Muslims across the Arab world burned U.S. flags and hurled rocks at police, enraged by a 14-minute YouTube video.
In Libya, armed militants stormed a U.S. consulate and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. At first, U.S. officials said the attack was linked to the protests, though further investigation
showed that the ambassador’s death was the result of an orchestrated strike.
American Christians watched images of the recent violence with a sense of bewilderment. Some called for retaliation.
Church of Christ members with extensive knowledge of the Muslim world spoke out in hopes that education about the filmmaker and regional politics would help quiet the storm.
Dyron Daughrity watched the protests from predominantly Muslim Morocco, “the one country in North Africa that doesn’t seem to be protesting against the U.S.A. right now — or, as a local man told me an hour ago, ‘at least not yet,’” Daughrity said in an e-mail.
Daughrity, religion professor at Pepperdine University
, was speaking about African Christianity at a conference in the city of El Jadida. There, a Moroccan journalism student asked if he thought Americans appreciate Muslims.
Yes, he replied. The U.S. is a tolerant society that embraces freedom of religion.
“She then asked me why Americans have started all of this violence by producing a film that denigrates Muhammad,” Daughrity said. “I was shocked.”
He explained that the man believed to be the film’s producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was originally from Egypt and that he had a criminal record in the U.S. The journalist wasn’t aware of either fact.
Khalil Jahshan, a native of Nazareth, Palestine, and former president of the National Association of Arab-Americans said that misunderstanding about the film’s origin has fueled rage in the Arab world.
Likewise, media coverage of the riots leads many Americans to believe that the protesters represent all followers of Islam, said Jahshan, a member of the Fairfax Church of Christ
“How many people resorted to violence in the Muslim world — 10,000, 100,000, 200,000 out of 1.5 billion people?” he asked. “We’re seeing an uprising — and a violent uprising — by a very radicalized group, a fringe group even in their own society, and we should not give them more credibility than they deserve. And they deserve nothing.”
When asked what he prays for with regard to the Middle East, Jahshan replied, “Any time you see turmoil like this, what else? My permanent prayer always has been and always will be for peace and stability. That is what we are instructed to do as Christians.
“Our No. 1 priority always should be peace, which is probably the furthest thing right now from the region.”
‘CHRIST WOULD NOT DO THIS’
As Christians pray for peace, they also should stand up for morality, said Jahshan, who described the video, “Innocence of Muslims,” as “demeaning, nasty, immoral” and pornographic in its depiction of Muhammad.
“Christ would not do this,” Jahshan said, adding that the film’s producer is a Coptic Christian, part of an Orthodox group in Egypt.
Many Copts felt persecuted by Muslims under the reign of Hosni Mubarak, who was driven from power during the “Arab Spring” of 2011, Jahshan said, with a revolutionary wave of protests and power changes in several countries.
In one scene from the video, a Muslim brutally murders a woman, after which the camera zooms in on a Coptic Christian cross around her neck.
However, “I don’t think the film is the main issue” underlying the protests, Jahshan said.
Howard Miller, an assistant professor of history at Lipscomb University
in Nashville, Tenn., teaches courses on Islam and Christianity and the history and politics of the Middle East. He agreed that social and economic change, not necessarily the film itself, is fueling the ongoing turmoil.
Though the Arab Spring brought freedom from tyranny to many nations of North Africa and the Middle East, the revolutions did not address the underlying problems of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, Miller said.
“Desperate young men without jobs or future prospects of economic advancement are usually ready recruits for demagogues, whether political or religious,” he added.
Those who urge young Muslims to violence tap into “a latent anti-Americanism that is real and is present in places like Egypt,” said Ben Peterson, a graduate of Oklahoma Christian University
in Oklahoma City who studied abroad in Egypt and visited Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Israel.
“I would often hear in Egypt phrases like, ‘I love America, but I hate American policies,’” Peterson said. “Muslims also view American society as decadent and corrupt, morally speaking.”
Joshua Jeffery, a member of the Westside Church of Christ
in Beaverton, Ore., said that many of his fellow Christians have responded to the recent attacks in anger, expressing the desire to strike back.
“Regardless of whether or not you believe that Muslims are called to be people of peace,” he said, “there is no doubt that Christians are called out by our Lord to be peacemakers.”
Instead of reacting in anger, Mac Lynn suggested that Christians “dedicate the time needed to understand Islam as a system of thought — a world view that is at enmity with the Gospel.”
Lynn is chancellor of NationsUniversity, a church-supported distance-learning program that offers academic degrees in religious studies. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and taught courses on Islam at Lipscomb University.
Believers also should pray and “affirm their faith in Christ as the son of God” — a belief Muslims do not share, Lynn said. “They can engage Muslims in conversation about the real God, his nature, his loving acts toward us as sinners, the nature of sin and its remedy.”
‘A DIALOGUE OF FAITH’
Christian university professors, including Monte Cox, have been part of ongoing discussions with Muslims in the U.S.
Cox, dean of the College of Bible and Religion at Harding University
in Searcy, Ark., spoke at a 2008 seminar titled “Islam in America: A Dialogue on Faith.” More than 400 students, faculty and members of the community listened as Nabil Bayakly, a Muslim scholar from Memphis, Tenn., and Cox discussed their faiths.
“I know Nabil would like nothing more than for me to say that Allah is the one true God, and Muhammad is his prophet,” Cox said during the event. “And he knows that I would like nothing more than to convince him that Jesus Christ is the son of God and to baptize him.”
Neither happened. In the years since, Cox and his students have continued to discuss faith with Muslim leaders in cities from Dallas to Chicago.
Cox has gotten angry letters from fellow Christians, telling him “we have no business talking with Muslims. All they want to do is kill us.”
The recent protests and attacks show that Muslims and Christians need to talk more — not less, Cox said.
“The Christian response, between the manger and the cross, is ‘I want to be with you’ and ‘I’m prepared to lay my life down for you,’” Cox said. “How could any other response be Christian?
“Someone here once accused me of being a Muslim lover,” he added. “I said, ‘Guilty as charged. Why aren’t you?’
“I don’t love Islam, but I love Muslims.”
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