The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has published an ad in several California newspapers to promote peace between Christians and Muslims. “Like Christians,” it says, “Muslims respect and revere Jesus. Islam teaches that Jesus is one of the greatest of God’s prophets and messengers to humankind. Like Christians, every day, over 1.3 billion Muslims strive to live by his teachings of love, peace, and forgiveness. Those teachings, which have become universal values, remind us that all of us, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and all others have more in common than we think.”
I support efforts to diminish prejudice and build bridges, but not under false pretenses. CAIR would do more to promote peace by confronting and repudiating the roots of Muslim hostility toward Christians. It could start by denouncing some recent incidents of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world.
One notable site of this persecution is Egypt. “I have received so many letters,” said the patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, in a speech last week, “about what’s happening to the Christian girls who go to supermarket stores to shop. At the store they tell them that they have won and have to go upstairs to receive their award or prize. After that we don’t know what’s happening to these girls upstairs.”
Whatever is happening, they aren’t being given free coupons. Pope Shenouda adds: We don’t know where they took the girls. They could be anywhere.” They most likely have been taken to places where they can be pressured to convert to Islam. Says Wilfred Wong of the Jubilee Campaign, a Christian human rights group: “The attempts to force Christians to convert to Islam in Egypt are on the increase and the methods are getting increasingly varied and well organized.”
In fact, some of these forced conversions, Wong observes, “are being conducted by well funded groups. ??¢â???¬ ¦ It is common for money to be offered to Christians to convert to Islam … but it also common for intimidation and force, including kidnapping and the threat or use of rape to be adopted as a method of making Christians convert to Islam. Christian women and girls are especially vulnerable to these attacks and the Egyptian authorities do nothing to protect the Christians. The Egyptian police even order the families of kidnapped Christian women to forget about their daughters and not to try to get them back.”
In neighboring Sudan it’s much the same story. Reports journalist Jesper Strudsholm: “According to several human rights organizations, it is common for desperate Sudanese to convert to Islam to gain access to food and money. While the government earlier this year was busy negotiating a peace built on religious tolerance, up to 3,000 Christians were given a four-week crash course in Islam in Khartoum.” A Dinka chief explained, says Strudsholm, that they were enticed by promises of food, money, food, cars, and free trips to Mecca — little of which they actually received.
In Indonesia, dozens of churches have been forcibly closed in recent months — including seven in one day in a province west of Jakarta. The Barnabas Fund reports that motorcycle-riding Muslim attackers have targeted individual Christians: “Nuci, a 40-year old mother of two, died two hours after receiving fatal injuries to her head, neck and back. A witness to the incident described how she heard the roar of the motorbikes, followed almost immediately by a baby’s screams. She ran towards the cries and found Nuci, bleeding to death and crawling towards her baby.”
Where does the Islamic animus toward Christians come from? Certainly radical Muslims despise Christians: the great radical theorist Sayyid Qutb said that while “Jews have been behind every calamity that has befallen the Muslim communities everywhere,” Christians “have been no less hostile.” But the roots lie deeper. CAIR’s ad doesn’t mention the verses of the Qur’an that say that those who “call Christ the son of Allah” are under “Allah’s curse” (9:30), or that command Muslims to “fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day . . . (even if they are) of the People of the Book” — that is, primarily Jews and Christians (9:29). Yet Muslims around the world are acting upon them. If CAIR wants Christians to believe that Christians and Muslims have “more in common than we think,” let them repudiate the violence these verses still inspire in the world, and help Muslims understand these verses in a way that will enable them to live in lasting peace with their Christian neighbors.