The Apostle Paul penned these words to the church in Corinth, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). For some reason, this verse has come to mind as I reflect on the Fifteenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001. On that fateful day, Americans were reborn to the harsh reality of evil among us and an opportunity to respond in righteousness.
The harsh reality galvanized when we discerned there were enemies in this world that hated us so much they were willing to fly airplanes into buildings. The opportunity before us was the razor thin line between rising above the hate to become a beacon of hope or becoming what we despise in our enemies. The socio-political struggle over the last fifteen years has been intense, from seeking justice for those who caused such harm to invading a country under false reasons.
More personally, I have come a long way since watching terror unfold that day. I like to believe that I have grown up just a tad. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am no way arguing that I have arrived. I still have a lot of learning and maturing to do. However, I feel like I understand the world a little better than I did fifteen years ago. More than anything, I especially have taken it upon myself to work towards understanding Islam and its people. Knowledge and community are always the punch and counter-punch to hatred and intolerance.
Fifteen years ago, I had no idea what Muslims believed; I did not even know one personally. Since then, I have traveled to foreign countries, some regions with populations that are 95% Muslim. I have read and re-read books about the Muslim faith, engaged Muslims in dialogue, worked alongside them for the common good of society, and attempted to place myself in their shoes. Now, one of my favorite colleagues – someone I consider a true friend – is Imam Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. As he likes to chide, “We are brothers from different mothers!”
One would think after fifteen years, our society would have grown up regarding the relationship between Christians and Muslims. At times, though, the opposite seems true. While some have educated themselves to discern the difference between true religion and power-politics, others buy into the false allegation that Christianity and Islam are responsible for this conflict. Let me be crystal clear on this point: any violence conducted in the name of Christianity or Islam has nothing to do with religion, but is simply a political power play using religious language as a tool to manipulate the masses and provide an unjust reason for an unjust action. The wars and rumors of wars we witness today are about exerting power over others, nothing more and nothing less. They are not about true religion, no matter what their proponents attempt to declare.
While this stark reality seems to overshadow the world these days, I choose to believe there is hope. During the last fifteen years, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have initiated dialogue in an attempt to better understand one another. We have worked together in relief efforts after natural disasters. We have come to each other’s side with support when attacked out of hatred. We have established our solidarity as people of faith walking along the same peaceful journey which Abraham wished for his descendants.
Fifteen years have passed since that day America changed, since the world changed. We have walked a tightrope between maintaining our hope for a more perfect union and falling into the trap of isolationist bigotry. When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child, but now as we move into our adolescence in a post-9/11 world, let us speak and act as emerging adults. Let us set aside ignorance and biases. Let us eliminate any hatred that fills our heart and fuels our attitudes. Let’s put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-5), embracing the world with our arms open and our ears ready to listen.