“Do you think Muslims and Christians will ever get along?” a senior officer asked during our informal chapel service.
Her question was asked in the shadow of our flag flying half-staff for those killed in the Fort Hood massacre in Texas. The alleged shooter is a Muslim Army officer.
To answer, there are a few things to understand cogitatively and spiritually.
Non-Western Muslims understand the concept of religion differently. Having lived for two years in Turkey, I experienced the Muslim faith to be more about culture than religion. For many Muslims outside Western culture, Islam is equivalent to citizenry and is included on birth certificates. This is different from Western culture where most Christians declare their faith out of personal conviction.
It would be easy to blame the massacre at Fort Hood on a religion, but many times acts of this magnitude are acts of mental illness. While we don’t yet know the facts in this case, I do believe religion doesn’t cause mental illness; however, it can be a vehicle for the illness.
There are many other vehicles used by the mentally ill such as politics, ethnicity or territory. But in cases such as these, the illness can metastasize to one’s extreme view of religion.
Finally, when acts such as these are linked to religion, I find it helpful to remember this analogy. Extreme fundamentalism in the Muslim faith is much the same as the extremist view of Christian members in the Ku Klux Klan. Both are abominable mutations of faith. The alleged shooter no more represented good Muslims than my white-sheeted ancestors represented good Christians.
Spiritually, I’ve had the privilege to witness the faith of a number of Muslim service members. I recall the unwavering faith of two Army specialists I worked with in Iraq earlier this year.
The first assisted me in the emergency room when we received four patients: three American soldiers and one Muslim translator. They all were dead.
During the aftermath, I, along with a rabbi, a priest and this newly naturalized Muslim American, walked among the trauma staff to lay hands on the heaving shoulders of service members who found this incident too horrendous for words.
The other Muslim soldier, also newly naturalized, helped me work with an Iraqi boy who was burned over most of his body from playing with matches and fuel.
This Muslim American stood with me as I beamed a smile toward the boy’s perfect and untouched face. Without much ability to talk to the family, I knew of only one way to offer respect. While our soldier read from the Quran, I paused respectfully and then passed the Quran to the father. He placed his hand on his heart and gratefully received the book by kissing it and positioning it on his son’s pillow.
You’ll never read headlines about these soldiers who demonstrated strong and exemplary faith, so you’ll have to trust me. There are plenty of Muslims in the military who contribute to the good in this world.
Will the Muslims and Christians ever get along?
Sacred text certainly encourages it.
The Quran declares: “Find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ ” the prophet declared, “because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.” (Surah 5:82)
Joining the cry for tolerance is the Judeo-Christian prophet Isaiah who predicts we will one day get along.
“The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid . . . the cow and bear will graze the same pasture. . . . Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.”
That’s the world I want to live in. Pretty idealistic, I know. But that’s what they said to the kids chipping away at the Berlin wall. And 20 years later, we are celebrating its fall.