After the appalling terrorist murder of a Catholic priest committed in the name of Islamic State, a moving gesture of interfaith solidarity by French Muslims should be acknowledged and applauded
It is important, I think, when criticising the fundamentalist element of Islam and the degree to which it is often tolerated or tacitly encouraged by parts of the mainstream, to give credit where it is due and acknowledge work done and gestures made against extremism by the Muslim community.
One way that we have been doing that this week is by celebrating again the life of slain US army capt. Humayun Khan and his gold star parents, who appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week to repudiate the anti-Muslim rhetoric spewed forth by the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
And another way should be to acknowledge the moving gesture of so many French Muslims attending Catholic Mass at their nearest church or cathedral, showing solidarity with a Catholic community still reeling from the murder of a beloved parish priest at the hands of Islamist terrorists.
From the Daily Mail, displaying unusual magnanimity:
Muslims in France and Italy flocked to Mass on Sunday, a gesture of interfaith solidarity following a drumbeat of jihadi attacks that threatens to deepen religious divisions across Europe.
From the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, only a few miles from where 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel was killed Tuesday by two Muslim fanatics, to Paris’ iconic Notre Dame, where the rector of the Mosque of Paris invoked a papal benediction in Latin, many churchgoers were cheered by the Muslims in their midst.
[..] French television broadcast scenes of interfaith solidarity from all around France, with Muslim women in headscarves and Jewish men in kippot crowding the front rows of Catholic cathedrals in Lille, Calais or the Basilica of St. Denis, the traditional resting place of French royalty.
There were similar scenes in Italy, where the head of Italy’s Union of Islamic communities — Izzedin Elzir — called on his colleagues to “take this historic moment to transform tragedy into a moment of dialogue.” The secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino spoke at the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel; three imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, donning their traditional dress as they entered the sanctuary and sat down in the front row.
Ahmed El Balazi, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in Italy’s Lombard province of Brescia, said he did not fear repercussions for speaking out.
“These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case,” El Balazi said. “Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”
This blog and others often focus, reasonably, on the failings within the Muslim community – failure of integration and assimilation, failure to stand up for British values (though we are often just as much at fault for failing to transmit those values), failure to confront and root out the extremism in the midst of families and communities. These things are important.
But it is also sometimes the case that we fail to acknowledge those times when the Muslim community does come out strongly in condemnation of fundamentalist, Islamist terror. Anti-extremist counter-protests by Muslim groups often do not receive the media coverage extended to telegenic extremists and their “behead those who insult Islam” placards. Hard and difficult work accomplished in communities goes unrecognised.
And so, as an outspoken opponent of fundamentalist Islam and as a practising Catholic, it is important that I choose to be magnanimous and welcome this touching gesture made by so many Muslims in France and Italy.
Archbishop Cranmer is also moved:
Praying before a blasphemous icon of another Jesus, standing in the shadow of a sacrificial cross which they deny, beneath the dome of a cathedral church steeped in idolatry, myths and deception, Muslims throughout France and Italy attended Mass yesterday. From Rouen, Nice and Paris to Milan, Naples and Rome, hundreds flocked to express solidarity and compassion with Europe’s Roman Catholics, many still reeling, weeping and mourning the loss of a much-loved elderly priest, Abbé Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamists as he celebrated Mass last week.
All Muslims are exhorted to the greater jihad, to strive against the flesh and persevere in the purposes of Allah, but not all jihad is holy war. All Muslims are not Islamists, but Muslims are becoming terrorists. It is futile, patronising and dangerous to deny it. Islamists are extremists who kill the innocent; Muslims who are moderate and enlightened seek to worship in peace. Islam is not all about oppressing, torturing, murdering and slaughtering. It just seems like it. And no wonder, when the news dishes up a daily diet of Islamic State videos exhorting the faithful to attack the enemies of Allah; Western Muslims who fight for their country are condemned as apostates; hotels are bombed; ancient shrines blown up; ‘spies’ are beheaded; oil fields blaze; and British imams preach to young boys that it’s okay to have sex slaves. That’s just today’s coverage of degradation and destruction.
Amidst all this global trauma, suffering and strife, it is a cause of great hope that so many Muslims can put aside their theological scruples and multifaith ecumenical aversion to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is profoundly offensive to their beliefs, and utterly repugnant to their teachings: Jesus is not the Son of God; he is not divine; he did not die on a cross; he does not become a wafer; praying with wine is haram.
There were tears during the sign of the peace. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself‘ (2Cor 5:19). In their shared humanity, Muslims and Christians bore witness to the humanity of Jesus, his sacrifice and death, his reconciling love, his resurrection and glorification. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them‘ (Mt 18:20). The Living God is present in the world, if not in bread and wine. We can meet Him, pray to Him and listen to Him. That is our privilege through Christ. And in that communion we stand with all believers in the world and throughout all history. And we stand with all participant peace-loving Muslims, too. ‘This is my blood…‘
Wordless interfaith dialogue is the best remembrance.
In a sign of just how bad things have gotten in Europe, this blog was actually surprised when there was no major, high-profile terror attack last Friday, perfectly timed to dominate television coverage leading into the weekend, when previous weekends had seen such attacks.
No matter how routine this destruction and insecurity may become in the short and medium term, we should not allow this “new normal” in Europe to become in any way acceptable or excusable, and we should hold European leaders firmly to account for the whole range of bad decisions they have made – from social policy and a lack of focus on protecting national culture and encouraging assimilation right through to the migration crisis – which have increased the risk of Islamist terror attacks on our soil.
But as we witnessed at Catholic Masses across France this Sunday, it is not all bad news – a fact which those of us who report or comment on human events should be careful to acknowledge.
Top Image: Time
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Interesting article by Murray here http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/post-terror-good-news-story-came-islams-persecuted-sect ; he alleges that many (most ?) of those behaving in this way are of the same sect as the Glaswegian Muslim killed by other Islamists, and that this sect is behind many of the positive Islam stories. The sect explicitly rejects Jihad in any form and is “live and let live” and is persecuted for it.
Thanks for the link.
I wrote some thoughts of my own about the Ahmadis here:
The Ahmadis are a tiny minority – they are less than 1% of the UK’s Muslims and a similar percentage of the world’s Muslims. The Deobandi movement by contrast with the tiny Ahmadi sect is apparently in control of about 40% of the UK’s mosques, and its not the only movement with views that we would regard as extreme. What’s the overall percentage of UK mosques hosting extreme preaching? Isn’t it about time the BBC put some effort into finding out instead of broadcasting misleading feel-good stories? Leaflets have been found “across London” calling on Sunni Muslims to kill Ahmadis:
Utterly pointless gesture. As long as the Koran continues to encourage the believers to wage jihad against the disbelievers (which it always will), and to believe that the disbelievers (including Mr. Hooper and all his non-Muslim relatives and friends) are the vilest of animals, then such acts are pure hypocrisy. The only way forward for humanity is for Muslims to become ex-Muslims, and for non-Muslims to encourage this.
Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”
As an atheist, I struggle to understand the fervour of any religious groups. I see the results of it around the world every day, of course and find myself having to live with the consequences of it. Having just spent several hours going through 2 airport security systems I determined not to fly again and will use cars, trains, whatever. Better still “staycation” might be the answer. But is this really the answer in the modern world? I think not. So, what do we non-believers do? I like to think that the inter-faith meetings in Italy and France in the last few days are a lot better than none. However, the problems still remain about how to handle extremists and I sincerely wish I knew how to do that. It would seem there is no answer while ever certain Muslims believe that anyone who does not agree with their views are ‘apostates’, including other Muslims! So I will have to continue to live with this situation but somehow cannot but think that multi-culturalism is very limited in what it can do.
It’s certainly true that we are all the same underneath the skin and have the same basic needs, ie food, shelter, a living, etc. so why do people of whatever nationality allow religious beliefs to interfere with those things? Help!
That is certainly a searching and profound question you raise, with no easy answers. I could reel off a list of some of the good things that religion and faith have done for the world, but it would not negate what you rightly point out are the evils of fundamentalist dogma and extremism.
Unlike some others (cough, Donald Trump) I don’t see a single easy answer. Part of it has to be doing a better job taking pride in our culture and transmitting that culture to new immigrants and communities which have stubbornly refused to integrate sufficiently with the rest of society. I tend to agree with former Australian PM John Howard that multiracialism is great, but that multiculturalism is ultimately doomed to failure – people living in a country must share a common set of values which transcend differences of religion etc. Part of it has to be the security services spending less time on security theatre (the ridiculous, reactive airport stuff) and mass surveillance, and more time devoting resources to those already known to them who have demonstrated probable cause. Part of it has to be reassessing the way that we act in the world (military interventions, drone strikes etc.)
Nothing we do will solve the problem of Islamist terror overnight – not least because half of the solution lies totally outside our hands, and is a problem to be confronted and grappled with by Islam as a whole. But if we make better decisions now in those areas we can influence and then hold our nerve, maybe in a decade we will begin to see a tangible change.
Not a very cheerful response I’m afraid, sorry about that!
Thanks as always for reading and sharing your thoughts, it is always greatly appreciated.
According to Pew Research a majority of Muslims in Pakistan think that apostates should be executed. To obtain a Pakistani passport, you have to sign a declaration that states that Ahmadi Muslims (like Mr. Asad Shah the shopkeeper murdered in Glasgow) are apostates. Mohammed himself called for apostates to be killed according to the Bukhari hadith:
Sahih Bukhari (52:260) – “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ”
Sahih Bukhari (84:57) – [In the words of] “Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”
One way to combat Islam is to tell the truth about the religion. Many people who call themselves Muslims do not know very much about it, and even those who do most importantly have never been CHALLENGED about their beliefs.