Muslim hails tolerance among U.S. Christians

Muslim hails tolerance among U.S. Christians

I WAS ONCE again reminded this summer of the amazing degree of religious tolerance that many Christians in this country display habitually.

I had the rare honor on June 29 of giving the sermon in a Christian service at the St. Thomas Episcopalian Church in Newark, Del. I have given the Islamic sermon (Khutbah) at mosques, but giving one at a church was an extraordinary ecumenical experience.


Quran, the holy book of Muslims, teaches that diversity has a divine purpose. God could have created us all the same if he chose to, but in his infinite wisdom he created us as people of different ethnicities, races and beliefs that we might get to know one another and compete in doing good (Quran: 49:13, 2:148). It was in this spirit that I visited with the Episcopalian community.


The history of conflict between Islam and Christendom is well-known. The contemporary conflicts in the Middle East also get more than their fair share of media coverage. What escapes attention are the many gestures of goodwill that Muslims and Christians make to each other routinely all over the world. St. Thomas community”s invitation to me was one such gesture that merits celebration.


Christian hospitality to Islam is neither new nor unusual. It is a 1,400-year-old Islamo-Christian tradition. It all began in 614 A.D. Muhammad the prophet of Islam started preaching his message of one God in Mecca around 610 A.D. He gathered a few followers around him who for years were tortured and prosecuted by the pagan majority in Mecca.


Five years into his ministry, Muhammad asked some of his followers who suffered the most to migrate to Abyssinia, which was ruled by a Christian king. King Negus was a pious man who gave the immigrants refuge and the protection to live safely and to practice their faith. Muslims to this day remember and cherish King Negus.


Within five years of the birth of Islam, Muslims were migrating to Christian lands in search of religious freedom. Fourteen hundred years ago, only 15 Muslims – 11 men and four women – sought safe haven in Christian Abyssinia; today nearly three million Muslims enjoy the same in the U.S.


Many prominent American Muslims have gone on record saying that they feel freer to practice Islam in America than in their country of origin.


Islam does not just thrive in the secular democracy of the U.S. It also thrives on the sacred grounds of this nation. All across the country there are scores of churches that routinely allow Muslims to offer their Friday prayers on their premises. Even where Muslims have the critical mass and resources to build a mosque, on Fridays they still park in the parking lots of churches.


I lived outside Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia from 199 to 2000, and occasionally prayed at a mosque on Route 7. The mosque had a capacity for 600 worshippers and 200 cars. The rest of the cars were parked, with permission and free of charge, in the lots of two churches near the mosque. This situation was not and is not unusual.


After the sermon, I chatted with the congregationists about the common ground between Islam and Christianity. I felt genuine fellowship and realized that in spite of everything that has happened in global politics, Islam in America prospers in the benign embrace of Christianity.


However, not all is hunky-dory. In the U.S., nearly 40 percent of Americans today have a negative view of Muslims, and many preachers continue to demonize Islam. A few weeks ago Republican candidate John McCain repudiated the endorsement of prominent pastor Rod Parsely, who preaches that America was created to destroy Islam and calls for a new crusade to eradicate it. More Parsleys are emerging every day.


The Quran says about Christians that among them there are those who do good, forbid evil and are in the ranks of the righteous (3:113-114), I believe that last Sunday, I was in the midst of just such a community. *


Dr. Khan is director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.