To some it might seem counterintuitive that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspired Dr. Brad Tyndall to begin a series of presentations titled “The Loving Side of Islam.” But the former Peace Corps volunteer and Fulbright Scholar says faculty and administrators at Colorado’s Front Range Community College, where he was teaching at that time, saw a need for a swift response.
When an administrator called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, in light of the campus’ diverse population, which included Middle Eastern and Muslim students, Tyndall offered his services. His Peace Corps work and positions in Sudan, northern Yemen, Kenya and Tanzania with the U.S. Information Service and U.S. Agency for International Development gave him insights into Islam that he wanted to share with the campus community.
“A couple of days afterward, I did a presentation, and people wanted more and more of it in philosophy class, comparative religion class, sociology class and in the student center—and [the presentations] evolved in such a way that it got deeper and deeper spiritually,” he says.
Tyndall says that he wanted to address both Muslim and non-Muslim students in the aftermath of the attacks, so he chose to describe some of his positive experiences as a development worker in Muslim countries.
Thirteen years later, those campus presentations became the basis of Touching God: A Journey, a Guide to Mysticism in Christianity and Islam, published by AuthorHouse.
In his opening chapter, Tyndall recalls that on 9/11 “we were facing the reality that some American students ignorantly figured that we were attacked by Muslims and thus all Muslims were the enemy.
… As for our Middle Eastern students, or anyone who looked remotely Middle Eastern, we rightly figured that they’d feel targeted.
In fact most, if not all, refrained from going to class.”
Tyndall, who speaks Arabic and has a doctorate in economics from Colorado State University, is currently senior vice president of academic affairs at Colorado Mountain College, where he also teaches sustainable economics.
Tyndall focuses on the similarities in the two faiths, which he says are numerous. “ … I’d like to gently remind Christians and Muslims of their many beautiful commonalities and show how we can all strengthen our faith by learning from the practices of one another,” he writes in Touching God.
As he did in his post-9/11 presentations, Tyndall writes using his experiences as a Christian living in Muslim countries to demonstrate the generosity and kindness of his hosts and even of strangers.
For example, he writes: “In Egypt, where I stayed for a month, I got stranded in the middle of the western desert. I was huddled next to an adobe wall in the evening, and a poor stranger came up to me and pleaded with me to come and stay in his home with his family and two wives. I spent several days with this kind, loving and joyful family.”
In addition to the spiritual, Tyndall’s book seeks to show the “mystical graces underlying many religious practices,” and he writes that he wants Christians and Muslims “to better understand their rich mystical heritage.”
As positive as his message might be, the response hasn’t been all Kumbaya. “I do get some pushback,” he says. “Sometimes it’s fundamentalist Christians and sometimes it’s fundamentalist Muslims. They’ll say things like ‘It’s just garbage.’” He recalls being heckled on one occasion to the point of discontinuing a lecture. But, overall, he says the vehemently negative comments have been rare.
Tyndall says that he has a Facebook community of about 1,200 to 1,300, “and many of them are Muslims yearning for respect and saying ‘we’re not hateful.’” He also points out why his book doesn’t include comparisons to Judaism. “I simply know far too little to do it justice, but I do know enough to say that both Christianity and Islam owe their heritage and birth to [the same] mother.”
The deeper portions of the book address mysticism in Christianity and Islam. He examines how Christian mysticism “most commonly associated with monks and nuns of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy” and Islamic mysticism “which most noticeably resides with the Sufis” have commonalities, which Tyndall delves into at length.
Tyndall says that he has attended churches of various denominations and is now a practicing Catholic. However, he maintains a bit of independence. “When you look at different layers of Christianity and Islam you find that there are people in both who interpret everything very literally and those tend to be people who get very upset if you break a rule.”
As for himself, Tyndall says, “I have never been to any church where I agree with everything.”