I thank God that I was not personally affected by the events that took place on September 11, 2001. I was living in Salt Lake City, surrounded by all my family. I didn't know a single person in New York City or Pennsylvania, and the closest friend I had to Washington D.C. was a teacher in Northern Virginia. Everyone I knew and loved was safe.
Even then, though, I still felt pain. Pain, shock, horror, and disbelief at what was done to my country, to my fellow men. I also felt overwhelmed at the response of so many, both by Americans and by people from so many other nations. I remember seeing American flags proudly wave from homes, cars, and buildings all over the world. I remember hearing "I'm Proud to be an American" (a song that, as a former expatriate, already had a dear place in my heart) play over and over on the radio. Most of all, I remember the amazing sense of kinship I felt with all my fellow Americans. Everyone came together to stand united in the face of such tragedy. That feeling of unity is something I will always treasure, a beautiful rose risen among the ugly thorns of terror.
I wrote the following post in March of 2009, and I've reposted it on 9/11 once before, but I feel it is appropriate to post it again today. Enjoy.
A few months ago I read a book called The Faith Club. It was written by three women – a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew – who met together in the wake of 9/11 to discuss their beliefs and to try to come to an understanding of each other. It was fascinating to follow the journey each of them made as they learned and reached out to each other. What on the surface seemed like a simple thing – a social gathering, a time to build friendships and learn a little from each other – became a turning point for all three as they struggled not only to understand the beliefs of the other two women but also to gain a deeper understanding and testimony of their own as they were challenged in ways they had never been before. It was inspiring. I have a friend who is an Orthodox Jew, and we’ve discussed our religions, and their similarities and differences. Reading this book made me wish I knew a Muslim woman, too, so I could start my own faith club. Of course, I’d probably include another Christian, of the more mainstream variety (I already have one in mind!), since Mormonism is different enough to warrant some discussion there as well.
Anyway, since reading this book, I have had such a desire to come to an understanding with people of different faiths. I’m not looking to agree with them, or have them agree with me. I just want to understand and find common ground. All three of these major world religions come from the same beginning. We are all Abraham’s seed. There are major doctrinal differences, things that will probably never be agreed upon, but we all pray to the same God, whether we call Him by the same name or not.
This brings me to the purpose of this post. Lately I have noticed that a lot of Christians (Mormons included) still seem to harbor ill will towards followers of Islam. The more I see or hear of this, the more it upsets me. I’ve been having a hard time sitting by quietly and allowing these things to go unchallenged. I suppose I can understand the sentiment behind the mindset; after all, terrible things have been done in this world in the name of Islam. However, I firmly believe that these things are being done by people who either do not fully understand the true message of their religion, or who chose to follow only select words, without giving heed to the full meaning in conjunction with the rest of their religious beliefs. I am no expert on Islam, and cannot even claim to be an expert on Christianity or Mormonism, but I do believe that none of these faiths condone the things that are being done in the world today in the name of God. It makes me sad to see the way all of Islam is being lumped together as a religion that tolerates, supports, and even encourages violent acts.
The truth is that, just like there are different sects of Christianity who hold to different sets of doctrine, there is a small portion of Muslims who believe it is the will of God that they engage in jihad, or holy war, against other nations. But this is not true of the majority of Muslims. It amazes me how we Christians are so willing to believe this misleading information when there is so much out there that gives incorrect “facts” about our own beliefs. There are websites dedicated to informing the world that all Mormons are polygamists and all of Mormonism is of the devil, in the same way that there are sites that would have the world believe that all Muslims are jihadists and that all Islam is evil. They’re out there; we’ve all seen them at some point, and when they’re about our own beliefs we’ve all been disgusted and outraged that anyone could be so misinformed and disrespectful about something we hold sacred. Why, then, can we be so willing to believe things about other religions without doing unbiased research. Ah, the appeal of a Faith Club…
I have been bothered by this for awhile now, feeling like I should say something to stand up for a people, who, in my experience and study, I have come to believe are generally kind and peace-loving, but I haven’t known how to go about it. Until yesterday, that is, when I read this article in The Oregonian. It talked about an open letter to Christians written and endorsed by many Muslim leaders. This letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us”, calls for an understanding between Muslims and Christians, using passages from both the Qur’an and the Bible to make its point. It establishes the fact that the two greatest commandments in both Islam and Christianity are to love God above all else and then to love your neighbors – all your neighbors. Who can argue with that? And, given that, who can really believe that Islam teaches unprovoked war with others?
I’m not writing this to start anything. I’m not necessarily even looking for comments this time (although they’re always welcome!) This is just something that has been on my mind for a long time, and I finally found a way to bring it together and put my thoughts and feelings down in print. I have a great love for my Father in Heaven, and for the faith that has led me to that love. But I also have a great respect for those who are strong in their own faith, even though it may not agree with mine. I want to learn as much as I can about those faiths so that I can understand my fellow men, and grow to love them as my neighbors. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to take a look at the Common Word website, and to take some time to think a little bit about loving our God and loving our neighbors, and allowing all men the privilege to worship how, where, or what they may.
I will leave you with the concluding paragraph of “A Common Word”:
So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.