Last night I was invited to attend a lecture given by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist for women oppressed and made to suffer at the hands of radical Islam. As a student of World Religion, I have studied Islam from a scholastic perspective, but having grown up with and grown close to practicing Muslims, I engaged Islam personally as well. My interest in the topic and the speaker were high, so I readily accepted the invitation to join one of my church members and his lovely wife for the evening.
With a melodic accent of English cultivated outside of the United States, Ms. Ali offered a perspective of Islam from within, being born and raised in the Tribal form of Islam so prevalent in her Somali homeland. However, she now had disavowed herself of Islam, and she claims the nation of the United States as her own, having become a naturalized citizen, so she is now one of us. Her words are strong, filled with conviction with a clear undercurrent of anger. She has every reason in the world to be angry. Under the auspices of Islam, she was subjected to genital mutilation by her own grandmother at the age of five, an arranged marriage with a total stranger, and endured the murder of her friend and co-collaborator for a film exposing the treatment of women in Islamic society by an Muslim extremist as an act of retaliation. Any one of these horrific experiences would justly cultivate the anger she conveys, and her experiences led her to reject religion altogether. As I listened to her, I began to wonder if I was hearing echos of Christ. Can we hear Christ in an Atheist?
It is an intriguing question, and I found myself lost in thought during the Q & A time following her lecture. I sensed this familiarity in her tone more so than her actual words. Her calls for justice for those oppressed, subjugated, and outright abused resonated because I knew I heard them before. They permeate Scripture, the Bible of the Christian canon. Jesus himself speaks the words of the prophets, especially Isaiah. The word of the Lord came upon the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, and so it was that they spoke powerful words of account and calls to action to end our complicity in the suffering of others, the injustice of their subjectivity. When Christ came, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, those same words were uttered once more to a new generation, and all generations to come. This time they were spoken not just with the power and the authority of the Lord, but by the Lord God Almighty revealed in the flesh of Christ Jesus. God God’s self now spoke the words directly to us. Why should it not be that they are being echoed even now, in unexpected ways in unlikely vessels?
Perhaps I should not be surprised to hear the divine calls for justice out of the vessel of an Atheist. After all, I hear the same calls of Christ for peace on earth in the words and life of the Dalai Lama, the most infamous of Buddhists. I hear the same love for all people and appreciation for all creation in the words of Rumi, the Muslim mystic. I have only been around and upon this earth for less than four decades, but in this time I have discovered that Christ does echo. If we truly believe that every human being was created in the image of God, then every human being is a possible vessel and conduit of God’s prophetic truth. Ms. Ali is no different. Many would reject her immediately upon discovering her status as Atheist, but she remains a beloved of God, a title bestowed by the Lord which no human can remove, not even for ourselves. So I find myself yet again discovering Christ in the most astonishing places, and previously unknown faces. The vessels come and go. The voices change and the tones vary, but the message remains the same. It is time for those who claim Christ to seek him in all things, especially all people. Perhaps the message is more impactful coming from the wilderness of our Christian experience. The ache for justice is in me, beneath the surface, awakened by a former Muslim and present Atheist who dared to speak out and unknowingly rekindle the spark of Christ lit long before her conception, much less her lecture. May God’s wonders such as these never cease. And may our will to make a tangible transformation in this world never waiver.