I’m sitting here eating comfort food, peanut butter banana toast, in the midst of my second week in East London, and I’m realizing that this learning by experience thing requires a lot more vulnerability than I initially thought it would. The more I learn about Islam by talking with my friends’ Muslim neighbors, and the more I learn about gentrification by experiencing the uncomfortable contrast between hipsters and Bangladeshi Brits on Brick Lane, the more I come to terms with my own (sometimes faulty) assumptions and beliefs.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, but before coming here, I had never given much thought to other religions. I have experienced radical transformation through a relationship with Jesus: why would I care about informing myself of different beliefs?
Being here in London, I’m realizing why I must do this.
The more I learn about Islam, the more I see its similarities to Christianity. And I’m realizing that I have a lot more in common with Muslims than I would have ever thought.
Suddenly a group of religious people I honestly never would have never really taken the time to get to know, become people. People who are seeking God (Allah) and fulfillment just as I am. People that struggle with temptation (jihad) just as I do. People that are pursuing awareness of God (taqwa) just as I am. People that find value in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting (salat and sawm) just as I do. People that I can empathize with.
Of course, I can’t and won’t ignore the crucial difference between Islam and Christianity: humanity’s ability (or inability) to reach God through good works. I can’t reconcile the fact that I believe that I am saved by grace through the blood of Jesus, while Muslims believe that an individual’s behavior earns passage into Paradise.
But I also can’t ignore what we share in common. Our need for an all-powerful God. Our search for truth. Our humanness.
This is all new and I still have a lot to think and pray about. And I’m definitely still a learner in the beginning stages of trying to wrap my mind around all of this. Thankfully, I have a lot of new friends here that are supporting me through it all.
But maybe the lines between right and wrong aren’t as hard and fast as we’d like them to be. Maybe there’s more room for interfaith conversation, more opportunities to try to understand each other, a greater need for humility and grace.