Muslims are often cited as the second most numerous religious community in the US, exceeded only by the Christians. Estimates vary between six million to seven million. Ranking third are the Jews who number about five and half million.
In contrast to Christian views of the Jews, who are generally regarded with sympathy if not support, the attitude of American Christians towards Muslims is largely negative. I find few Christians who have no opinion about Islam. Those with an opinion almost always automatically -- falsely, of course -- link Muslims with terrorism, bigotry and intolerance.
The Christians that have correct information, and the American Muslims themselves, make little effort to correct these false perceptions.
Sympathy for Jews arises mainly from the Nazi Holocaust and the constant reminder on television and in the press of this dreadful episode in history. Support for Israel – and, therefore for Jews generally – comes substantially from Christian fundamentalists who believe, contrary to my own belief, that a militarily strong Israel is an essential part of God’s plan. Their passionate belief in this doctrine leads them to dismiss Arab / Muslim claims to their ancestral property in Palestine as contrary to the will of God.
Even members of the mainstream Christian clergy, who, one would assume, should be correctly informed about all monotheistic religions, are generally as silent if not as poorly informed as lay citizens. If they know the truth about Islam, they keep it to themselves.
There are other reasons, many and complicated, for false stereotypes and general misinformation about Islam which highlight the grim nature of the situation. US Muslims are terribly misunderstood, but so far little has been done to correct the stereotypes.
However to this otherwise discouraging scene comes a promising new book, More in Common Than You Think: The Bridge between Islam and Christianity by Dr William Baker, a former archaeologist who in recent years has focused his remarkable energies and talent on the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the urgent need for Christian-Muslim understanding.
A former professor of ancient history and biblical studies, Baker is the founder and president of an organization called CAMP acronym for Christians and Muslims for Peace. His interest was kindled in 1970 in Palestine, when he ‘soon discovered the tremendous amount of common ground’ between the Christian faith and ‘the true faith and teachings of Islam’, after reading and studying the Qur’an.
His book is easy to read. It is clear, illuminating and compelling. It is also brief, the text comprising only 101 pages. It supports the inter faith ‘bridge’ with quotations directly from the Bible and the 1989 edition of the Meaning of the Holy Qur’an: New Edition with Revised Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
It presents cogently the fundamental teachings shared by Islam and Christianity, teachings that form the solid foundation that should lead the two largest religious communities to co-operate enthusiastically and to live in mutual respect with each other.
It dismisses in brief persuasive language the often expressed warning that Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world, threatens the democracies of the West and that Christians and Muslims are headed for an inevitable clash (as Professor Samuel Huntington predicts as the clash of civilizations) reminiscent of the ancient crusades.
Baker’s book should have ready acceptance in the Christian evangelical community -- a broad and diverse one — because of his long, close relationship with Rev. Robert H Schuller founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and television pastor of the Hour of Power program carried world wide on television.
Schuller warns: ‘the coming century will most surely witness either a coalition or a collision between Islam and Christianity’. He adds: ‘True believers in God must move our society and our world from incompatibility to compatibility; from intolerance to tolerance; positive Christians and Muslims becoming partners in pace. I am convinced this book by Dr Baker will prove to be a significant contribution in bringing Christians and Muslims together to live in peace and mutual respect.’
In Chapter 3, Baker writes: ‘Few Christians are aware that Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, believed Jesus and Moses were the most important bearers of God’s revelation to mankind, that message is enshrined in the Torah and New Testament. Islam embraces both books and includes portions of both in the text of the Qur’an.
‘As Christians believe the New Testament was the completion of the Old Testament, so Muslims believe Islam and the Qur’an serve as the Final completion of both books, and Muhammad as the last Prophet or Messenger of God. Both the Torah and the New Testament are viewed by Islam as inspired revelation of God to mankind. Both Jews and Christians are referred to in the Qur’an as ‘People of the Book’ meaning the Bible.’
He quotes from Surah al-`Ankabut (29:46) to support this conclusion: ‘The Qur’an calls upon Muslims to attempt to sit down peacefully with People of the Book in an effort to find the common ground between hem’, and from Surah Al-’Imran (3:84) to support this statement: ‘Muslims are asked to follow the good examples of the earlier Prophets of the Bible.’
Baker notes: ‘Although the Jews joined with the enemies of early Islam, neither they nor Judaism were targeted by Muhammad or Islam. It is a fact of history that when the Jews were being persecuted in Europe during the Middle Ages they found peace, harmony, and acceptance among the Muslim people of Spain. In fact, this was the era of Jewish history that they themselves refer to as ‘the Golden Age’.
Baker finds that both the Bible and Islam condemn the worship of any other God as idolatry and that ‘A Muslim can no more be a ‘card carrying communist’ than a Christian can belong to and support the creed of world atheism.’
He notes that both Islam and Christianity teach that God is in control of all things, including the destiny of mankind, collectively and individually. He writes: ‘The sovereignty of God in both the Qur’an and the Bible is remarkably similar.’
He writes that Shaikh Ahmad Kuftaro, spiritual leader of the Muslim of Syria, said to him in 1987: ‘My dear brother, you cannot be a true Muslim unless you love, respect and honour Jesus.’ As one who has endeavoured for the past three years to create understanding of Islam among Christians, I recommend Baker’s book as required reading by the Christian clergy in the United States. I also suggest that all imams and other leaders of the Muslim community – in America and beyond – place it at the top of their reading list.
Muslim leaders are better informed about Christianity than the reverse, but, at the least, they will find comfort in the fact that a lay Christian has produced a document that can help immensely in in easing mutual respect and harmony between the two largest faith traditions in the world.
(Paul Findley is a former Congressman from Illinois and author of: None Dare Call it Treason)
Dr William W Baker, 1998
Pages 125 Paperback, Defenders Publications,
P.O. Box 8038, Laguna Hills,