Can a Christian and a Muslim live together?


Quote by Muhammad Ali

“People from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” [Luke 13.29]

When I was at College, I had a friend Peter who is a Catholic and he shared a house with a Muslim called Abdul. They were both very religious people, each in his own way but, despite their differences, they got on very well. And it wasn’t until they had been staying together about six weeks that they had a really big argument about religion. Neither of them can remember exactly what it was about, but it seemed really important at the time.

Tempers became heated, voices were raised and Holy Books were produced, more or less in that rather traditional order. My friend quoted from the Holy Bible – the Catholic version of course - to strengthen his argument. Abdul quoted – at some length - from the Holy Quran – in the original Arabic, of course (which really helped toward mutual understanding). And they were just at the stage of getting really angry with one another.

My friend Peter made an angry gesture with his hand and accidentally knocked his Bible off the table. Instantly, Abdul threw himself full-length across the floor to catch the Bible before it hit the ground. And he held it up and placed it reverently back on the table. And then he sat back down again, ready to renew the argument. But quite suddenly, Peter found that he didn’t really feel like arguing any more. Because in that instant – in that one action – Abdul had shown such respect for him and for what he believed. As a faithful Muslim, he would never allow the Holy Quran to be put on the floor and he gave the same respect to the Holy Book of his friend. It was a precious moment for them both.

That is what I think Jesus is talking about. “People from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” And also what, in a different time, Isaiah was talking about: “I am coming to gather the nations of every language.”

We often meet people with whom we have religious differences – people of different faiths or none; people of different Christian denominations. And the differences we have with them are serious and important. They really do matter. Christ came to give us the Truth about God and it is our sacred responsibility to share that Truth with those who do not possess its fullness. But ultimately what people believe matters less than who they are. They are all children of God. Our Creator has made each and every one of them in His own image and likeness. And in each and every one of them we must come to love and reverence the image of our Creator. Even when – perhaps especially when – we think they are completely wrong in what they believe.

I learned two things from that.
Expressed in Christian terms, they are these:
First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your strength and with all your might.
You shall stand up for your faith in all circumstances without fear or favour.
If your faith means anything at all, it will control your actions and then the only way of matching your words to your actions is to speak your faith from the heart, even if it may upset those of another religion or of none.
The modern Christian hypocrisy is to act in accordance with your faith, but to pretend your faith is really no different to someone else’s.

The second is like it, you shall love your neighbour’s faith like your own.
If your neighbour’s faith means anything at all, it is his or her most sincere attempt to know who God is and to follow what God wants in his or her life.
Respect does not mean a lack of arguing: Honest disagreement is part of sincere religious life.
But it does mean prostrating your self on the ground to catch his holy book.
Let us pray to be both proud of the Cross of Christ and humble before our neighbour.

Paul O'Reilly SJ