” A new way of understanding other religions implies a new way of understanding Christianity. Christians do indeed face both problems and promises when they honestly and lovingly face the reality of other religions. ” – Paul F. Knitter (Introducing Theologies of Religions)
Wow. Never have I felt like there is more at stake in my faith than I have in my Muslim-Christian relations class. Just one question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” can make my palms and neck sweat immediately. There seems to be something heavy attached to me when I am asked to share my theology or what I think about an Islamic thought. A weight that I’ve never felt feel so dense before. My mind is full of questions like, what do Christians do in a more pluralistic society? What does it mean to be inclusive in a religion that preaches of exclusive salvation? How can Muslims and Christians get along when their beliefs are seemingly so contradictory? Oy. Loaded concepts, difficult, heart throbbing, heat rising. So many questions with individual and communal implications. Implications for the church and for my future. Yikes, that’s a lot!
Let me explain. For my next paper, I have to write about my personal theology of religions in reference to Paul Knitter’s book Introducing Theologies of Religions. In other words, how should/do Christians relate to other religions theologically and in practice? The hardest part is knowing that this question is what I should be asking myself anyway. This essay isn’t just for a homework assignment, it is crucial to my hopes for now and for the future. Especially, if I’m going to head to seminary after undergrad, or even just for my personal relationship with God. Studying abroad, learning about new cultures and meeting people who are very different than you — especially if you’re in a country that centers on a whole different religion than your own— makes you ask huge questions of yourself, of others, of the world and even of God. Even writing this my forehead is damp and my heartbeat has spiked because I know these aren’t small things to ponder.
When faith, when salvation, when the religion I center most, if not all of my actions on is questioned or pushed, it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes, I catch myself wondering if I’m a good enough Christian as I see the devotion of Muslims heading to prayer or hear the conviction that seems to be greater than my own in the voices of my peers. Other times, I find myself questioning if there are beautiful parts of Islam that I wish were more emphasized on in Christianity such as reserving judgment or to strive for peace between “people of the book” (Muslims, Christians and Jews). This is not to say that these elements are not in other religions, they just seem clearer to me in Islam.
Yet, God’s voice has been so present in helping me. When questions get uncomfortable, I find comfort in scripture and prayer. When I feel overwhelmed with not knowing what to think, he reminds me that I am known, and he is all-knowing. He listens to the struggle. At one point I asked our program director and professor Justin how he handles it all living in Oman as a Christian and interacting with so many Muslims. He said he doesn’t always know what to do, or when he feels useless or like he is not reaching people, he remembers to think “even so, come Lord Jesus”. I’ve since written that phrase on the back of my notebook as a reminder.
I’m searching for and questioning Truth in every class, and I’m still only confident in the fact that faith has to be had because I simply won’t ever know all the answers. I might share about my faith with my Muslim neighbors purely as a witness to what I have learned in the gospel and not to convert (conversion of any kind, not just to Christianity, is illegal in Oman), and not quite do it justice. “Even so… come Lord Jesus”. I can mess up my words and not truly say what I mean or even say something that is wrong altogether, “even so… come Lord Jesus”. I may have a moment of doubt in faith, “even so… come Lord Jesus”.
So, back to this essay. I’ve realized that the weight I feel when I read the prompt is simply just passion. The question of how I relate as a Christian, as a person of faith, to people of different belief systems is so, so important to me. I am passionate about caring for people of different faiths. I am passionate about preventing violence with religious values that only promote peace. I am passionate about interfaith dialogue and action. If so, then why do I feel like a weight is holding me back? Why do I need a three-hour nap after every class as if I’m defeated by the conversation?
A lot is at stake when I’m not sure what the answers are. So, I give them over. God is the all-knowing. If I don’t know all the answers, it’s okay. Shway, Shway (Arabic for “little by little”—it’s becoming one of my favorite phrases). I will learn. When I realize that, the heavy weight of passion turns into a light, lofty sail, and it pulls me to where I can question again. It propels me to keep learning, reading, writing about interreligious relations and cooperation. I’m so happy and lucky to have this opportunity to learn in an active, dynamic, “high stakes” environment. Being in Oman, at the Al Amana Center is sometimes difficult and at times anxiety driving. But it is so, so worth it as my passion is renewed and pulling me onwards. In fact, it is crucial to my growth as an individual, as a Christian and for my part in community. I’m feeling excited, enthusiastic and renewed and still, I say, “Come Lord Jesus”!