Brussels (AsiaNews) – The persecution of Christians in the Middle East by jihadi Islam is a wakeup call for every Muslim in Europe and around the world. Political Islam is manipulating the interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah by eliminating all its centuries-old elements of reason, openness, outreach, and adaptability, this according to Hocine Drouiche, an imam from Nîmes (France) who is vice president of the Conference of Imams of France.
Dr Drouiche presented his in-depth and courageous analysis at a meeting in Brussels on 1 July titled ‘The Persecution of Christians in the world.’ He took the opportunity of his address to call upon fellow Muslims to do some soul-searching. Reminding them how lukewarm was their reaction to terrorist violence (like in the Charlie Hebdo affair), he warned them of a rising anti-Islamic wave across Europe, a trend that can only be defused if European Muslims develop a European Islam that incorporates the values of freedom of conscience and religion as well as human and women’s rights. In his view, even the Palestine question should be dealt with peacefully and through cooperation between Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Below, please find the full text of Imam Drouiche’s address (Courtesy of Dr Drouiche himself, translation by AsiaNews).
In a non-democratic society, religious, ethnic and cultural minorities have a hard time to live in peace and freedom. Eastern Christians have long suffered from the lack of democratic systems in Iraq, Syria, China, North Korea, etc.
Majorities impose their rule and are sometimes angered with the presence of minorities, viewing them as undesirable foreigners, defeated people, enemies or friends of their enemies. Automatically, minorities are treated as second or even third class citizens or simply as non-citizens.
Life for these minorities gets worse because they are naturally weaker than the majority but also because, despite their persecution, they cannot call on democratic nations for help because they would be accused by the majority of treason and complicity with the enemy. Such accusations can provide legitimacy for genocide against minorities. There are several examples in modern history of genocide, namely the Jewish Shoah, the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide, but also crimes against humanity involving small groups in the Middle East, Burma, central Africa, etc.
Around the world, Christians are persecuted, hounded, deprived of work, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. All sorts of tools are used to force them to renounce their faith, including ritual collective rape, which in some states is a distinct criminal offence. Owning a Bible has become a crime, and Christian worship has been banned. We are back to the age of the early martyrs when Mass was held in caves.
The main factors for the persecution of Christians in the world
There are several political, economic, ethnic and religious factors for such persecution:
- the absence of democratic rule in these countries,
- a general decline of religious freedom in the world,
- a rising level of persecution of Christian around the world, especially in the Muslim world,
- more often than not, a tendency to scapegoat Eastern Christians for policy errors committed by Western nations,
- extremist views about Christians as natural allies of the West, an accusation that helps legitimise massacring and exterminating Christians,
- a political form of Islam that views the Christian presence in the Muslim world as a threat rather than as an opportunity,
- an unjust international system that falsely acts on behalf of the Christian religion for political and economic purposes without considering the serious consequences for Christians living in countries attacked by Western armies (for example, G W Bush in Iraq) ,
- religious practices in today’s Islam that are closer to sectarianism than to those of a universal and inclusive religion.
The absence of major concepts from Islam’s ancient civilisation in today’s Muslim world has harmed Muslims but also the minorities living among them. Values like dialogue, tolerance, rationality, and acceptance of others have not resisted the onslaught of a literalist Islam, one that has turned inward and divided the world in black and white, Muslim and infidels, believers and unbelievers, God’s friends and God’s foes. The emergence of fanaticism in such an environment was unavoidable. Eastern Christians were the first victims of this cultural and civilisational decline in the Muslim world!
In view of this, the appearance of an ideologically fanatical group like Daesh (also know as the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant) is not very surprising. For centuries, Islam had accepted different people living in peace in its countries. If Daesh’s version of Islam, with all its terror and mayhem is the true one, then there is precious little room for Christians, Yazidis and Jews in the Middle East.
Mary’s place in Islam:
The Virgin Mary occupies an important place in the hearts and souls of Muslims. She has a place of honour in the Muslim religion. When the Qur‘an and the Sunnah (sayings of the Prophet) talk about this exceptional woman, it is always with the respect and honour because God chose her to serve the house of God and give birth to a great prophet through a great divine miracle that is closer to fiction than reality.
The Qur’an assigned an important place to the Virgin Mary (Maryam) for she is the only woman mentioned in the Holy Qur'an by name. The holy book does not mention the mother of the Prophet Mohamed or his daughters or his wife or other female relatives.
Two Surahs are named after Mary and her family ('Āli `Imrān). The Holy Virgin’s name is repeated 34 times in Islam’s holy book. She is found in almost every surah. Jesus (Isa) is mentioned by name 25 times and more than fifty times as Christ (el Massih).
The Qur‘an clearly states that God protected Mary from accusations people levelled against her. Both her relatives and adversaries were surprised when He came to her defence through the Baby Jesus (God’s health and Peace be upon him!) when he miraculously talked in his mother’s defence, and about her place in this world. The prophet said, "No one is perfect except Jesus’ mother and Aissa, the wife of Pharaoh."
Recounting Jesus’ birth, the following Quranic passage from the Surah of the Virgin Mary shows the great respect and sacred place Mary and her son hold in the Muslims’ holy book:
27 Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.
28 O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste."
29 So she pointed to him. They said, "How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?"
30 [Jesus] said, "Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.
31 And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive
32 And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
Islamic discourse and the attacks against Charlie Hebdo
Overall, as we have seen, the Islamic discourse is characterised by ambiguity or even double-talk. One is for freedom of religion but nothing is done to prevent the execution of an apostate or strongly condemn the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world! It is a discourse that advocates total freedom of expression whilst deploring its asymmetric application.
Still, during the Charlie Hebdo affair in France for example, no imam or representative of the Muslim community came to stand at the crime scene, i.e. Charlie Hebdo offices or Kosher supermarket. Sadly, Islam is dehumanised by today’s religious discourse.
The attacks against Charlie Hebdo clearly show the absence of a religious discourse openly committed to the humane and peaceful values of France and Europe. These values that are not in contradiction with the essence of Islam itself. As usual, the negative Islamic discourse has led French Muslims towards ambiguity.
Political Islam saw the Republican rally as a shameful act. Yet, many French people still want to hear advocates of political Islam explain why it was shameful.
- Who prevented Muslim institutions in France, Europe and the Muslim world from calling for participation in the rally against terrorism?
- Why didn’t imams from their mosques call on the Muslim community to participate in the rally? They could have been totally opposed to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and still be against the murders of journalists. This is certainly the advantage of living in a democratic country.
- How can one explain the fact that European Islam was silent when Jews were killed in Paris and Toulouse, on European soil? In July 2014, a pro-Palestinian demonstration was held during which one could hear people shout, “Death to the Jews!” No representative of French Islam reacted with to this with outrage!
Don’t these negative attitudes give a green light to extremists in the Arab world to hate Christians and Jews and religious minorities in Muslim societies?
Political Islam is constantly out of synch with the Islam of humanism, openness and tolerance. It has become an ideology that exploits religion for purposes that are against the precepts of religion.
Such sad attacks exposed this false and narrow-minded discourse, especially its distance from Europe’s democratic values.
Such a religious discourse likes to slam France’s debate over identity but at the same time, it defines itself in terms of religious identity and refuses to become integrated into European countries’ national identity.
Most imams practicing in Europe have been trained in Muslim countries where they heard their teachers tell them that Europe and secularism are the first enemies of Islam!
What kind of programme or training have European Muslims given to the new generations so as to create a European Islam that is compatible and in balance with Europe’s values without losing the bases and foundations of the Muslim religion?
They revel in their underdevelopment precisely on the basis of a principle that is in inappropriate for modern times, namely the notion that Islam is more than a religion!
Muslim settlement in Europe should push them to adapt to the values of their new Western societies for three main reasons:
1 / Islam has always proved elastic enough to adapt to historical circumstances and the values of conquered societies. This happened successfully in Persia, Pakistan, India, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, Turkey, Albania and Bosnia.
2 / Muslims should be happy to evolve in free and democratic societies. Western values based on freedom, justice and secularism have in fact helped Muslims live their religion in peace in spite of hardships.
3 / Muslims living in Europe should seize the opportunity of Islam’s presence in Europe to integrate into organised societies that respect religions and differences. Such integration could have been achieved without problems if European Muslims had stood back from all foreign understandings and interpretations of Islam. This would have provided them with a change to come up with a European understanding of Islam.
What is more, European values like democracy, freedom, human rights, respect for women and children's rights are universal values that Islam and European societies share.
The concept of Ummah (the Muslim community as a whole) was particularly among French Muslims during Israel’s aggression against Gaza.
Muslims are quick to point out that in every evil there is something good.
With shared sadness and anger, we take to the streets to support Palestine and denounce Israel, sometimes all Jews. Do Muslims want Jihad to help their Palestinian brothers? Couldn’t we help them by peaceful means? Can we create a hub of peace between Jews and Muslims in France? Can we reconcile Palestinians and Israelis? Why can’t we imagine Paris as a starting point for peace in Jerusalem? Where are the religious leaders who never stop advocating love and brotherhood in religion? Are they liars, hypocrites and charlatans?
It is our duty to find an effective way to help Palestinian children, women and other victims come out of the hell of Israeli occupation. But what can one expect from a country that is threatened its very existence? Israel’s extreme right uses this argument to counter any peace process. It is our duty to take a stand and not leave it in the hands of extremists on both sides who only fuel hatred between the two peoples.
Can we be accept an everlasting conflict?
Are we not monotheists? Don’t we worship the same god? Are we not from the same family of Abraham? Are we not all Semites? Are there not thousands of Jews in France and Israel who speak our language? Are they not Arab Jews? Are French Muslims who work with Jews not happy? One quarter of Israel's population (1.5 million people) is Arab. These people have lived as Israelis since 1948 without massacre or mistreatment. How can we replicate this experience, with its flaws and benefits, to improve and nourish the ground of living together? Extremists only see tragedy and faults to fuel their fight. However, there are also roses and flowers.
In Islam we say, “There is no good for an evil, except in heaven or hell.”
- There is hope as long as there is life.
- All one needs is the courage to go forward.
- We must break taboos.
We are not condemned to accept the legacy of hatred and blood.
Do you think everything is done in God's name?
Certainly, God the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, must not be happy to see all such evils. Does he not say in one of his verses that he created us as nations and tribes, so that we may live together, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted" (The Rooms, Sura 49:13).
God revealed himself to His prophet by telling him that we all come from Adam and that the earth is the public space reserved for us. That is human brotherhood.
Religion is a private relationship between human beings and their creator.
Didn’t the wise Marek Halter not say, "Having the citizens of the same country tear at each other in the name of opposing beliefs or values; having French Jews, French Muslims and French Christians fight each other, serves no one, much less Israel or Palestine. Only peace can ensure their and our future." A wise Halter the Jew speaks like a wise Muslim. God is always on the side of those who advocate reconciliation. God did not create us so that we kill each other. He created us different from one another because difference is a form of riches. Differences should bring us together rather than push us to kill each other.
God said, "if Allah had willed, He could have made you [of] one religion," (16:93).
If we love the one God, we must not disobey his instructions. We must listen to his message with sincerity and hold it as true, far from the interests of life, and not react emotionally.
French Muslims and Jews should join hands to help peace talks in Israel. Peace would be stronger than the arrogance of Israeli extremists. All this is impossible without real dialogue between imams, rabbis and religious leaders on both sides.
Death instead of dialogue:
In 2001, I happened to meet Egyptian philosopher Nasr Hamid Abu Ziad in Damascus. He was sentenced to death for daring to assert that we must review and reinterpret religious texts. Unfortunately, his is not an isolated case. The list continues to get longer: Nasrin Tasmina, Tayeb Tizini, Jalal El Adhan, Mohamed Arkoun, Hassan Chalghoumi, and many others have received the same treatment.
Instead of discussing and talking with "the men of God," the fatal weapon of apostasy, i.e. death sentence, is quickly raised.
In their concern to defend religion, they allow themselves to kill human beings. For them, religion comes before human beings! The latter must be in the service of religion.
- What place should freedom have in the debate? What will be left?
- Will such a rule be accepted in France?
- Will the Republic accept this new theological rule?
In fact, in France new rules apply and religious discourse must adapt or sink permanently. Foreign imams who officiate in France lack the competence to meet them. It is essential to entrust this new discourse to Western imams trained in the new rules of secularism.
Propaganda and Islamic discourse:
Overall, Islamist partisans of political Islam believe that only they hold the truth. It is their monopoly. This is the shortest way to arrogance and fanaticism. Someone else’s ideas or words are not accepted.
In the Holy Qur'an, God gave the devil (Iblis) the power to speak and answer. God accepted to talk with the devil in order to teach us the virtues of dialogue and tolerance.
Every tool is halal (allowed) to convince supporters and Muslims.
Propaganda, lies, legends, and invented stories are the elements that turn the leaders of these Islamic movements into heroes.
This discourse is full of propaganda that can easily brainwash young people, like:
- in several battles, stones turned into grenades and bombs,
- the earth turned into explosives,
- families of young people killed in combat received information proving that their children were martyred. The latter saw themselves in heaven before they died.
- The smell of musk came from corpses.
Political Islam and thuggish Islam:
Taqiya or dissimilation: truth is an important value in Islam. Lies are the greatest sin in Islam.
According to Ettarmidi, the prophet said that faith and falsehood cannot coexist in the same heart. Lying to a Muslim or non-Muslim is absolutely forbidden in Islam. Except that political Islam has changed many religious values.
Although the majority of Muslims abstain from lying, jihadis have no scruples and use deceit whenever they fell like it. They call it Taqiya. This principle encourages extremists and jihadis to advance their ideas.
Normally, Islam in France has nothing to hide. However, extremists use dissimilation and omission:
- to give the impression that their Islam is a religion of peace,
- to hide their plots,
- to manipulate young Muslims and stir an interest in Islam in them.
Thuggish Islam is starting to show its face on the political scene and influence European Muslims by saying that:
- lying to and speaking ill of unbeliever is Halal,
- stealing from unbelievers is allowed,
- loving a non-Muslim is disbelief and apostasy,
- Europe represents the Dar El Kufr (House of disbelief),
- living in Europe is banned except for acquiring knowledge or Daawa (proselytising).
Although the following discourse is not that of the majority of the Muslim community, the former say:
- democracy is prohibited.
- secularism is disbelief.
- loving non-Muslims is forbidden in Islam.
- Jews and Christians are not our brothers because the only brotherhood is among Muslims. Neither the pseudo patriotic Republican brotherhood nor human brotherhood should be recognised!
These ideas pollute contemporary Muslim thought, poison Muslim life in Europe and represent a real danger for the future of Islam in Europe and society as a whole.
A European pact is necessary for the future of Islam in Europe:
For the sake of Islam, European Muslims must give convincing answers to the issues raised by European societies in order to adapt to European values and reassure local societies that they do not represent a danger to the values and cultures that existed in Europe long before the arrival of Islam in European countries.
In 1806, faced with the problems and new questions raised by the presence of Jews in France, Napoleon had the courage and intelligence to bring together prominent Jews to identify with them twelve important issues to determine the possible compatibility of religious law with the laws of the Republic.
French Jews responded positively and in a very clear way to the 12 issues raised by Napoleon. Despite such reassuring answers and their compatibility with the values of the Republic, the Nazis did not find anti-Semites and collaborators at the grassroots level to achieve the largest industrial genocide in human history.
If the Islamic discourse does not take into account the lessons of history and continues to be blind, it will lead Muslims to a new European wave of hatred that will provoke a Holocaust worse than the one European Jews suffered between 1939 and 1945, especially with the rise of a certain extremist nationalism in Europe. Islam should not set itself apart from Europe’s great values ; otherwise, it will provide extremists with an opportunity to incite hatred against the Muslim presence in Europe.
In my view, a new European pact is in the interest of the Republic but also of European Muslims. Reconciliation is a must if Islam in Europe wants to avoid a grassroots revolution against its presence in Europe.
Example of a Republican pact in France. The 12 questions put to Islam:
- Is it permissible for French Muslim men to marry several women?
- Is the divorce valid if it is not issued in the courts under laws that contradict the French code?
- Is it permissible for French Muslims to change religion without being sentenced to death?
- In the eyes of Muslims, are their fellow French citizens, brothers, strangers or potential enemies?
- Do French-born Muslims regard France as their homeland? Do they feel an obligation to defend it? Do they feel bound to obey French laws?
- Do French Muslims accept a French Islam that does not change the fundamentals of Islam but also does not condemn for apostasy and blasphemy, and adapts itself to the laws of the Republic?
- Who should appoint imams? Will imams who do not speak French be accepted?
- Are French Muslims ready to accept human and national brotherhood?
- Are they prepared to reject proselytising programmes in France?
- Are they prepared to work with the French nation against antisemitism and racism?
- Is a woman who does not wear the veil considered a full-fledged Muslim?
- Are European Muslims prepared to defend European values even in the Muslim world?
The place of Jews and Christians in Muslim daily life is important. The echoes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deeply affect the lives of Muslims in Europe. Extremist and negative interpretations of some religious texts play a certain role in this debate.
By manipulation or deceit, hatred of Christians and Jews has become ubiquitous in Muslim belief!
If Eastern Christians are experiencing a very hard time only because of their religion, we must acknowledge that Muslims have been fortunate to be in Europe at a time when it is free from the hatred and dictatorship that still dominate the world. These universal European values must be protected and developed by:
- working together for a shared destiny.
- considering that there is only one large community in Europe and that is the European community.
- Muslims recognising that European values have existed before the arrival of Islam in European countries.
Therefore, Muslims must adapt, and find a balance between the values of Islam and the values of Europe.
The malaise began when Muslims formed ghettos in some European countries and turned inward. Political Islam exploited the situation and rushed to fill the gap. Muslims living in ghettos began to fuel Europeans’ fear and misunderstanding with regards to several issues raised by Islam.
This has led to a social malaise in some neighbourhoods because Muslims found themselves in a situation of fatal social exclusion.
Still, anti-Semitism and hate against Jews and Christians do exist. The disaffection towards European countries has become a reality and has led a part of society towards extremism. This has not spared European society in Paris, Brussels, London and Madrid.
Of course, terrorism is colour-blind and has no religion. Certainly, not all Muslims are terrorists, but terrorism has unfortunately become more visible among Muslims than in other groups. Christians who still live in the Muslim world have the right to live their religion freely. Religious persecution has no place in the 21 century. European Muslims can play a necessary role in protecting the religious freedom of Christians in the East as much as Europe has been able to protect the freedom of religious practice of Islam in European countries.
Eastern Christians have long suffered from the absence of democratic systems; however, their hardships have certainly multiplied under an extremist theological dictatorship. In the absence of a democratic understanding of Islam that accepts the rule of law and puts forward citizenship and competence before any other religious, ethnic or racist criteria, an enlightened Islam can play a positive role in the stability of Christians in the Muslim world.
We all have a duty to work together to correct this, living together and sharing a common destiny but we also have to protect the world’s persecuted Christians and all the minorities who endure life as second or third class citizens in their own countries.
*Imam in Nîmes; president of the Council of Imams of the Gard, southern France; vice-president of the Conference of Imams of France