“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.
In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”
Graves calls us to get past that.
The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.
Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”
Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.
As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.
But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.
At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.
I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.
Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.
And he tells us to go and do.
This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.