Non-Muslims worldwide frequently call upon Muslims to condemn “Islamic terrorism” and enter into dialogue with Christians and Jews. The issue is not that Muslim leaders do not denounce extremist violence or speak highly of Judaism and Christianity, it is just that non-Muslims typically do not hear their calls for non-violence and interfaith dialogue because of media bias.
My friend Sheikh Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri is a scholar of Islam who always condemns the persecution of religious minorities and highlights the similarities among the Abrahamic faiths. In the aftermath of the militant attack on a Kenyan university that killed over 140 Christian students, Sheikh Al-Qadri led his congregation, the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, Ireland, in two-minutes of silence to condemn Christian persecution in Muslim-majority countries.
Sheikh Al-Qadri’s call for tolerance does not surprise me. He and I became friends in 2013 after we participated in a debate on the relationship between “Islam and the West” at University College Dublin. One of my best memories of living in Ireland was speaking at Sheikh Qadri’s annual peace march and conference at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational and Cultural Centre because it gave me a forum to share my positive interactions with Muslims. Addressing his congregation was a true honor for me and an experience which symbolizes the tolerance that Islam has for Christians and Americans as well as the interest that Christians, such as myself, have in building better relations with Muslims. Our bond is one that I truly appreciate because it represents the possibility for Christians and Muslims to not only engage in dialogue, but also to form friendships based on respect and admiration based on goodwill and tolerance for God’s people.
The Irish Independent visited Sheikh Al-Qadri at his Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown last week noting that he dedicated the first part of his sermon – which was also Good Friday – to discuss the similarities between Islam and Christianity. The second part of his sermon strongly condemned the persecution of Christians in countries such as Kenya and Pakistan.
Sheikh Al-Qadri’s message is critical if Christians and Muslims are to build better relations in the future. During his Good Friday sermon, he stated:
The belief in one Creator, in the Virgin Mary, the Prophet Jesus, Life after Death are some of the similarities between Islam and Christianity… Loving the Creator, loving one’s neighbour, and charity are also important parts of [Christianity and Islam].
He also outlined the Prophet Muhammad’s covenants, which granted Christians protection and provided them with religious freedom under Islamic rule. In order to build trust and bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims, Sheikh Al-Qadri believes that it is important to focus on the tolerance exhibited by Muhammad. The Sheikh emphasized the commonalities between the Abrahamic faiths, and not simply the differences.
The next time you hear someone ask, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” or hear someone say, “Islam is intolerant,” direct them to the sermons of Sheikh Al-Qadri in Ireland. There are few leaders in the West who are better at bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians than he is. I am honored to call him my friend.