Mustafa Akyol wrote an interesting editorial in the NY Times by a Muslim about Jesus, Muslims, and the possible way to peace. (Click here to read Akyol’s editorial.) It is titled “What Jesus Can Teach Today’s Muslims.” He explores the teaching of Jesus, viewed as a prophet in Islam, as an answer to some of the key challenges and crises faced by the global Muslim community. Jesus is often spoken of as a prophet, but most of his teaching isn’t given much attention in Muslim communities. Akyol gives a tantalyzing introduction to how those teachings might speak to the issues of legalism and intolerance that have, in his mind, subverted the best of Islam.
I’d like to take Akyol’s discussion in a slightly different but complimentary direction. Can what we hold in common about Jesus as Christians and Muslims be something that can spark peace between the two largest global religious communities? Or must our differences lead to more violent clashes as we see in so many parts of the world today? I’ve seen some positive actions in different places and cultures bringing Christians and Muslims together around some of the teachings of Jesus. This engagement around what we hold in common in Jesus has allowed us to disagree and compete for hearts and minds in peaceful and respectful ways, while also joining forces for common concerns for building justice and forging peace. Such cooperation and collaboration is not the dominate narrative today about how Christians and Muslims relate, but with commitment and integrity on both sides it is possible.
I’ve seen it in my own community where I’ve paired with Imam Steve Mustafa Elturk to do Islamic-based conflict transformation training. Imam Elturk and I are officers for the InterFaith Leadership Council in Metro Detroit. He has followed my conflict transformation training around the world and wanted to develop an Islamic version of what I was doing in the Christian community. As we dealt with the issue of nonviolence I told him about how I taught transforming initiatives through the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. Imam Elturk loved it and invited me to incorporate that teaching into what we did in the mosque. So the teaching of Jesus as a prophet became some of our content in the Islamic conflict transformation course.
In a country with a lot of sectarian conflict including between Christians and Muslims I was involved in an amazing gathering of political and militia leaders drawn together by a team of activist Muslim and Christian leaders concerned for peace. The Muslim leader introduced the time we had together by saying, “You Christians call Jesus your Savior and Lord. We Muslims honor Jesus as a prophet. So the teaching of Jesus is what we have in common.” He then invited me to lead a study on the teaching of Jesus about how their country could have a more peaceful future.
Dave Andrews from Australia has explored this topic in his book “The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice.” Andrews explores the common connections to Jesus between Christians and Muslims and how the teachings of Jesus especially related to nonviolence could be the common ground for transformative action together. Andrews has practiced what he writes about in the contexts of the conflicts in Australia and the larger Asia and Pacific region.
We haven’t arrived at an answer yet, but hopefully this blog, Akyol’s editorial, Andrews’ book, Imam Elturk and my training, and the efforts of many people in many different settings will be starting points for ever deeper conversations and shared efforts to find the ways to peace.