What Can American Muslims Do About Allegations of Christophobia?
by Kemal Argon (Specialist on Islam in the Modern World)
Many Americans have about had it with bad news informing of or alleging Muslim involvement in terrorism and nobody in the mainstream wants to hear any more of this. Not helping Americans' to achieve a positive perspective on Muslims is even more bad news emerging from time to time alleging incidents of "Christophobia" in the Muslim world. Indeed, as much as nobody in the mainstream wants to hear or read any more of this bad news, neither do American Muslims.
We could consider an example of one of these news items that would tend to suggest that Islam is necessarily "Christophobic." The article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World," in "Newsweek," on February 6, 2012 assures us that, "In recent years the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations."
At first sight, this depiction of Muslims appears terrible but this is not the larger historical reality. While there may indeed be incidents of oppression against Christians in the Muslim world, any stereotype of any majority of Muslims being necessarily anti-Christian is simply not representative of either the historical or contemporary larger truth of the religion or of Christian-Muslim relations. American Muslims will need to be savvy about the larger historical and contemporary reality of Christian-Muslim relations to respond to such allegations. American Muslims will also need to understand the unique political context of any situation of conflict between communities to get at the real reasons behind any incidents of intolerance or oppression. Most importantly, while relations between Christians and Muslims are usually good, if they ever are not in any situation, we can be determined to continue to pursue better interfaith relations in the USA.
Those of us who are interested in peace-making between Christians and Muslims can also go to the religion itself to find solutions to problems in a number of areas. Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri's 2010 "Fatwa on Terrorism" is available free as a download and is rich in Islamic source material and references for peace-building. Another avenue for authoritative source material is the Common Word project. With whatever good authoritative source material that we use, we can and should deny any intentional or inadvertent stereotype of Muslims being necessarily Christophobic. We can also promote the dis-embedding of stereotypes of Muslims and of Christians with interfaith dialogue and encounter. Within such dialogue, we can draw upon what different modern Islamic scholars (who are respected as authorities within Islam) have argued for with respect to better outcomes than what people bringing bad news have been describing. More of the history of this is described by Ataullah Siddiqui, Christian-Muslim Dialogue in the Twentieth Century, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).
In addition to authoritative Islamic scholarship on peace-making, there is a reality that American Muslims know. Those Muslims amongst others who have attained higher spiritual stations are evident as the best examples and they are very nice people. Muslims who take part in a mosque community and know these better cultured and tolerant people will agree: there is a higher level of religious human being who treats others in a better way. These better examples of Muslims are the ones who should represent the American Muslim community in efforts at interfaith peace-making. The best examples should be representing the community.
Lastly, when considering interfaith peace-making, we might wonder if dialogue across Muslim and non-Muslim communities would be without inspiration from the best available authoritative contemporary Islamic scholarship and without demonstrating a higher spiritual attainment or aspiration for such spiritual attainment on our part, would such really be worthy of our valuable time?