By Qari Asim
Imam, Makkah Mosque Leeds
As we exchange seasons’ greetings at this time of the year, we reflect upon the critically important Christian-Muslim initiatives that have taken place over the last 12 months across the country, enabling members of both faiths to develop stronger relationships and celebrate shared values and commitments.
I am brimming with hope and full of faith for 2016 but also filled with grief and sadness for thousands of lives that have been lost in 2015 at the hands of those who claim to commit violence in the name of a faith. According to a recent report released by Institute for Economics and Peace, in 2014, 6,644 people were killed by Boko Haram, and 6,073 by ISIS.
In 2015, ISIS in the Middle East and Boko Haram in parts of Africa have continued to commit violence against Christians and other faith minorities under the banner of “Jihad”. ISIS are reported to have painted the homes of Christians red, destroyed their churches, and in some cases, looted their homes and property. They have caused many others to flee their homes with nothing but their lives and the clothes on their backs. ISIS have also fought the Yazidis, when they had not waged any kind of war against Muslims. Hundreds are reported to have been killed and buried in mass graves, women have been captured and raped, whilst thousands have been displaced – the victims are said to have suffered these atrocities due to their faith.
Earlier in the year, on March 15, fifteen people were killed and over 80 people injured in violent attacks in Lahore, Pakistan. Twin blasts rocked the Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church in Lahore while people were attending Sunday Mass. We recently learnt about a family in Bradford that had been assaulted, been threatened, intimated and abused over a long period of time because the family had covered to Christianity. Such violence meted out by individuals or a group of people is absolutely against Islam, and must not be tolerated.
Whenever I hear the news of violence being committed in the name of God, as a Muslim, I am absolutely repulsed at the carnage caused by the terrorists. The fact that the perpetrators espouse rhetoric linking their senseless murders to Islam disgusts me even further.
Let me be clear: these terrorists neither represent Islam nor Muslims; their actions are rather an insult to the peaceful message of Islam. Accordingly, Muslim scholars have unreservedly distanced themselves from those terrorists and have said those fanatics are not following any form of Islam, despite what these fanatics may claim.
The Qur’an requires Muslims to treat their fellow citizens of other faiths or no faith with kindness and justice. Killing and injuring others is the opposite of what Islam demands. The Qur’an says: ‘God does not forbid you in regard to those who did not wage war against you on account of religion and did not expel you from your homes, that you should treat them kindly and deal with them justly. Assuredly God loves the just.’ (Qur’an, 60: 8).
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and demanding towards non-Muslims, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (hadith in Abu Dawud)
The terrorists are killing people indiscriminately – their only aim is to cause chaos, devastation and bloodshed. Such violent actions are far removed from the teachings of Islam and the practice of the Prophet of Islam (may peace and blessings be upon him). Faith minorities living in Muslim countries must enjoy safety and security unconditionally. Islam has issued severe warnings to those who infringe the rights of minorities. The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) urging Muslims to protect the rights of faith minorities should be enough for people and government in the Middle East, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan and others to defend the rights of minorities against the terrorists, who do not represent any faith.
The heinous crimes of the terrorists must not be allowed to destabilise the good relationships between faith groups and communities in the West. In the current religious and political climate, it is more important than ever that the solid relationships that communities have built are used to help defeat extremism and fanaticism. British Muslims recognise the significant role that some churches are playing in enhancing community relations, ranging from allowing Muslims to conduct religious ceremonies in churches to offering some Muslims refugees and asylum seekers safe sanctuaries – providing food and shelter – thereby living true to the commandment of Jesus: “That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).
My mosque is involved in a ground-breaking initiative with a local church, that will be turned into a night shelter for destitute asylum seekers for a week. Members of the local neighbourhood will be cooking food and spending the evening together, each night sleeping over in the church to show solidarity to the “strangers” in the city. Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to embrace dialogue and reject violence; say “yes” to respect for agreements and “no” to acts of provocation. All of this takes courage, open-mindedness and tenacity.
Religiously motivated violence must be fought together and with passion. The fanatics, whether at home or abroad, must be brought to justice, but that can only done if people of multi-beliefs are united against them. Ideologies cannot be simply bombed but they need to be replaced with alternatives. In addition, we must all work harder to ensure that breeding grounds of such terrorists, as well as ideological and monetary sponsors of such extremists, are exposed and dealt with accordingly under the law. People of faith must continue to defend the faith and liberties of each other. The cycle of hate and counter-hate, violence and counter-violence needs breaking. We must act as our Brother’s keeper and put into reality the principle of “love thy neighbour”, preached by both Prophet Jesus and Muhammad ( peace be upon both of them). This is the only way that we can restrain the terrorists’ destroying the peace and harmony amongst the creation of God.
The memory of all innocent lives lost, throughout the globe, instils in me the courage of peace, the strength to persevere, the hope for a more respectful and peaceful coexistence.