Fear is one of humanities most powerful emotions. Corporately, fear at times even is a reflection of concern. On Monday, April 15 I saw on CNN that there had been a bomb blast at the Boston Marathon finish line. I did what any good East African would do at such a time as this. In fearful concern, I quickly began checking with Kenyan friends that our people were safe. Surely there was a Kenyan crowd near the finish line. Thankfully, the sms (text) news came back quickly that all family and friends of Kenyans in Boston I knew were safe.
Then fear rapidly took me to another place of selfish justification. Who was at fault? Which portion of humanity would be demonized in public as justice rolled forth?
Two possibilities quickly crossed my mind. We all have a couple nutcase relatives and friends. Either a frustrated white male Christian fundamentalist or frustrated male Muslim fundamentalist were the highest likely candidates in my fearfully prejudiced mind.
Both are easy villains. Yet with all of my documented frustrations with my Bazungu Balokole (Confused White Evangelicals) clan mates, I am still a Muzungu Mulokole (Confused White Evangelical.) I like my people with all their failings.
I also like Muslims. A few months ago I was sitting in Starbucks café at the College of Dupage, and overheard an Arabic word, “Salaam (Peace.)” Some Arab students were meeting one another and exchanging greetings in the form of a blessing. It warmed my heard. For I fear not as I have learned Muslims are good neighbors.
One of the great privileges the Lord gave me in 19 years in East Africa was friendship with Muslims. At a risk of offending my Muslim friends let me go on record. I like Muslims. They’re good neighbors. I intuitively trust them. They are honest, hardworking, compassionate, protective, and generous by nature. When I am in trouble sometimes I would even call a Muslim friend before I would call a Christian pastor.
I ask my Muslim friends forgiveness if I offend them by the prejudice of my friendship. It seems now is a season in which I want to take that risk. Fear seems to be overwhelming discussions in the nation of my passport. Love is the answer to misplaced communal fear.
For those who have few or no Muslim friends in this season in eternity, fear not, Muslims are good neighbors.
My quick recall of my Muslim friends has four memorable ones. Most of them tried so hard to dodge honor that I won’t mention their names unless they write and tell me to sign them up. (After all they heard me frequently gripe about plagiarism, and I’m willing to give them more honors.)
|Asians leaving Uganda as refugees in 1972|
First was the money trading family I knew in Kampala and Nairobi. They suffered immensely, but lived graciously. Their grandparents came to East Africa to build a railroad from Mombasa (East African port on Indian Ocean) to the Rwenzori Mountains (source of minerals and copper.) When the railroad was finished they put down roots. They became the merchant middle class of East Africa. Idi Amin’s Economic Liberation in 1972 changed their lives almost beyond hope. Amin, declared, “The Asians must go.” With only 90 days they had to unload all their property and find a new life. Their brown skin contained an African heart. They were stripped of both their dignity and their home. After Amin’s regime fell they began trickling back to Uganda. They rebuilt their lives. I came to know them as my favorite money traders, car parts dealers, and travel agents.
After such dehumanizing suffering it was their gracious wisdom and friendship that I could never forget. We had some differences of opinion about religion, but it was religion that taught us both to love our neighbors as we loved ourselves. They had at times more faith than I in God’s providence. When my children were sick and I needed cash quicker than the monthly wire they loaned me money. When medical or immigration issues took me to Nairobi their extended family was on the lookout for economic and trustworthy transport and accommodation.
My money trading Muslim friends expressed their faith, and taught me to fear not for Muslims are good neighbors.
My money trading friends went to the same mosque where I also found some of East Africa’s most skilled doctors. When we were very sick we got on a plane and traveled to the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.
|Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs with the nurses who cared for him in Rwamagana, Rwanda|
Our most recent time at Aga Khan Hospital was with our foster son, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs as he was suffering with convulsions (seizures.) Watching an infant in a seizure is a terrifying experience. Yet in the beginning days as we sought medical help another fear was how to explain Mugisha’s seizures. They were so unpredictable and beyond our comprehension. During Mugisha’s first visit to Aga Khan Hospital he went into convulsions as the intern was examining him. Both the intern and us kept our hands on Mugisha, and silently prayed. Religion will debate the differences between Allah and Jehovah, but in raw human compassion we all cry out to an unseen God to do the miraculous. Extensive tests were done on Mugisha. Medicine was tweaked. Slowly through shared faith in unseen realities we came to terms with the truth of Mugisha’s medical condition while never giving up hope.
Again my Muslim friends taught me, fear not for Muslims are good neighbors.
A third group of Muslim friends were students I knew. The Lord gave me the privilege to lecture at universities and facilitate scholarships throughout my season in Rwanda. Invariably in dealing with students there always came a moment where ethical leadership was essential. Someone had to call certain types of behavior unacceptable, and then lead the community forward. The statistics vary but somewhere between 5 and 15% of Rwanda’s population is Muslim. Yet, almost without fail in every group of students I was with in an ethical discussion it was the minority Muslims who frequently provided the most articulate leadership. When you do the math that should not have happened. I concluded that there was something unique about the upbringing of my Muslim students that set them apart. Again, they taught me fears not for Muslims are good neighbors.
A fourth group of Muslim friends were those who managed security. One of my favorite night watchman in our season in Uganda was a Murundi Muslim. The church we planted in Uganda, the Kampala Church of Christ was in Old Kampala, a largely Muslim neighborhood. Our Leadership Committee (LC1) Chairman was a Muslim with what our neighbors whispered had Somali roots. When we vacationed in Mombasa somehow I almost always had enjoyable conversations with Somali Muslim guards who kept our season of rest also one of peace. There was something unique to all these Muslim friends. They were intuitively quite protective. They again taught me to fear not, for Muslims are good neighbors.
This Muslim trait of protective concern takes me the darkest places of failings of my people, the Bazungu and the Balokole of East Africa. In Rwanda’s darkest hours my people failed. My Bazungu clan mates ran away. My national leaders hid in nuance of grammar and political posturing. The killing fields of Rwanda were churches.
Yet there is a bright moment in such dark history. During the Rwandan Genocide Muslim leaders spoke out against the killings. Mosques were places of safe refuge. Muslims not only shielded Muslims they shielded non-Muslims.
While many in my home nation subtly today are portraying Muslims as terrorists I must point out that in the previous century's most efficient Genocide it was the Christian community who acted more like terrorists while the Muslim community acted as protective friends.
My boss instructed me in several matters. One was to be known for truth (John 3:21; 4:23-24; 16:13; 17:17.) Another was to treat my neighbors as I would desire to be treated (Matthew 19:19; 22:39: Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27.) Thus today I must say to my clan mates, “Fear not. Muslims are good neighbors.”