By Charles Redfern
Hear the imperative once more: Smile boldly. Cuddle up. Nuzzle and snuggle in a bear-hug frenzy of interfaith empathy and love. Let’s be so cotton-candy sweet that we spread acne and cavities. We’re declaring to the Muslim world: “We’re here for you. Service is our middle name. Mi casa tu casa …”
The reason: that background rumble you hear may be the prelude to the next big crack, when another Middle Eastern crevice opens and relative religious freedom arrives. It might be imminent. Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly. We don’t know – but Christians, especially evangelicals, can help the precarious process by foiling radical Islamist propaganda. We’ll respect Muslims even while we articulate our disagreements (let’s not patronize by claiming no differences): Welcome to our neighborhoods. Move in next door. We’ll push through the paper-work so you can build your mosques. We’ll even call the bookstores and make sure they’re stocked with Qur’ans.
Michael Horton heard the rumble in a recent conference call with Egyptian Protestant Christian leaders, who lead about 1200 churches with roughly a million members. All were exultant. Said one: “Egyptians cannot themselves believe that we now have a new country: a free country with free elections” (they’re not there yet, but we won’t interrupt). Churches have wandered bureaucratic labyrinths in search of permission for routine building repairs; frowning police watch over everyday ministry. Tahrir’s drama may have planted the seed for change: Christians formed a human shield one Friday to protect Muslims while they prayed. Muslims returned the favor on Sunday. Hossam Tammam, an Egyptian researcher, also reported interfaith cooperation in the revolution – with young Christians and Muslims defying their religious leaders and participating in the revolt.
Imagine that: Groups from two formerly hostile faiths defending one another. The treaty formally ending the Crusades – which were suspended three months ago in the minds of much of Islam – is finally signed.
Horton reports other rumblings: Christian lawyers and judges are joining committees that will lobby for the removal of Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which identifies the country as Islamic. The New York Times reports that military leaders have assembled an eight-member panel on Constitutional Reform, with one Muslim Brotherhood representative and another Coptic Christian.
Such talk of a secularized Egypt may sound like so many vapor-like dreams – and the odds may be grim. A Pew survey revealed that 84% of all Muslim Egyptians believe in the death penalty for Muslim apostates. But realism should not descend into cynicism and opportunities must be seized. Remember that Egypt’s Christian heritage runs deep: Alexandria was a once a major theological center, the home Origen and Clement; Coptic Christians still compose about ten percent of the population. And remember Turkey, which belies the myth that a Muslim country cannot be democratic and secular – although a warts-and-all portrait would show converts facing family rejection, community harassment, and blacklisting. Nevertheless, we can ask: Will the traditional Arab-Turk animosity blind Egyptians to a potential example, albeit flawed? Can Egyptians recall Islam’s own heritage of relative religious toleration in the Middle Ages, when Saint John of Damascus wrote his hymns and theological works while serving the Muslim caliph as his chief administrator?
Perhaps it’s all dim hope, but dim hope is better than no hope.
Religious freedom’s brightest beacon glows in reports of “radicalism fatigue” among Muslims themselves – especially in Iran. Negar Farshidi points to a National Youth Organization survey showing that “55 percent of the 7,000 young men and women polled had extramarital sex. Independent experts the real percentage may be even higher.” Many women almost dare authorities when they don the mandatory head scarf but wear Western clothing. Praveen Swami writes: “Iran’s men are having trouble dealing with the brave new world that’s imposing itself on their bedrooms: an unnoticed tide of sexual change that could be far more important in shaping the country’s cultural and political values than the 2009 democratic revolt-that-failed.”
Emboldened rebels are taking to Teheran’s streets once more in the wake of Tahrir – and they may very well face jail and death. But crackdowns, Stalinesque trials, and executions will no longer stifle the emerging story: The 1979 Islamic Revolution may now be a hallow shell, ready to implode.
Here is where we non-persecuted American Christians can make our small contribution: Let’s get wise – downright shrewd, even. You can bet Al-Qaeda has replayed the video ad nauseam: Muslim-hating crowds pump their fists, protesting Cordova House. They press the pause button: “You see? It’s them verses us: the infidel Crusaders are on the march. Please fill out those volunteer application forms …”
Drop the signs and placards. Egotistical radio preachers should read up on Islam and trim their sermons of wild inaccuracies fanning Islamaphobia’s flames. They’re aiding and abetting Al Qaeda and Iran’s leaders as things now stand. Respectful debate should be encouraged, and John Rankin points the way. He pulls no punches even while he argues for the rights of Muslims.
In other words, show the savvy of those Christians in Tahrir Square. We can shield Muslims amid our debate. Maybe — just maybe — they’ll return the favor. Jesus was not merely idealistic when he told us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He was downright clever.
Wild wishes and dreams? Possibly. But it’s worth a try.
Yassir Khalil, “Muslims and Christians together in a new Egypt,” Common Ground News Service, http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=29300&lan=en&sp=0