Who is my neighbor?

While traveling in Israel, Ralph – our tour guide – told our group about a distinction made between Muslim and non-Muslim land. The first is “Dar al-Islam,” (house of Islam) or “Dar al-Salam” (house of peace) as distinct from “Dar al-Harab” (house of war) or “Dar al-Kufr” (house of the Infidel). The first refers to countries where Muslims are in the majority and are ruled by Muslim Sharia law. In such lands Christians, Jews and others are to be tolerated, meaning that while Muslims enjoy a privileged status, Christians and Jews (“people of the book”) pay the jizya. A “house of war / house of the Infidel” refers to countries where Muslims are not in the majority and where Muslim sharia law is not in force. Such lands are considered unclean and if its people are not “people of the book,” they are to be converted or killed. (“Divisions of the world in Islam,” Wikipedia)

Such distinctions between Muslim and non-Muslim land are not taught in the Quran (Koran) or in the Hadith (sayings and stories of Muhammad) but arose a century later during times of Muslim conquest. Ralph our Israeli tour guide suggested that this distinction is where difficulties arise. If a land such as Israel was ever a Muslim land, it is considered unclean until it can once again be returned to its former status. This makes negotiations challenging as evidenced by tall concrete walls and barbed wire. To read about the often difficult history between Muslims, Jews and Christians, you may be interested in reading one of the following books by Karen Armstrong: Muhammad, Islam or Jerusalem.

As I suggested in my blog post last week, Jesus’ concept of “toleration” is altogether different. In his well-known story of The Good Samaritan (Luke chapter 10), Jesus praises a Samaritan who took pity on a man left for dead by robbers, but bypassed by a Jewish priest and Levite. Jesus praised a Samaritan leper, who after being healed returned to to give thanks (Luke 17 – a Gospel reading on Thanksgiving Day in America). Though Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans and avoided traveling through Samaria, Jesus went into Samaria and spoke with a woman there at a well. Though she’d had five husbands, Jesus revealed to her that he was the Messiah.

The parable of the Good Samaritan was told by Jesus in response to a question: Who is our neighbor? Is it only people like us, or people whose behavior we (and God) approves of? The Good Samaritan had pity on a man he didn’t know, who was not of his country and believed differently. For a stranger, he expended considerable time, effort and money, for no personal gain and after a long history of animosity between their people.

Who is my neighbor, and your neighbor? According to Jesus: everybody. Without regard for nationality, religion, political party, morality or any other distinction, we are to treat everyone as our neighbor and our brother. This doesn’t mean that when people threaten us we can’t defend ourselves. That’s not what Jesus meant by “turning the other cheek.” (Luke 6:29) Instead Jesus spoke here of defusing conflict rather than throwing gasoline on a spark. Even in fearful times, we would do well to listen to Jesus’ reminder: everyone is our neighbor.

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