Monday, December 7, 2015

"They'll know we are Christians by our love ...."

Our deacon's homily this past weekend included his observation that the Christmas manger scene is an inclusive image, in that God became man not only for the believers, but for all humanity. No one is excluded from the gift of the Incarnation of Christ.

As reflected by the old campfire song, we Christians are similarly called by our faith to show love to all humanity, not only to other Christians. For Catholics, we serve others "not because they're Catholic, but because we're Catholic".  This is reflected by countless Catholic and other Christian ministries such as AIDS care and prevention efforts in Africa, Catholic schools and hospitals around the world, the ministry of The Little Sisters of the Poor, the example of St. Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and indeed the work of Catholic Charities for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

This call to charity for "the other" has historically been reflected in American culture at large, so much so that the USA is often called the most generous nation on Earth.

Yesterday, I heard a radio report regarding Syed Farook, one of the infamous San Bernardino terrorists.  In that report, an imam at Farook's mosque told how Farook had been a good person to him, helping the imam with his car.

A nice story, but a question came to mind: are Muslims called to serve non-Muslims? Does Islam instruct the believer to charity for non-believers as we Christians are?  I honestly don't know the answer, but a quick few seconds on Google left me with the impression that they are not. It doesn't appear to be sinful to give charity to non-believers, but there does not appear to be a call to do so. Statements I found include:

Muslims should seek first and foremost to give their charity to Muslim brothers who are in need, and there are plenty of them.

Giving charity to poor Muslims is preferable and more befitting, because spending on them helps them to obey Allaah, and it helps them in both their worldly and spiritual affairs.

and, pertinent to the events of San Bernadino:

If the party or gathering is connected to some religious event of the non-Muslims, such as Christmas parties, then also it will be impermissible for one to participate. The reason behind this is that, by taking part in their religious functions and gatherings, one will be indirectly approving of their disbelief (kufr) and their religion... 

I hope that this is inaccurate, and that indeed Islam calls its adherents to charity for all. But I am ignorant in this regard, and perhaps someone can correct my impression. And I do not mean for this to be a "we're better than them" piece; that's not the intent.

If this is an accurate sense, however, I fear that the best we can hope for from faithful Muslims in our communities is grudging acceptance of the fact of our existence. Tolerance of our beliefs, much less of a right to exercise our beliefs, almost sounds like a stretch.  And this means that assimilation of more Muslims from other countries into our culture will not happen -- rather, we and our culture will have to change.