Six years ago I stood inside a church in a Muslim nation of West Africa 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 seen and heard on TV. My desire was to connect with them with something they understood. I had already been using another term, “As-salamu Alaykum” a well-known Arabic greeting which translates to, “peace be upon you” (mostly used as “hello“). Everyone seemed to enjoy the fact that I said it (and it was obvious that I could not say it properly) but I thought I try some more.
And I was dressed to impress:
(I’m the Moroccan looking dude in-between the majestic African men)
During the greeting in my first opportunity preaching to a conference full of christian heroes and leaders, I said on the microphone, “As-salamu Alaykum” and with smiles on their faces they all 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 the phrase is often associated with Islamic extremism, largely due to its widespread usage by militant jihadists as a battle cry shortly before or while committing an act of terrorism.
So yeah. On my introduction in front of 100+ leaders (many who have been persecuted for preaching the Gospel), I gave a specific invitation to the killing of “infidels”, a.k.a. everyone sitting in front of me.
My translator stood motionless and said nothing. 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, “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 incredible stupid and naive (and dumb and ridiculous) that moment was, I decided to quit preaching forever! But the leaders there loved me through it all and kept giving me opportunities to share some more (I just found a more appropriate introduction and stopped trusting Hollywood with my translations).
These people became my 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 were I have preached God’s love is now in ruins. Homes were I ate and rested are no more. Because an atheist cartoonist in France drew a picture of the prophet Mohammed, my Christian friends in West Africa are now running for their lives.
Crazy right? But this is the world we live in, and in it, Jesus is the only hope.
And I say Jesus, as in the teacher, saviour, born in Bethlehem Jesus. Not the western make-me-rich-and-safe-and-successful-Jesus … but the actual Messiah in Scripture. The Prince of Peace of the New Testament. The one who died for Osama and Obama and Osteen and Oprah and all the men who burned the church (and for every single one of us).
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. That Jesus is the only hope.
The easiest thing for me right now is to hate the radical muslims who did this. But I would be wise to learn from Jesus. To review the way he addressed his surroundings. 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 he said… of the love he is.
Jesus never criticised other religions, he only challenged the religious leaders of his own. Jesus never addressed radical religions, he only invited us to radical love. He commanded us to forgive, to serve, to pray, but unfortunately we have been involved in religious wars for nearly two thousand years. Christians have led crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, imperialistic conquests and holocausts. We have used bible verses to justify it. We have preached sermons to explain it. We have accepted the hate and wasted money and people on spreading that twisted version of the Good News.
But I am praying for our generation. For us to have a different response. To try a different method (which is really the original method and mandate). Because it feels like the world is asking for a new religious war. The grumblings are in the air. Yet the only thing we should be fighting is the temptation of the “us vs. them” – “Christian vs Muslim” – “Allahu Akbar vs God is Great.”
Christianity needs no defending. The love of Christ needs to be shared.
So how do followers of Jesus respond to this escalation of hatred and violence? By showing love and teaching peace.
As theologian Bob Ekblad wrote, When James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused them entry as they traveled toward Jerusalem, 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.” Honest communication can happen only when we build relationships.
Yes it would be incredible to fly to West Africa and rebuild every thing that has been destroyed. But you don’t have to wait to get there. Start with your neighbour next door. Whether he’s a muslim or an atheist or a buddhist or a different kind of christian, invite them over for a meal and share your home and food in love.
Don’t defend Christianity, share Christ.
I’ll finish with Matthew 26, They came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Good idea Jesus. Let’s put the sword back in its place, lets carry the cross instead.
ISIS wants us to hate all Muslims.
Jesus calls us to love our Muslim
neighbors & even our Muslim
Love is Christlike.
Islamophobia is antiChrist.
Recommend you reading: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. Gloriously challenging and inviting.
I Spoke Arabic Like A Muslim Jihadist (Now I’m learning to Speak Love Like Christ)