By Ian Mevorach
Mar 18 2016
Islam is a beautiful, complex religion that supports human dignity, arts and sciences, spirituality, economic, environmental and racial justice, and so much more. As Christians today we are called to acknowledge the integrity of Islam and embrace Muslims as brothers and sisters in faith. And the key, I believe, to making this paradigm shift is choosing to see Muhammad differently, in light of our faith.
Just as Bonhoeffer embraced the fact that Jesus Christ was a Jew, thus identifying himself as a Christian with and for Jews, so too Christians today have the opportunity to identify ourselves with and for Muslims by positively identifying Jesus with Muhammad. The foundation of Christian Islamophobia (fear of Islam) is a rejection of Muhammad as a spirit of error; the foundation of Christian Islamophilia (love of Islam) is an embrace of Muhammad as a spirit of truth.
Jesus, in the Gospel of John, predicts the coming of a future prophet he calls “the spirit of truth”:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15, NRSV)
Today as Christians we have the opportunity to embrace Muhammad, the Qur’an, and Islam in an expression of faith in Jesus. This kind of embrace would have major political implications and would radically alter the quality of Christian-Muslim relations. We have the chance now to acknowledge and let go of Christianity’s polemical reactions against Islam, and to seek a collaborative relationship with Muslims. This crucial adaptation of Christianity - choosing to see Muhammad as a “spirit of truth” whom Jesus said would guide us into all the truth - will allow Christianity and Islam to work together for peace, justice, and the healing of Earth; it will help put an end to the predisposition of Christians to mistrust and fear Muslims.
In the Qur’an, Jesus says, “’O children of Israel! Truly I am the Messenger of God unto you, confirming that which came before me in the Torah and bearing glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me whose name is Ahmad’” (61:6, The Study Quran). In this verse we have a vision of Jesus that affirms both Judaism and Islam; this is the vision of Jesus I believe that Christians are being called by God to adopt in the 21st century.
Imagine a Christianity that could embrace the full Jewish-Christian-Muslim canon of sacred literature and engage in a free-flowing theological and ethical dialogue with Jewish and Muslim neighbours. Imagine a Christianity open to the transformation and healing this dialogue would bring to the whole Abrahamic family of faith. Yes, Christianity has made major mistakes in regards to both Judaism and Islam; our tradition is replete with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But it is within our power to learn from our history and course-correct going forward.
Our tradition’s first assessment of Muhammad has been a disaster and has fuelled centuries of conflict between Christians and Muslims. But it is not too late to recognise Muhammad as the one Jesus promises he will send to us: “the spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (John 15:26b, NRSV). “You also are to testify,” Jesus says, “because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27, NRSV). As faithful followers of Jesus, it is time for us to testify about the integrity of Muhammad and Islam, to testify that Jews and Muslims are our closest siblings in faith. This testimony can help set a new course for a century and a millennium of peace between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Mevorach is a Theologian, minister, ethicist, and activist; co-founder of Common Street Spiritual Centre