A Muslim Among the Evangelicals

NEW YORK — “I agree with about 90% of what you said,” Chuck Colson told me, shaking my hand as … Continued

NEW YORK — “I agree with about 90% of what you said,” Chuck Colson told me, shaking my hand as I stepped off the stage at the Q Conference,

I confess to being shocked.

But maybe not as shocked as the audience of 500 Evangelical Christians felt when the organizer of Q, a young visionary named Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project, said “The next person I’d like to bring to stage is a Muslim, Eboo Patel.”

Q is a gathering of Evangelical Christians dedicated to exploring “the church’s role in positively engaging culture”.

It is a clear that a segment – maybe even the vanguard – of the Evangelical movement is aware that “culture” includes people who are not Christian, and the notion of “positive contribution” is being broadened beyond conversion efforts.

The speaker before me, Leroy Barber, talked about the need for Christians to recommit themselves to building “The Beloved Community” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked so much about.

When I got on stage, I asked a simple question: “Am I, a Muslim, part of that Beloved Community? Are the 4 + billion people on Earth who are not Christians part of the Beloved Community?”

I went through the litany of relationships King had with people of different faiths. Learning from Gandhi, a Hindu (it was a cosmic friendship – they never met in person); marching in Selma with Heschel, a Jew; nominating Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Did these respectful interfaith relationships make King less of a Christian?

My message: Muslims and Christians might not fully agree on worldview, but we share a world. We do not have the same understanding of theology, but we have a similar view of humanity.

I spoke about my close friendship with Evangelical Christians through the Interfaith Youth Core. My colleague, April Kunze, who was told as a Christian leader at Carleton College that helping to rebuild a mosque destroyed by racist arson was “unChristian”. She left the Church at that point (or, more accurately, was asked to leave), unable to reconcile her desire to help others regardless of faith with the type of religion being professed by the people who called themselves Christian on her campus.

April was at home at Q. It was a place where she could bring her full mind, body and soul. Connect her faith to the world. Be friends with a Muslim. Ask hard questions openly. Disagree with people.

I felt at home too. The applause after my talk was loud and genuine – an applause not of full agreement (I never asked for it), but of (I believe) deep appreciation. Dozens of people thanked me for coming, saying that they knew it was a risk on my part. I told them I felt they had taken a greater risk by inviting me. Several excitedly told me about the interfaith projects they were working on – to address poverty, to care for the environment.

After my main session talk, nearly 200 people filed in to a smaller session with me for a Q and A. The questions were intelligent, respectful, probing. What books should Christians read about Islam (the best introduction, in my view, Reza Aslan’s No god but God)? What is the relationship between the Nation of Islam and “mainstream” practice? What is the role of Sharia law in Islam? And most emphatically – what can Christians and Muslims, along with people of other faiths and no faith at all, do together to improve the world we live in?

If all you do is watch television sound bites and read alarmist books, it’s easy to believe that Evangelical Christianity is only about smug, self-absorbed triumphalism. But as Susan Sontag once said, “Whatever is happening, something else is always going on.”

And here is what that is: a self-reflective renewal movement, grounded in a particular interpretation of the Gospel, full of hope and love, ready to engage the world.

And even though it is not my tradition and my community, I believe deeply that this type of Evangelical Christianity is one of the most positive forces on Earth.

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  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    Dear Mr. PatelI once heard someone say that when Protestants and Catholics criticize each other, each compares their own best theological belief to the other’s worst practice. And so, of course, each has some higher value, and each has some bad practices. Don’t you think that this is also true in all religious disagreements? I think that Christians and Muslims argue this way, too.

  • Angela

    Eboo,What a wonderful post. I believe we have an obligation to love one another and agree to disagree. I’m very glad to hear that we in all walks of life, faiths, doctrine need to understand the importance of reconciling the world in love expressing itself through faith.

  • Skeptimal

    I would agree that people of all faiths and no faith are better off if we can focus on our similarities and not our differences. Unfortunately, I doubt the Q gathering was what it seemed. If Evangelical Christians and Muslims are ever able to work together, it will only be because they have a mutual enemy that they hate more than each other.

  • Tom

    I’m sure you all came to agree that homosexuals are the scourge of the earth. How nice you could all agree on something.

  • yeah… right

    Christian Hospitality = Christians + Muslims + Jews + Hindus + Buddhists – (Atheists + Agnostics)

  • Skeptimal

    “Christian Hospitality = Christians + Muslims + Jews + Hindus + Buddhists – (Atheists + Agnostics)”I think you’re being unfair to the Hindus and Buddhists. To an Evangelical, they’re *almost* as bad as a free thinker.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    500 evangelicals expounding on Christianity continuing 2000 years of flaws, errors and mumbo jumbo especially on how to keep the “pew sitters” and “kneelers” paying for the evangelicals’ fancy cars and houses. One Muslim expounding on Islam continuing 1400 years of analogous flaws, errors and the hallucinations of an Arab madman. Eboo, I hear you passed out buttons saying:”No one is save until the koran is deflawed!!!!Tis good that you have finally seen the light!!!

  • test2

    gobblegobble

  • Michael

    Am I, an atheist, part of the Beloved community you talk about?

  • James

    Am I, a man who happens to be gay, part of the Beloved community you talk about?

  • frank burns

    Right, he agreed with 90% of what you said — he agreed with everything, in fact, except for the essential 10% where you disagree, and will always disagree until you also become an evangelical Christian — if you are so lucky to do so before you burn forever in hell, which is right where you are headed unless you believe just as Chuck Colson does. Isn’t that about right, Mr. Colson?

  • Herb

    To James and Michael:The answer is “Yes!”Herb

  • Unvarnished Truth

    You may be part of the community of this world but no person can be a part of the Kingdom of God unless he or she repents and believes that Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross for sin and arose from the dead to give new life. Therefore, only those who believe is Jesus as the Son of God are part of the community of Christ. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Unvarnished truth,The unvarnished truth about Christianity:Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects. The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics. earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html Luther, Calvin, Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley et al, founders of Christian-based religions, also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

  • Nicholas Price

    Dear Eboo,Sincerely,Nick

  • BGone

    Ah, ““the church’s role in positively engaging culture”. Yeah. But what is culture?Culture – shallow saucer containing jell with things growing in it.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    500 evangelicals expounding on Christianity continuing 2000 years of flaws, errors and mumbo jumbo especially on how to keep the “pew sitters” and “kneelers” paying for the evangelicals’ fancy cars and houses. One Muslim expounding on Islam continuing 1400 years of analogous flaws, errors and the hallucinations of an Arab madman. Eboo, I hear you passed out buttons saying:”No one is safe until the koran is deflawed!!!!”Tis good that you have finally seen the light!!!

  • Pablo

    Concerned the Non Christian Blinded by Sin,You do not know what you are talking about and the non-believing scholars you quote do not have one shred of proof of what they are saying. They are false teachers and will receive God’s wrath in full measure as will you unless you repent.Again I think you should change your name you are not and never have been a Christian but instead you are a false teacher.

  • Eric

    Thank you Mr. Patel for being a voice of reason in a frenzied, volatile time. Our world is growing smaller partly as a result of global economics. Consequently, different nations and cultures, including religious traditions, are having to rub shoulders in ways they didn’t before. Moving into the 21st century, our outlook on the world should reflect this multi-cultural interaction and embrace it, not shrink from it. You represent the positive side of that change–that people from various faiths can work together and create a better world for everyone.

  • Student

    Eboo, As always, great words of wisdom to share with us. I look forward to hearing you speak at the Compassion Forum this weekend!

  • Arminius

    J–O–Z–E–V–ZDo the world a favor: ‘The beauty of that statement lies in the fact that you have not the brain cells necessary to understand it.Get thee back to prison.

  • Big John Scott

    Thank you Eboo for your incredible words. I was the front door bouncer guy at Q , and because of my unique experience in that capacity, I can vouch for you on 2 things…1- When you walked in that front door, you were our honored guest. We felt very honored as your hosts. 2- It was one of the deepest ovations of the conference (even louder than the one for The Fray). Your Q words along with the warmth in this column make me proud to have been a part of this gathering. Blessings and peace along your journey.

  • ANONYMOUS

    All humans are bonded together by sharing the same basic needs (food, shelter, reproduction) and secondary needs such as the need for regulating social interaction, communication, kinship, recreation, etc. The answers to the universal problems of existence constitute our culture. And there are thousands of different cultures on our planet.One set of answers emerged from Western religions – religions that emerged on the lands west of Jerusalem – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although Western religions are not identical and differ markedly in many details, they share a common ethos – monotheism. Islam is the youngest of these religions and Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as two other great monotheistic religions.Have the people of the Western religions ever lived in peace and harmony? The answer is: indeed they have. The book, “The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain” (2002: Little Brown Co.) by Yale professor, Maria Rosa Menocal, provides a good reading on the subject. In medieval Spain tolerance was often the rule and literature, science, and art flourished in a climate of cultural openness.

  • halozcel

    Anon,below post,Only and only one book…Would you write only one Library or University coming from Medieval Spain(correct question should be indeed *does muslim know what Library is*)You say *Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as two great monotheistic religions*

  • ANONYMOUS

    halozcel:Your ignorance is appalling. You never heard of the libraries of medieval Baghdad or 1,000 year old university of Al-Azhar in Egypt. You never heard of Cordoba (Spain)? You never heard of Ibne Khaldoun, Ibn Rushd (Averroes)? You never heard of Avecena (Ibn Seena)?You are wrapped up in HATE OF Muslims and hide behind your ignorance.Read Menocal’s book. There are so many books about medieval Spain.

  • scott hodge

    Eboo,Sincerely,Scott

  • big John

    Beloved community- To have a better understanding of what the Q conference was about (before assuming it bashed homosexuals or atheists), skim through the book ‘Unchristian’ by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.

  • mike foster

    eboo…it was great having you at the Q conference.i so enjoyed your presentation as i know many others did too. you provoked great thought about very important issues. all the best to you. mike foster. http://www.Ethur.org

  • Sarah Cunningham

    Eboo, As a friend of Q and as someone who hopes to be part of this “vanguard” that shifts the perception of Christians in the larger world, I thank you. I love that you are courageous enough to engage others in thoughtful conversation via your speaking and your writing. In any grouping, there are always extremists, speaking out with hostility or negativity…but I pray the antagonists in the Christian camp are diminished by a larger consensus of love. If not now, I hope that is the direction we are moving…Be blessed.

  • Taylor Armendariz

    I am a young adult, who was raised Christian and re-committed myself to God about a month and a half ago. My pastor at Crossroads Christian Church Tony Wood, was at “Q” and talked about your message. And I am completely blown away that a man of such a completely different background, lifestyle, and religion said what you did. I find it truley a blessing that you praised Christianity, and said such a positive statement. Because when you turn on the news or read the newspaper, when Christianity is brought up it is being shunned and always put in a negative aspect, well I shouldn’t say always, but the majority of the time. And I pray that one day society will view Christianity the way you have and not kick us to the curb. And I thank you for putting us out there the way you did. Yours In Christ,Taylor Armendariz