By Loretta Fulton
When a group of Highland Church of Christ members arrived at the Islamic Center of the South Plains in Lubbock last year, they were greeted with a strange message from the imam–or at least it sounded strange until the imam explained.
“You guys are on your own jihad,” Imam Samer Altabaa said as way of greeting.
That would have been enough to make many Americans get back in the car and drive home. But the imam quickly explained that “jihad’ doesn’t mean what a lot of Americans think it does. It is not an act of violence or a “holy war.”
On Monday, Altabaa was in Abilene as a guest of the leader of last year’s “jihad” to Lubbock, Derran Reese, director of global ministries at Highland. The two religious leaders participated in Summit 2017, an annual gathering at Abilene Christian University.
Their program was titled, “Is My Religion a Religion of Peace? A Dialogue Between a Muslim and a Christian.” Altabaa presented Islam’s position first, followed by Reese giving a Christian perspective, and Altabaa wrapping up the session. A question and and answer session followed.
Altabaa explained that the word “jihad” means to “struggle to achieve good things.” It doesn’t to fight or bring about violence.
“This is a holy term,” Altabaa said.
Islam is a religion of peace, like all religions, Altabaa said. In fact, the word itself is Arabic for “submitting to the will of God.”
“It has the meaning of peace, he said.
Altabaa explained that Mohammed was not the “founder” of Islam, but rather he is considered the final prophet in a long line of prophets that included, among others, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus.
Religion turns violent, Altabaa said, when one group tries to make another group convert to its ways. Various religions exist for a reason, Altabaa said. If God wanted all of us to be of one religion, he would make one religion, Altabaa said.
The Quran, Islam’s holy book, teaches much the same principle about violence that the Torah, or Old Testament to Christians, teaches. People have the right to fight back in the same manner they were attacked, or “an eye for an eye,” according to the Quran.
Reese outlined three views on violence–aggressive violence, “last resort” or “necessary evil” violence, and nonviolence or pacifism. Reese espouses the third option and cited numerous passages or phrases from the New Testament such as “blessed are the peacemakers, “turn the other cheek,” and “love your enemies.”
Justifying the use of violence, even in a “just war” scenario, requires that we think of humans in terms of “the other” or “them and us,” Reese said. But the kingdom of God dissolves those lines, he said.
The call of the gospels is for nonviolence, Reese said, and achieving nonviolent solutions to disagreements or misunderstands requires being proactive.
“We must work alongside Muslims,” he said.
The imam, Altabaa, concluded the formal part of the sessions by saying that religious people must add their voices to the call for an end to violence.
“We have to speak up and work harder to bring peace,” he said.
At the beginning of the class, Reese offered a prayer that included a request.
“We ask that you will give us clarity today,” he prayed.
His prayer was answered when the standing-room-only class responded with an “Amen” after the imam closed the session with a Muslim prayer both in Arabic and in English.