General CBF

What the church needs to know about Islam

By Stacy Sergent

As those who know me well would tell you, I’m never early for anything, but somehow I was today, and it’s a good thing. If I’d arrived on time for Chaplain Charles Reynolds’ workshop at the 2016 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly titled “What Every Christian Needs to Know About Islam,” I would have ended up sitting in the floor or standing around the edges of the room, like many other people did. In light of current events and all the negative things we hear in the media about Islam, it was a subject that drew a larger than anticipated crowd.

As a hospital chaplain, I minister to people of all religions (and no religion). My job is to offer spiritual care and comfort to everyone there, being respectful and sensitive to their own traditions and beliefs, never imposing my own. To that end, I have learned the basics of most of the major world religions, including Islam. But I was interested to hear a more in-depth analysis by the director of the U.S. Army Center for World Religions, and someone who has spent time living and working in places where Muslims make up the majority of the population.

I did learn some things I hadn’t known before about the differences between Christianity and Islam, and also the similarities. Just as in our religion, nominal and moderate Muslims vastly outnumber the extremists, even though the latter get all the news coverage. One thing I didn’t know is that one can divide the Quran into “Mecca verses” and “Medina verses,” based on where Muhammad was living at the time. When he was in Mecca, Col. Reynolds told us, Muhammad was part of a diverse community, living alongside Christians and Jews peacefully. The Mecca verses emphasize the equality of all peoples in the eyes of God, and racism would be incomprehensible in light of these texts.

That’s a very different picture of Islam than a lot of Americans have, though these are the parts of the Quran most often used by moderate Muslims. The view of Muslims we get from the media is more in line with the Medina verses, the parts of the Quran most often quoted by extremists. During his time in Medina, Muhammad was fighting with Christians and Jews, Col. Reynolds said, so the view of non-Muslims is much less charitable in those verses. The Quran doesn’t sound all that different from the Bible, at least in terms of its sometimes self-contradictory nature. In both books, the writers were influenced by their own cultures and current events much more than we like to acknowledge, even when inspired by God.

The last few minutes of the session Col. Reynolds dedicated to talking about how to build bridges between Muslims and Christians. Basically, this is something best achieved on a small scale, not by governmental or denominational overtures, but by individuals reaching out in their own communities. Our local mosque in Charleston has hosted open house events recently, and my pastor, Don Flowers, was in attendance. I was unable to go because of my work schedule, but I’ve been in email contact with our Muslim neighbors there.

Though some of our beliefs are different, we all care about improving our community through mutual understanding. I think the next time I talk to them, I’ll tell them about this seminar, and ask what they would include in a workshop called What Every Muslim Should Know About Christianity. I would be interested to hear their answers. But conversations with our Muslim neighbors don’t have to begin and end with religion. More often than not, when I talk with Muslim patients, families, and staff members in the hospital, I hear about their loved ones, their jobs, their favorite recent movies or TV shows, their hopes and fears – in other words, the exact same things I would talk about with anyone.

Stacy N. Sergent is a CBF-endorsed chaplain at MUSC Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., and the author of Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith. She received her M.Div. from Gardner-Webb University’s School of Divinity. Stacy blogs regularly at stacynsergent.com.

2 thoughts on “What the church needs to know about Islam

  1. Stacy, Thanks for taking the time to share your insights. Let me know what you lean about What Muslims Should Know About Christians.

  2. Pingback: Το ισλάμ είναι η "ιδανική θρησκεία" για να επιβάλλει κάποιος (μέσω αυτής) "ολοκληρωτικό καθεστώς"...γι' αυτό "κάποιοι" (ΝΤΠ)

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