The release of the controversial film Innocence of Muslims, which claims to depict the life of Muhammad, caused and outrage in the Muslim world, where thousands of angry men and women demonstrated and attacked US embassies.
Judging by the the thirteen minutes trailer on youtube, the film, which was apparently produced by an Israeli filmmaker, is very discreditable and disgraceful. (It is shocking to me that it actually cost 5 million dollars, as it looks like a cheap low budget movie!) I worry that, to a certain degree, the film reveals how so many people in the West view Islam and the prophet Muhammad. It is a very condescending, arrogant, and unintelligent view that demonizes Islam and Muslims, and simply puts them all under one category as uncivilized and inhuman. Islam and Muslims, according to this view, are labeled as violent and sex driven creatures. No wonder that the West, and many Christians, still find it hard to understand and relate to Islam, let alone to build bridges with the Muslim world.
Dare I remind the Christian world that one day we were the ones with a record of violence and intolerance. We can simply point to the Crusades or the Inquisition. Didn't the Pope promise that whoever participates in the Crusades will be pardoned from his sins? What if others today judge our Christian faith by these actions? Or what if they judge us based on passages in the Old Testament where God calls for his people to kill the children and women in Canaan (Joshua 6)? I am not trying here to defend Islam, or to justify terrorism or violence. But instead of calling Islam a religion of violence, we must respect and encourage the attempts of many moderate Muslims who condemn violence and terrorism and try to portray a moderate view of Islam. In the words of Colin Chapman:
In this kind of situation Christians should be willing to support those Muslims who challenge the harsher Islamist interpretations of the Qur'an. Instead of suggesting that 'the Qur'an is essentially violent', Christians should listen to the internal debate between moderate and extremist Muslims and add whatever weight they can to support Muslims who challenge the more violent interpretations of the Qur'an, and who do so from within Islam
The film also reveals the sad fact how few moderate can cause a lot noise and cause very unfortunate and tragic consequences. The makers of this film are just one example, and we can also think of the Quran burning pastor. Similarly, the same applies to the shameful reactions by those opposing the film in the Muslim world and the tragic death of the American ambassador in Libya. The attackers ironically feed the image the movie is trying to portray about Muslims. It was encouraging to see many in the Muslim world condemn the killing of the ambassador, and this went beyond the typical statements from the political leaders, as this time people went to the street to protest the violence. Though one might argue that radical Islam is rising in numbers and influence, and this is indeed a worrying sign, we must not lose hope in our efforts of building bridges. Muslims are not all Bin Ladens.
Bottom line. We must as Christians continue to build bridges with the Muslim world. Our call is to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). We must break the common stereotype. The challenge ahead of us is to build relationships of mutual respect, without compromising the uniqueness of our faith and testimony, and without surrendering our values. We must treat others different than us with respect and dignity, embodying the Christ we preach in our values, respect and love.
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