At the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention last weekend, civil rights activist Linda Sarsour enjoined her fellow Muslims to live out their faith by committing themselves to justice. She said that, when asked to explain their faith, not to talk about the five pillars of Islam. “That is only helpful if the person wants to convert.” Instead, a Muslim should explain her faith by speaking out about social issues in her community. This kind of response wields power to not only explain Islam, but to effect change and create justice. “The most impactful form of da’wah [preaching or proselytizing],” said Ms. Sarsour, “is being part of the social justice movement.”
A Baptist seminarian, I was attending the convention as part of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign for interfaith solidarity. My first thought in response to Ms. Sarsour’s prophetic call welled up out of my own tradition: “That’ll preach.” As she spoke, I had a message for my own community writing itself in my head. I feel the call of my faith to do that thing called “evangelizing,” to proclaim the gospel in word and deed. The life and example of Jesus convicts me to the cause of compassion. To be Christian, therefore, I need to speak words of life and healing. But that word, “evangelizing,” also carries with it the frightening specter of proselytizing. I wonder what it means to witness to my faith underneath the shadow of Christian colonialism and privilege. How can I evangelize, when so many have caused so much pain in the name of spreading the gospel?
Ms. Sarsour converted me anew to the cause of evangelism. Not to make any kind of claim on the soul of another, but to give voice to the claim that is on my soul. Her faith impels her to speak out against oppression, to chastise her fellow Muslims who would even wonder if they should care about events in Ferguson. If I understand correctly the example of the Christ, I can do no less.
Less than a week after the ISNA convention, the enthusiasm I felt at Ms. Sarsour’s message turned to outrage and heartbreak when I learned that Ms. Sarsour and a companion were chased by a white man through the street in Brooklyn, who yelled obscenities and told them that he was “going to cut your heads off like your people did to us.”
One week ago, Ms. Sarsour said one must speak her faith through words of solidarity and deeds of justice. Today, I heed her words.
In the name of the one who condemned those who condemn, I denounce those who wound with words of violence.
In the name of the one who warned that he who lives by the sword, will die by the sword, I denounce those who live with the weapons of hate and of privilege always in their hands.
In the name of the one who returned to life in defiance of an unjust execution, I denounce the cynicism of those who defend evil as “the way things are” and the apathy of those who have lost the imagination for a better world.
In the name of the one who was moved with compassion for the masses, I denounce the hardness of heart by which a Christian will not be converted to the just cause of a Muslim neighbor.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons