“I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” – Tamerlan Tsarnaev
This is a telling quote, one that is of special interest to me and all supporters of Salaam Project. One of Salaam Project’s goals is to increase the engagement of the CRCNA membership with Muslims now living in the United States and Canada.
After the Boston bombings many Americans and Canadians, Muslim and Christians both, bore the heaviness of grief and anger in the face of another terrorist attack. And they wondered collectively how such a thing could happen with the increased security after 9/11. The reality is that the number of terrorist attacks in the United States has declined sharply since 9/11. Islamic terrorism has fallen to 19 incidents per year, none of them violent in recent years (Globe and Mail, April 20, 2013).
Still one has to wonder if there isn’t more that we can be doing to prevent such incidents. Given the above quote from a photo essay on the elder bomber, my question is this: could a Christian have befriended Tamerlan at an earlier point in his journey and prevented such a tragedy? These things are complicated. Tamerlan would have also had to be open to forming a friendship. We can reach out, but the person also has to be open to our advances of friendship.
Over time the whole story will come out. Dzhokar, the younger brother recently captured after a night of mayhem in a Boston suburb, may be the key to knowing why the brothers decided to unleash such violence. We have to be careful as well about whom we blame — and I was glad that the media in general was careful not to assign blame too quickly to a specific group.
Tamerlan and Dzhokar were immigrants originally from Chechnya, a region that has been fighting for independence from Russia for a number of years. Although the fight for independence was originally a secular one, it has become more of an Islamic jihad. It seems that Tamerlan became more devout in his faith in recent years and now some suspect he became radicalized on a trip to Russia (although his family denies this).
Every year America receives new immigrants, and many are Muslim. These immigrants need our help and hospitality — help with English, help with the challenges of immigration, help with the struggles that come with adapting to a new culture.
Could we as individuals and churches do more to reach out to Muslim immigrants in our communities? I believe we could. We could take time to learn about the Islamic faith so that we are better equipped to share the Good News of Jesus. Granted, some Muslim immigrants will experience culture shock and become more committed to Islam. But others will be open to new ideas and indeed to reading the Bible if we offer it. Sometimes new immigrants bring with them misconceptions about the Christian faith. Such misconceptions can only be dispelled through contact with committed Christians. If we brand all Muslims as terrorists and shun them, we will miss a tremendous opportunity to influence them for Christ.
What we have to remember is that in the USA, only about 1% of Muslims follow hardline Islam. In the face of deadly terror, we are reminded again that the enemy is not Islam but the sin that resides in the human heart, sin that leads individuals to place bombs in bags at public events where many innocent people gather. That sin also leads to profiling, discrimination, and prejudice. Jesus Christ came to turn the human heart from sin to restoration and health. Jesus came to bring shalom to our world. Terrorists seek to destroy shalom. Jesus came to restore shalom, and he has overcome terror through his death on the cross. That is the hope we have as followers of Jesus. The hope we have to share, with immigrants from all lands, including Chechnya.