The Radical Muslim and Mennonite: Book Review

A remarkable book from Indonesia shows us that peace is possible between Christians and Muslims.

At a Muslim-Christian peacemaking meeting in Indonesia, “In order to dismantle the negative stereotypes Indonesians had toward Christians, especially concerning their ties with the U.S.’s military intervention in Muslim-majority countries, [Mennonite World Conference President the Rev. Mesach] Krisetya made a public speech. He told the participants of the tumpeng feast that the Mennonite community in the U.S. collected over ten thousand signatures to urge President G. W. Bush not to invade Iraq. The Muslims in the crowd were shocked!”

These sentences come from a remarkable new book entitled “The Radical Muslim and Mennonite: A Muslim-Christian Encounter for Peace in Indonesia.” (p. 40) It introduces us to a radical militant Islamic group in Indonesia called Hizbollah or “army of God” and in doing so, it helps us to do something very important: see the world through Muslim eyes. (This Sunni group is apparently unrelated to the more famous Shiite Lebanese group.)

One of the most important things we learn from seeing the world from this perspective is that many of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world are afraid of us. A significant part of that fear can be traced to colonialism: when Spanish and Portuguese colonists arrived in Indonesia they “brought with them the spirit of the ‘Three M’s’: Merchant, Military and Missionary. . . . It was not surprising that the arrival of European colonialism and Christianity aroused deep suspicion from the existing Muslim communities, as though another crusade was waged against Islamic kingdoms and nations.” (p. 27)

Another thing we learn when we look at the world through Muslim eyes is that many Muslims are angry at and afraid of U.S. Christians because of the military actions of our government in recent decades and continuing into the present. Groups like Hizbollah “fiercely oppose Western political and military intervention in Muslim-majority countries. . . .” (p. 47-48) Tragically, this suspicion of Christians extends to Christian minorities in Indonesia, where many Muslims suspect “the close association Christians [are] thought to have with American imperialism.” (p. 86) U.S. support to Israel in “dominating the Holy Land” (p. 93) is another source of outrage.

This anger — sometimes coupled with economic insecurity — has driven a small minority of militant Islamic groups to react with actions ranging from “protesting and boycotting Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta, to bombing several churches and Western hotspots across Indonesia.” (p. 48)

At the same time there are signs of hope: “The Radical Muslim and Mennonite” also reminds us that people — including radical Islamists —can change. In a peacemaking effort of reaching out to the Hizbollah Front, Indonesian Mennonite Pastor Hartano initiated a “dialogue of action. This kind of dialogue occurs when Christians engage with other faith communities to serve the common good.” (p. 67) Mennonites and Hizbollah began cooperating to jointly deliver humanitarian relief to victims of a tsunami among other projects. There were a number of very tense moments, but eventually they found their way to a new mutual respect and cooperation.

In the course of their working together, the two faith communities engaged in theological dialogue. Another very important thing we learn from the book is that the soul of Islam does not wish to harm, let alone kill, Christians. Here’s a good quote to keep handy the next time you’re in a discussion with your brother-in-law about something he heard regarding Muslims on that right-wing talk radio program he listens to. Citing the Prophet Mohammed’s teaching, Hizbollah Commander “Rusmanto, with his militant Islamic upbringing, has found theological grounding to engage with other religious communities. He advocates that the Quran teaches Muslims to live peacefully with non-Muslims who do not threaten the existence of Islam.” (p. 88)

Mennonite Central Committee played a key part in that dialogue and three MCC staff members wrote comments accompanying the book which was written by two Indonesian Christian writers, Agus Suyanto and the Rev. Paulus Hartono.

The takeaways from this book for me were that we need to understand that many millions of Muslims in the world are afraid of us Christians — or more specifically afraid of what the government that we elected has done to Muslims and continues to do to them. We need to work for a new peaceful relationship in which Muslim-majority countries are no longer afraid of Christian-majority countries. To do this, we should engage in a “dialogue of action” of works of compassion with our neighbors. This coming Thanksgiving, why not organize a dinner for the homeless with a mosque in your vicinity?

The Radical Muslim and Mennonite is available from Faith and Life Bookstore in Newton, Kansas, 1-316-283-2210 for $12.99 + $4 shipping; email info@faithandlifebookstore.com

Mel Lehman
Common Humanity
New York City
June 4, 2017

Mel Lehman

Mel Lehman is the director of of Common Humanity. He has worked in international humanitarian issues for several decades, inducing two decades at the National Council of Churches. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and has published a number of articles about his experience.
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