The Common Good

An Apology to My Muslim Friends

On the weekend of Oct. 6, 2001 -- less than one month after 9/11 -- my husband preached a sermon called "Religion Gone Awry." That was not the message he had originally scheduled for that weekend. But the rising level of hostility -- and hate crimes -- directed at Muslims compelled him to speak out.

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"I've been aghast at what some pastors and Christian leaders have been saying," Bill stated in the introduction to his sermon. "I've been embarrassed. Christians are saying words that are widening the gap."

He talked about "hot reactors," people who "opinionate before they reflect, before they bow down and pray; who ventilate before they ask God for sober-mindedness and self-control; who indict whole races of people before they know the facts. Let's call this what it is: not good. Not good behavior. Not good Christianity. This is Christianity gone awry."

He then challenged Christians to focus on James 1:19: "My brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." In Bill's well-known "soft" style he continued, "Some of us have to just shut up, because saying anything would likely mean saying an inappropriate thing. If we're hot reactors, we better be quiet or we're going to sin with our mouths."

In response to the many emails he'd received from fired-up Christians claiming that Islam encourages violence and that the Qur'an advocates terrorism, he suggested that we engage in fair play. "There are passages in the Old Testament where God tells the children of Israel to wipe out an entire nation -- men, women, and children. We would be offended if people interpreted Christianity based on those passages. So we shouldn't do that to Muslims, either."

Bill then invited a friend, local Muslim Imam Faisal Hammouda to join him on stage to be interviewed. Bill explained that while there are many differences between Christianity and Islam -- and he and Faisal had discussed those at length -- the interview would focus strictly on Faisal's response to 9/11.

During the next 30 minutes, Faisal stated unequivocally that while Osama bin Laden may claim to be a Muslim, he is clearly not a true Muslim. "In Islam it says, whoever kills one life is as if he has killed all humanity, and whoever gives life to one soul is as if he has given life to all humanity." Faisal said that terrorism -- the killing of innocents -- has no place in the just war theories of Islam. To the extent that 9/11 was connected with Islam it was clearly "Islam gone awry."

It is a moving interview. Faisal 's wife had hoped to join him for the interview but she had been visiting her daughter in Florida during the attacks on the Trade Center; being an Arab woman wearing a headscarf, it was not safe for her to try to fly home. After the Saturday evening sermon, one of our church members who worked for Southwest Airlines offered to arrange to fly Faisal to Florida so he could bring his wife home. Another man said, "I don't have access to planes, but I have a car. I would love to drive you to Florida to pick up your wife." Faisal mentioned these offers on Sunday morning and said, with a slight quiver in his voice, "God bless them both."

I'm describing this church service from nearly a decade ago because of a video I watched this week in which protesters in Orange County, California, shout insults and accusations against a group of Muslim men, women and children who are attending a fund-raiser for a women's shelter. It is a shocking, horrifying video.

I don't know if the protesters claim to be Christians, but they do claim to be Americans. I need to state unequivocally that they do not represent me or my understanding of what it means to be an American. I am saddened and embarrassed by their words and their actions.

I offer this public apology to my friends and acquaintances who are sincere, peace-loving, American Muslims. I am so sorry. You do not deserve this.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, is author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World and a columnist for Sojourners magazine.

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