Picture this. A Muslim leader reaches out to a group of Christians and invites them to his country. The Christians happily accept the invitation, while the Muslim leader prepares his people for their arrival. This is the first time the two communities have met in an official delegation. Matters of state, politics and religion are the topics of discussion. The two groups see eye-to-eye on most issues, but also agree to disagree on theological issues. If one phrase can best describe their meeting, it is “mutual respect”.
At the end of their talks, the Christians tell the Muslims, “It is time for us to pray”. The problem for the Christians is that there is no church nearby to worship. Instead of letting the Christians pray on the dirty street, the Muslim leader tells the Christians, “You are followers of the one true God, so please come pray inside my mosque. We are all brothers in humanity.” The Christians agree to use the “Islamic space” as their own. A bridge between these religious communities is made in the name of peace and goodwill.
This story is not some fairytale. It is a historical fact (I did, however, make-up quotes based on how the interaction might have played out). The Muslim leader of the story is Prophet Muhammad and the Christians are from Najran, or modern-day Yemen. The event happened in Medina in 631 AD. This moment in time represents one of the first examples of Muslim-Christian dialogue, but more importantly, one of the first acts of religious pluralism in Islamic history.
Now fast forward to 2016 in Damascus, Syria. The city – and much of the Middle East – has plunged into darkness. Pastor Edward Awabdeh leads a prayer in a Church despite threats on his life by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) militant group. Pastor Awabdeh maintains the Christian faith, although many of his religion have fled a country which is now ranked the fifth most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian.
The militant group regularly persecutes religious minorities in the large swathes of Syrian territory it has taken, and its ultimate aim is to destroy all traces of Christianity in the Middle East.
But to put it bluntly, the daily abductions, murders, beheadings and destruction perpetrated by IS fanatics on the vulnerable Christians of the Middle East directly contradict Prophet Muhammad’s vision of an Islamic state.