We cannot pretend this violence has nothing to do with religion

My next door neighbour is a devout Muslim and he is the best neighbour that it is possible to have. He recently replaced the fence between our gardens. Not only did he refuse to accept any contribution from us for the cost of the new fence, but while we were away he came round and coated our side of the fence too.

Over the years, I have got to know him and we have talked about our different faiths and what they mean to us.  There is no way that his generosity, kindness and essential decency can be separated from his faith. His beliefs and action are integral to each other.

Religion that leads to violence

In an attempt to stem the flow of anti-Muslim sentiment after atrocities such as 9/11, or the murders of Lee Rigby or the Charlie Hebdo staff, it is common to hear people say ‘this has nothing to do with Islam’. However, just as my neighbour’s kindness is a positive expression of faith, we cannot pretend that the horrific violence that we have seen again unleashed this week has nothing to do with religion.

It is well-meaning but dangerous. History shows us that religion often leads to violence. And however twisted and warped, it is theology that has helped form the worldview of these killers.  Thomas Merton wrote about the power of this kind of violence:

“Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit.”

Religion as a private matter

In contemporary Western culture there is a strong liberal desire to respect all forms of religion but essentially to domesticate them within a private sphere.  Faith is fine, as long as it’s between you and God.  It has no place in the public realm.

But Islam and Christianity will always resist being domesticated in such a way.  Both faiths believe in a God who created all things, who is sovereign over all people, not just those who acknowledge Him.  They are faiths which have universal claims at their core and these lead to public witness and a myriad of social and political action.  And throughout history, both religions have contributed to some of the most beautiful achievements of humanity, but also to the most blood-soaked.

Corrupt religion

No one could deny the European Church’s involvement in the brutal imperial opportunism in Africa and Latin America in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And however twisted and barbaric it was, it makes no sense to say that Islamist extremism, and especially suicide attacks, are not religious acts.  They were intrinsically faith-related because they involved self-sacrifice motivated through belief in a reward beyond the grave.  These acts are carried out by believers who don’t acknowledge the liberal dichotomy between the political and the theological.

Religion will always be vulnerable to corruption because humans are involved. The exposing of corrupt religion is a major theme in the Bible, especially in the prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah:

‘Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood’ (Isaiah 1:15)

The true role of faith

Most people want a society built on justice and compassion, which is hallmarked by reconciliation, forgiveness, love and generosity.  But these virtues will not be generated simply by our own goodwill or our innate qualities, as optimistic humanists believe.  Faith and religion will always have a major role to play in public and community life because of the need for a deeper basis to these values than what is offered by contemporary moralism.

For me that basis, the clue to history, the cornerstone on which society can find meaning and unity is in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. In him, we find the deepest resources.

Christians, now more than ever, need to make sure that our religion is continually shaped and re-shaped by this truth and grace, and is expressed in costly generosity, reconciliation and love. ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5:6).

When we do, our faith, like that of my Muslim neighbour, stands in deepest contrast to the warped and twisted expressions of religion which perpetuate violence and destruction.

This article was published on Jon Kuhrt's blog, Resistance and Renewal, and we are grateful for his permission to republish it here on Fulcrum.

6 thoughts on “We cannot pretend this violence has nothing to do with religion”

  1. Thank you for your thoughts, Iftikhar.

    This is not a new problem. A few decades ago in America, white racist terrorists were burning crosses by the homes of black families. Because they claimed to be acting as Christians, it was entirely fair to judge our religion by our response to it. And indeed, at that time many Muslims did judge our religion as one that hates black people, as you yourself may have heard. As it happened, however, organized churches all condemned the violence, their members supported prosecution of the guilty and prayed for justice, and from those churches no cross-burners have since come. The proof is in the pudding, Iftikhar– today, crosses are not burned by the homes of black families; a black man is President. The evil was cast out, and for that reason, no reasonable person believes that the Ku Klux Klan represent the Christian religion, even where the Klan was once strong.

    We have no choice but to do today as Muslims did then. We will know the true Islam by what the great mass of Muslims actually do about the violent and inhumane acts committed in their name. If they condemn them, cooperate with prosecution of them, and refrain from joining them– if they cast out the evil from their midst– then we will know this lawful and humane religion to be the true Islam. If they are too weak to face the evil and to do what is right, then although it would not be the best Islam, we will know that to be the true Islam. What words can speak louder than deeds?

    If you wish to be ‘proud,’ Iftikhar, then you must do your part to expel the evil from your midst. No easier ‘shariah’ than that is the true one. Do not apologize to us for the evil of others; it only makes it harder for you to do what you must do. But if you ask for our prayers that Muslims will be strong against the evil among them, then we cannot refuse you, for it is right for us to ask the God of ‘peace’ to give his common grace to all.

    Thank you, again Iftikhar, for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • A Muslim is supposed to apply Sharia laws on himself/herself. There is no question of any kind of conflict between Western law and Sharia Laws. There will be a peace because Sharia law does not allow a Muslim to take law in his hand. In Paris, whatever happened is against Sharia law.

      Islam is the only religion, which dose not make any mockery of other religions.But some religions specially attacks on Islam and make propaganda against Islam. this is not freedom of speech its just targeting. Liberation should be in control to protect the rights of other. why France has banned the scarf, this is not against the freedom of living.

      In Islam there is no commandment to kill people by making such allegations against them. The cartoonists had exercised their freedom of expression, and freedom of expression is totally allowed in Islam. Even during the Prophet’s time there were several instances of ridicule, however the Prophet and his Companions neither punished such persons nor asked anyone to do so. On every occasion of this kind, the Prophet’s Companions always tried to positively disseminate the message of Islam. They never tried to punish these people. The killing of those people who had published the cartoons is a gravely un-Islamic act in the name of Islam.

      What is the value of ‘freedom of expression’ when it’s used only to wind a small (and in the part of the world, not at all powerful) group of people at the expense of a much larger group? It strikes me as nothing but absolutely childish.

      CH skirted the boundaries and on more than one occasion crossed it. But what is telling is their apparent hypocrisy. After reproducing the Mohammed Cartoons the publication was taken to court in France by an Islamic body claiming the cartoons incited racial hatred. Their case was strengthened soon after 80 Muslim graves were daubed with Swastikas. The court denied the claim on the grounds of free speech.

      However when one of their columnists wrote the relatively innocuous remark about the president’s son the editor sacked him.

      “A Left-wing cartoonist is to go on trial on Tuesday on charges of anti-Semitism for suggesting Jean Sarkozy, the son of the French president, was converting to Judaism for financial reasons.

      Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.”L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22, to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

      A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.”

      Mr Val’s decision to fire Sine was backed by a group of eminent intellectuals, including the philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy, but parts of the libertarian Left defended him, citing the right to free speech.”

  2. Iftikihar genuine Muslims may indeed have a right to be angry but no one has the right to turn anger into violence. Especially against vulnerable innocent people. The issue of oil is also separate there is enough in the world for all of us if things places and people are not destroyed. I feel because you have taken the trouble to contribute it may be helpful for you to highlight the pieces of the Koran which instruct peace it is an excellent way of dealing with the anger, for all of us, creating grief does not create peace and because of that all prophets and religious leaders cannot be heard or experienced .I also pray for peace for you that you may create it. Terrorism has existed from the beginning of time God in whatever form we experience God is for everyone the prophets tell us all that. Not through fear but through love. It is violence which is trashed and those who present violence through the medium of the God or prophet they believe in.

  3. The president of the Catholic League said the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo “provoked” Wednesday’s deadly attack with its mocking cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

    In a statement titled, “Muslims Are Right to Be Angry,” Bill Donohue condemned the killings, but also said Charlie Hebdo’s “intolerance” of religious figures is what prompted the attack. Twelve people were killed after masked gunmen stormed the publication’s offices in Paris.

    “Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures,” Donohue said. “For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.”

    The Catholic League founder said Muslims have opposed the “vulgar manner” in which the Prophet Muhammad had been depicted, going on to accuse newspaper publisher Stephane Charbonnier, who was killed Wednesday, of playing a role in his own death. Once when an opponent of The Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) threw a stone at him which hit him right up on the forehead and made him fall unconscious, he after getting back prayed to the almighty not to help him take revenge but cried and begged for pardon on behalf of the man who threw the stone at him. This is one of the thousand such incidents that REFLECT THE TRUE ISLAM.

    “It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, ‘Muhammad isn’t sacred to me,’” Donohue said. “Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.”

    “… the US/UK invaded the Middle East on false pretexts to make vast profit for the oil industry and the debt-based banking system which is toxic to the health of this planet. This cannot be separated from the effects of terrorism…”

  4. I think John that we can separate the two in part. For if there were not religion then more aggressive “longing” people would try to dominate with something else. I would consider what was missing in these peoples lives that they sought. What is it about certain people that they enjoy hurting others by whatever means they do it. Religion is simply a vehicle to them acting on that. To that end religion can be separated from violence. But the fact that we are ‘re experiencing the Exodus and usurping is of course connected. The real issue with the current crisis and others that have preceded it that, it is not about self sacrifice or martyrdom but about domination and not freedom. Most religions are not about domination of the other but about an individual controlling their own self before God this is surely the distinction. That is why I would separate it from religion ,this is not a true religions war even though they say it is. We cannot fulfilling their longing because the longing is to dominate and it is a short term goal with no long term result because it will implode.

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