In 2002 PBS released a documentary on the life of the prophet Muhammad. The timing of this was not humanly planned since 9/11 occurred while the project was being finished. In fact, some of the final filming was in post 9-11 New York City. A New York City Fire Department captain, who is a convert to Islam, was featured prominently in expressing his disdain for the attack. The two creators of this film are both Muslims, one an American convert. The producer and director of the film, Michael Schwarz, is Jewish. Several of the commentators are also non-Muslims who have done considerable research on Islam.
This film seeks to tell the story of the seventh century prophet who profoundly altered world history during a public mission of only twenty-three years. Today 1.2 billion people follow the teachings of this man. This film, three years in the making, follows the story of this man according to the commonly received stories of Muslim historians. It includes visits to American Muslim sites and conversations with Muslims who are seeking to live out their faith peacefully in our context.
This film is informative and even, at times, riveting. Critics will say it tells one side of the story and whitewashes a number of problems. I am not a historian of Islam and not a proponent of religious pluralism either. I found the story simply and stunningly told. I also learned things that I did not previously know.
I have watched more than my share of videos that are very critical of Islam, suggesting that it is a religion of violence and that there is no basis for peace so long as Muslims live in our midst and promote the teaching of the Koran. I am quite sure this is not an answer to our present political, social and religious conflict.
Just a few days ago we were again made aware of Muslim extremism and its use of violence.
LOS ANGELES, January 3 (Compass Direct News) – At least 21 people were killed and scores were wounded on Saturday (Jan. 1) when a bomb planted outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt exploded as congregants were leaving a New Year’s Eve Mass celebration. The explosion ripped through the crowd shortly after midnight, killing instantly most of those who died, and leaving the entrance-way to the Church of the Two Saints, a Coptic Orthodox congregation, covered with blood and severed body parts. The bomb blast overturned at least one car, set several others on fire and shattered windows throughout the block on which the church is located. Egyptian authorities reportedly said 20 of the victims have been identified. At least 90 other people were injured in the blast, 10 seriously. Among the injured were eight Muslims. Burial services for some of the victims started Sunday in Alexandria. Witnesses said a driver parked a car at the entrance of the church and then ran away seconds before it exploded. Government officials have claimed they found remnants of the bomb, filled with nails and other make-shift shrapnel, at the site; they suspect an unidentified suicide bomber, rather than a car bombing. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the attack comes two months after an Islamic group known as the Islamic State of Iraq issued a threat stating that, “All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the muhajedeen [Muslim fighters] wherever they can reach them.”
I am well aware of the extremism that threatens the peace of many people, especially Christians. I am troubled by this mixture of religion and politics. But I am particularly disturbed by the way some Christians advance a fierce anti-Muslim agenda in response. Muslims live in my community. From all that I can see they are good neighbors. The vast majority do not endorse anti-American sentiment or terrorism. If Muslims are my neighbors then I am not only to love them but to incarnate the good news in a way that shows them that Jesus is Lord.
One thing is very clear to me in seeing Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. Jesus openly revealed himself as Lord and God. Muhammad never claimed this for himself and was mortified that anyone would claim it as Christians did for Jesus. Muslims believe that Jesus is a great prophet but not the divine Logos, the eternal Word of God. It seems to me that we who worship Jesus as Lord should be the first to humble ourselves before the revelation that God has given to us and not make the passions of anti-Islam a vital part of our day-to-day speech and life.
I have a lot to learn here. I do not pretend to be an apologist on this subject. I do know passion that seems quite out of control when I see it and I see too much of it among Christians.