsch we speak) and with hand gestures he told me he came from Baghdad in Iraq, the city burning in the picture above. His life as a professional (I failed to get in what) had fallen apart in the war. But here in the dim light of a Polish bus, sailing along the Autobahn at ten-thirty in the evening, old Issam was back in a world he knew. The world of gracious Islamic hospitality.
I could not believe it.
From his bags Issam had pulled a silver tea-pot and a thermos of piping hot, extremely sweet, spicy tea. He poured my cup with the flair of a waiter on the Rue de Rivoli. Then, from a cloth, he laid out great flat pieces of round bread, somewhat like the tortillas we ate in Sinaloa. Khubz, he called it, and wrote it out in a shaky hand, in my notebook. With that he served hot meat, spicy and incredibly good. Kabab, he called that, and when he saw how I liked it, he kept offering me more and more.
I felt concerned. This was obviously the old man's food for the trip. He told me his wife was still in Baghdad and he was working what he could in Amsterdam, where some of his children lived. But he insisted on sharing. Having only one orange he peeled it carefully and gave me a generous half.
We spoke of Baghdad and Sindbad the sailor. Of Khalil Ghibran and Nasruddin, of God, of Jesus and life in common peace. Until we got to Amstel station in Amsterdam and bid one another good-night, old Issam and I had as great a time together, I suppose, as any Hutterite and Muslim ever had.
* * * * *
No, friends, I do not see the "Muslim threat" as the biggest thing we have to worry about in our time. (An engineered, highly politicised threat with nothing but economic motivations.) If anything, I see Western society as a much greater threat to Islam than what Islam is to us. Our biggest danger comes from within. The danger of losing all we have left of value to the mindless crushing anonymity of one-world fashion, one-world music, one-world thought and life and goals.
Yes, the gun-toting Muslim world needs Jesus. But the gun-toting Pentecostal and Baptist world of America needs him just as much. Or more.
Shouldn't the people that profess Christ's name be among the first to follow him into the paradise of true Shalom/Salaam of the heart that comes from belief, submission to God?
Islam. High time we all found out what it truly means. And that neither Mohammed nor Billy Graham will get us there.
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From the City Journal, November 1999. Placed online by the Neve family. We would like to hear your comments : click here