Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bombing a church is no way to usher in a New Year

Since I have started a new blog dealing with interfaith matters at quakeruniversalist.org, I had envisioned this blog as focusing primarily on the personal, the spiritual, and the Quakerly.

But the recent bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt, which killed 21 worshippers, was something I couldn't ignore. I felt it required a timely, thoughtful and heart-felt response from those of us committed to promoting universal religious values, interfaith understanding and peace. To help put this tragedy into perspective, I have written this response which I am circulating among interfaith organizations.

The most recent church bombing in Egypt is part of a deplorable pattern of attacks against Christians that have been taking place in predominantly Muslim countries.[1] In the fall, a church in Baghdad was bombed in Iraq killing 46 worshippers. [2] Acts of violence against churches have occurred in Pakistan, Malaysia and elsewhere. There is no doubt that attacks against Christians are on the rise.

People of all faiths deplore such violence perpetrated in the name of religion. Quranic teachings on war forbid the killing of civilians, especially children, and the destruction of houses of worship.[3] Muslims along with Christians have protested these heinous acts that violate the core of our Abrahamic religious tradition. Let us join in solidarity with Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who are working together to foster understanding and end violence. [4]

As members of the interfaith peace community, let us take to heart and support this statement by the Christian Muslim Forum, a British interfaith organization:

As the Presidents of the Christian Muslim Forum we condemn the attack on the Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad on 31 October which resulted in the deaths of at least 46 worshippers, including priests. We strongly emphasise that any attack on Christians or any innocent people is not condoned by Islam, the Qur’an or the example of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, Islamic teaching safeguards the rights and security both of the innocent and of places of worship. The terrorists who committed these murders do not act or speak for Islam and should not be seen as representing Islam in any way. We also condemn the threats of suicide bombing by ‘The Islamic State of Iraq’ (an al-Qaeda affiliate) against the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt.

We also support the faithful presence of the ancient Christian churches in Muslim countries in the Middle East. These indigenous Christian communities predate the arrival of Islam in Iraq, Egypt and other countries and they have lived and worshipped alongside Muslims for nearly 1400 years. This faithful coexistence is the shared and valuable legacy of all Christians and Muslims and we strongly support their continuing presence.

We acknowledge that the good values of religion can become lost, or hijacked, at times of war, suffering, inequality and oppression and that it is the role and responsibility of religious leaders, people of faith and all people of good will to emphasise what is best in all our different traditions and world-views in order to build peace. This is the task and commitment that we have taken on through our leading roles in the Christian Muslim Forum and in other areas of our professional and religious responsibilities.

We therefore:

1. Urge all people of faith and goodwill to see beyond hate, hostility, extremism and terrorism and not judge any religion, especially in this case Islam, by the violent and destructive acts of those who claim allegiance to a religion but deny it through their actions.

2. Draw attention to the resources Christianity and Islam have in their traditions, scriptures and wise, courageous and gentle leadership to bring peace rather than war.

3. Ask all who associate religions with hatred, bloodshed and war to look deeper into their all-pervading messages of peace with God, neighbour and the stranger.

4. Commend all genuine peace-building and inter-religious initiatives as antidotes to extremism, violence and terrorism and pray that the example of friendship and peaceful living together is seen as more ultimately more powerful than acts of hatred.
5 .Ask the governments of Muslim countries to make every effort to protect their Christian communities where they are threatened by terrorists and extremists

6. Ask our own Government to recognise the legitimate case for asylum of Christians fleeing oppression, persecution, death threats and terrorism in Middle Eastern and other countries

The Christian Muslim Forum is currently planning an event, with Muslim and Christian partners, bringing together Christians and Muslims from the West, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries to explore joint action to support minority Christian communities and their peaceful Muslim neighbours in Iraq and elsewhere.’

Let us support such efforts at reconciliation and also acknowledge that some of the actions taken by the US government have aroused anger and caused a backlash against Christians in the Middle East. This has been documented in an article by Stephen Zunes, a Quaker professor who chairs the Middle East studies program at the University of San Francisco [5]. We need to insist that our government refrain from actions, such as war, occupation, and torture, that cause a backlash against Christians in Muslim countries.

It is sometimes alleged that Muslims do not express outrage or sorrow at terrorist attacks. To dispel this myth, I suggest reading this article in The American Muslim: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_voices_against_extremism_and_terrorism_2/
It should also be noted that organizations such as CAIR, MPAC, and even Hamas have denounced the bombing of churches in Egypt and elsewhere.

In conclusion, it was gratifying to receive the following response from the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California very soon after the attack on the Coptic church. The executive director of this Council is Shakeel Syed, who served on the executive board of the AFSC Regional office in LA. He is a dear Friend in every sense who dedicates his life to building interreligious understanding and peace. Dr. Hathout is a founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and an internationally recognized leader of the Muslim community.

Rahman nir Rahim - In the name of God the Most Beneficent the Most Merciful

(ANAHEIM- January 1, 2011) - The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California mourns the senseless killing of the Saints Coptic Church members in Alexandria, Egypt.

"We extend our most heartfelt condolences to the Coptic Christian community and abhor the heinous crime," said the Chairman of the Shura Council, Dr. Maher Hathout. He also asked the member Mosques to reach out to the Coptic churches in their area and offer moral support.

"We sincerely share your grief and stand in solidarity," wrote Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Shura Council, in a memo to the Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Los Angeles, His Grace Bishop Serapion.

The Islamic Shura Council is an umbrella organization of Mosques and Muslim organizations serving more than half a million Muslims in Southern California. Since 1995, the Council continues to foster the spirit and culture of "working together" at all levels in one of the most diverse and largest Muslim populations in the country.
Tel: (714)

239-6473 Fax: (714) 239-6493


[1] http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/01/world/la-fg-egypt-church-attack-20110102

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/world/middleeast/02iraq.html?_r=1)

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_military_jurisprudence

[4] http://42.blogs.warnock.me.uk/2010/11/christian-and-muslim-response-to-killings-in-iraq.html

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/us-deserves-its-share-of-_b_801746.html

1 comment:

  1. You are right, at this time we need to come together and build strong coalitions. What happened in Egypt was a heinous crime, and brings to light an on-going problem that we all need to address together.