A week or two ago, in a Facebook conversation with a pastor who questioned whether the Pope should have allowed Muslim prayers at the Vatican, I offhandedly remarked the little-known fact that, in Islam, Jesus is a prophet who returns at the end-times to sit as the Judge of humankind. My goal was simple: just show that Christians and Muslims may have some common ground, even if just a little. In the name of peace, searching out common ground is crucial as our society grows increasingly more pluralistic. I didn’t really think that was a very heretical thing to suggest, but it unleashed a firestorm where a complete stranger (not the pastor) began quoting scriptures about false prophets, condemning those who were not Christians to hell, and referred to anyone who advocated peace between any religions as pushing something she called “Chrislam.”
There’s a hundred things I could’ve picked apart in that conversation, but the one that I can’t stop churning over in my head is this notion that I’m Chrislamic. What the stranger didn’t know is that I can speak Arabic (although I can’t read the Qur’an yet, and the version of Arabic I know is the Moroccan dialect), that I lived in a Muslim Kingdom for two years, and that I do have a heartfelt love for people of all religions (and, dare I say, those without any). But I have a special heart for Muslims in particular because my interaction with them was, by and large, incredibly positive. Most Moroccans I met as a Peace Corps volunteer put hospitality in the American south to shame. How many Americans do you know who, every time they see you, invite you to lunch? And dinner? And spending the night? Or who just randomly give you gifts when you’re a complete stranger? It didn’t take much time living in Morocco to discover that the American media’s trope suggesting Muslims are terrorists is patently false.
So, I guess in a sense, I am Chrislamic. Although, since Judaism begot Christianity and heavily influenced Islam, maybe I’m Chrislamew. Or since I also love Buddhism, maybe I’m Boddichrislamew. Or maybe this new terminology is just a silly attempt to disempower anyone who doesn’t adhere to an incredibly strict, wooden translation of the Biblical text. In either case, I thought I’d take a brief, closer look at the term “Chrislam:”
From the best I can tell, Chrislam is actually a syncretistic religion that began in Nigeria in the 1980s, a place where Christianity and Islam have often meshed (and not always well). So, too, Chrislam seems to refer to a fictional religion in an Arthur C. Clarke science fiction piece. But when I was told I was adhering to the tenets of Chrislam, I don’t think it had anything to do with Nigeria or a sci-fi novel. Instead, she was referring to a kind of “New World Order,” where at the end times, fundamentalists believe all religions will mesh into one. You can’t make this stuff up (actually, on second thought, you can, and they have, because there’s not really a scriptural basis for any of this unless something, like, the Left Behind series is your “scripture”).
But let’s play what if: What if, indeed, the world’s religions meshed into one. On some level, that sounds great to me. I’ve met and adored some Buddhist-Christians, but because Buddhism is more a “practice” or a way of life than it is a religion, it’s a lot easier for those two to “mesh” together than it is for two religions that say fundamentally different things about their chief prophets. Simply put, while Jesus is greatly esteemed in Islam, he is neither the final prophet (that would be Mohammed, peace be upon him), nor is he divine. I’m not sure how the Nigerians who proposed Chrislam dealt with that basic (if not the most basic) tenet of Christianity, and in that sense, being Chrislamic is absurd. But when I was called an adherent of Chrislam, the critique wasn’t about my beliefs. The stranger didn’t know what it is I do or don’t believe. Her critique came in the midst of my praising an action: Christans and Muslims and Jews praying together. That raises an important question: if people of different faiths pray together or discuss their similarities and differences, are they advocating a “New World Order,” where all religions mesh together to become one? Or, more simply, are they just praying together and having a conversation? The answer seems obvious to me.
There’s more context to this that’s important, however, namely that the Muslims and Jews who were praying together at the Vatican were Palestinians and Israelis who, politically-speaking, haven’t been able to do much historically other than fight. In the realm of political science, there’s this incredibly unfortunate picture of that conflict that paints the conflict’s history and future as one that’s purely a political issue. It’s a fight about land and the history of that land. For Pope Francis to ask Palestinians and Israelis to come together in prayer was to recognize something that’s gone amiss in nearly every single attempt to find peace: that religion and religious differences, are in fact, a crucial part of the inability to find peace. Mind you, that’s an incredibly oversimplified picture of an incredibly complex history from the perspective of one guy’s snooty opinion, but what harm could possibly come from asking people to listen to each other’s prayers or to pray for peace or to ask that G-d, Christ, and Allah guides these three religions toward a helpful resolution?
And it’s not that G-d, Christ, and Allah is going to magically speak from the heavens and proclaim, “Thou shalt get along.” It’s that in listening to one another’s prayers, that in praying together, one would hope they might hear each other in an earnest voice they haven’t heard before – one that lets go of the perspectives people tend to cling to in order to acknowledge other perspectives are just as relevant and meaningful. Or to put that another way, it’s when we listen to each other’s earnestness that we are mostly likely to be moved by our own. In that sense, I welcome being told I adhere to Chrislam or Boddichrislamew or whatever promotes we listen to one another’s differences and work together with each other’s similarities. Rather than waiting for G-d, Christ, and Allah to sort that out later, let’s do what we can now and live with the hope that we can do something.