My Friend the Muslim Peacemaker

by Rick Love

My colleague Jeff Burns had told me that Imam Abdullah Antepli was an amazing guy, so I was excited when I recently got to meet him during my time at the Duke Center for Reconciliation Summer Institute. Abdullah was co-leading a class on Islam and Christianity with Dr. Ellen Davis, an Old Testament scholar.

During introductions, Abdullah smiled and asked everyone, “How do you define the Trinity in three words?” This got me laughing! What a great sense of humor – especially when you realize he was the only Muslim in a class full of Christians. But his most-jolting joke took place when our class visited a local mosque.

Twenty three students filed out of the bus following Abdullah to the entrance of the mosque. Abdullah raised his voice and waved his arm, shouting, “Onward Christian Soldiers!” You do NOT say that at a mosque! I train people not to say stuff like that anywhere. But it was so funny coming from him.

I love how Abdullah used humor to break down barriers and build bridges. It humanized him. His big smile and quick wit made him winsome. He has taken the time to understand Christians and can poke fun at both Muslims and Christians at the appropriate times and in relevant ways.

I am just as impressed with Abdullah’s heart. He did relief and development in Burma and Malaysia for a number of years before coming to Duke. He even missed the last day of our class because he was flying to Israel with 20 Imams he recruited. Their goal? To meet with Rabbis and pursue peace…in Israel (where Muslims are considered the enemy)!

But Abdullah is not just a funny, soft hearted kind of guy. He is also a deep thinker with a profound grasp of Islamic theology and practice. I enjoyed the times he argued cogently from the Qur’an and the Hadith to refute distortions of Islam or question what some Muslims think are “mainstream” interpretations of Islam.

I pointed out during class that the Prophet Muhammad was only exposed to heretical forms of Christianity. So the Qur'anic denials of the Trinity are not denials of what mainstream Christians really believe. I was pleasantly surprised when Abdullah agreed. He said the Quran denies "Tri-theism" – which Christians do as well.

We talked many times before and after class. But our hour together over coffee sharing stories and becoming friends was one of the highlights of my week at Duke. Abdullah is a peacemaker. There are thousands of Muslim peacemakers like Abdullah, and I want to meet them all. But for now, I am excited about my new friendship and look forward to pursuing peace together with Abdullah.