Compassion has no limits

The humanitarian crisis in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan is arriving at our doorstep, as hundreds of thousands refugees are seeking refuge in our countries. EU’s political leaders are struggling to find a way how to deal with this and how to divide them evenly among the member states. Some countries are building walls to keep them out, others increase their border security. Nevertheless: refugees keep coming, whether is by boat, plane, foot, train or hidden in trucks. In their desperation they leave behind their spouse, family, property, family heritage and in some cases their dignity.

We can argue long about the reasons for this humanitarian crisis. Questions, like: Should the West have gone to Afghanistan and Iraq to help set up our kind of democracy there? What if the West had supported president Assad earlier? Is it all to blame on IS, Al-Quaida and other militant groups that use religion as their banner? I guess that people with more insight into history and political maneuvers can give elaborate answers to these and similar questions. I pray that God will give wisdom to our political leaders to come up with solutions that will bring stability back into the Middle East. While they work hard at this, the refugees keep coming. Historically, Europe has received many refugees. These gradually found their way into the mainstream of society. I wouldn’t be surprised when forefathers of many of our church members were refugees. There have been refugees from the Middle East that stayed in the region (e.g. Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan), but now they come to Europe with hundreds of thousands. How does the church respond?

I have heard about great initiatives from churches and Christian organizations across Europe, who have mobilized thousands of volunteers and staff, to do all they can and more in order to provide shelter, food, health-care, sanitation to the refugees arriving in their towns and villages. This is very encouraging.

I also have come across Christians who, while admitting we need to help people in need, add a little word with great consequences, namely “BUT”. Their words and faces express a “YES…BUT” attitude towards the stream of refugees. They are particularly concerned that many of the refugees are Muslims. They fear that when these Muslims are given houses and jobs, they will gradually transform our countries, our values, and our societies into an Islamic theocratic state, where Christians will be discriminated and persecuted.

Such a scenario is not totally unrealistic. There áre Muslims in Europe already who want to establish Sharia law, and no doubt among refugees there áre IS-sympathizers, who are eager to create a European version of IS.   Of course, they make up only a small minority among the predominantly ‘normal’ Muslims, but it only takes a few to create havoc. We have had terrorist attacks in Europe and I think more will come, despite the great work of our security services. It is very likely that with the growing number of Muslims refugees setting up a new life in Europe, more violent incidents caused by extreme Muslims will take place.

Nevertheless, I believe that an attitude of concern and fear and a YES …BUT is hard to maintain in light of the truth of the Gospel. Some Christians are concerned that with the arrival of thousands of new Muslims our European (Christian?) values will disappear. This is a real possibility, but such disappearance is not caused by external forces (be it Islam or humanism, secularism, materialism), but by our own sinful hearts.

In fact, its disappearance is seen in the way so many Christian respond to the refugees coming to Europe. It seems they want to defend Christian values with an attitude that goes against such values.

Some years ago I developed the course Sharing Lives to help Christians overcome their fear of Muslims and share their lives with Muslims. God has used this course throughout Europe, and perhaps more Churches and Christians can benefit from it.

I believe that the hundreds of thousands of refugees, among whom many Muslims, give the Church of Europe an opportunity to testify that we are followers of the Man of Peace, who when a baby had to flee from violence and together with his parents found refuge in another country. Jesus, Who as an adult had no place to lay down his head and who was willing to give up his privileges in order to reconcile man to God. Jesus came to exemplify grace and it is grace that should determine our response to the refugee crisis in Europe.   In order to clarify what this means, the following five guidelines that together are an acronym of the word ‘Grace’, might be helpful:

God is sovereign

With all the struggles in the world and all the turmoil around us, and the rapid changes that take place, we don’t have to doubt who is in control: God. He, the sovereign Lord (history is His Story) fulfills His eternal purposes. He uses world leaders, even corrupt ones, to carry out His eternal plan. We are safe in His eternal, almighty hands. The Church of Europe is safe in His hands. He will continue to build it, with or without persecution. Knowing our Heavenly Father is sovereign, means that we are eternally secure. This provides us with the freedom that might seem naive, to take risks, to love our enemies, open our hearts and doors for those who may take advantage of it.

Remember that we are aliens ourselves

It is a great privilege to live in one of the richest continents on earth and in societies where there is social security, freedom, law enforcement, hospitals, schools etc. It is great to be a European; nevertheless, we need to remember that while Europe might be our earthly home, it is not our eternal destiny. Christians are essentially, sojourners, aliens on earth. We are ultimately citizens of heaven and it is there we need to gather our treasures. As Luther sang: Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

Accept Muslim refugees as human beings

It is important to remember that the refugees are not in the first place Muslims; they are human beings, created in God’s image, which we are called to treat with dignity. They have been de-humanized in the places they had to leave. We need to ask our Heavenly Father to see beyond or behind the name Muhammad, a father who is desperate to bring his family into safely; to see behind the veil worn by Fatima, a woman, who has lost her three children in a bomb attack. We might see the teenager Boutrus as a potential terrorist, while God looks upon him as a potential Church planter. (He has done this before in the life of the Jewish Boutrus: Saul).

Compassion has no limits

Jesus challenged His followers: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”…And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?” (Matthew 5:46, 47) We are called to reflect our Father who loved us unconditionally, who died for us, while we were His enemies. The more we are overwhelmed by the unconditional, acceptance and love and grace of God, who knows all about us, the more this love and grace will spill over to others, even to those whom we dislike. The more we realize that God’s compassion has no limits, the more our compassion grows in the same direction.

Enter into their lives

We can calm our fears, worries and concerns for our future, safety, society with regard to the refugees, in the sovereign loving presence of our Heavenly Father. We can drink freshly from the unquenchable source of His loving grace and compassion for our well-being. When we do this, the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts with compassion, to not be put off by the color of someone’s skin, religion, language or culture, but recognize a fellow-human being whom God created and for whom Christ died. God will then give us a desire and with it practical ways to enter into the lives of people that have fled to us.

When God enables us to live out this attitude and these values then the refugee crisis becomes a refugee opportunity, namely to show our new neighbors that their ultimate security and safety is not in Europe, but in Christ, in Whom all nations will ultimately be blessed.


A profile of Islam in Europe does not exist

Often I’m asked to speak on the topic of Islam in Europe and how the church should deal with thepresence of millions of Muslims on their doorstep.

 One of the first things we have to understand is that there is no such thing as Islam in Europe. Of course, Islam is a religion that is practiced by many Europeans. Nevertheless, a discussion about Islam in Europe can so easily remain on the abstract and intellectual level.

Many Christians point out to me that they consider Islam to be a threat to the West, that Islam is focused on world domination, that Islamic values clash with European values etc.

When talking about Islam in Europe many Christians consider it to be a fixed entity. Many have a predefined image of Islam in Europe. They read books on Islam and believe that as a result of this they know all there is to know about Islam in Europe. This knowledge becomes a set of glasses through which they look at the Muslims in their streets, towns and cities. And if these Muslims do not fit their predefined image of what Islam is? Too bad for them. I have heard people say to me: “Well, if these Muslims would know their Qu’ran better they would behave differently, and would be true Muslims.”

Some time ago I showed a video clip of several Muslim singers praising God to a group of Christians. One of them responded: “This is not Islam.”  This kind of Islam did not fit into his preconceived idea about what Islam is like and he had a hard time coming to grips with it.

Maybe this is our problem. Maybe we start from the wrong end. How about talking about Muslims in Europe in stead of talking about Islam in Europe?

When talking about Islam as a religion one tends to forget that the real issue is not Islam as such, but rather Muslims. We are dealing with persons, not with a concept or a religion as such.  Islam cannot answer questions, but Muslims can; we cannot befriend Islam, but we can befriend Muslims, we cannot drink tea with Islam, but we can drink tea with Muslims.

Talking about Muslims in Europe in stead of about Islam in Europe makes a huge difference. When talking about Muslims in Europe we are talking about people. People that are more than just religious beings; people with feelings, dreams, anxieties; young people struggling with their identity; fathers trying to be the authority figure for his children in a society where there is unlimited freedom; couples that try to keep their marriage healthy in a society where one of three marriages break up; men and women in their sixties wondering whether they can fit into the European retirement homes etc.

When talking about Muslims in Europe we realize that they practice their Islamic faith in a variety of ways. One can find conservative, orthodox, liberal, progressive, moderate, reformed, traditional, fundamentalist, mystical and cool Muslims, just to name a few ‘categories’ that could each be subdivided into smaller segments. Quite a lot of people who are Muslims by birth do not practice Islam at all. We cannot speak of Islam in Europe, nor of thé Muslims in Europe. One of my friends wrote a book, entitled The Muslim does not exist.

So how do we learn about Islam in Europe? By talking to Muslims and sharing our lives with them. When Islam gets a human face it is easier to understand and communicate that God loves them and that Jesus died for their salvation.

When was the last time you talked with a Muslim?

Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam

My answer to Eurabia

Next month I hope to speak at a conference in Norway. The organizers have asked me to speak on the subject of fear of Islam/Muslims among Christians in Europe. Fear of Islam and Muslims is a topic that is close to my heart, because I believe it is one of the main reasons why Christians do not share their lives (and in this context also the Gospel of Jesus Christ) with Muslims in Europe.

There is nothing wrong to fear Muslims who endorse violence and terrorism and whose sole purpose it is to destroy the freedoms we have in Europe. It was normal for Ananias to be afraid of Saul, the persecutor of Christians who had come to his city. On the other hand, the story shows that even violent, persecuting, religious fanatics can become church planters. Ananias overcame his normal fear and was a blessing to Saul (for the whole story: see Acts 9: 1-19).

Nevertheless, most Muslims in Europe are not terrorists or fundamentalists, who use violence to obtain their goal: domination of Islam in Europe.  Unfortunately, many Christians think they are. Although, they may not know the term, nor subscribe to all its features, I meet many Christians throughout Europe who are sympathetic towards or even adherents of the so-called Eurabia theory.

Eurabia is a conspiracy theory that was popularized by Bat Ye’or (Gisele Littman) in her book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005). Other people have followed in her footsteps and several books, articles, films reflect  the same sentiment.  Bat Ye’or and others who adhere to this theory are convinced that European Muslims want to establish continent wide Islamic domination in the form of an Islamic state or caliphate, with Shari’a law as the constitution, using higher fertility rates and immigration as their main means of achieving this. They have proof of what they call the Islamisation of Europe,  particularly referring to demographics. They consider Islam a threat to European civilization. They are very suspicious of Muslims, pointing out that Muslims in Europe conceal their real intentions to establish Islamic dominance over non-Muslim peoples.

What concerns me is that I regularly read articles, books and blogs written by Bible believing Christians, who agree with this Eurabia theory. That the unbelieving world comes up with all kinds of conspiracy thinking is something to be expected, but how about Christians?

Are we not supposed to be different? Thinking differently, behaving differently?  Are we not called to love our neighbors, the foreigners and even our enemies?

How can we deal with this conspiracy theory of Eurabia? A major problem with conspiracy theories is that it very difficult, if not impossible to disprove. Fighting wrong or half-wrong facts with other facts seems to be a waste of time.

Accepting that we, Christians, can be tempted to a wrong thinking, including conspiracy thinkingas Eurabia, what tools does the Bible offer us to resist this temptation?

Of all books in the Bible, I particularly find the book of Isaiah helpful in helping us formulate a defense against the Eurabia theory. Of course, in Isaiah’s time Islam was not a concern. Nevertheless, they had plenty of other world powers that sought to wipe them of the map. The people of God were concerned, fearful, frightened, they were afraid to lose everything they considered valuable. The world around them seemed out of control. In such a time conspiracy thinking can develop and this is what seems to have happened. God warns Isaiah:

“The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary..” (Isaiah 8:12, 13)

These verses show an important aspect of a conspiracy theory: fear of men.  These verses also point to a cure against this kind of thinking, namely fear of God. The more we fear God, understanding that history is His story and that He is Lord of past, present and future, the better we can resist the temptation of the Eurabia theory. We do not need to give in to man made theories, growing out of fear and prejudice. We can trust ourselves, our Church and our continent into the Everlasting Arms of the Living God, who has shown His love for us and for Muslims by sending His Son to die for our sins.

One might think that a theory such as Eurabia is innocent, because it has no impact on daily life and how our societies are developing. Unfortunately, this is not true. Extreme right wing political parties feed on Eurabia’s thinking. While many seek to stop Eurabia from growing further by their use of words, others go a step further. Andres Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the terrorist attacks in Norway in July 2011, was profoundly inspired by Eurabia, as becomes clear from his tract: A European Declaration of Independence.

I hope that my speech in Norway next month will prevent others to follow in his footsteps.


Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam


Seeing with our inner eye

In the book The New Religious Intolerance -overcoming the politics of fear in an anxious age, the author Martha C. Nussbaum argues that in Europe we are living in a time of anxiety, ugly fears and suspicions of the majority people towards the Muslim minorities.

As examples of this new religious intolerance she points to the banning of the Muslim burqa and niqab in several European countries-despite the acknowledged fact that only a tiny minority of Muslims actually wear these garments; the ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland -despite the fact that few mosques actually have minarets (namely 4 out of the 150); the banning of kebab shops in some regions in Italy; discrimination in employment of women wearing the Muslim headscarf in some Northern European countries; the termination of serving special meals for Muslim children on play grounds; the cancelation of having special opening hours in swimming pools for Muslim women; the crimes committed by Anders Breivik in Norway based on the idea that Europe must fight against Islamicisation; and the exploitation by politicians eager to whip up aggression against unpopular groups.

I could add many more examples from my own ministry throughout Europe that support the Nussbaum’s conviction. For the past three years I have been preoccupied  with making Christians aware of their own religious intolerance of Muslims and provide them with Biblical tools to deal with it.

Nussbaum’s approach to this anti-Muslim attitude combines the following three ingredients:

1. Political principles expressing equal respect for all citizens. This is based on assumption that all human beings have equal dignity.Governments may not violate this equal dignity, and ought to show respect for the equality and dignity of all its citizens. Because conscience is closely related to      one’s dignity, to violate conscience is an assault on human dignity.

2.  Rigorous and critical self-examination, whether or not we violate the words of Jesus  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7: 3, 4) When people make special cases of themselves, exempting themselves from criticisms that they bring up when they look at other people  they violate this principle.

3. A systematic cultivation of the “inner eye”, which is the imaginative capacity that makes us ask what life if like for the other, what his or her emotions or ambitions are. Such empathetic imagination moves in a direction opposite to that of fear. Fear is a self-focused reaction to danger. It stems from a desire to survival and well-being in face of something that threatens us. In empathy the mind moves outward, to include the others and their well-being in one’s behavior and decision-making.

Although Nussbaum states that these ingredients are “inspired by ethical philosophy in the spirit of Socrates”, I believe that they are equally inspired by the Bible. Every Christian who loves God will all his soul, heart and mind, should equally love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:37-39).

By loving the Muslim neighbor as ourselves, we recognize his or her dignity as human beings that is entitled to freedom of conscience and religion. By loving our Muslim neighbor as ourselves we apply Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 to him and her and be very much aware of the plank in our own eyes. God who demands us to love our Muslim neighbor will through His Spirit in our inner being develop our inner eye, thus enabling us to move towards our Muslim neighbours with genuine friendship and interest.

Let us not be mistaken: respect for persons is not necessarily respect for everything they do. On the other hand, disagreeing with a group’s religion, and indeed its entire way of life, does not mean that we cannot appreciate its people’s virtues, or treat them as less than fully human.

The approach that Nussbaum advocates “demands the bare bones of friendship: curiosity, listening, responsiveness, a willingness to acknowledge a full life and world over there, outside ourselves. Friendship is rarely uncritical, and friends may well differ in their evaluations and argues, sometimes fiercely. But to remain friends they must take the first step of trying to see the situation from the other point of view. They must avoid the error of making a special case of themselves. And that means that they must avoid seeing the world through the narcissism of anxiety.”  (187)

Wouldn’t it be great if each Muslim in Europe would have a Christian friend who lives out the principles mentioned above?


Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam



Undoing Islamophobia

This is the title of the last chapter of the book Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe by Raymond Taras. In the first chapter the author stated that Islamophobia entails “the spread of hostile public attitudes towards Muslims…across Europe…”….and “…a cultural racism that sets Muslims apart.” (4) Subsequently Taras offers  “a comparative, data-driven, even-handed account of why many Europeans are receptive to Islamophobia.” (5)

In the book, Taras looks at the sources and consequences of Islamophobia. He traces the process that leads from the growth of anti-immigrant attitudes to anti-Muslim attitudes. His examples of anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe are predominantly taken from France and Germany.

Because I deal a lot with the subject of islamophobia, I have studied this subject quite a bit. I am particularly interested to help my fellow Christians to overcome their Islamophobia, and thus was particularly interested in this last chapter ‘Undoing Islamophobia’, because that is what I seek to do.

I was disappointed by Taras’ suggestions, however. Throughout the book, Taras argues that prejudice, which is a key component of islamophobia, is built into human nature. I would think that in undoing islamophobia, one would need to deal with this prejudice. Alas, Taras states: “The simplest way to undo the chain of events that has produced Islamophobia would be to introduce a miracle counterfactual (=facts that runs contrary to the established facts), whereby human nature is altered so that prejudice is absent from people’s psychological make-up. Imagining such an alternative world is not a realistically anchored thought experiment and enters the realm of science fiction.” (204)

Taras’ suggestion instead is to encourage governments to not disregard hostile public opinion when developing immigrant policies. He believes that if governments had demonstrated to their people that they are in control of the composition and scale of immigration and have acknowledged and addressed the concerns of their people about immigration, the building up of anti-Muslim sentiments would not have taken place in the same dramatic way.

Whether or not this hypothesis is true cannot be proven. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by his comments on how governments should influence public opinion. Quoting from proposals of the Transatlantic Council of Migration, he states that because public opinion is based on (and influenced by) values more than by statistics, politicians should appeal to values and emotion, when creating sympathy for their contentious policies. Also, when addressing concern public concern for immigrants, they should acknowledge peoples’ fear of change, instead of trying to ‘counter’ that fear with facts and statistics.

I find this to be true in my teaching on dealing with Islamophobia. Because Islamophobia is often based on inflation of numbers, facts and statistics, it seems natural to counter false facts with true facts. But I have not seen this to be effective. Ultimately, people see what they want to see and usually find justification for their point of view.  Therefore, I believe that we need to dig deeper and address human nature.

Taras recognizes that this is often at the heart of Islamophobia. The ultimate solution is alteration of human nature. The author dismisses this as ‘social science fiction’. But, I believe our Creator, who is also the Redeemer is ‘an expert’ in changing human nature. I believe that God can help us deal with our natural prejudice and develop in us a different attitude, that of grace, which doesn’t see the other as a potential threat, but as a future friend and brother in Christ.

In his book, Taras points out that our predisposition towards prejudice goes back to our childhood. He refers to the attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby. This theory points out that in situations of distress or anxiety, infants seek proximity to an attachment figure (often mother or father), cultivating an affective bond and thereby establishing a secure base. The absence of a secure base develops a stronger disposition to fear and prejudice.

This is also addressed in the book God Attachment by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub.   They point out that for a Christian, God is his or her ultimate secure base. In Christ, we are reconciled with Him, forgiven, adopted. Clinton and Straub write:

“When we feel insecure, not safe, we feel compelled to control ourselves, others, situations, and even God. Keepings our clamps on any threats, we are convinced, is the only way we can protect ourselves. The grace of God is the ultimate statement of God’s incredible love. The more we grasp it and let it sink deep into our hearts, the more we will be willing to let go of our death grip on ourselves and everything around us. The compulsion to control seems to promise safety, but is brings only heartache, self=absorption, and distrust. God’s grace lets even anxious, avoidant, and fearful people relax, enjoy God’s love, and find the security and significance they’ve always wanted.” (153)

I believe this is the Christian answer to Islamophobia in Europe. Not in the first place a change of policy but changed hearts and changed people.


Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam


Why the West fears Islam

The question that is addressed in the book Why the West Fears Islam: an exploration of Muslims in liberal democracies, by Jocelyne Cesari, is one that I deal with a lot in my interaction  with Christians in Europe. Fear is probably the word that best describes the attitude Christians in Europe have when they think of Islam and Muslims.

The Bible insists that Christians “no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” (Ephesians 4:17) and urges us “ to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). Thinking differently and consequently living differently from those who do not acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord of their lives, should be a key characteristic of those who call themselves Christians: followers of Jesus Christ. Our thinking and behaviour should be in agreement with the character, words and deeds of One and Only God, who is revealed to us in the Bible and in the life of Jesus Christ, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebr. 1:3).

Unfortunately, a different way of thinking about Islam and consequently a different way of behaving towards Muslims in Europe, is absent among the majority of Evangelical Christians in Europe.

When describing the attitude of European citizens towards Islam and Muslims, Cesari writes:

“A review of the most significant public opinion polls and surveys among European ….conducted in the past decade confirms the widespread negative feelings towards Muslims and Islam..” (13)     She believes that these negative feelings and discomfort are based on “a widespread association of Islam and Muslims as a force of unwanted, and potentially irreversible, change.” (14)

She identifies four convictions that lay behind these feelings:

1)      Muslims have not and will not integrate.

2)      Muslims are a threat to national identity now and in the future.

3)      Public practices, such as mosque-building, prayer, and clothing should be kept to a minimum.

4)      Islam and Muslims are incompatible with national and Western values.

She concludes: “A common point across surveys is that non-Muslims mostly fear that the presence of Muslims will affect their way of life or alter the norms of an assumed mainstream. In other words, while non-Muslims may nor have a direct problem with Muslims or individual Muslims, they fear that Muslims – particularly growing numbers of them – will impose unwanted changes in their countries.” (15)

Yes, the presence of Muslims in our countries, towns and streets might affect our way of life and might bring about changes in our societies. But is this something we should fight against or something we should learn to adapt to?

Our identity is not wrapped up with our national citizenship or being European. Our identity is found in our relationship with God, in being reconciled, forgiven, accepted and adopted by Him.

This identity is secure and untouchable in the hands of a sovereign God, who has become our Heavenly Father. He can be trusted to fulfill His promises. As people whose citizenship is in heaven, we are supposed to be aliens and strangers in Europe. Yes, we are called to fear – not to fear circumstances, changes, nor even people, but to fear God. Fearing God means, among other things, to allow Him to be the judge, to allow Him to craft the future for Europe, to allow Him to give and to take freedom, welfare and security. Trusting in the sovereign God creates space in our hearts for His love, compassion, kindness, hospitality for  our Muslim neighbors. Through the empowerment of the Spirit, Christians can become trendsetters, not trend followers.

I pray that our Muslim neighbors will see that we are different from the average European citizens, because we have come to know Christ, who also died for their salvation.


Bert de Ruiter,  Amsterdam


How to develop our integrative complexity

In the book Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East, edited by George Joffé, there is a chapter called “Being Muslim, Being British”. In this chapter the authors explain the background of the course “Being Muslim, Being British (BMBB)” that they have developed to prevent young Muslims to become attracted to violent radicalism. The course aims to raise the level of the participants’ ‘integrative complexity’ (IC). IC refers to how we perceive reality: IC = ‘I See’. IC is a way of thinking by which one perceives the validity of, and the connection between, different dimensions of an issue: I see my point of view, I see your point of view, I see a way towards win/win.  This does not mean we have to agree!

IC is about the structure of thinking; about how we think, not what we think. Interestingly, when I went on their website, I discovered that the authors also offer a course based on the same principles for Christians. This is not to prevent them from becoming attracted to violent radicalism, but to enable them to transform conflict while respecting theological integrity and to engage with other viewpoints while retaining their own deep value commitments.

The same principles that are used to help Muslims youth are used for Christians to relate to others across the denominational lines and also to relate to Muslims, both the ones that are prevented from becoming radicalized as well as those for whom the course has come too late.

That Christians might also need a course on IC both to relate to one another as well as to Muslims, became clear from another book that I read: The Routledge Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations, edited by Mona Siddiqui. This book provides the reader with a glimpse into different kinds of writings between Christians and Muslims about each other from the earliest encounters to the present day. In chapter 22, entitled  “No God in Common –American Evangelical Discourse on Islam after 9/11”  Richard Cimino, examines evangelical anti-Islamic discourse between 1991 and 2004. He points out that some evangelical Christians focus on the inherently violent nature of Islam and others demonise Islam. He sees a connection between the predominantly negative critique of Islam among evangelicals and their concern about a growing religious pluralism and relativism that they see in society at large. This concern leads evangelicals to reinforce their boundaries.

I believe we evangelicals also need to raise our level of ‘integrative complexity’, because we often find it easier to refute than to relate. In our zeal for God and our fear of being contaminated by the world we withdraw within our safe comfort zones.

In doing so, we seem to resemble the attitude of Muslim extremists. There is nothing wrong with being zealous, as long as it is not blind and ignorant. The Apostle Paul wrote about the zealous Jews of his day “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:2). Proverbs 19:2 adds: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

One of Jesus’ close disciples and one of the Twelve Apostles is referred to as Simon, the Zealot. The Zealots were religious extremists who didn’t shy away from using violence to get their way. In our days they might have been called “Taliban” or Boko Haram” or “Muslim Brotherhood”  or “Hamas” or “IRA” or “Lord’s Resistance Army”.  Simon, one of Jesus’ apostles, used to be one of them. In fact, he is still called a Zealot. Through a three year course with Jesus he learned to rub shoulders with others that had totally different worldviews. He must have learned a different kind of zeal. He went through Jesus’ equivalent of an IC course, which helped him to integrate his zeal with other values such as brotherly love, respect, joy, hope, patience, faithfulness and hospitality and blessing those who persecute you (Romans 12:9-14).


Bert de Ruiter, Amsterdam