The U.S. State Department recently confirmed that an American man named Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha was killed when he became a suicide bomber in Syria. Seemingly, Abu-Salha went to Syria in late 2013, hooked up with an Al Qaeda group called Nusra Front, and spent time at their camp training to become a suicide bomber.
According to the report, Abu-Salha drove a large truck containing16 tons of explosives, parked it outside a restaurant, and blew it up. The reason for that particular target was that the restaurant was known to be a gathering place for Syrian troops. The explosion was so massive that it is impossible to know exactly how many people were killed. In fact, there were not even any distinguishable remains from Abu-Salha himself.
This young man was a 22 years old Arab American who grew up in Florida. His family is Muslim and, according to reports, his parents are the owners of several grocery stores. Their home is in a fairly affluent neighborhood, and seemingly the family are well thought of in the community and liked by their neighbors. Abu-Salha himself played youth basketball and, after high school, attended three different colleges – though he never graduated.
After the attack, a Syrian activist spoke to a New York Times reporter and told him that Abu-Salha was known among the Syrians as “al-Amriki” – the American. He spoke only broken Arabic, but was trying to learning the language. When he arrived in Syria, one of the first things he did was tear up his American passport. The activist told the Times reporter that Abu-Salha “was a generous, brave, and tough man, always on the front lines in battles.” He said that when it was time for the American to carry out the attack, he was very happy because “he will meet God after that.”
Who knows what ultimately turned Abu-Salha into a radical jihadist. But at age 22 he traveled to Syria and detonated the suicide bomb which took his life and those of the people who were in the restaurant.
As we consider this event, there are some things we need to know. This was not some poor, ignorant kid who grew up in a closed environment in a radicalized part of the world and brainwashed as a child. He grew up in America with many advantages and with opportunities to live a normal, productive life. No doubt, he grew up in a place where there were numerous churches. Certainly he was around many Christians who had opportunities to share Christ with him.
Yet he became radicalized to the point he was willing to travel to a foreign land that was not his own, and destroy himself and many others for a radical cause – and did it gladly. This story tells us something about two different religions.
First it says something about an Islamic faith which is actually built around hatred and a culture of death. Sadly, many Muslims are brought up in a way which pictures God as someone who hates anyone who is not a follower of Islam. They are brought up in an environment which glamorizes and glorifies a way of thinking which must destroy everyone who doesn’t conform to what they consider to be the “right” way to believe.
Second, it says something about the Christian faith. In spite of the fact that our faith teaches love and to reach out and help those who don’t know Christ, many Christians have become neglectful of God’s single most important purpose. The very reason for which he created mankind was relationship with himself. In his plan, he has literally commissioned believers to partner with him to share his love. The only problem is, we see precious little of that going on.
I believe there are two main reasons this is so. First, too many Christians have become so absorbed in self that they don’t really make any effort to reach out to those who don’t know Christ. Second, so few know how to share their faith.
It is certainly not the fault of Christians when someone makes a decision to do something like what Abu-Salha did. But we do share guilt for not being faithful witnesses to a world which is desperately in need of Christ. It is that witness which can lead a person to life and away from a path that leads to death.