Today is the Muslim holy day, the Day of Arafah. The day, the second day of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, is said to be the day “on which Allah perfected His religion, completed His favours upon His beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and approved Islam as a way of life.”
Pilgrims make their way to a hill called Mt Arafah, about twelves miles from Mecca. Muhammad is said to have given one of his last sermons there. They “stand before God,” praying and listening to sermons from noon to sundown. The next day is the first day of Eid al-Adha, a feast commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael (not Isaac).
May I make a suggestion to my fellow Christians? If you have devout Muslim neighbors or co-workers, please find an opportunity to chat with them about their lives, their children or grandchildren, their beliefs and values, their hopes and fears, their aspirations. And share yours.
Even better, invite them to your home for a meal. It is a neighborly thing to do and a way for us Christians to build bridges and bonds. (There are dietary restrictions, but they are simple and few. You can look them up on line.)
Here’s my guess. Despite the theological divide, which is obvious, you will find an enormous amount of common ground. Your hopes and fears and a great many of your beliefs and values are their hopes and fears and beliefs and values. What you want for your children — peace and safety, educational achievement, fulfilling vocations, moral rectitude, solid family lives, faith in God — they want for their children. Your concerns about the moral decay of the culture and the erosion of norms protecting marriage and family life are their concerns.
Only good can come from Muslims and Christians getting to know each other and becoming friends. And nothing good can come from our alienation from one another or from the mutual suspicion that both feeds and is fed by alienation. It is true that we Christians do not have the depth of theological commonality that we have with our Jewish “elder brothers in faith” (to quote St John Paul II), from whom we received God’s revelation in the Hebrew scriptures. But Christianity has that relationship with no other faith. It is unique.
That does not mean, however, that we cannot have a relationship of mutual respect, trust, and cooperation with members of other faiths — especially Islam as an Abrahamic faith that embraces what sociologists call “ethical monotheism.” We can and we must. We should build bridges and bonds with our Muslim friends because it is in everyone’s interest that we do so — and, above all, because it is right.