My personal experience of Syria is so very different from what is being portrayed in the media today. In 2003 I traveled to three Muslim countries in the Middle East. The trip was sponsored by a Muslim organization whose goal was to promote peace and understanding. Their intention on this trip was to allow Christian leaders from the U.S. to experience Islam as it is practiced in Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
Two imams accompanied us. One was from Baltimore and one from San Diego. What we experienced changed my understanding, attitude and theology about Islam. I came to know that as a Christian I am related to Muslims as sisters and brothers in God. We have similar basic beliefs about God and our hopes and dreams for God’s presence among us. We pray for the same peace and work for the same mutual good of all people.
We met with university presidents, cabinet level government officials and the highest ranking Muslim religious leaders in each country. Here is a brief abstract of what I have learned.
The Syrians I met love their families just like us. They worship God in public gatherings just like us. They practice private prayers in ways that are more devout than many of us. They tithe for the relief of the poor with something they call zakat, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Basically they give 2.5% of their income to the poor, apart from any contributions they may make to their local mosque. They practice hospitality which is substantially greater than our cultural norms. And they love peace as much as we do. They mean us no harm and are appalled at violence in the name of religion.
Although we are hearing a lot these days that would push us into reaching other conclusions about Muslims from the Middle East, this trip helped me realize that the vast majority of the worlds Muslims practice mainstream moderate Islam which looks like what we found in Syria and not like what the media is reporting.
Every mass shooting in the U.S. pushes people throughout the world into believing everyone in America is a gun toting violent lunatic. We know that is not so. I hope this helps others realize that what many public figures are saying about Muslims just isn’t so.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I believe Muslims are my sisters and brothers in God.