Common Human Aspirations of Christians and Muslims: A Response to Islamophobia

A Message from a Muslim Boy

Introduction: Fear That Leads to Hatred and Killing

In general, people tend to fear what they do not truly understand. Once they come to a better understanding of the object of their fear, say, the fear of flying or fear of elevators, the fear tends to subside. The same holds true of a person’s fear of the color of someone’s skin; of his or her religion, ethnicity or nationality; or even the fear of the way someone dresses or how that person lives. In other words, human beings tend to fear that which is different from their own experience of the world.

Not a few Christians, because of their lack of understanding of Muslims and the religion of Islam, tend to fear Muslims; hence, the term “Islamophobia.” One of the best ways to counteract that fear is to come to a better understanding of the people of Islam, viewing them as human beings, as persons, having the same common human aspirations as all other rational human beings.

Human Values Shared by Muslims and Christians

In what follows, I will present several important human values that are shared by many Muslims, Christians and, in fact, people of goodwill. First, Muslims and Christians share in a common species, namely, the human species and, therefore, have the same human nature, being equally human beings. Thus, as human beings, Christians are not superior to Muslims. In fact, both Christians and Muslims are members of the same human race.

Second, Muslims and Christians inhabit the same planet, namely, earth, and are concerned about preserving the world, because they love their children and, for future generations, their children’s children and descendants. Love, therefore, desires to perpetuate itself by caring for the earth in which other human beings will live.

Third, the members of Islam and Christianity respectively, being fully human persons, are concerned about common human issues or problems, such as alleviating poverty and starvation. That concern is motivated by variations of the religious directive to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To meet the basic needs of other human beings is an act of kindness or charity, revealing religious cooperation at its best.

Fourth, although Islam and Christianity are different monotheistic religions, Muslims and Christians, teach a form of the Golden Rule. In other words, what you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others. Since, then, Christians do not want to be persecuted, attacked or killed because of their religious views, then they should not do the same to others. Similarly, since Muslims do not want to be hated for their religion, then they should not hate others who belong to different religions.

Fifth, Muslims and Christians share in the universally human aspiration of happiness. After all, no human being really wants to be unhappy — even if he or she is, at the moment, not happy. Thus, the members of the religions of Islam and Christianity want to be happy by striving to lead a good life. They desire, then, to live in human conditions that promote happiness.

Sixth, being fully human persons, Muslims and Christians have the need to belong to a social unit, namely, a family. They have, then, the human need to love and be loved; that is, to be nurtured by love and, thereby, develop their personalities in a human community. No one, therefore, really wishes to be isolated, alienated, without some kind of social interaction, because — to paraphrase Aristotle — human beings, by nature, are social creatures.

Seventh, the members of Christianity and Islam, regardless of where they may be in the world, believe in love, either consciously or unconsciously or in both respects. In other words, love gives them a reason to live every day: To wake up, fulfill their responsibilities to others and themselves, fall asleep and get up the next day, doing it all over again, discovering ever-new meanings to their lives. While Christians and Muslims also believe in the lesser human virtues or values of faith and hope, they believe that the greatest human value is love.

Religion as a Manifestation of Being Human

The seven points I have summarized, which are common to Christians and Muslims, are about being human, the various manifestations of human beings at their best. Nothing that is truly human is contrary to Islam; nor is it contrary to Christianity. In Eastern Christianity, there is a saying which applies to Muslim-Christian relationships: The glory to which human beings are called is that they should grow more godlike by growing ever more human, to paraphrase Fr. Dumitru Staniloae.

Of course, there are significant differences between Islam and Christianity. However, my point is that discussions between Muslims and Christians, members of two different religions, should begin with what they have in common, especially their common humanity and the common human aspirations which flow from being human. After that, they may proceed to discuss their differences, attempting — with an open mind — to understand their disagreements, especially why they disagree, always seeking to respect each other, despite their differences, as persons.

The Real Enemy of Peace Today

Thus, the real enemy of peace toady is not Islam. Rather, it is fear, ignorance and prejudice; all of which lead to hate and even death. It seems to me, then, that what is rather obvious, yet often ignored, is to view and come to know members of a religion as human beings. That must be first! And it begins by being “open” to listening to them, seeking to understand them, as I myself would want to be understood. As I say in my World Religions course, Muslims are subjects, not objects; persons, not things. Muslims are neither to be used nor abused. Rather, they are to be respected as ends in themselves, valued for themselves, because they are persons. In teaching others to recognize that, it is my hope to eradicate Islamophobia from the fearful hearts and minds of people, promoting understanding and peaceful coexistence between between people of goodwill.

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