Muqtedar Khan is a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, where he was the founding director of the Islamic Studies Program from 2007 to 2010. He is the author of Islam and Good Governance: A Political Philosophy of Ihsan (2019). Khan earned his Ph.D. in international relations, political philosophy, and Islamic political thought from Georgetown University.
And you will find the nearest in affection to the believers are those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. (Quran 5:82)
Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. — Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (Sahih al-Bukhari 3443)
In the Age of Narratives
We live in an age of narratives. We understand the world through the stories we tell about it. The stories we tell about it depend on the lenses through which we observe our world. If we looked at it through the lens of race, we would see the current conflict in the Middle East as white people bombing brown people in a brutal and remorseless fashion. If we see the conflict through the lens of religion, then we will tell the story of how a powerful Judeo-Christian alliance was trying to erase an occupied, subjugated, and powerless Muslim population.
We understand the world through the stories we tell about it. The stories we tell about it depend on the lenses through which we observe our world.
But these are narratives. When we examine the facts critically, we will notice that soon there will be more Muslims than Jews in the so-called Judeo-Christian alliance. There are Christians among the Muslims who are subjugated. And there are Jews, Christians, and Muslims who are protesting against this profound and cruel display of inhumanity in punishing Palestinians so that Israel may occupy in peace.
These narratives have some truth in them, but they are not entirely true. There are no true stories, only stories that reflect different points of view, that serve different political interests, that unveil different identities. The point is that the narrative of Muslim-Christian divide is partly true, but it is not entirely true. We can see the U.S. support for Israel as a Christian war against Muslims. Yes, there are Christian Zionists who wish to first eliminate Muslim and then Jewish presence in the Holy Land. But then there are Churches for Middle East Peace who not only wish to see peace in the Middle East but also fight for Palestinian rights.
It appears that there are many complex stories that we can tell about Muslim-Christian partnerships and hostilities. I want to tell one of hope and promise of cooperation.
We can see the recently concluded Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as a Muslim-Christian war. But it is Europeans and Americans who are raising their voices about the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China even as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia look away. The late Sam Huntington in a widely read article had forecasted a clash of civilizations between the West and the Islamic world. He had forgotten, however, to remind us that Muslims had fought with the West against communism during the Cold War and against fascism in World War II. We all are now fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. We are never always allies, or always enemies.
It appears that there are many complex stories that we can tell about Muslim-Christian partnerships and hostilities. I want to tell one of hope and promise of cooperation. And the good news is that this story is playing out in many nations where Muslims and Christians live together.
There have been two surges of Islamophobia in the United States that have made life very difficult for American Muslims. One was after the attacks on the United States by Al-Qaeda. They convinced many that perhaps Huntington’s prediction of a clash of civilizations was coming true. The United States was at war with Muslim nations abroad, and at home it was undermining Muslim civil rights. Some conservative Christian organizations at that time were even trying to brand Islam as an ideology that did not deserve protections under the First Amendment.
The second surge began with campaign of Donald Trump in 2015 that saw a precipitous rise in hate crimes against Muslims and other racial and religious minorities. This period from 2015 to 2021 that culminated with an assault on the U.S. Capitol and democracy itself can be blamed partially on evangelical and conservative Christians who stood by Trump and still do, no matter how racist, sexist, or Islamophobic he became. But it is during this very period that many other Americans, people of color, progressive Christians and Jews—from ordinary people to senators and presidential candidates—not only rejected the Trumpian call for a “Muslim ban,” but elected progressive Muslim women like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to the U.S. Congress and many more to other offices like Ghazali Hashmi to the Virginia Senate and Sadaf Jaffer as mayor of Montgomery Township, New Jersey. It is possible that the increase in support for Muslims is a way of rejecting Trump and the new Trumpian GOP, but it could also be that for many Americans, American Muslims are now as much an integral part of America as anyone else.
It could also be that for many Americans, American Muslims are now as much an integral part of America as anyone else.
President Joe Biden’s campaign and administration has taken tremendous strides in making American Muslims feel welcome and included. Candidate Biden appointed a special outreach person for American Muslims, and his campaign had a specifically articulated agenda for American Muslims—and he has so far fulfilled his promises. It is my belief that the United States is in for a rough time going forward. Trumpian politics are divisive and sow hatred between communities and Muslims are, and will remain, a target of this nativist Christianity that I have in the past labelled as political Christianity. But there are also Christian groups and churches who are engaged in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and are partnering with them in fighting against racism, social injustices, and economic and political inequality. These challenges that all Americans face that threaten our social harmony and democratic traditions will in my view unite Muslims and Christians to fight the good fight.
I began this essay by quoting a verse from the Holy Quran and a hadith from the Prophetic traditions. These are very well-known and often-invoked scriptures in American Muslim discourse. What they signal is that Muslim-Christian peaceful co-existence and cooperation are not a theological problem for American Muslims.