Six years ago I stood inside a church in a Muslim nation and shouted at the top of my lungs, “Allahu Akbar!” I said it because I wanted to be relevant to my raised-in-a-muslim-culture audience, so I used this specific Arabic term which I had heard on TV.
And it was one of the dumbest thing I have ever done.
My honest desire was connection. I had already been using, “As-salamu Alaykum” a well-known Arabic greeting which translates to, “peace be upon you” but mostly used as “hello”.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the fact that I said that one… so I decided I try some more.
And I was dressed to impress:
(I’m the Moroccan looking dude in-between the majestic African men.)
During my greeting in the first opportunity I had to preach, I said into the microphone, “As-salamu Alaykum” and with smiles on their faces everyone in attendance replied, “Wa alaykumu s-salam.”
Then, I confidently said my second rehearsed term, “Allahu Akbar” which to me was, “God is Great” (because that’s the yellow subtitle translation I had seen in Hollywood movies).
But what they heard me saying was, “It’s time for all of you to die!”
You see, “Allahu Akbar” is an Islamic Arabic expression widely used by Muslims. It is commonly translated as “God is greater” in English.
Not everywhere in the Muslim world, but specifically in West Africa, this phrase is often associated with Islamic extremism; mostly because of its widespread usage by jihadists as a battle cry before committing an act of terrorism.
On my introduction in front of 100+ leaders (many who have been persecuted for preaching the Gospel of Jesus), I gave a specific invitation to the killing of “infidels”, A.K.A. everyone sitting in front of me.
My translator was paralyzed. The pastors in the front row lost their ability to blink. I assumed they had not heard me properly so I did what any good preacher would do in this scenario… I said it louder, again, “Allaaahuuuu Akbarrrrr!!!”
No one responded.
No one moved.
And thankfully, no one died.
I decided that their arabic was not on par with mine, so I moved on with the Bible reading. When I later found out how incredibly naive that moment was, I decided to quit preaching forever!
But the leaders there loved me through it and kept giving me opportunities to share some more (I just found a more appropriate introduction and stopped trusting Hollywood with my translations).
Today, these people are partners. My African family. The mission I hold dearest to my heart.
Because of their grace (and because of the magnitude of my ignorance) this story used to be funny.
But a few month ago people actually shouting “Allahu Akbar!” burned down that specific church building and tried to kill my friends.
This place of worship where I have preached God’s love is now in ruins.
Homes where I ate and rested are no more.
Because of the hatred between Christians and Muslims in that area, my friends are running for their lives.
But this is the world we live in, and in it, Jesus is the only hope.
Note that I say Jesus, as in the-savior-teacher-born-in-Bethlehem Jesus. Not the western make-me-rich-and-safe-and-successful-Jesus.
I speak about the Son of God.
The Prince of Peace.
Word in the Flesh.
The one who died for Osama and Obama and Osteen and Oprah and all the men who burned that church.
Yes, that Jesus said to turn the other cheek. That Jesus said that the peacemakers would be the sons of God. That Jesus said to love enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
THAT Jesus is the only hope.
The easiest thing for me is to hate the radical jihadists who did this. To hate Boko Haram and ISIS and the Taliban. Yet I would be wise to learn from Jesus. To review the way he addressed his surroundings and how he approached the issues of his lifetime.
I am no expert in politics or world issues, I just want to remind myself as a Christian, of the things Christ did… of the words Christ said… of the love Christ is.
Jesus calls us to love our Muslim neighbors and even our Muslim enemies. Love is Christlike. Islamophobia is antiChrist.
You see, Jesus never addressed radical religions, he invited us to radical grace. He never judge the religion of the Samaritan people, he actually went out of his way to approach them, and teach them, and love them.
Now, we honestly have to ask ourselves, if we have Islamophobia in the west, wouldn’t people in the Middle East have Christianophobia?
In the name of God, Christians have led crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, imperialistic conquests, slavery, recent wars and holocausts. And we have used Bible verses to justify it. We listened to Christian leaders who told us it was the godly thing to do. We accepted the hate, and wasted resources on spreading that twisted version of the Good News.
So I’m praying for our generation.
For us to have a different response.
To try a different method (which is really the original method).
Right now, it feels like the system is asking for a new religious war.
The grumblings are in the air.
Yet the only thing we followers of Christ should be fighting is the temptation of the “us vs. them” – “Christian vs Muslim” – “Allahu Akbar vs God is Great.”
I’m not saying Islam is correct, I’m just saying that I want to focus on the ways my Christianity is incorrect.
How do followers of Jesus respond to the escalation of hatred and violence? What are we to do if Muslims begin to be targeted and registered?
We show love and we teach peace. We stand up for religious liberty.
And then we actually serve and engage our Muslim friends and enemies.
As theologian Bob Ekblad wrote, “When James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes them, saying: “You do not know of what spirit you are of. For the son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Luke 9:55–56). Those following Jesus need empowerment by the Holy Spirit to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, and to actively pursue understanding and reconciliation. This includes first taking the log out of our own eyes through confessing our sin and renouncing our violence and hate. We must refuse our natural proclivity to judge the other, and to seek instead understanding with anyone we label an ‘offender.'”
I have met many Muslims and almost every one of them has open up their hearts towards me in relationship and hospitality.
Sure, we think differently about salvation and the world.
And I’m persuaded to show them the ways of Christ.
But I do it convinced that God loves them as much as He loves me.
Jesus does not prefer Christians to Muslims.
Jesus does not love believers more than he loves non-believers.
So as a Christian pastor I renounce Islamophobia and choose again the ways of the Christ.
Dear church, what’s your choice?
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 1 John 14:4
+ If you want more understanding on this subject, you’ve got to read: Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships by Carl Medearis.
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