A Muslim Sermon in a Christian Church
Tue, 2008-07-01 06:14
By Muqtedar Khan
I was once again reminded of the amazing degree of
religious tolerance that many Christians in this country display habitually.
Last Sunday, on the 29th of June, I had the rare honor of giving the sermon in
a Christian service at the St. Thomas Episcopalian Church in Newark, Delaware.
I have given the Islamic sermon (Khutbah) at mosques but giving one at a
Church was an extraordinary ecumenical experience.
Quran, the holy book of Muslims, teaches that
diversity has a divine purpose. God could have created us all the same if He
chose to, but in his infinite wisdom he created us as people of different
ethnicities, races and beliefs in order that we get to know each other, and
compete in doing good (Quran: 49:13, 2:148) . It was in this spirit that I
visited with the Episcopalian community.
The history of conflict between Islam and
Christendom is well known. The crusades, the Muslim conquest of Constantinople
(now Istanbul), and the Spanish inquisition have all been the fodder of
folklores for centuries. The contemporary conflicts in the Middle East also get
more than their fair share of media coverage. What escapes attention are the
many gestures of goodwill that Muslims and Christians make to each other
routinely all over the world. St. Thomas community's invitation to me was one
such gesture that merits celebration.
Christian hospitality to Islam is neither new nor
unusual. It is a 1400 year old Islamo-Christian tradition. It all began in 614
AD. Muhammed the Prophet of Islam started preaching his message of one God in
Mecca around 610 AD. He gathered a few followers around him, who for years were
tortured and prosecuted by the pagan majority in Mecca. Five years into his
ministry, Muhammed asked some of his followers who suffered the most to migrate
to Abyssinia which was ruled by a Christian King. King Negus was a pious man
who gave the immigrants refuge and the protection to live safely and to
practice their faith. Muslims to this day remember and cherish King Negus.
Within five years of the birth of Islam, Muslims
were migrating to Christian lands in search of religious freedom. While 1400
years ago, only fifteen Muslims, 11 men and four women sought safe haven in
Christian Abyssinia; today nearly three million Muslims enjoy the same in the
U.S. Many prominent American Muslims have gone on record saying that they feel
freer to practice Islam in America than in their country of origin.
Islam does not just thrive in the secular democracy
of the U.S. It also thrives on the sacred grounds of this nation. All across
the country there are scores of churches which routinely allow Muslims to offer
their Friday prayers on their premises. Even where Muslims have the critical
mass and resources to build a mosque, on Fridays they still park in the parking
lots of churches.
I lived outside Washington DC in Northern Virginia
from 1995-2000. At that time there were about five places on route seven where
you could catch a Friday prayer – two churches, one mosque, the back of a store
and a convention hall at a Best Western hotel. The mosque had a capacity for
over 600 worshippers and 200 cars. The rest of the cars were parked, with
permission and free of charge, in the lots of two churches in the vicinity of
the mosque. This situation was not and is not unusual.
After the sermon, I chatted with the
congregationists about the common ground between Islam and Christianity. I felt
genuine fellowship and realized that in spite of everything that has happened
in global politics, Islam in America prospers in the benign embrace of
However, not all is hunky dory. In the U.S. nearly
40% Americans today have a negative view of Muslims and many preachers continue
to demonize Islam. Only last month Republican candidate John McCain repudiated
the endorsement of prominent pastor Rod Parsely who preaches that America was
created to destroy Islam and calls for a new crusade to eradicate it. More
Parsleys are emerging everyday.
The Quran says about Christians that among them
there are those who do good, forbid evil and are in the ranks of the righteous
(3:113-114), I believe that last Sunday, I was in the midst of just such a
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware
and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (
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