UNITED STATES REFLECTION: Islamophobia and the Sikh Temple shooting: WWJD

8 August 2012
UNITED STATES REFLECTION: Islamophobia and the Sikh Temple shooting: WWJD

By Tim Nafziger

We grieve for all the victims of Wade Michael Page, together with their families and communities, after the tragic shooting in Wisconsin.

As the Christian Science Monitor pointed out, it’s important to recognize the responsibility we all have to challenge the culture that nurtures men like Mr. Page, a member of the skinhead movement. (For more on Christian Islamophobia see full version of this article.)

This is another opportunity for Christians in the United States or countries under its influence to reflect on our response to the ugly Islamophobia that bubbles just beneath the surface and spills out in attacks against people who appear Middle Eastern.

Jesus’ relationship with Samaritans models a different way and reason to challenge Islamophobia.

By Jesus’ time, Jews had loathed Samaritans (and vice versa) for several centuries―at least since the return of the Judeans from exile in Babylon. The apocryphal Wisdom of Ben Sirach 50:25-26, written around 200 B.C., notes, “There are two nations that my soul detests, and the third is not a nation at all: the inhabitants of Mount Seir, and the Philistines, and the stupid people living at Shechem [i.e. Samaritans].”

Similarly the Mishna, the first major edited version of Jewish oral tradition (ca. 200 CE) declares: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like one who eats the flesh of swine” (Mishna Shebiith 8:10). Jews publicly cursed Samaritans in synagogues and offered daily prayers that they might not partake of eternal life.

The feelings likely went both ways. In Antiquities 18.30, Josephus tells of a Passover feast in Jerusalem nine years after the birth of Jesus. With the temple gates open past midnight, as was the custom, a group of Samaritans sneaked in and scattered human bones throughout the temple. Outraged at this act of inflammatory and deliberate desecration, the Jews increased security.

 image courtesy jesusradicals.com

What would it have been like for Jesus’ listeners to hear his parable of the Good Samaritan with this story fresh in their minds? When Jesus told his listeners, “Go and do like the Samaritan” – who had lavished extravagant compassion on the wounded man – what fears came up for them?

Even among Jesus’ disciples, hate for Samaritans was strong. In Luke 9:54, James and John ask Jesus to “call fire down from heaven to destroy” a Samaritan village that didn’t welcome them in for the night. But the fact that Jesus and the disciples even stopped at a Samaritan village suggests that Samaritans were part of the Jesus movement. We can only imagine that after the Samaritan woman at the well and her village followed Jesus, many others joined in.

It’s not enough to talk about loving Muslims and opposing Islamophobia. We need to reflect on and live out Jesus’ radical hospitality. In one such effort, Christian Peacemaker Teams has begun to welcome Muslims onto our teams. How can each of our communities welcome people we are taught to fear most?

For the full version of this article, see Tim’s blog at TheMennonite.org.