In the light of recent terrorist activity, how are you feeling about your Muslim neighbors and coworkers? If you have Muslim friends, I hope you feel secure with them, but what about the strangers? What if you have a coworker with a last name very similar to that of the terrorist who just mass murdered a group at his Christmas party…would that make you anxious about attending your own Christmas party, or would your concern be to make that person feel welcome at a time when he may be feeling unwanted? What if a group of middle-eastern young men walked into your favorite Mediterranean restaurant while you were enjoying dinner there…would it make you uneasy, or would your heart be to smile and reach out to them with words of peace? Actually, these aren’t simply hypothetical cases; they’ve been my experience in the past few days.
How should we personally respond to Muslims? Should we eye them with suspicion and treat them like the Japanese were treated during World War 2? I sincerely hope not. Instead, let’s take Jesus’ shocking stance. We need to love our neighbors. Sound naive? Jesus told us: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Loving our neighbors doesn’t mean we ignore the possible threat of terrorism: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3). It does mean we don’t react out of fear; God still expects us to respond with compassion and goodness: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).
Last night our medical staff Christmas party was a warm and wonderful celebration with no terrorist attacks…not that I was expecting any. But, we do have some Muslims on our staff…even one whose last name is strikingly similar to that of the Muslim terrorist in San Bernadino. I am sorry to say this particular young man didn’t come to our party, but I sincerely hope it wasn’t because he was feeling unwanted. He’s an excellent doctor and highly regarded by his patients for his abilities and demeanor.Please don’t misunderstand how I feel about ISIS. I am painfully aware that radical jihadists don’t just number “a few thousands,” they number millions, and although only a small percentage of the population in Muslim nations are favorable toward ISIS, when you run the numbers, there are a staggering number of ISIS sympathizers. For instance, only 9% of Pakistan’s 199+ million people feel favorable toward ISIS (see chart below), but that equals 18,000,000 people, and keep in mind that before Hitler seized power in 1933, there were only 850,000 Nazis (less than one-twentieth of the number of radicals in Pakistan.) Even at the height of World War 2, only 10% of Germans were Nazis (about 8 million out of 80 million). Pakistan is 2.5 times as populous as Germany was, and that’s just one of many Muslim nations. There are easily enough Muslim terrorists to provoke a third world war that could destroy our entire planet. That’s why we live in countries and have governments, “for the common defense.”But, as Christians—on a personal level—we are called to love our neighbors and overcome evil with good. It’s the Christmas season, and I think the message that the angels brought when Christ was born is still the message we need to receive and live out: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).