Christians and Muslims in prayer. The future of Islam to counter jihadist drift
Sharing and prayer between Christians and Muslims is the way to defeat the violence and nihilism of the fundamentalist fringe. Are the fundamentalists Muslims? Nothing they do is Islamic: to kill old people, children, destroy places of worship. Yet they cover themselves in phrases from the Koran and the aura of executioners, exploiting a literalist reading of the Koran. The time has come for Muslims to promote a theological interpretation of the holy book. By Paolo Nicelli, PIME missionary, professor and an expert on Islam.i
Milan (AsiaNews) - The initiative launched by the French Bishops Conference and implemented by the Italian Bishops' Conference to invite representatives of Muslim communities to parishes for the celebration of Sunday Mass, has sparked conflicting opinions, positive and negative, on both sides. Negative criticism within the Catholic Church and awkward silences on the part of some Muslim communities that did not participate in the joint effort; as well as some positive statements from Catholic and Muslim authorities and faithful on the opportunity and the need to have shared moments of prayer, to ward off the fundamentalist and fanatic drift that has emerged with the attacks in Europe, the United States and some Asian countries, during this year, and especially during July.
Most of these attacks, claimed by Da'ish or al-Qa'ida, have highlighted the fragility of the West not only to provide a homogeneous answer to the problem of international terrorism. However, they have also underscored the short-sightedness of the political institutions in not wanting to accept the fact that the Islamic terrorism can not be separated from the broader and more articulated problem of an uncontrolled immigration from northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Balkan countries and from Asian countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, notoriously famous for emigration to the West.
These same political institutions are also incapable or perhaps, unwilling to admit the failure of their military strategy to contain the Taliban and Qa'idista ǧihādism, as in the case of Afghanistan. Instead in the case of Bangladesh, authorities struggle to accept that the failure of their permissive policy towards the construction of numerous Koranic schools from countries such as Saudi Arabia, led by imams trained in the school of Wahhabi fundamentalism and international Islamic ǧiḥādism. These different situations, with different problems, share a common ǧihādist purpose: the destabilization of weak Western, African and Asian democracies through violence and destruction. Added to this is the great embarrassment of the governments of those countries involved in the attacks, which willy-nilly have to and will have to deal with international terrorism, capable of stirring up hatred and resentment among the most marginalized young people in their populations.
We have learned from the media and expert analysis: the matrix of ǧihādism is found in an ideological and violent reading of the Koran, the Islamic Tradition (Sunna), especially of the Prophet's sayings (ahadith), as well as the Islamic law itself (Shari'a). This reading praises the justice of God, the revenge that he rails against deniers of the true faith, and the idolaters, who must be killed in order to affirm the true faith of Islam. These are delusional speeches, and I would add uttered by people who are unbelievers, as well as being psychiatrically unstable . But they should not be underestimated, because they are capable of evil intelligence that wants to promote death and not life. In fact, they empty religion of its formal content: God's love for man and for all creation. They reduce God to a justification of their brutality and horror. Here is the nihilism of ǧihādism, which in the case of the self-styled Islamic State (Da'ish), which wants to erect a religious, political and military institution, in the form of a true totalitarian caliphate, able to manipulate the conscience and mind of the people, to the point of gaining consent and support.
Now here is the uncomfortable question for all Muslims, as for all men and women of good will: can we consider ǧihādists believers of Islam? Are they representative of all those Muslims who in good faith, practice their religion, abhorring violence? Before we called them "unbelievers" because a believer can not reduce God to be the cause of his justice-violence, whether it be gratuitous or mass. But they have made a profession of Islamic faith, believe in the precepts of Islam and read the Koran and the Sunna every day. Therefore we must consider them Muslims. In their own way they are; they are like sinners. That is, they are against ethics and the Islamic religion, because they betray Islām. They say they are Muslims, but they go against the fundamentals of their religion. In fact, in the Islamic religion it is forbidden to kill, especially children, religious; as it is forbidden to destroy places of worship. Yet these "believers" do so systematically, planning to gain heaven through massacre and what they call "martyrdom”.
And yet, the questions we should be asking ourselves are others: what reading or interpretation of Islamic sources are they being fed? What is the violent matrix that gives rise to their ideology?
It is the previously mentioned Wahhabism, in short, the puritanical and reformist current of Islam which for more than two centuries has become de rigeur in the ǧihādist universe and inspired, first pan-Islamic movements, then Arab nationalists with their dictators, then the ǧihādism of al-Qa'da and Da'ish, in their ideological and institutional distinctions.
This ideology wants to drag Islām back centuries, to its beginnings, and wants to adopt the model of the purity of the pious ancestors founded on a puritanical and violent ǧihādist ideology. They have mythologized that historical period of the origins of Islam to the point of making a totally ahistorical abstract, colored by their delirious interpretation. This is where the ǧihādists pose themselves in direct opposition to Islamic ethics, accomplishing their religious and intellectual sin: they reinterpret Islam through their a-historical categories without a hermeneutic of sources and without applying a critical historical criterion to the Quranic text and Sunnah, to bring out the content of the Koranic precept, namely to promote the good and avoid evil. Gihādists read everything in literal terms, reduced to legal precepts, emptying it of its spiritual and analogical capacity, thus reducing the ǧihād (fight against sin and every structure of sin), to one form only, that of "holy war" that is, to "justice-violence” against those who do not accept their version of Islam, accused of being the corrupters of religion.
In fact, to say: "we are for death and not for life", is not Islamic! The murder of women, the old and the innocent and defenseless children, is not Islamic! The murder of priests, imams and destruction of churches and mosques, is not Islamic! All of this goes against the fundamental ethical precept of Islam, which, as mentioned above, asks the believer to promote good and avoid evil.
And that's why it is important that Christians, Muslims and men and women of good will come together to pray, to discourage violence that is inherent in religions there where some of their believers use God and religion to perpetuate violence, death , nihilism. It is important to pray, so that it discourages the violence that is in us, so that our heart gives way to God's mercy, to his love for man. This is the task for all representatives of religions and especially Muslims today: read their own religious sources through a spiritual and not literal nor legalistic hermeneutic, rather a theological one. The Muslims in the West as in the East, must recover the spiritual and moral reading of the Koran and the Sunnah, so it may open them to considering the other not as a threat but as an opportunity for encounter and human and spiritual growth.
* Doctor of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana; Director of African Studies Class; Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Missiology, Arab and Islamic Studies