Christians and Muslims often disparage, fear or distrust the other religion, even to the point of engaging in ideological violence or hate speech. Religious leaders from both communities gathered to discuss the roots of such behavior at the Parliament of the World’s Religions on Friday.
“We’ve allowed terrorists to claim a whole religion for themselves, when the majority of people don’t believe in that practice,” said Rev. William McGarvey, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.
McGarvey organized the panel to begin conversing about problematic behavior both communities engage in, he said.
Both the Bible and the Quran condemn such acts, according to Ejaz Naqvi, author and past president of the Islamic Center of Zahra, California. Naqvi illustrated how the Bible and the Quran work together to create a dialogue of tolerance.
He said while there are violent sections in both the Bible and Quran, readers need to consider the context in which they were written. He explained the difference between descriptive and prescriptive texts.
Both books prescribe peace and tolerance. So where does the violence come from? It isn’t coming from the sacred texts, according to Naqvi.
Much of the hatred comes from a fear of Sharia law, according to Keith Burton, a leader at the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University in California.
Burton used examples of how political figures such as presidential hopefuls Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump and Ben Carson have disparaged Muslims in public.
Burton paid close attention to Carson’s quote that a “Muslim should never be the president of the United States,” and said the remark is closer to mainstream American thought than most would like to admit.
Of particular interest to Burton is the way politicians use religion to serve their own political agendas.
“Religion has been tossed around by both sides as a smokescreen for political wars. Both sides have shed innocent blood and used hate speech and ideological violence to meet their objectives,” Burton said. “Unless both sides are willing to be honest with the rhetoric they have used, there can be no healing.”
Darrell Ezell, director of a graduate interfaith action program at Claremont Lincoln University, agreed with his fellow panelists, but said there needs to be a move beyond theory and simply “feeling good” within interfaith communities in order to see needed change.
“Interfaith work cannot just take place with interfaith actors. Interfaith actors must engage with politicians and educators,” Ezell said. Cultivating compassion, exercising a two-way dialogue and collaborating with the opposing group are solutions to old hatreds and prejudice that continue to be a widespread problem.
“We should work together to build a new reality and that’s through policy making,” Ezell said.