By Craig Considine
I turned on the television the other day to hear a Christian American say: "Our enemy is Islam and our enemies are Muslims!" Disturbed by his tone, I shifted to my computer, where I opened the Internet only to see an equally alarming message from a British Muslim: "Islam must crush Christianity, the false religion!" These men are from different religions, but their motives are strikingly similar: oppress those who do not think as they do; use violence, if necessary, to put down other faith groups; and never consider the beliefs and practices of other religious communities to be valid or useful to society. Needed now more than ever is a new manual for Christian-Muslim relations which does not resort to name-calling, exclusion, and violence.
"The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice" (Wipf & Stock, 2015) is a compelling new book which calls on Christians and Muslims to embrace the peaceful example of Jesus and unite in a strong yet nonviolent movement to counter bigotry and violence. Dave Andrews, the author, is a peace activist, community organizer, theologian, and facilitator of harmonious coexistence among human beings. He is a Christian in the purest sense. Andrews believes "all people are loved, equally, by God, regardless of colour, class, caste, or creed." It is this egalitarian spirit which oozes out of the "The Jihad of Jesus."
While Andrews acknowledges the theological differences between Christians and Muslims, he intentionally tries to "focus on those beliefs about [Christ] that Christians and Muslims have in common as the place for [them] to start [their] conversations." Andrews sees "'common ground' not as suspect compromise, but as 'sacred ground' on which [they] can stand and speak to one another." The common ground on which he wants Christians and Muslims to meet is one based on justice, love, and peace. He requests that Christians move away from their arrogance and aggression and Muslims to embody the compassionate and merciful spirit of Islam as exhibited in the bismillah, the Arabic phrase meaning "In the name of God, the merciful and compassionate." Andrews posits that Christians and Muslims must reflect the kindness and humility of Christ, who they should follow "with every beat of [their] hearts, through every vein in [their] head, and [their] hands, and [their] feet."
"The Jihad of Jesus" is anchored in the theory that Christians and Muslims erect impenetrable boundaries around their communities in order to exclude people who they perceive as being different from their co-religionists. Andrews argues that by constructing these barriers, Christians and Muslims show symptoms of hatred and fear. This kind of "closed perspective" towards religion, he claims, is harmful because narrow-minded people tend to be dogmatic, judgmental, and intolerant of dissent. Andrews challenges "religious fundamentalists" to open their hearts and minds and turn away from their "unchanging and unchangeable" ideologies, which leave no room for diversity, disagreement, and interfaith encounters.
Following the example of Jesus, Andrews prefers an "open perspective" towards Christian-Muslim relations because it replaces cold-heartedness and hard-headedness with warmth and compassion. According to him, the "open perspective" fosters inspirational personal growth and transformational social change by opening people up to positive elements of other religious traditions. In doing so, Christians and Muslims leave behind the "ideology of religious supremacy," and acknowledge the "mercy of God," which clears the way for Christians and Muslims to heed Jesus' call of tearing up prejudices and trashing stereotypes of others.
Upon finishing "The Jihad of Jesus," I realized how important it is for Christians and Muslims to continue building bridges of understanding and goodwill. Andrews makes an excellent point:
... it is absolutely vital for the future welfare of the human family that [Christians and Muslims] examine [their] frequent utter disregard for human rights, diabolical persecution of unorthodox traditions and heterodox religions, and total destruction of "infidels" in genocidal "Holy Wars" waged in the name of our "great God."
Here Andrews offers practical and spiritual guidance by reminding Christians and Muslims to engage in the ever-important process of self-reflection. The time is ripe for Christians and Muslims to find their "inner-Jesus" and accept the call of non-violent revolution. As Christians and Muslims continue to encounter each other in the future, it is crucial for them to remember that God does not favor any particular group of people simply because they call themselves "Christians" or "Muslims." All of us need to move away from the idea of our religious tradition having a monopoly on the truth. This is one of the key messages of Andrews' philosophy.
"The Jihad of Jesus" will inspire you to work alongside your Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters in the struggle for mutual understanding and genuine peace.
After all, this is our shared jihad.