Muslim-Christian relations haven’t changed a lot in fourteen centuries. Especially now in the Trump era—with some people accusing all Muslims of being jihadis at heart—millions of Christians fear Muslims, and vice-versa. Sadly, terrorists on both sides of the divide have been giving us new reasons to do so. Not that we didn’t already have enough old reasons.
Our dominant narratives—narratives our mainstream media are currently trying hard to replace—have long been that we can’t trust each other. After all, Muslims and Christians have been fighting intermittently almost since Islam began. And even when the fight was bloodless, one side has usually tried to take advantage of the other, if not force the other to submit to its rule.
Some of the conflict’s larger movements are:
- The Arab conquest of the Byzantine Middle East, North Africa and Spain
- The Crusades to retake the Holy Land and the reconquest of Spain
- The Muslim Ottoman conquest of Eastern Europe
- The European and Russian imperial expansion into the Muslim world
- The Allies’ reclamation of Eastern Europe and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire
- The establishment and expansion of the modern State of Israel with Western support
- The American (and Allied) invasion of some Muslim lands since 9/11
- Violent Islamist attacks and Western retaliations
Still today, many think one side’s seeking to impose its rule on the other is the best we can hope for.
But that never produces more than a semblance of peace, while robbing both sides of true dignity and equality. And that’s cause for real concern as we move steadily toward a world with 60% of its population either Muslim or Christian—just 3 decades away, according to demographers.
The good news is, you and I don’t need to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we can make a difference. We can exchange the old model, based on distrust, for one of mutual respect, honor and genuine dialogue. Forcing our will on others brings no one closer to the God who is love. Only loving and blessing others does. Jesus—revered by Christians and Muslims alike—calls us all to walk humbly not just before God, but with each other too. He calls us to treat others, even our enemies, as we want them to treat us. Friendship for friendship’s sake is its own reward. And more than anything else, relationships put a human face on Islam for us and erode prejudice.
Some say Jesus was unrealistic. I say those who think perpetuating the age-old conflict will fundamentally change anything are unrealistic.
But can individual actions ever be enough? In fact, they’re the only real change possible. We must think small to think big: even international actions are just the combined choices of many individual players. And in any case, ultimately, we each answer only for our own actions. God can enable us to be the change we want to see in the world—one friendship at time.
The world digs trenches between Muslims and Christians. You are the bridge.