My Muslim Problem

I reminded him of my family’s background, and told him I found the joke theologically tasteless and unfunny. My friend said he understood, but “we’re at war,” and as a Christian I should be more concerned with being on “God’s winning side.”

This is a problem.

In seminary, after I gave a talk in chapel about this, another pastor came up to me and said, “I’ve always hated Muslims. I’ve never led my congregation to pray for them as humans.” So goes the trend in some churches and politics of creating Muslims as the other: A less than human without a face or a story … or only a story veiled in hate and violence.

But a trip through my family’s reunions, Skype calls and Facebook feeds tells more common Muslim stories: my retired uncle who lives with his kids and grandkids near the beach; my cousin who just graduated college and started her first job; her mom who also went back to school and finished her degree; one has a new girlfriend; another can’t stop posting about his favorite football team tanking their season; many came together this fall from around the world to celebrate a wedding … some had not seen each other in years, while others met for the first time.

They are Muslims who are falling in love and having a first kiss; trying to get an education and looking for jobs; wanting to have families and buying homes; celebrating the birth of a child and suffering the loss of loved one; playing video games and going on vacations …

In other words: common human stories.

***

Christmas reminds us God is redeeming all our little human stories into his great divine story through Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the Gospel. The nature of Jesus’ incarnation—God becoming human to be in relationship with each of us—puts us face to face with real people with real stories. When we choose to distort, ignore or not enter into another’s story, we deny the incarnation and change what is happening.

I get the fear of terrorism. Part of my family’s story includes those living as refugees in foreign countries, mourning the memory of a loved one shot to death because of religious and ethnic extremism.

And I have fears, too. I fear what the rhetoric of “track and ban” could lead to, because history’s darkest ethnic atrocities started with this kind of talk. And I’m afraid, because of our current climate, that someone will hurt my wife or my girls because our name sounds like those terrorist names.

Yes, there are Muslims who commit horrible acts of violence. But violence is not unique to Islam. It is common to all humanity. In our fallen depravity, all of us are radicalized by sin.

This is not a Muslim problem.

This is a human problem.

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Omar Rikabi is a United Methodist Pastor serving in North Texas, and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. When not telling stories, Omar likes to watch movies with his wife Jennifer, read books with his three daughters, and work in the kitchen cooking and grilling for family and friends. You can follow him on Twitter @omarrikabi.