Saturday, October 20, 2007

Unjustified Jihadists

It is not always easy to bend your ear to the whisperings behind the firing of cannons. War is loud; it drowns out the central meaning of things. It would not be far from the truth to say those who have distorted jihad have hijacked Islam. For instance, a rigid and clear prohibition lies upon the unjustified killing of Muslims by other Muslims, and other clear prohibitions forbid the wanton taking of the lives of the innocent.

There are no passages in the Qur’an or in the commentaries that would justify such actions without seriously distorting both the message and the messenger of Allah. This does not mean that a clever and malicious mind cannot so distort the message; even the devil, we are told in Christian theology, can quote scripture to his own purpose. When he does so, it is important that he be recognized by other students of scripture as having distorted God’s message.

The Qur’an does not sanction wanton violence against the innocent, which is why, following the violence against a Catholic nun in Somolia after Pope Benedict XVI's lecture in Regensburg, Islamic authorities and scholars from around the world, representing all denominations and schools of thought, joined together to deliver an answer to the Pope in the spirit of open intellectual exchange and mutual understanding.

In part, this is what they wrote: “Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbors. And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God (al-Anfal 8:61). However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defense and maintenance of sovereignty.

“Muslims are just as bound to obey these rules as they are to refrain from theft and adultery. If a religion regulates war and describes circumstances where it is necessary and just, that does not make that religion war-like, anymore than regulating sexuality makes a religion prurient. If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His Prophet, or the learned tradition. God says in the Holy Qur’an: Let not hatred of any people seduce you into being unjust. Be just, that is nearer to piety (al-Ma’idah 5:8). In this context we must state that the murder on September 17th of an innocent Catholic nun in Somalia—and any other similar acts of wanton individual violence—‘in reaction to’ your lecture at the University of Regensburg, is completely un-Islamic, and we totally condemn such acts.”

The statement also unequivocally condemned the targeting of non-combatants and said that religious belief alone cannot legitimately make anyone an object of attack.

Whatever else the statement is, it cannot be regarded as a justification for the kind of activity commonly used by terrorists as a propaganda instrument designed to rally others to a course of action sturdily condemned by the Qu’ran. If the means are unjust – that is to say, if they do not conform to the strictures of the Qu’ran – no cause can make them just.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has praised the letter cited above as "an eloquent example of a dialogue among spiritualities."

The cardinal, noting the text was signed both by Sunni and Shiite Muslims, lauded it as demonstrating “that with good will and respectful dialogue, we can rise above prejudices."

The president of the dicastery noted an obvious difficulty in the way of theological dialogue between Muslims and Christians: "Muslims do not accept that one can question the Qu’ran, because it was written, they say, by dictation from God. With such an absolute interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of faith."

In a letter to the bishop of Assisi in 2006, the Pope spoke of “the limitations of these interreligious meetings." These limitations, Cardinal Tauran believes, were always clear to all. “I believe that this was always very clear," he said, "and even from the beginning: each one prays a different way. This is not syncretism. The dialogue itself presupposes an otherness, a difference. Otherwise, if we were in accord, there wouldn't be dialogue.”

Each party in the dialogue, the cardinal said, “must be concerned with its own spiritual identity. We ourselves have, as Christians, to manifest that Jesus Christ reveals God in a complete and definitive manner."

Cardinal Tauran quoted the pope on the importance of dialogue: “Dialogue with Islam is not an option, but a vital necessity upon which depends our future.”

In hi response, Cardinal Tauran mentioned that while Muslims are permitted to build mosques in Europe, the building of churches is prohibited or banned in many Islamic states. “In a dialogue among believers,” the cardinal said, “it is fundamental to say what is good for one is good for the other."

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