Although some people claim Islam is a religion of violence, its roots are based “in peace, purity, and obedience to Allah,” Imam Morsy Salem said recently during Friday noon prayer at a mosque in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The word Islam itself is derived from the Arabic root "Salema," which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God, he said.
“We speak about peace with your soul, peace with your family, even peace with your enemies,” the Muslim leader told more than 200 worshippers sitting on the carpet inside Masjid AT Taweed .
Also on hand was a group from the Salaam Project, the Christian Reformed Church’s ministry to bring greater understanding between Christians and Muslims. They were there as part of a two-day event that focused on peacemaking and a discussion on practical ways to do ministry among Muslims.
“We must not judge Islam by the actions of some minorities. The religion of Islam prefers peace, not war. It is not a religion of killing or harm,” said the imam.
“My heart is very clear with you. We are required to spread peace around us.”
After the service, the imam and Salaam Project participants gathered to speak about various issues, such as the Muslim view of prayer and fasting.
Later that day, Morsy and two other Islamic leaders joined three Christian pastors in a dialogue on peacemaking at Calvin Theological Seminary.
“Imam Morsy is quite a guy, with a fine sense of humor,” said Paul Kortenhoeven, a retired Christian Reformed World Missions missionary who was at the mosque and seminary.
“He is not afraid to tackle difficult questions … It would be a good idea for meetings between Muslims and CRC members to become a regular occurrence.
“Education usually breaks down hostility, and relationships that could develop between CRC folk and their Muslim neighbors would do an even better job.”
Steve Van Zanen, CRWM’s Director for Missions, Education and Engagement, said he especially appreciated how participants at the dialogue addressed such topics as what Muhammad and Jesus taught about peace.
“In contrast to some similar events, the approach was not to water down each faith to the point that the essential differences between them were ignored or denied,” he said.
“Instead, each side gave witness to the founder of their religion, and both sides learned a good deal about the desire of the other to live in harmony, despite significant differences in faith.”
Greg Sinclair, manager of the Salaam Project, said he especially appreciated the willingness of the three imams to participate in the dialogue on Friday night. Along with the Christian pastors, each had 15 minutes to address a question regarding peace.
He said that after they spoke there were tough questions from the audience, made up of Christians and Muslims, about the views each religion holds on violence and peace.
“In an era of growing tensions between religious communities, the rise of ISIS, the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and other conflicts around the world, there is a need for honest dialogue between Muslim and Christian faith communities,” he said.
On Saturday, there was a conference at the seminary featuring Pastor Jonathan Borman and Pastor Andres Prins from the Christian/Muslim Relations Team of Eastern Mennonite Missions. Salaam Project volunteers also led a series of workshops. Despite the below-zero weather, some 75 people attended.
Workshops addressed a method to study the Bible and the Qur'an, the concepts of forgiveness and mentoring with new believers, and the experience of Christians living in Muslim-majority contexts.
The plenary sessions addressed dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality as key concepts of engagement with Muslims.
“My main aim is to give clear witness to Jesus through my words, attitudes, and actions,” said Prins. “Believing Muslims, as much as anyone, need and deserve good opportunities to see/hear who the Jesus of the gospels really is. Hopefully goodwill, peaceful relations, and meaningful conversations will result.”