Caption: Christians in Egypt protect praying Muslims. Credit: Tarek on Flickr Flickr Link: https://flic.kr/p/9fJ8Vj
My father and I have a very difficult relationship. But still, no matter how miserable it can get, I am his son. This means I am his successor. I am neither better nor worse, just younger and newer. I can honestly say that I hate him sometimes because of the things that happened in the past. I see him in myself and myself in him. I have qualities he doesn’t have and he has traits that weren’t passed on to me. I often blame him for my misery and I’m very observant and critical of his behavior. Although I should know better, I occasionally feel superior and condemn his flaws. He feels the same way about me sometimes, by the way. On the other end, I respect him and enjoy the things I can learn from him about myself. Our father-son relationship reminds me of the ongoing dance between love and hate by the two major world religions: Christianity and Islam.
No turning other cheek
“I think Islam hates us,” Donald Trump told journalist Anderson Cooper when asked if Islam is at war with the West. Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels seem to validate his statement, not to mention ISIS and their horrific campaign or the Iranian Ayatollahs that have never looked fondly upon the West.
Islam has an image problem but it’s booming nonetheless. Muslims failed to conquer Europe in the past, but now they are moving to Europe en masse. As a Dutch citizen I notice this: there is a big Turkish mosque in my street and underneath me I can hear the Islamic nasheeds sung by my Moroccan neighbor to calm down his kids when they cry.
The arrival of Islam in Europe set stage for populist leaders – like Dutch politician Geert Wilders – who attack the Muslim population, increasing tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims and contributing to the instability of our continent. “[Europeans] have enabled the destruction of their own countries by means of their immigration policies,” according to the conservative political critic Pamela Geller. “If they allow criticism of Islam, it will show the disastrous failure of their commitment to multiculturalism.”
Europe isn’t the only place I’ve encountered tension between Muslims and Christians. Last year I visited Indonesia – the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world –where five religions are supposed to co-exist in harmony. My own roots lay in Sulawesi, a Christian-dominated island. My grandfather told me that when he was still young, fanatical Muslims who entered the island were beheaded (sounds familiar) and afterward their heads were put on a stick at the airport to set an example.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi have not yet disappeared. “Muslims are afraid to cause trouble here. They know we will kill them,” a local taxi driver, with ‘I love Jesus’ stickers plastered on the interior of his vehicle, proudly told me. I found the statements to be shocking coming from a devout Christian, even though I knew of the tensions. Christians are taught to turn the other cheek and be compassionate with their enemies, but according to the driver violence is the only way to defend themselves as a minority against increasing violence from Muslims. In Aceh, for example, Muslims attacked Christians in 2015, which resulted in one dead and four wounded. “After burning the church, the crowd – made up mostly of members of the Muslim Youth Forum – tried to attack another but ran into opposition from Christians,” Husein Hamidi, chief of police in Aceh, reported.
My simple question: why the hate?
People have forgotten a very profound truth: connection. Christianity and Islam are deeply intertwined. They are family. But there is a very crucial difference: Christianity is 600 years older than Islam. I hear many Christians say their religion is more mature because it has passed a stage of reformation while Islam has not. In many cases Islam is called medieval. On the other hand, many Muslims state that the Quran is the pure word of God and therefore more valuable than the Bible, which has undergone centuries of mistranslation and pollution. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I mean: isn’t it much more interesting to see the many similarities between the Quran and the Bible, and speak of Islam as a later version of the message brought by Jesus Christ?
The new is always exciting –it’s more fun to watch a movie on my flat screen-TV than the old barrel my grandmother owned when she was still alive – but we cannot deny that the words from the Quran and Bible are strikingly similar, including on topics like headscarves and pork. The messengers that provided humanity with the holy texts were different, however, which makes perfect sense to me: Jesus was already dead for 600 years so someone had to tell the polytheists in Mecca the truth. Therefore, Muhammad became a prophet, and when he received God’s word from the angel Gabriel, a fresh religion was born out of an already existing one.
Muslims should seek to avoid mistakes made by Christians in the past, but they aren’t doing a very great job. After a bloody history, Christians are sowing their wild oats, resting on the lap of the Western capitalist world while growing in African and Asian countries. They are nothing like Boko Haram or Jemaah Islamiyah, which are rebelling against the ‘backed-up-by-the-West-Christians’ like an angry son against his father, a phenomenon I call religious puberty.
I stumbled upon the most beautiful thing symbolizing the relationship between Islam and Christianity when watching The Message, an old movie about the rise of Prophet Muhammad. The movie depicted how the first Muslims flew to Abyssinia because of their persecution by the Meccan Quraysh tribe. Abyssinia was ruled by Negus, a Christian king, who was surprised by the similarities between the two religions. He offered the Muslims asylum, preventing them from being killed, and allowed them to freely practice their religion within his kingdom. Caring for them as his own children, the king refused to give up his guests despite the demands of the Meccans who referred to the Muslims as “foolish youths who made up their own religion.” Then it hit me: there would be no Islam without Christianity.
Respect your parent, respect your child
Christianity remains the biggest religion in the world at this point, though I can see its decline. In the Netherlands, churches are being demolished or renovated for other purposes while mosques are full and more are being built. Islam is the continuation of Christianity. This does not mean the first one is superior to the latter or vice versa. I still rebel against my dad, like Islam rebels against Christianity, but I’m not better than my father and he is not better than me; the old Nokia 3310 still beats the hell out of the latest iPhone when it comes to indestructibility, but you cannot read The Islamic Monthly on it (which is an instant deal-breaker, of course.) We have many similarities and differences, but are from the same source. Whatever we do, we should always keep that in mind.
As an MA in religious studies, I humbly want to say something to all Christians and Muslims: Dear Muslims, please treat Christians like your old man. You may not agree with him, you may not be the same, you may have had many disputes in the past and made each other’s lives miserable, but you owe your existence to him. Now that you are getting stronger, bigger and more influential, please do not use your strength to destroy him but rather care for him as family. Embrace your roots, even if it’s a cross.
Dear Christians, please forgive Muslims for their mistakes. They may do things differently, and rebel against you for trivial reasons like politics, money or ego, but do not forget that they are a continuation of yourselves. They are your family and believe in the same god.
Let’s have a family reunion.