How sympathetic can Christians be to "the call of the minaret", to the Islamic call to worship and to prayer? Many years ago I read the famous account of a deeply Christian and deeply sympathetic encounter with Islam - a classic of its kind - written by Kenneth Cragg and titled The Call of the Minaret. In the light of recent events, I must re-read it.
But recently my attention has been drawn to another, more recent account of a sympathetic encounter with Islam, written by Mark Sijlander, A Deadly Misunderstanding: Quest to Bridge the Muslim/Christian Divide. Here Sijlander works hard, is pressed hard within himself by a series of insights, to find significant tracts of common ground between Christianity and Islam. More common ground than I thought possible. Perhaps too much common ground for many Christians?
These are not idle matters. Since I wrote my first post in this series (the length of which I know not), we have had the atrocities in Sri Lanka in which innocent people, including innocent Christians going about their Pascha worship, were targeted for death and destruction, by extremists claiming the cause of Islam as motivation and seemingly spurred to sacrifice their own lives by an Islamic understanding of martyrdom and paradise.
There is, of course, no common ground, no bridge to be built from a Cragg-Sijlander approach to Islam in general to the particularly murderous machinations of the Sri Lankan bombers. But where the Cragg-Sijlander approach is vital is for our relationships with 99.9999% of Muslims who have no thought of violence in the cause of their faith and only desire to live in peace with their neighbours. [Following a comment, see below, with my reply, I need to nuance that last sentence! Clearly, if we take account of all violence across the Islamic world (e.g. Muslims fighting Muslims) and across the world, then a much larger percentage of Muslims are prepared to take up weapons in the struggle for their faith, either in reality (e.g. Hamas v Israel) or in a theoretical stance (e.g. fighting back against, say, American (perceived as "Christian") troops invading an Islamic country). My focus here is on the willingness to indiscriminately bomb or shoot non-Muslims: by my reckoning, a very small percentage of Muslims are willing to do that; by far the overwhelming majority wish to live in peace with their neighbours, whether in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Britain, France, etc.]
If we are not to read the violence of the 0.0001% into the lives of the Muslims we encounter at work, at school, in the supermarket, on the bus, we need an approach which looks for common ground, for the bridges between us.
I have only started reading Sijlander's book. I am looking forward to finishing it!