It’s kind of like a spiritual chaos theory. You burn a Koran in Florida and a violent storm erupts in Afghanistan, Pakistan or other Muslim lands. Or you publish a cartoon in Denmark, make a film in Holland or deliver a speech in Regensburg…
Last week’s burning of the Koran in America was not the first, nor probably the last, of such occasions, when something westerners deem to be trivial provokes an apparently disproportionate reaction from the Muslim world.
For many westerners, such reactions only confirm their image of Islam as violent, irrational and intolerant. Obviously for many Muslims, the actions of the obscure Pastor Jones of a small independent fellowship represent the attitude of the whole ‘Christian’ West.
In our day of globalised media, trivilialities are quickly blown out of proportion and in themselves create drastic consequences. The latest incident led to an attack on a United Nations compound in Afghanistan, when eight UN workers and four Afghans helpers were killed, two by beheading. Riots elsewhere led to more deaths as protestors, some carrying signs reading ‘Death to Obama’, were shot by Afghan police trying to quench the uproar.
The immediate ‘cause’ was a six-hour trial in which a Christian convert from Islam served as a prosecuting attorney and a Dallas imam as a defense lawyer, with twelve church members and volunteers making up the jury. The Koran was burned after being found guilty of being a dangerous and false book. Death threats to Pastor Jones have poured in and a bounty of $2.4 million has been placed on his head.
Whether this ritual burning was itself the ‘cause’ or merely the occasion of such violent outburst may be debatable. But when you have been warned that certain actions will have certain consequences, you have to bear at least partial responsibility.
Recently while speaking at a conference in New Zealand, I shared a cabin with the other ‘international guest’, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Chief Executive Officer of the World Evangelical Alliance. Dr Tunnicliffe told me how the White House had asked him to do all he could to dissuade Pastor Jones from his plans to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11. On that occasion, his and others’ efforts had won the peace.
On Friday, Dr Tunnicliffe released a statement condemning “the senseless killings of United Nations workers in Afghanistan by those who were protesting the burning of the Qur’an by Terry Jones. No matter how much we disagree and find abhorrent the actions of Jones, responding in violence can never be justified.”
The statement underscored that Jones did not represent the teaching of Christianity and the Christian Church, and called on all Christians to refrain from disrespectful and provocative activities towards all other religions. It also urged Muslim leaders “to clearly explain to their followers that the actions of this tiny extremist group who have burnt the Qur’an are absolutely condemned by Christians globally – this action does not represent the true Christian faith or the world’s two billion Christians.”
We can be tempted as western Christians to be distracted by such violent polarisation from seeing the unprecedented opportunities for engagement with the Muslim world today.
At the HOPE•II congress next month in Budapest, Shirinai Dossova, herself from a Muslim background, will tell about the openness of Muslims she meets to hearing more about Isa, or Jesus. mentioned numerous times in the Koran. Dr Darrell Jackson of the Nova Research Centre will help us sort fact from fantasy regarding Islam in Europe.
Victor Hashweh from Lebanon will explain why he believes we are living in the most fruitful phase of engagement with the Muslim world ever. In the last 20 years, more Arab Muslims have become followers of Isa than throughout the previous 1400 years. More Muslims have seen visions and dreams of Isa than ever before in both the Arab world and Europe. More Muslims have been accessing the Bible and Christian websites than ever before. More Muslim writers have been vocal about their criticism of Islam than ever before. More Muslims have been asking serious questions about the eternal perspective of life than ever before.
This is a time for followers of Jesus to grow in understanding of Muslims, says Victor, to help them adapt to their new environment, and to open our homes and show acceptance rather than rejection.
If you are concerned about Europe’s future and how to respond to today’s challenges, you can still join us in Budapest at HOPE•II, 9-13 May. Check out www.hfe.org
Till next week,
©Jeff Fountain – Weekly Words are the personal reflections of Jeff Fountain and do not necessarily express the official position of YWAM or Hope for Europe. They may be reproduced with due acknowledgment. Past WW’s may be viewed and downloaded at: www.ywam.eu/weeklyword To subscribe or unsubscribe go to www.schumancentre.eu/subscribe