Dealing with Islamophobia
By Rev. Deborah Countiss Lindsay
Sermon preached at First
Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, August 29, 2010
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In many quarters there is a desperate need in America today, in America this week, for a healthy dose of religious humility. There are too many people getting too much face time on television who claim exalted status for Christianity, and who are demeaning other faith traditions, particularly that of Islam, and, my friends, this has got to stop.
The trigger for this latest wave of intolerance is media coverage – many of you have seen it – about a plan to build a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero. The center will have a mosque, an auditorium, and a pool. It is modeled after YMCAs and Jewish community centers all across the country. For all I know, it’s got locker rooms and child care.
Now, to be very clear here, reasonable, faithful, caring people, can disagree about how they feel about this facility being built so close to Ground Zero. But that does not justify the wave of fear and suspicion that has washed over this country over the last ten days. The media are now calling this “a wave of Islamophobia” that is sweeping across America.
I saw a story this week on CNN about a minister in Gainesville, Florida, who has declared September 11th of this year “Burn the Quran Day.” [stunned silence] Thank you for your reaction; that was mine. This guy is a minister of a non-denomin[ation]al church called “The Dove World Outreach Center.” [smile] He said all kinds of disparaging, insulting, inaccurate things about Islam that I’m not going to repeat from this pulpit. His message is about hate, and fear, and I can assure you, there is nothing in the gospels, there is nothing in the teaching of Jesus Christ that says anything about burning the holy texts of other traditions. It is not there! The proposed burning of the Quran is obscene! It is not the work of peace; it is not the work of understanding; it is not the work of building bridges; it is insanity. Now, the good news is, there are a lot of groups, a lot of churches, even the National Association of Evangelicals, who are condemning this action and urging the church to cancel their event.
A conversation about God demands grace, and openness, a willingness to learn, to have our own ideas challenged, our convictions questioned. These are the hallmarks of humility. When I was in seminary I read from someone whose name is lost to me now, “when you speak of God your voice should shake a little.” You know Jesus had no time for religious know-it-alls. He saved some of his harshest criticism for church leaders, for the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were so certain about who was out and who was in, who was holy and unholy, clean and unclean. Jesus was forever taking all this religious certainty and turning it on its head. And we can only imagine what Jesus would have said about Pastor Terry Jones and his burn-the-Quran campaign. I think he would say, “This has got to stop!”
Followers of Islam believe that the Quran is a collection of revelations received by the prophet Mohammad, from God, about fourteen hundred years ago. They believe that Mohammad was the last of a series of prophets, and teachers, and messengers, that included Adam, Moses, Jesus, Abraham, all names revered by us, as well. The word “Islam” means “peaceful surrender” to the will of God. The Quran was written at a time when the Muslim people were being driven from their homes, persecuted, and killed. The Old Testament was written at a time when Jewish people were being driven from their homes, persecuted, and killed. And religious scholars will tell you that most holy scriptures have stories of war and violence in them. Throughout history, most faiths have used these texts to justify violence. And if there’s anyone in this room at this moment who’s thinking that I’ve got it wrong, after church today pull out your Bible at look up Psalm one thirty-seven, and you’ll see that our own text has passages that can make us uncomfortable.
But also, like the Bible, the predominant message of the Quran is of peace and care, and loving God, justice, care for the neighbor, care for the stranger. In the Bible we have “thou shall not kill.” In the Quran we have “whoever kills another surely he is killing all of humanity, and whoever saves the life of another surely he saves the lives of all humanity.” These are words of peace, words of faith, words that could save the world if we would take them to heart.
The second thing you could do, the next time someone sends you one of those emails demonizing Islam, delete it! Don’t forward it! Don’t participate in the stereotyping; don’t give in to your fear. It’s okay to be a little afraid; we all have those emotions. Just don’t give in to it. Don’t sign on for it. Don’t focus on this tiny group of extremists who commit acts of violence; focus on the hundreds of millions of Muslim people in the world who are people of faith, whose priorities and concerns and families are not so different from your own.
And third, when you think of Muslim people, think of individuals. Think of the professor at Ohio State, think of the engineer at Honda, think of the teacher at the elementary school down the street. When you think of Muslim people, remember those who died on 9/11 – not the hijackers, there was only a handful of them – remember Mohammed Salman Hamdani. He was born in Pakistan, he came to the United States as a small child with his parents, he played high school football, he went to college, he became a part-time ambulance driver. He died, this Muslim young man, on nine eleven, trying to rescue people and save lives. When you think of Muslim people, remember Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury. He was a waiter at Windows on the World which was at the top of the World Trade Center. He died that day; his wife had their baby two days later. When you think of Muslim people, remember Rahma Salie. She was a woman twenty-eight years old; her neighbors described her as fun and outgoing and generous, and she died on American Airlines flight eleven, seven months pregnant with her first child. Remember the founder of the Islamic Circle of North America who worked in the World Trade Center and also died on September eleventh. That same group now is giving away tens of thousands of copies of the Quran in response to the campaign about burning the Quran. In the language of their own tradition they are spreading words of faith, and peace, and hope. One of the ladies at the eight thirty service this morning said to me after, “maybe we should declare September eleventh ‘Buy a Quran and Read Some of It’ [Day].”
It is for us to share our message of love, and hope, and peace, but let us do it with grace, and respect, and above all, humility. God grant us, as individuals, as a nation, as Christians, the humility for this war.
about victims of 911, go to