The Islamic Center of Southern California, Saddleback Church, and Our Friendship
By: Jihad Turk
When I was approached almost two years ago by Saddleback pastor Abraham Meulenberg who expressed interest in exploring ways that we can bring our communities together in friendship, I welcomed the initiative. In this time of great fear, mistrust, and ignorance, I perceive an important and transformative potential in bringing together our communities of faith, distinctive as they are in certain respects, to both bridge the gap of understanding by getting to know one another, and to become friends working together in an expression of our shared values. Many people, both Muslim and Christian, misunderstand why a religion such as Islam, which makes exclusive truth claims about the nature of God (i.e. that God is One, the Creator of all things and the Lord of Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, and of all humanity), prophet-hood (i.e. that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, may God bless them, are all Divinely inspired human beings), and revelation (i.e. that the Qur’an is the final Divinely inspired scripture confirming in essence the Torah and Gospels) would engage in interfaith relations in general and with Saddleback Church in particular. Some view our community with an eye of suspicion assuming that Muslims are focused upon world domination, the imposition of Shari’ah upon others, and the conversion of all of humanity to Islam. The truth of the matter is different. Let me explain our theology.
Firstly, we believe that it is God’s will that there be diversity, both in our physical beings as well as in our beliefs and that all human beings were endowed with dignity by God Almighty.
Secondly, we believe that it is an affront to faith and contrary to God’s commandments to try to impose belief on anyone, for true faith comes through a direct relationship with God.
Thirdly and consequently, our role as Muslims is nothing more than to convey the truth about the Islamic religion (through both word and deed) and to work for the shared values of justice, compassion, freedom, and truth.
So, over the past couple of years, Saddleback Church through King’s Way has participated in a number of events with several local Muslim communities. I was invited to give a presentation at Saddleback Church alongside pastor Meulenberg. You might have read reports that our friends at Saddleback Church have been under attack for their friendship with Muslims. Some of what has been reported is incorrect, namely, that a discussion paper drafted in preparation for a presentation at one of our gatherings was reported as an attempt to create a partnership for a new religion. Of course this is completely false. Muslims and Christians have significant theological differences but we love our friends at Saddleback and they love us. We do not gloss over our differences. We simply do not allow our differences to prevent mutual respect. So we listen to each other and we value our friendship in spite of our different beliefs. As Muslims, we know what it is like to face false accusations and irresponsible attacks by people who refuse to accept the facts. So we appreciate Saddleback’s desire to continue our friendship and love us in spite of lies and vicious attacks by others. Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic faiths. We understand that we each respectively are commanded to both love God and love our neighbors. Our communities are committed to becoming friends, building peace, and serving the world together.
If you would like to read Saddleback Church’s position on our relationship, click here.
Jihad Turk is the Director of Religious Affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California. He is also Interim Dean of Bayan College an Islamic Graduate Program at Claremont Lincoln University.