Letters to a Muslim Friend — Letter 2

Your story is both sad and inspiring. Inspiring because of your determined search for truth. But I’m sad because of the prejudice that you experienced–the evil legacy of the colonialist system.
 
One of the things I love about Houston is its religious and ethnic diversity. My children have been able to grow up knowing only this kind of environment. They have had Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and Christian and Jewish friends, of all races and nationalities, and they have learned to respect all. When my daughter was in 6th grade we went on a family vacation to Vermont, where she was born. Toward the end of the two weeks she looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked, “Why is everyone here white?” It seemed wrong to her!
 
I certainly believe one of the admirable things about Islam is its universality. I recall the story told by Malcolm X, who had joined the falsely named “Nation of Islam” as a young man, where he learned to hate whites. After years as their primary spokesman in the early 1960s, his heart was changed when he went on Hajj. He saw that Islam did not endorse racism, either of whites towards blacks, or blacks toward whites, or Arabs towards non-Arabs. He came back a changed man, and became a genuine Muslim, and that was what led the Nation of Islam to assassinate him.
 
I am grateful that I am able to experience this same universal love in my own church. The churches I was pastor of in Houston included Africans from Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Liberia, Asians from Vietnam, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, African-Americans, Colombians, Brazilians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Indians, Australians, Englishmen, and a very few white Americans like myself. Our religions teach love and universal brotherhood under the One God–if we do not show it in our interactions with one another, we are false witnesses.
 
You are now 81! Praise God! I had no idea. Thanks be to God that you have both age, and wisdom, and health, and continue to have a keen mind. My father turned 70 in March (he was only 18 when I was born) but his health has been poor and he has been suffering from dementia (due to a serious head injury he received when he was mugged a few years ago).
 
Someone who tells you simply, “Go read this book,” isn’t treating the questioner seriously. Like you, I like to know a person’s story, and what attracted them, and what reasons they found compelling. While teaching my own children from the Bible, I have always let them accompany me on visits to mosques, or synagogues, or other churches. We once invited a Hindu friend’s son to go with us to a play based on one of the stories of C. S. Lewis. That Hindu friend, in turn, gave to my children a book about Ganesha. I had no fear that my children would become Hindus. In fact, reading the book helped them to better understand the truth of the one God.
 
And yes, I certainly agree with you that only God can reveal truth about who we are, and what is our destiny, and what is the future of man. In the Bible, in the book of Daniel, chapter 2, the story is told how Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream. He dreamt of a giant statue, with head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. A rock, cut without hands, struck the feet of the statue, and became a mountain filling the earth.
 
Nebuchadnezzar awoke from his dream, and was troubled. He called for his astrologers and asked them what it meant. They asked him, “Tell us the dream!” He said, “I can’t remember it! You are going to have to tell me both the dream and the meaning.”
 
They couldn’t. And so someone called Daniel, the Jewish prophet who was a captive. Daniel prayed for God to enlighten him, and in visions of the night, God gave Daniel both the dream and the interpretation. And Daniel thanked God, saying, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.”
 
And Daniel went before the king and said, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.”
 
Five hundred years before the time of Christ, God showed the prophet a vision of the sweep of world history. “You are the head of gold,” Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar. After you shall come another kingdom, a lesser one. And then a third, lesser still, and then a fourth, of iron, and it will be divided into ten parts, and these will never be united, any more than iron mixes with clay. And in their time shall the kingdom of God be established. 
 
In Daniel 7, Daniel saw another vision, more detailed, representing the same timeline, but with beasts instead of metals as the symbols. A lion with wings, a bear with a hump, a four headed leopard with four wings, a great and terrible beasts with many heads and many horns and iron teeth and claws, followed by the judgment of God.
 
In Daniel 8, during the reign of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, he has yet another vision, this time of a ram, with one horn higher than the other coming from the east; it is met by a ram with a single great horn, rapidly running from the west. The goat kills the ram, and then its great horn is broken, to be replaced by four horns. There comes another horn, that blasphemes, and then the judgment of God.
 
Daniel 8 says plainly that the power that followed Babylon was the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, and it, in turn, would be conquered by the king of Greece. The king of Greece who accomplished the victories would die, and be replaced by four (as Alexander’s empire was divided between his four generals). Greece was followed by Rome, a brutal power of iron that trampled on the world. It broke apart, replaced not by another empire, but by the motley collection of kingdoms that have vied for power since. The only thing left is the coming judgment of God.
 
Only God could give that kind of understanding to a man of that time, and he gave it mainly in symbols, but symbols that are clearly explained in the Book itself so that we do not have to guess what they mean.
 
That’s a long story, but I use it to affirm the truth of the point you have made. We know very little. We are afraid of a future that is unknown. “But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known … what shall be in the latter day.” And I praise him for that.
 
You did give me a copy of what you wrote, some years ago, but I would be happy to read it again.
 
I have invited one of the Islamic affairs officers of the Kuwait military to meet with my chaplains before Ramadan, a long with a civilian Imam I have befriended; the Imam is well known for his dawa work, so I will be sure to share with him what you send. I’m sure he will enjoy it.
 
God’s blessings be with you, my friend.