By Malik Ibrahim
In the wake of the terrorist attack in New Zealand, Christianity Today ran an article titled, “How Should Christians Respond to Christchurch Mosque Massacre?” A number of evangelical leaders were interviewed for this article, and it was heartening to see that they unanimously condemned the attack, and also gave encouragement to mourn with and support our Muslim neighbors. However, what the article lacked were actual examples for how Christians did respond to the attacks. The theoretical admonitions and examples from past experience are helpful, but what exactly did evangelical Christians do in the wake of this horrific event?
Numerous Christians around the world went to mosques during Friday prayers and expressed solidarity by holding up signs with messages of support, handing out flowers, and standing guard outside while Muslims prayed.
In the days following the shootings, I attended three vigils at different Islamic centers in the Chicago area. At the first one, my wife and I were invited to speak along with other faith leaders from the community. While many of those who spoke focused their attention on political matters, the use of different types of rhetoric, and media perceptions, my wife and I wanted to lift up Christ and speak directly to our Muslim friends in the community who were hurting deeply.
We expressed our deep sorrow over what had happened, but also shared about our love for those in the community. We spoke of Christ’s commands to us to love God with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). We said that it was our hope and prayer that Christians would reach out to Muslims with the neighbor love of Christ. We shared that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), that God himself is love (1 John 4:8), and that in the midst of his rejection and crucifixion Jesus extended that love toward those who caused his pain by uttering, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). Our encouragement was that in the midst of such pain and tragedy, we needed to look to Christ as our example for how to love.
The multi-faith crowd of Jews, Muslims, and Christians clapped for us and expressed their appreciation afterwards for what we shared. I was the most struck by some of the evangelicals in the crowd who approached me afterward and were so thankful that we actually had a voice in this situation. The next day a pastor contacted me and was encouraged by “the loving, Christ-centered and Holy Spirit filled” way we were able to share.
On Sunday morning we learned that the second vigil was going to take place that evening at a mosque near our home. Immediately I texted our pastor about it and asked if he could announce it at the service that morning. He wholeheartedly agreed and fourteen people from our church rearranged their Sunday afternoon plans to attend. The mosque was packed with over 1200 people crowding into a large banquet hall in the basement.
Again, many speeches were given by politicians and religious leaders in the community. There were a number of different media outlets there covering the event. But after the vigil ended and the crowd began to disperse, we lingered for a bit and talked with Muslims in the crowd. Eventually, we were introduced to two members of the interfaith committee at the mosque. Our pastor was able to exchange information with him, and all expressed a desire to bring our two communities together.
The third vigil was hosted a few days later at a mosque in the northern suburbs. The building was smaller than the previous one, but the crowd was spilling out the back of the 300-person meeting hall. We were all warmly welcomed by the mosque leadership, who expressed their appreciation for such an amazing turnout by the community. Again, it was a diverse crowd, and again many speeches were given by Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders encouraging us to come together across our differences. A Lutheran pastor shared his sorrow for the tragedy and lamented the fact that this took place in a city named Christchurch. He emphasized “That’s not what Christ and church should mean. That’s not the meaning of Jesus.”
There were at least five evangelical congregations represented at this vigil. One of them presented the Imam and the mosque leadership with a card signed by their congregants expressing their sympathy. Another gave invitations to the Muslim woman on the interfaith committee for an Easter Tea being hosted by women from a few local churches. Many others stayed for cookies and tea and spoke with Muslims in the community. They continually thanked us for our support and encouraged us to invite them to other events as well. The constant refrain was that we needed to build bridges and get to know one another.
These experiences highlight why it is vital that we as evangelical Christians reach out to the Muslim community around us in times of tragedy. It is important for us to encourage one another from Scripture to love Muslims and to exhort us to examine our heart attitudes towards them, but we need to put that faith into action. We need to put flesh on our doctrine by moving across the street or driving across town to meet our Muslim neighbors. As evidenced by the stories above, they are looking for our support in dark times like these. It is these gestures by Christians that will help us to build bridges of trust with the Muslim community so our families can live in harmony with them.
More importantly, if it is our hearts’ desire for them to know Christ as we know him, then we must do as Christ did and move toward them. We need to leave our comforts and our fears behind and believe Jesus words: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). It is in becoming neighbors to Muslims in our communities that they can hear the voice of Christ and some will become part of his sheepfold.
 Jayson Casper, “How Should Christians Respond to the Christchurch Massacre,” Christianity Today (March 2019), https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/new-zealand-mosque-shooting-christchurch-christians-muslims.html.
 Joe Roberts, “Christian tells Muslims he ‘will keep watch while you pray’,” Metro UK (March 15, 2019), https://metro.co.uk/2019/03/15/christian-tells-muslims-will-keep-watch-pray-8910942/.
 Dana Rebik, “Across Chicago Area, vigils honor victims of New Zealand terror attacks,” WGN-TV (March 17, 2019), https://wgntv.com/2019/03/17/across-chicago-area-vigils-honor-victims-of-new-zealand-terror-attacks/.
 Steve Sadin, “Hundreds gather at Libertyville mosque for multi-faith vigil after New Zealand mass shooting: ‘We have to stand together’,” Chicago Tribune (March 21, 2019), https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/libertyville/news/ct-lbr-new-zealand-shooting-vigil-tl-0328-story.html.