American Evangelical Islamophobia: A History of Continuity with a Hope for Change

From Fuller Seminary’s reflections on Christian-Muslim relations

barbary_pirates

Colonial Americans had no idea that many of the slaves on their shores were actually Muslims. The famous Boston pastor Cotton Mather once quipped, “we are afar off, in a Land, which never had (that ever heard of) one Mahometan breathing in it.”2 Yet they felt themselves to be knowledgeable about Islam through the proliferation of sermons and books on that topic. The other source was the reality of Americans, along with Europeans, who were enslaved by the “Barbary Pirates” of North Africa.3 Already in the 1670s, several stories of North American captives caught the attention of the colonists, but especially that of the appointed royal governor of Carolina, who was abducted in 1679 and later freed by ransom. His narrative has only survived in fragments, but what stands out is “the cruelties of the Muslims” and the power of his prayers, which also influenced his captors.4

Captivity stories from North Africa were so common that many beggars on the streets of colonial America claimed to have been captured by the Barbary pirates, hoping to elicit more sympathy. Yet these stories also fueled a longstanding industry within Christendom including polemical writings about Muslims and Islam. One particularly influential book, Humphrey Prideaux’s, The True Nature of Imposture Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet, was published in London in 1697, with seven subsequent editions. Years later, American editions appeared in Philadelphia (1796) and Fairhaven, Vermont (1798), no doubt connected to the nascent U.S. government’s troubles with the Barbary powers at that time.5

We know that Prideaux’s book was widely read in the American colonies, because from the early 18th century on, and for the first time, Muhammad’s name in print rarely appeared without the epithet “impostor.” Prideaux’s message was hardly new, but this Anglican theologian’s main target was the Deists, whose central critique of Christianity was that it was fraudulent. By holding up Islam as a plain case of religious forgery, he hoped to defend Christianity’s integrity. From the start he anticipates accusations of demonizing Islam, but he promises to “approach Islam judiciously.”6 That said, he had little first-hand knowledge, and what he did think he knew was often wrong—but wrote he did, and people on both sides of the Atlantic absorbed it as truth.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FULLER STUDIO

 

 

 

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Fighting Perceptions, Evangelicals and Muslims Commit to Oppose Religious Bigotry

THUMB-roberts.cathedral-copyA majority of evangelical pastors consider Islam to be “spiritually evil,” according to one just-released poll, but on Oct. 23 an evangelical pastor and an imam took turns talking about their friendship and mutual respect.

Texas Pastor Bob Roberts and Virginia Imam Mohamed Magid joined dozens of other religious leaders in prayer at the Washington National Cathedral before signing a pledge to denounce religious bigotry and asking elected officials and presidential candidates to join them.

“I love Muslims as much as I love Christians,” said Pastor Bob Roberts, of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, before leading a prayer at the “Beyond Tolerance” event.

“Jesus, when you get hold of us, there’s nobody we don’t love.”

Although mainline Christians have joined together for years on interfaith initiatives, work of evangelicals and Muslims is a newer dimension in efforts to foster interreligious understanding.

“I would like each one of us today to spread the news, using evangelical terminology, or to share what we have learned here today,” said Magid, president emeritus of the Islamic Society of North America, as he issued a call to action.

The pledge comes as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have questioned each other’s devotion to faith and Carson has said he didn’t think a devout Muslim could be president.

FULL ARTICLE FROM SOJOURNER’S MAGAZINE 

Can a Muslim be God’s Voice to an Evangelical Christian?

musI once lived with a Muslim family for two years. It was extremely challenging, but not in the ways I expected it would be.

I lived with the Muslim family in their house near the center square of the capital city of Albania. There were nine of us in a relatively small space. Added to the cramped conditions was the fact that running water flowed only a few hours a day, electricity was intermittent, and food variety was limited. But I found none of this too difficult, even though Albania (Muslim, Balkan, post-Communist, poor, Mediterranean) could not have been more jarring to my affluent, American, “white,” Baptist upbringing.

What I found most challenging was this: They loved me. They loved me not only in a pat-you-on-the-back landlord sort of way. My Muslim family loved me like a son, which included caring for me as their spiritual responsibility.

This took particular force in the person of my hunched and humming Albanian grandmother. She was the first face I saw each morning, and at night she would lovingly touch my shoulder and say “sweet sleep.” She also pastored me. She encouraged me when I was low, blessed me as I went about my work (which, by the way, was Christian missionary work) and she told me about God’s love for me. She challenged my Christian training and my American pragmatism. She was a dawdling, superstitious Muslim. How could I allow her to be God’s voice in my life?

Tough questions

What am I to do? Seriously.

How do I understand all the folks who cross my path and don’t fit my theological categories? As a devout Christian, what am I supposed to do with the non-Christians I have known who are kinder than most Christians, purer than most Christians, and seemingly more connected to God than most Christians? Even more troubling, what am I to do with religious outsiders who are spiritually wise and speak that wisdom into my life? Am I allowed to accept their wisdom or am I required to sit in perpetual suspicion?

FULL ARTICLE FROM LEADERSHIP