Islam, Excuses, and the Sacred

“Al-Azhar will only resume talks with the Holy See after an apology from the Pope, who was accused of criticizing Islam following an attack against the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria last January 3. (AsiaNews, 4/13/2011)”

The actual statement by the Pope, in the wake of attacks that killed 23 Christians and injured over 100 was: “This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.”

It is notable that the statement by the Pope echoed statements condemning these attacks by Muslim groups in the U.S. such as ISNA and CAIR, yet those groups did not draw the ire of Al-Azhar, nor did Al-Azhar demand that these groups apologize for somehow insulting Islam by condemning Muslim attacks on innocent people.

And this brings us to one of the most troubling aspect of dialogue with Muslims in much of the Muslim world – a persistent refusal by Muslim leaders to recognize the right of non-Muslims to speak openly about either the reality of Muslim oppression of religious minorities or the justifiable fears of non-Muslims about the implementation of Islamic law, a law which some Muslims specifically call upon to warrant violence against non-Muslims.

In a situation where there is obvious and actual violence, carried out by Muslims openly justifying their acts on the basis of their religion, it is nonsense to pretend that their religion (however much they may misunderstand it) isn’t a cause of violence and shouldn’t be addressed as such. The same is true, of course, when Christians carry out acts of violence against Muslims or their religion in the name of Christ. It is nonsensical to pretend that the Christian religion (again, however misunderstood) doesn’t play a role in fostering violence against non-Christians.

In public discourse a religion cannot be separated from the actions of those who claim to be its followers. In public discourse, and particularly political discourse Islam is what Muslims do, just as Christianity is what Christians do, Judaism is what Jews do, Hinduism is what Hindus do and Buddhism is what Buddhists do. If the officials of Al-Azhar do not believe that Islam allows Muslims to attack innocent Christians then they should issue a fatwa against such attacks. Condemnations of attacks from religious authorities who have it in their power to make legal rulings are as pitifully inadequate as condemnations by governments who have it in their power to enforce the law but fail to use that power. The failure of the officials at al-Azhar to issue such a fatwa is strong evidence that in fact they believe that their religion does justify attacks against innocent non-Muslims. And it is ample evidence that in the Egyptian context, as in the Pakistani context, Afghani context, Iranian context, the Saudi context and many others Islamic law is understood to justify violence against Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Context is important – not all Muslims in all contexts share the beliefs of officials at al-Azhar. Yet those beliefs cannot be simply dismissed as irrelevant either. It is absolutely meaningless for Muslims in Egypt, or anyplace else to defend some high conceptual “Shari’a” as being consistent with human rights when its actual implementation in their countries is anti-thetical to even the most basic right to live without fear of sudden and unwarranted attack.

This blog has consistently stood for the human rights of Muslims, and for non-Muslims to to respect Islam, learn of its teachings, and engage Muslims in fruitful dialogue for the common good. I have consistently pointed out that Muslims in America and around the world have condemned attacks on non-Muslims wherever they occur, showing that Islam cannot be identified with the worst of its followers. That is all to the good, but it is high time that religious people, Muslims at Al-Azhar in particular but also Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and all others (including the Pope) cease yammering about their religion being insulted because the behavior of it’s self-identified followers is called out for its viciousness. It is high time that all religious people recognized that scriptures, revelations, laws, rituals, priests, traditions, teachings, dogmas, doctrines, are not sacred. Only human life is sacred, and the whole of religion and every individual religion in all its parts forfeits its claim to sanctity when it justifies violence against even a single individual child of the Divine. Harsh words are adequate to those who burn the physical shell of revelation in the form of a book, but the hottest fires of hell are not sufficient for those who take a human life in the name of God.


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