Lengthy post on Christianity and Islam …

The physical part of the Ramadan fast is getting easier at this halfway point, and so my attention is shifting from making it through another afternoon to the spiritual lessons this experience offers me. For me, that means learning more of what it means to be a peacemaker between two faith communities. From both the vehemence of the negative responses I’ve received and the heartfelt appreciation in the positive responses, it’s clearer to me than ever that this issue needs to be addressed. I felt it again Wednesday night, when I had a wonderful conversation with nine sharp young adults who have to varying degrees dropped out of church and Christian faith, and the question of pluralism was one of the most pressing questions on their minds. (By the way, all of the questions we discussed were included in the “big ten” I’ll be addressing in my upcoming book – that was encouraging to see.)
I have been tremendously surprised by …
(More after the jump …)

… how many Christians have been led into the same rather odd journey I have – to share, as Christians, in a Muslim practice – not as a betrayal of our faith, but as an expression of it, in solidarity with Muslim friends. I already shared the beautiful story of my friend Nadyne Parr of Peace Moms, and shared a link to a news report on a gifted young bridge-building pastor in Washington. More stories keep coming in. Two days ago I received an email from a Christian author/scholar who told me he felt led to join some Muslim friends in the fast a few years ago, and then I received two more similar emails yesterday. Earlier in the week I was also contacted by my friend Bill Dahl – author of The Porpoise Diving Life. (No, that wasn’t a typo …)
Bill gave me permission to share a bit about the adventure he’s been on. Coming from a Christian background, he held a lot of the beliefs American Christians are generally taught to hold about Muslims. But then he and his family took in some exchange students who turned out to be Muslim. Suddenly, “the other” in general became two delightful young men within his own family, and that began to change things. Bill began joining them in observing Ramadan … and the tradition has continued as new Muslim exchange students have come into their family.
The gap was so great between what he was taught to believe about “the other” and what he experienced when two members of “the other” were humanized for him that Bill has realized the need to question many other things he was taught. He now sometimes wonders if the term “Christian” has been made unusable for the rest of us by its most strident advocates. Like a lot of us, when people ask him about his religion, he has had to say, “I’m a Christian, but … But not that kind of Christian.” A while back, he decided to experiment with a new term to answer the question, “What religion are you?” Now he says, “I’m a Questian …”
Instead of being a Christian with all the answers, he’s become a Questian, on a quest driven by good questions. (As readers of my books can imagine, this resonates with me a great deal, even more so with my upcoming book.) You can read about Bill’s excellent adventure here … and read a poem called The Question here.
Whatever our religious heritage, we need to question the ways our faith communities dehumanize the other. This dehumanization of the other is often closely related with “the demonization of the other.” When you say someone is “of the devil” or “evil” or “Satanic” or “apostate” or “infidel” (or in some settings, even “liberal” or “conservative” or “fundamentalist” or whatever), you can unconsciously demote them from the normal level of fellow citizens and fellow human beings. Once you’ve categorized them as “the other,” you have dispensed with them, written them off, cut them off, absolved yourself of neighborly connections and responsibilities to them. (You’ve also taken a first big step toward being able to kill them and feel holy in the process.)
When Jesus taught us to love our enemies, when he ate with “the other,” when he touched the outcasts and healed them and treated them with uncommon, scandalous respect … when he told parables in which “the other” was the hero … he was humanizing the other and teaching us to do the same.
The more I have been speaking out for marginalized people – whether they are marginalized because of race, politics, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, economic status, etc. – the more I have learned what it feels like to be among them. Just as fasting makes one feel solidarity with the hungry and thirsty, standing up for the humanity, dignity, beauty, and love-ability of the other often puts one in a position to share the acute experience of their pain.
P.S. My belief is that our faith communities should be agents of “humanizing the other,” as Jesus taught. Sadly, too often they do the opposite. Fortunately, the arts often stay faithful to their humane calling when religious communities falter. For Christians who want to go on a quest of humanizing the other, here’s a list of films sent to me by a Christian friend who has spent much of his life in the Middle East. He has found that these films can help Christians better understand their Muslim neighbors. (Note – I haven’t seen any of these yet, but pass them on because I trust this friend’s good taste – and I look forward to seeing them in the future.)
The Syrian Bride (2004)
Directed by an Israeli director, this film is a sympathetic look at the Arab Druze community in the Golan Heights, living separated from their relatives in Syria. This is the story of one young woman who will cross the border to marry in Syria, but never to be allowed back to her home.
Product Description from Amazon:
Mona’s wedding day is the saddest day of her life. She knows that once she crosses the border between Israel and Syria to get married, she will never be allowed back to her beloved family in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. Once you cross the border there is no way back and at the end of a long day, the family, the government and military officials and all those gathered on both sides of the border find themselves facing an uncertain future, trapped in No-Man’s land between Israel and Syria.
Winner 2004 Montreal World Film Festival; FIPRESCI Prize
Winner 2004 Montreal World Film Festival; Grand Prix des Amériques
Winner 2004 Montreal World Film Festival; People’s Choice Award
Winner 2004 Montreal World Film Festival; Prize of the Ecumenical Jury
Winner 2004 Locarno International Film Festival; Audience Award
Winner 2004 Flanders International Film Festival; Audience Award
Winner 2004 Flanders International Film Festival; Best Screenplay
Secret Ballot (2001)
Editorial Review by Amazon.com
This gentle, low-key comedy follows a female civil servant of an Islamic country (presumably Iran, but specifics aren’t given) as she travels around a sparsely populated island, trying to get the inhabitants to vote on election day. Her efforts are both helped and hindered by the reluctant soldier who has been assigned to accompany her–but far more significant hurdles are language barriers, deep-seated gender prejudices, and mechanical breakdowns. The civil servant struggles to maintain her faith in democratic processes in the face of indifference, antagonism, and absurdity. When someone tells her, “Voting doesn’t catch fish,” she has no reply, yet perseveres in her attempt to make the world better. Secret Ballot is slow-paced, but the movie’s rhythms suit the world it depicts. Nassim Abdi, as the civil servant, gives a wonderfully engaging performance; her innocent, open face captures both the humor and the sadness in her struggle. –Bret Fetzer
Children of Heaven (1999)
Editorial review from Amazon.com
Majid Majidi celebrates the immediacy and essence of childhood in this delightful tale of a brother and sister who share a pair of shoes when the boy (though no fault of his own) loses his sister’s only pair. Since their parents are too poor to afford a new pair, they keep it a secret, trading them off every day in a mad rush, jumping gutters and navigating the twisting lanes to their schools and back. Then the boy hatches a plan: the third-place prize in a student footrace is a new pair of shoes, and he’s determined to take it. The plot may smack of a Disney film, but the direction couldn’t be more different. The family scenes are delicately observed, and Majidi captures the spirit of the children perfectly: proud, emotional, petulant, sweet, and disarmingly sincere. The film has a Western-friendly framework without losing the naturalistic eye and lolling rhythm that gives the best Iranian films their richness. Even as he builds to the climactic footrace (quite unexpectedly turned into a nail-biting contest) the film continues to reveal a wealth of discreet surprises, culminating in a conclusion all the more resonant for its sublime delicacy. His efforts earned the film the honor of becoming the first Iranian feature to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. –Sean Axmaker
The Kite Runner (2007)
Product Description from Amazon
Amir is a young Afghani from a well-to-do Kabul family; his best friend Hassan is the son of a family servant. Together the two boys form a bond of friendship that breaks tragically on one fateful day, when Amir fails to save his friend from brutal neighborhood bullies. Amir and Hassan become separated, and as first the Soviets and then the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan, Amir and his father escape to the United States to pursue a new life. Years later, Amir – now an accomplished author living in San Francisco – is called back to Kabul to right the wrongs he and his father committed years ago.
Captain Abu Raed (2007)
A film by a Jordanian Christian director with a Muslim hero, Abu Raed. Abu Raed is an aging airport janitor who is mistaken by the children of his lower-class neighborhood for a pilot. He begins to tell them fantastic stories to encourage them to dream big and move beyond their circumstances. The end of the film is particularly powerful, as Abu Raed is portrayed as suffering redemptively to save others. Very powerful.