On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
Many people have a harsh view of Muslims. Terrorists. Gang rapists. Ragheads.
But what if we were to think of them as neighbours?
My view of Muslims was profoundly changed by a neighbour of mine. His name was Mohammed. He was a Muslim.
He was from Egypt originally, but he lived next to me and my wife in our first house in Sydney’s western suburbs. In fact he was there before us. He had one wife, one daughter and a couple of sons. He was older than me, his family was older, but we were neighbours and we chatted as neighbours do.
I remember the first time he invited me into his house. There was this round plaque with Arabic script in the front entrance, where a mirror might otherwise go. I guess it was a verse from the Koran but I really don’t know. My knowledge of Arabic is limited to the insults I picked up from Lebanese kids in school. Anyway, he invited me in for an Arabic coffee, which was, if I recall correctly, rather odd tasting.
We helped each other from time to time. I remember one particular occasion when we were broken into and he came over and fixed my window for me. It was a rough job but better than I could do and it saved us some cash.
So you could say we had a good relationship, but not all was well, for the son of my Muslim neighbour had a drug problem.
We first became aware of it through a series of family arguments, between the father and son which sometimes spilled out onto the streets. Over time they became increasingly heated. I remember one night in particular where, in the middle of the night there was this knocking at the front door. I stumbled to the door to find his drug addled son, standing outside, looking through the window, asking to come in. “He’s lock me out”, he said in a daze. With a young wife inside I denied him entry also but talked to him for a bit. It was a bit unnerving, I had less experience with drug addicts then.
Knowing this must be tearing my neighbour apart, I did what I felt Christ would do, I went to him and said I was willing to listen, that I would be there for him. He broken down and wept. I held him. He told me of his anguish as a father, his frustration, his sense of helplessness. In that moment we ceased to be Christian and Muslim neighbours, we were just two men.
And you know, as I listen to reports of Israel invading Gaza, of Muslims launching missiles and Jews levelling suburbs and Christians playing politics, and think of the cycles of violence and revenge that plague the homeland of Christ, I think of my Muslim neighbour and the humanity we shared. I think we this will only stop when we find our own humanity … looking back at us through our neighbours.