Today I attended an event that I am sure I will be pondering for a long time to come. My new church, First Baptist Church - Memphis, hosted a screening of the documentary Different Books, Common Word followed by a panel discussion between our pastor and a Baptist laywoman who has lived 14 years in the Middle East and two local Imams. It was powerful. 250 Muslims and Christians gathered together in one room to explore our common beliefs and to try and begin to understand our differences. So many things about this event blew my paradigm to pieces.
I find myself pondering how much of my own ignorance about Islam is a result of an American patriotism that makes exploring/studying their holy scriptures somehow seem disloyal. After all I have read, without fear, The Book of Mormon, the Jewish scriptures in my own Bible (and some of the Talmud), the writings of Confucius, even bits of The Satanic Bible (authored by Anton LaVey) so what has kept me from exploring the Qur'an for myself if not a misplaced sense of American patriotism?
For most of my adulthood "the enemy" has been defined for me as "Islamic Terrorists" just as for most of my childhood "the enemy" was defined as "the Communists" and just as I did not explore the writings of Marx and Lenin until I was an adult and they were no longer the "script" for the things I had been taught to fear so I have not explored the Qur'an to see for myself what it says. I know a lot of things I have been told are in the Qur'an. I know a lot of things I have been lead to believe about Islam and the supposed desire of all devoted Muslims to see me convert or die. I don't know, for myself, whether any of what I have been told or taught is true.
One of the statements today that struck me and prompted this line of thinking was when one of the Imams in the video remarked something to the effect of he would not disrespect Christianity by attempting to speak to what the Bible says because it is not his holy book yet Christians feel free to speak what they believe the Qur'an to say even though it is not our holy book. I'm probably butchering the quote but the concept was that we feel very free to make claims about what Islam believes and teaches when we are not students of Islam and do not study the Qur'an...a book that even Muslims often have a tough time understanding.
Another comment that was made was about the rush to judgment that occurs when a terrorist attack happens. The example used was the Oklahoma City bombings where within moments of the attack a so called expert on terrorism made the claim on national television that it had all the hallmarks of "Islamic Terrorism"...and where the perpetrator was ultimately found to be a White American veteran who had received the Bronze Star during the first gulf war. A man who, prior to the bombings, would have been rightly regarded as "an American Hero".
I am sure that there will be more I will be processing here as I view the DVD again (I purchased it and would love to screen it with my churchkids over the Christmas break) for now though I am on a mission to read the Qur'an for myself and to find out what it really says and where our Different Books offer that Common Word.