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I recently attended a gathering called Sounds of Hope, which brought together Christian leaders from predominantly Muslim countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan. Listening to their reports of life as a beleaguered minority in a turbulent region got me thinking about the interface between Christianity and Islam.

Several years ago a Muslim man said to me, "I find no guidance in the Qur'an on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society and no guidance in the New Testament on how Christians should live as a majority." He put his finger on a central difference between the two faiths. One, born at Pentecost, tends to thrive cross-culturally and even counterculturally, often coexisting with oppressive governments. The other, geographically anchored in Mecca, was founded simultaneously as a religion and a state.

As a result, in strict Muslim countries, religion, culture, and politics are unified. Whereas in the U.S. school boards debate the legality of one-minute nonsectarian prayers at football games, in Muslim countries commerce and transportation screech to a halt at the call to prayer five times a day. Many Muslims seek the official adoption of Shari'ah law, derived from sacred writings and similar to the all-encompassing code in the Pentateuch.

Fueled by theocratic zeal, Islam conquered three-fourths of all Christian territory during the Middle Ages. In response Christians, who had little tradition of holy war, launched the Crusades. Over time, the Christian West separated church and state and fostered a respect for religious freedom. Ultimately, Europe became identified as a "post-Christian" culture. Notably, there are no comparable "post-Muslim" societies except in regions where Islam was evicted by force.

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July 2006

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