I am conflicted. It was Muslim terrorists who flew commercial planes into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon, killing 3000 people. It was Muslim terrorists who did another coordinated attack in eight different locations in Mumbai, India in 2008, killing 173 people and injuring at least 327. It was Muslim terrorists who kidnapped and brutally murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. Muslim snipers killed ten people in the Washington DC area in 2002. It was Muslim suicide bombers who have viciously attacked high population sites in Israel too many times to count (fifty times in 2002 alone). Muslim terrorists started a gunfight in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing at least 17. Muslim suicide bombers killed 27 and injured 65 in Hanju, Pakistan in 2009. A Muslim extremist killed two American soldiers in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2009. Later that year a Muslim fundamentalist—who was at the time a major in the United States Army—killed 13 and injured 30 at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas. As many as 150 people were killed by Muslim terrorists in Damaturu, Nigeria, in 2011.
And it was Muslim suicide bombers and other terrorists who have repeatedly killed Americans, Afghanis, and Iraqis since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started. And the death toll continues to rise. The casualty list from the despicable and cowardly actions of these terrorists goes on page after page. Muslim terrorists have been responsible for thousands of deaths and incalculable suffering in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Somalia, Qatar, Indonesia, Jordan, Philippines, China, Mali, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Algeria, Libya, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Sweden, Denmark, France, England, Israel, and the United States.
And yet I am conflicted. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to do good to those who harm us [most of the following translations are from the NET Bible]: “Do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well” (Matt 5.39). “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5.44). “If you do not forgive others, your heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins” (Matt 6.15). “In all that you do, treat others as you would want them to treat you” (Matt 7.12). “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man” (Luke 6.22). “All who take hold of the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26.52).
And Jesus’ disciples got the message, too. Paul said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12.17); “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (Rom 12.20); “See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (1 Thess 5.15). The author of Hebrews wrote, “Pursue peace with everyone” (Heb 13.20). Peter tells us, “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3.9).
By juxtaposing these two sets of data—Muslim terrorist acts and the teaching of the New Testament—you can see why I am conflicted. (I won’t get into the issue of how our government should act regarding terrorism. That’s different from what we should do on a personal level [for a discussion see my essay, “Attack on America: A Christian Perspective,” posted at bible.org]. What we should do personally is of a different sort.)
We do need to be wise as serpents, and not naively think that the gesture of friendship will turn terrorists from their evil plans. But we also need to love Muslims. Some have said that all Muslims want to kill Christians and Jews. Really? Yes, the Qur’an could be cited (e.g., Surah 4.76; 5.52; 8.12–13, 60; 33.60–62; 58.20; 66.9; 68.44). And yet, not all Muslims are fundamentalists who embrace the violence of the Qur’an. To be sure, there are those who would like to destroy Israel and America—most notably the government of Iran. But these are in a minority, especially in America. And yes, there are Muslim extremists in this country who are concocting plans to kill their neighbors. But again, they are a very small minority.
Consider a ludicrous hypothetical situation: Suppose that all Muslims in America were of this ilk. Would this give Christians the right to hate them? No! We are still required to love them. How that manifests itself may be in a variety of ways. But I will use one, concrete, true-to-life example. There is a mosque going up across the street from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. What is my responsibility to these Muslims? How will I show them love? I plan to visit the mosque and bring the Imam a Bible as a gift, accompanied by some delectables that he would enjoy (and be allowed by his religion to eat). I plan also to invite him to lunch, get to know him, and discuss our various views on religion. I plan to share the gospel with him, too. These will not be isolated acts and they will not be done to salve my conscience. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, I hope to genuinely love my Muslim neighbor.
If you think this is naïve of me, that I will just be wasting my time, remember that Jesus himself did good to those whom he knew would ultimately kill him. And he told his disciples to do the same, noting that they would be flogged and put to death because of the gospel. We dare not think that our Lord’s world was any less violent than our own, that his instructions were so culturally conditioned that we can excuse ourselves today for disobeying them. We are commanded to love our neighbors, whoever they may be. And we are to do so because God first loved us in Christ when we were his enemies.