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Blast From the Past: They Feel The Shame

This, I suppose, is the “9/11 commemorative piece” for today, but actually I first wrote it in 2005.

It was a unique experience for my wife and I to attend the Arab Worldwide Evangelical Ministers Association (AWEMA) meeting at The Cove (Billy Graham’s conference centre) in April 2003. It was the first time we had an opportunity to get to know Christian ministers from the Arab world.

Arab Christians of all types are in a unique position. They have what is without a doubt the toughest mission field on earth. They were holding their meeting towards the end of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which they had mixed feelings about (they were glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein, excited about the possibilities for ministry, worried about the backlash.) They had divergent views of the Palestinian issue. While there we had the honour to meet the Palestinian Taysif Abu Saada, the former al-Fatah terrorist who ministers together with Moran Rosenblit, Israeli army veteran and Messianic Jew. They also have to deal with the power holder/power challenger and shame/honour dialectics that are the hallmark of Middle Eastern politics and even creep into Christian churches.

One question that was obvious was, “Is it different to minister to Muslims after 9/11?” There were divergent answers to this too. One Sudanese pastor from Florida, though, was ebullient. His church was having success in this regard. How? It was easier to minister to these people after 9/11. Why? “They feel the shame,” he replied. Many Muslims ware embarrassed by their colleagues running airplanes into buildings, killing Muslims and everyone else whom Allah had willed to be in the way at the time. They were having second thoughts.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this site discussing shame/honour. It’s especially important in the Middle East and to Muslims in general. The whole Israeli-Palestinian problem is driven by it. Most Arabs are shamed that the Jews took the land, so they’ve spent the last sixty years trying to restore their honour by getting the land back. The same problem inspired al-Qaeda with American troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War. They were shamed in the #1 Muslim country being “occupied” by American troops, so they had to restore their honour. Same problem in Iraq. And on and on it goes…

Every now and then, any group of people finds itself more embarrassed by its own people than outsiders. In the West, we’re used to the idea of “self-policing.” With Muslims, it’s not the same; they have too much pride to admit that their own people are dragging them down. Occasionally one will hear a dissenting voice, as was the case with the al-Arabiya commentator after the Beslan massacre. But generally speaking Muslims, like old-line Southerners, would rather not “hang their dirty laundry out in public.”

But shame they do feel, whether at 9/11 or at the recent London bombings. Many of them aren’t proud that their co-religionists are blowing themselves and everyone around them up for any reason. They doubtless feel more shame than the London hotel operators who jacked up the prices for travellers stranded after the tube was shut down. And there may be other things at work here too.

Years ago, my Sudanese imam friend used to tell me that, while back in Sudan, he would tell his extremist Muslim colleagues, “The Christians are smarter than you. When they come, they come with hospitals, food, schools, etc. All you come with is a bunch of rules and mosques.” After the 26 December 2004 tsunami, many Christian NGO’s got involved in the relief effort with other Western governments. As a result, the image of the West improved while that of al-Qaeda didn’t, which is interesting considering that the hardest hit place–Aceh province in Indonesia–is the only province in the country to have adopted Shar’ia law.

If we as Christians plan to interact effectively with Muslims, we need to realise that many of them don’t feel any better about attacks like 9/11 or 7/7 than we do. We also need to do what our Saviour told us to do and leave the mushy self-doubt of false tolerance to others. We need to reach out as our Lord Jesus would have done to those who “feel the shame.”


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