A brother sent me news about an upcoming Christian book that wants to improve the relationship between Christians and Muslims. It is written by Nick Chatrath, a very friendly Indian man who is also a Christian evangelist. Evangelists are Christians who believe in the importance of spreading Christianity throughout the world.
In this video which is on the book's Amazon.com page, Mr. Chatrath makes it clear that his aim is to help Christians convert Muslims to Christianity, for example when he says that many features of his book are designed "to help you help Muslims see Jesus afresh."
Obviously we Muslims aren't very keen on seeing Jesus afresh, but this Christian effort isn't entirely negative. It certainly is better than the older (and sadly, still prevalent) doctrine of considering all Muslims savages and barbarians.* It is also better than trying to trick uneducated Muslims into converting to Christianity using fake Qurans. But still, this book shows a deep problem that both Christians and Muslims suffer from: Neither side is interested in understanding the other side unless there is an agenda involved.
Both Islam and Christianity teach the important of acceptance and forgiveness. And yet, each side often gives the other side this attitude:
If you are not like us, we are going to do everything in our power to change you into someone who is just like us. We'll learn about you, and we'll befriend you, and slowly but surely manage your thoughts so that you start to see the world just like we see it.This attitude is extremely disrespectful toward the person receiving it. It doesn't show any acknowledgement for the fact that the other person is a human being—able to understand the world for themselves and make their own decisions. It discounts the other person's lifelong beliefs (you are wrong. We are right) without having earned the right to do so.
Religious belief is very personal, and as prophet Muhammad has taught us, nobody has the right to push it on others. I shouldn't have to say this, everyone knows that it is impolite to tell a stranger, or your neighbor
You know what you said about [insert topic here]. Well, you are wrong.or
I know you are Muslim and you believe that Jesus is a prophet. But you are wrong. Jesus is actually God's child, and you must believe this because, well, we do.
Challenging people's beliefs on issues of faith is impolite. But there is an exception. Prophet Muhammad invited his closest friends and relatives to embrace Islam; after a lifetime of friendship, he had earned the right to talk to them about such personal topics. This is the only type of evangelism that doesn't offend the intelligence and dignity of its audience.
Nick Chatrath's method of evangelism, however, is offensive. It doesn't bother to do the hard work necessary to earn the right to ask others to embrace one's own religion. At best it creates a polite relationship between a Christian and a Muslim, exactly the kind of relationship in which it is very impolite to push personal beliefs on others.
What is the solution? It is to keep what is personal personal. This is a very basic, millennia-old code of conduct of civilized society, one which evangelists of both sides have so far been incapable of grasping.
[Last updated: January 17, 2011]
* We Muslims have had our own share of considering non-Muslims savages and barbarians. Thankfully today most of us have taken to heart the Quran's messages of acceptance and kindness toward non-Muslims.