Muslim brother you are my neighbour by Lisa Hunt-Wotton and Phil Wilkerson.

How do you feel about the current thoughts and public opinion about Muslims in Australia?  Would you call a Muslim your brother, a Muslim your sister, neighbour?

The religious leaders asked Jesus, what must I do to inherit the Kingdom of God, Jesus answered.

“Love the Lord God with all that you are and love your neighbour as yourself”.

The religious leaders trying to trip Jesus by asking, well “Who is my neighbour”.  Jesus, as he does time and time again, responds with a story.  The story of the good Samaritan.  You can read it in Luke 10.  The hero in the story is a Samaritan.  Samaritans were despised, viewed as half breeds and usurpers of the line of Abraham.  Jews and Samaritans had hated each other fiercely  for generations.  Yet in the story it is the Samaritan that shows compassion, that shows love, that shows mercy.  He is put forth as the example of someone who understands who his neighbour is.   He recognises immediately that someone is in need and then moves to bring aid, shelter and safety.

Jesus was saying that it is not about your religiosity, it’s not about how long you’ve been a Christian, or what spiritual descendants you hail from.  It’s about love and compassion.  It’s about love in action.  It’s about putting the needs of the other above your own.  This rocked their religious viewpoint.

“Every viewpoint is a view from a point.  Unless we recognise and admit our own personal and cultural viewpoints, we will never know how to decentralize our own perspective, and we will live with a high degree of illusion and blindness, a blindness that brings much suffering into the world.”

R. Rohr Hope Against Darkness

Some Christians believe that God made them in their own image therefore God hates what they hate and loves what they love (Rohr). This gives licence to phobias which then lead to hate.  We live in an age of increasing anxiety and fear and I don’t believe that this is the way that Jesus wants us to live.   We must recognise our own bias our own fears and preoccupations so that we are able to recognise Jesus in very situation.  Jesus is the truth that sets us free from fear and free from anxiety.

We have a new and growing fear rising in our nation in regard to Muslims.  Yes a minority of Muslims are extreme in their ideology, but Jesus said that we should  ‘love our neighbour as ourself’.  More than that He asks us to ‘love our enemy’ (Mat 5).  So whether you see Muslims as your neighbour or your enemy, we are instructed to love.  Indeed it says in 1 John 4:18 that ‘love casts out fear’.  Where there is no fear there is no hatred, where there is no hatred there is no exclusion.

I’ve asked my friend Philip Wilkerson to give us his thoughts on these issues.  Phil works for TEAR Australia as the International Program Coordinator.  Phil paints a beautiful word picture about his recent trip to Uganda and then graciously answers some questions that I put to him.

“Today I walked hand in hand with a Muslim man.

In a remote area of eastern Uganda, TEAR is supporting a project that is bringing social cohesion to communities.  The project is focused on reproductive health, but also addresses problems of violence against women, HIV stigma and alcohol abuse.  Problems that tear at the fabric of a community.  People of different faith backgrounds, small farmers, community leaders and police, collaborate together in groups to build harmony in their communities.

A Muslim man told me how good it was to work together with Christians to help improve community life.  In the same group a Christian woman showed me the health and advocacy activities they had voluntarily agreed to do together in the next three months.  As I walked hand in hand with my Muslim brother, I kept thinking of my own country and how I would long to see more of the same collaboration and respect that he has found through this active group of volunteers.”

Tuesday Talk Time:

Lisa:  Phil what do you think is behind the general negativity toward Muslims in Australia .

Phil:  I’ll try to express my personal views in response to your questions. This is how my faith has been shaped and refined through various experiences in life. I hope its useful.  I believe the general negativity towards Muslims is shaped by our lack of understanding of Muslim faith and culture, combined with media saturation that equates the Islamic faith with terrorism. We take this on, and a subtle sense of fear develops, without taking the time to fully understand people who are different to the more mainstream way of life.

We do not often hear the lovely stories of Muslim men and women who are risking their lives for others. Last year in Afghanistan I met three wonderful young Muslim women, working for a Christian agency, who were putting their own lives at risk by standing up for girls who were being abused. Their stories are unlikely to ever make our media.

Lisa:  Jesus commands us to love one another, even to love our enemy but often Christian’s seem to have the most fear toward the unknown.

Phil:  In so many ways we all fear the unknown. It’s often a very uncomfortable space to find ourselves in. If people behave or look differently its sometimes easier to take a step away from them. I think we often make judgements about people simply based on an inner perception. So when I get into a lift and the only other person getting in looks angry, is somewhat dirty and covered in tattoos, inwardly I’m making an immediate judgement. We begin to build up a sense of fear towards Muslims in general due to how they are continually portrayed. We act in the same way that we might to the person in the lift.

Muslims are foreign to many Christians and our mind quickly associates them with something or someone to fear. What is missing here? I would say it’s relationship. It’s making an effort to get to know people for who they are rather than the colour of their skin or what religion they follow. It’s listening to people’s story rather than judging them on the basis of our media influenced perceptions. It’s building a bridge to hear how they are finding life in Australia. It’s hearing stories about their past and their family.

Girl praying It’s what the Bible would define as love, and there is no fear in love.

I wonder how Jesus would retell the story of the Good Samaritan if he was physically here amongst us today?

Lisa:  Lastly, what we can do to help build community with each other.  To bridge the gap, to help take down walls of fear?

Phil:  There is a lovely documentary called “Mary Meets Mohammed” that I would encourage all Christians to watch as it shows how barriers based on perception can be broken down.

You can preview the documentary here:

Whatever we think of Islam, Christ calls us to reach out in love.  A genuine love that is built on relationship and concern not on whether a person will immediately denounce their faith and become more like us.

There are many opportunities to do this. Getting to know any neighbours who may be Muslims, spending more time chatting with people who may be from a Muslim background when out shopping, visiting asylum seekers and spending some time at a migrant resource centre. Building bridges is a lovely component of our faith because it enables love to be shared and the spirit of God to be set free.

Phil, thanks so much for your very honest, compassionate and wise view on how to treat and live with our Muslim brothers and sisters. 

This beautiful picture of unity is I believe what the bible is speaking of when it says in John 13:35  “They will know we are Christians by our love”.   Christians are too often known for their judgement, exclusion and finger-pointing.  Jesus is love, in Him there is no Jew, no Gentile, no male, no female.  We are all equal in the sight of God, we are taught to forgive and we are commanded to love.

“Every time you chose to love you forgo a little bit of your own truth for the sake of relationship… the object of life is not perfect theology but relationship.” (R. Rohr).

Each of us need to ask ourselves, what am I known for?  Am I known for my outspoken views against a people group or judgement against someone, or am I known for my love and compassion and inclusion?

Recommended Reading:
Hope Against Darkness – In an age of Anxiety by Richard Rohr.

Tony Campolo, Chose Love not Power.

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Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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