Communities of Reconciliation: Who Will Define Christian-Muslim Relations?

by David Vidmar 

I anxiously prepared for our first Community of Reconciliation gathering. Would anyone show up? Busy international scholars and students are not the easiest people to gather together. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Instead, we actually ran out of forks…so much for being prepared.

What is a Community of Reconciliation?

It’s so fun to greet Muslims, saying, "Assalamu alaykum." Their faces brighten on hearing it. Try it. But it's also rich to go deeper, and that's why Peace Catalyst and others have been gathering Muslims and Christians together in Communities of Reconciliation. Meeting regularly helps us get far beyond greetings, and our lives and communities change because of it. On different campuses and cities in the U.S., Muslims and Christians have gathered to build greater peace and tear down barriers that have hindered relationships between us. The goal: to understand before trying to be understood.

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So we began a Community of Reconciliation here in Davis, California. Muslim friends from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi, and Dubai, along with Christians from America and Indonesia, have been meeting over the past six weeks. Men and women, scholars from UC Davis and non-academics like me. We share our journeys, talk about our families, display our cultures, and discuss our faith. And of course, we enjoy eating Middle Eastern foods like shwarma, pita, dolma, and hummus!

But what will food and talk do between such varied cultures? Won’t we just try to convert each other? Or attack each other’s differences? One of the Pakistani men in our group spoke of seeing a suicide bomber kill two UN officials right in front of him. We don’t have to search far to be reminded of the cost of extremism. Comparing the best in our faith with the worst in theirs. Surveys reveal that a large percentage of Americans have negative feelings towards Muslims.

Who will define Muslim and Christian relations?

Both Muslim and Christians know we have extremists influencing the relationship between us. There is persecution, retaliation, fear, and hatred on both sides. We can allow that to define us. Or we can agree that we must do more than read books or watch news reports about each other. More than talk about or read about each other behind one another's backs. We must learn from each other face-to-face.

So we commit to go beyond casual greetings.

Building Bridges of Trust

This is our heart’s desire in our Community of Reconciliation:

“Instead of bringing others to where we are, we are now seeking to go with them to a place neither of us have been before. Traveling as companions on a journey. During this journey we all share gifts and expect to experience transformation through relationship.”
– Vincent Donovan and Jeff Burns

Are we being naive or compromising our faith by meeting? No. We agree that we are actually practicing our faith by gathering together. Our Egyptian friend quoted the Quran in saying, “Christians should be some who are closest to them. They are humble” (Q 5:82). Christians say, “We are trying to follow Jesus.” Jesus was honoring and relational with people from other faiths, and his longest recorded conversation was with the non-Jewish Samaritan woman at the well.

So instead of allowing our differences to drive us apart, we are drawing together with the desire to know and be known by each other. I will tell you more in the next blog, but... we may need to buy more forks.

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