Can a Christian Learn from a Muslim? A Review of Sacred Ground by Eboo Patel

by Rick Love

Can a Christian learn anything from a Muslim?

I have learned a lot from my Muslim friends. For example, I have learned much more about hospitality from my Muslim friends than I have from my Christian friends. Hospitality is an important theme in Scripture, and Muslims have modeled for me what hospitality truly is.

I have also learned a lot from Eboo Patel’s latest book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America. Sacred Ground is a profoundly refreshing look at how faith intersects with American ideals - or, more accurately, how American ideals should protect everyone’s faith. The term "sacred ground" refers to the fundamental American commitment to freedom of religion, and Patel describes the promise of America as pluralism – equal rights for a multicultural society.

Following Harvard University Scholar Diana Eck, Patel makes an important distinction between diversity and pluralism: “diversity is simply the fact of people from different backgrounds living in close quarters. Baghdad is diverse. Belfast is diverse. Bosnia is diverse. Each of those places… had also experienced serious religious violence…. Where diversity is a fact, pluralism is an achievement – it means deliberate and positive engagement of diversity” (pg. 70-71).

Sacred Ground will equip you to positively engage with diversity. It will help you live with the shift of colors and creeds in your neighborhood, and Patel will help you overcome the poison of prejudice and work towards the achievement of pluralism.

Patel brilliantly illustrates how the forces of prejudice have squared off against the forces of pluralism repeatedly in our history. He notes the famous and obvious example of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s. But he also draws out important parallels between the strong anti-Catholic sentiment in the 60’s and present day Islamophobia (I was shocked to read of the religious prejudice and discrimination faced by Catholics only half a century ago).

Patel also writes about the “science of interfaith cooperation.” He points out that social scientists measure diversity in three ways: through people’s attitudes, knowledge and relationships. This triangle becomes not only descriptive of religious diversity but also prescriptive of how we actually engage with different ethnic and religious groups.

For example, people’s attitudes toward Muslims in general change when they have a meaningful relationship with one Muslim. In the same way, people’s attitudes toward Muslims change when they have greater knowledge of Islam. I have seen this happen repeatedly, and we in Peace Catalyst have been doing this intuitively from the beginning. Thank you Eboo for showing the scientific basis for it!

In the minds of many evangelicals, interfaith cooperation smacks of compromise. I realize that much interfaith cooperation is in fact a “dumbing down” of faith in order to build bridges. But that is NOT the focus of Sacred Ground. On the contrary, Patel emphasizes a robust interfaith cooperation without compromise. He demonstrates that we can and even should engage with one another while remaining resolute in our own faith. We can build bridges without denying our own faith.

In conclusion, Sacred Ground is an important book about relevant issues and, in my opinion, is a must-read for peacemakers and anyone engaging with Muslims in the U.S.