How Christians Can Ally With Muslims In The Age Of Islamophobia

[This story was first published on Slant News in 2015. The site has since shuttered, so I am reposting here.]

A colleague of mine asked me what advice I would give Christians who would want to show allyship with Muslims, now and during the inevitable hate-fests that will emerge due to recent events.

Here are some quick thoughts on ways Christians can build rapport with Muslims.

  1. Remember: Muslims Love Jesus.

It’s not just Jesus, but Mary as well, who is the only woman named in the Qur’an, the second most mentioned person in the Qur’an after Moses. She is also the only woman to have a chapter of the Qur’an named after her.

One of the wonderful passages about Jesus in the Qur’an is from the chapter of Mary. It says:

Indeed I am a servant of Allah! He has given me the Book and made me a prophet.
He has made me blessed, wherever I may be, and He has enjoined me to prayer and to be charitable as long as I live,
and to be good to my mother, and He has not made me self-willed and wretched.
Peace is to me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised alive. (19:30–33)
From Wikipedia: By Unknown — http://staff.xu.edu/~tan/links/Islam-1.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4005509

2. Let’s Walk Together

Author photo of NYC Climate March — https://flic.kr/p/p3Teuh

This advice is meant in a literal sense. People are less likely to be harassed if they are traveling in a group. In Sydney, the #IllRideWithYou campaign recognized that Muslim women and children, in particular, were being attacked and bullied on the transit system when they were by themselves.

Make a social event out of going to the grocery store, picking kids up from school or even an actual social event, like going to the movies.

At this point, unfortunately, donning items like the hijab are not as helpful, as it feeds into the idea that everyone is becoming Muslim. It’s better to show our ideals as Americans living together.

3. Let’s Engage

The best way for us to build a community is to engage with one another. That means in social ways, but also intellectually. Find good books, talks or programs that show what it means to build a pluralistic society, where we use our differences as a strength.

As it pertains to the American-Muslim experience, G. Willow Wilson’s memoir of conversion, A Butterfly Mosque, helps explain both the tradition and the appeal of the religion to Muslims.

More academic works include Carl Ernst’s Following Muhammad and Richard Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. If videos are more your thing, check out UPF or the work of Musa Syeed. And on the music front, you’ve got Muslim Hip-hop artists like K’naan, Yasiin Bey and Lupe Fiasco.

4. Explain Yourself And Build Empathy

One of the pitfalls of interfaith work is that minority groups are expected to explain themselves, and that can make for awkward conversations.

Host an event where you explain who you are and what you believe and how you got there. When you turn the lens on yourself, you are inviting other participants to reflect back to you their own stories and questions.

Making yourself the Other increases empathy. We are all strangers to one another, sometimes even to ourselves.

5. Let’s Break bread

Public domain photo from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=105836&picture=give-bread-3

This old nugget is a good one. Use traditional American-Muslim foods, like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and wings.

Even hold an “Iron Chef” competition, and see what your community can produce together. If it is tied to some sort of charitable giving, it is an even better way to say “we are one.”