This Ash Wednesday I find it difficult to get these three young people off my mind. On February 10, Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu Salha, three Muslim students living near the University of North Carolina (where my son attends), were brutally shot and killed in their apartment by a neighbor. They were beautiful young people: Deah and Yusor newly married, and Deah about to head to Syria to provide free dental service to children there (see video by Deah).
These murders come at a time when persecution against Muslims in America continues to increase (see “Letting Our Suffering Speak and Be Public” by Omid Safi, Duke professor and director of the Islamic Studies Center). According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, active anti-Muslim groups are on the rise.
Yet my shame is greater when it comes to the U.S. church. According to a new poll, nearly half of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”
Personally, I confess that I cannot name a single close friend who is a Muslim. I regret I did not do more as director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation.
In this season of Lent, Christians are drawn to take a deep look inside ourselves, walking with Jesus who on the journey to crucifixion went out of his way to encounter the stranger. In his 2015 Ash Wednesday message, Pope Francis decried what he called “the globalization of indifference.” Tragically and increasingly, Christians are suffering at the margins of certain Islamic societies. It is time for Christians in the U.S., as the majority group with immense power on home ground, to confess our indifference to the Christian-Muslim challenge. It is time to seek out Muslims of goodwill in face-to-face encounters. In concrete acts of eating together and in sharing our stories of pain and hope with one another, we can begin to interrupt the indifference.
P.S. Beginning three years ago, one small thing we did do at the Center for Reconciliation was to create a seminar at the annual Summer Institute for Reconciliation to engage the Christian-Muslim challenge, including bringing in Muslim faculty for the first time. The seminar happens again in June 2015, led by Rick Love and Najeeba Syeed-Miller, and scholarships are available.