This year’s Christmas celebrations in Iraq were subdued. Many of Iraq’s Christian citizens have fled after the massacre in the Syriac Cathedral of Baghdad where gunmen from a group linked to Al-Qaeda took over 100 hostages. In the end, 44 were killed. The fact that Christian citizens in Iraq fear for their life and have become the targets of violence by people claiming to act in the name of Islam troubles me. It is another example of a group of Muslims taking Islam hostage to put forward their own political agendas.
Iraq’s current reality is extremely frustrating for a number of reasons, but my focus here is on the deteriorating relations between Muslims and Christians. The fact that Christians–referred to in the Qur’an as People of the Book–cannot feel safe with their Muslim brethren is contrary to the example of the Prophet Muhammad and to the verses in the Qur’an that instruct Muslims how to deal with others.
When the Prophet Muhammad began receiving revelation, he felt that his closest allies would be Christians and Jews because they were monotheists. He did not view them as enemies. Moreover, the Qur’an not only tells Muslims that they should engage in dialogue, but that it is encouraged. There is no mention of violence:
Say, ‘O people of the book come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah. If they turn back say you ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims’ (bowing) to the will of God. (Qur’an 3:64)
Moreover, as I have written in earlier posts, there are clear boundaries to warfare and violence in Islam but the leaning is much more towards peace. Taking people as hostages in a place of worship is unjustifiable within the context of Islam. One verse in the Qur’an says about self-defense: “Fight it, the cause of Allah those who fight you, but commit no aggression for Allah loves not transgressors” (Qur’an 2: 190).
The heinous act of violence committed in that church and the subsequent attacks on Christians in their homes were acts of aggression and cannot be seen within the framework of Islam.
Do you think these attacks represent Islam? Why do you think Islam is used to justify these acts? Do you think this situation is specific to Iraq? Please share your thoughts below.