Thursday, January 25, 2007

Terrorism is not a part of Islam

Terrorism is not part of Islam, speakers say at forum in Troy
Robert Delaney of The Michigan Catholic
Published January 26, 2007

Reports of violence committed by Muslims frequently leads nightly TV news reports, but that doesn't mean those violent acts are justified by Islamic teaching, a prominent local Muslim said Jan. 17.

Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, and Msgr. John Zenz, moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Detroit, spoke on religion and violence from the standpoint of their respective faith traditions at First Presbyterian Church of Troy.

Imam Walid acknowledged a Muslim can sometimes legitimately commit violence, but said examples would be self-defense or coming to the aid of oppressed people.

The violent incidents that hit the evening news, however, involve Muslims inappropriately using Islam to justify political objectives or simply Muslim people committing criminal acts, he said.
Even justified violence has limits ù such as using only as much force as necessary to subdue an attacker and taking care not to harm women and children, he said.

And non-Muslims generally have a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word jihad, Imam Walid continued.

" 'Jihad' does not mean 'holy war'; we have no word in Arabic for 'holy war.' 'Jihad' means struggle or exertion," he explained, adding that the Quran neither authorizes torture nor encourages Muslims to blow themselves up as suicide bombers.

"There is no authentic tradition in the Quran or in the authentic sayings of Muhammad that, if you become a martyr, you get 73 virgins. And if I did get 73 virgins, what would I do with them?" Imam Walid asked.

Not only that, but a Muslim is admonished to not even use words that incite people to violence. "That is why our organization condemned the conference they held on the Holocaust in Iran," the imam said.

In discussing violence from the Christian perspective, Msgr. Zenz acknowledged Old Testament passages where God appears to be authorizing violence or where a military victory is credited to divine intervention.

Citing Psalm 137:9 ("Happy the man who shall seize and smash your little ones against the rock!"), Msgr. Zenz said, "It puzzles me and troubles me every time we pray that psalm."
But in the New Testament, Christ renounces violence in the Sermon on the Mount and by His willingness to suffer death upon the cross, he continued, adding that recent reading for Mass "was about Saul getting in trouble with God for not killing every single Amorite."

And he said the theme of reconciliation is exemplified by Christ's words from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Christian practice has sometimes departed from this ideal, however. "We have to admit that we have not always followed the teachings of our Lord. Sadly, we had the Crusades, and there was the tragedy of the religious wars in the 1400s and 1500s," Msgr. Zenz said.

Catholic teaching does recognize the right of defensive war as part of its just-war teaching, which goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo, he acknowledged.

But Msgr. Zenz pointed out the Vatican had been critical of the first Gulf War and the current war in Iraq. Although violent reactions by some Muslims to Pope Benedict XVI's address at Regensburg University received extensive news coverage last year, Msgr. Zenz said there was less attention paid to the letter sent by 38 Muslim scholars, who wrote applauding the Holy Father for "his efforts to oppose materialism and encourage a serious intellectual debate between Muslims and Christians."

There are, nevertheless, issues that separate Christians and Muslims, such as how Christians are often not allowed to practice their faith in Muslim-run countries. "That's something Pope Benedict brought up on his visit to Turkey ù that we each need to be given the space to practice our religions without having to go underground," Msgr. Zenz said. (See story Page 14.)

Asked from the audience why influential Muslims are not condemning terrorism, Imam Walid replied, "We Muslims have been condemning terrorism until we're blue in the face."

And when asked why many violent actions seem to come from Islamic countries, Imam Walid drew a distinction between Muslim-majority countries and Islamic countries. "I don't consider Saudi Arabia to be an Islamic country. It is a Muslim country, but there is nothing in the Quran that says a woman cannot drive a car or own a business," he said, adding that Muhammad's first wife was a businesswoman.

Many conflicts portrayed as religious wars are really political power struggles or disputes over land rights, however much they might be cloaked in religious language, the imam continued.
And as to fatwahs calling for assassinations, he said, "Since we don't have a central authority in Islam, any imam or sheikh or mullah, even if he has a following of only a hundred people, can put out a fatwah."

Msgr. Zenz said inter-faith dialogue opportunities are important so Christians and Muslims can learn more about each other, "otherwise, we walk around believing false things."
Jack Panosian, a member of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, said he thought the presentations had been useful. "We have to get together and have a dialogue," he said.

Sameir Abdulla, a law student who attends a mosque in Dearborn, said, "It is some relief that there is a start of dialogue so that Christians, Jews and Muslims can get together and start to understand each other."

The Rev. J. Harold Ellens, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Troy, said he looks forward to his church hosting more such programs, with the next one likely after Easter.

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