Not Martyrs but Murderers

Recent events in London , Turkey and Egypt are sharp reminders that no place on earth is safe from the dark hand of international terrorism. What London experienced in July has also been happening with sickening regularity in Israel and Iraq for months and years. The terrorist is no respecter of persons: Muslims and non-Muslims have all been his victims.

Responsible Muslim scholars and leaders have condemned militant groups who, through selective exegesis of some religious texts and the views of fundamentalist scholars, have endorsed a violent struggle that targets innocent civilians. The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia , Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Sheik, is on record as saying that Islam forbids suicide terrorist attacks. This has been reinforced by Sheik Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, the head of Egypt ’s Al-Azhar University , who declared that Islamic law “rejects all attempts on human life” and that he condemns “all attacks on civilians”. In December 2003, Indonesia ‘s highest Islamic authority, the Ulama Council, declared terrorism and suicide bombings illegal under Islamic law. Some Muslim scholars have gone so far as to declare that a person who commits suicide is not a Muslim.

The definition of a martyr as “one who fights for saving the life of his brother, unjustly attacked, and dies in that cause” has been used in justification for the sort of extremism underpinning terrorist activities as, according to some authorities, any person, who fights for regaining his birthright to his homeland and dies in that cause is a martyr, as well. Perhaps the numerous Koranic references glorifying martyrs (“Those who are slain in Allah’s way”), assuring them of an afterlife in paradise (Surah 3:169-174 & Surah 22:58 ) with many blessings, need greater clarification. Islam’s Prophet responded to his opponents combatively but he also recommended tolerance, “ Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clearly from error” (Sura 2.256). However, the authority of this and others verses is diminished by the Islamic doctrine of abrogation (an-nāsikh wa-l-mansūkh) which teaches that certain commands were only of temporary application and, when circumstances changed, were later abrogated or superseded by others. This diversity of interpretation encourages abstruseness and we welcome those declarations from Islamic authorities which are irrefutably unambiguous in their repudiation of barbarity.

For Christians the concept of martyrdom requires a completely passive response in the face of threats to life and a willingness to apply absolutely the Lord’s command to turn the other cheek. When the Apostle Peter attempted to save the life of Christ, as he was about to be unjustly arrested and taken to his passion and death, the Lord gave an unequivocal response, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword”. (Matthew XXVI: 52) This has also been the constant teaching of His Holiness Pope Shenouda in the face of injustices shown to Coptic Christians. He has also repeatedly stated, “ Terrorism has nothing to do with religions, as religions call for virtue and peace”.

Injustice and oppression are hateful things but it has often been the weak who have brought down the strong by their goodness and refusal to resort to violence. The pacific philosophy of Gandhi and the forgiveness and charity of Nelson Mandela are admirable modern examples of the meek confounding the mighty. The collapse of Atheistic Communism was not brought about by violence but by a combination of moral superiority symbolised by the late Pope John Paul II and the enlightened pragmatism of Gorbachov.

Describing the terrorist attack on London as “just one in a series of despicable and inhuman assaults throughout the world on members of the public quietly going about their legitimate business,” Abba Seraphim declared it to be “the action of cruel and fanatical people who are at heart God-haters because they do not fear to destroy those created in His image but mercilessly pursue their evil agenda with neither pity nor restraint.”
Expressing his condolences in a letter to Abba Seraphim, His Beatitude Patriarch Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul, said he was “appalled at the hatred these criminals must be nurturing in order to undertake an assault of such a scale against innocent citizens” and ordered a special service for the Repose of the Victims to be held in all Armenian Churches in Turkey on 10 July. Only days later when bombs were exploded in Cesme and the Aegean resort of Kusadasi Abba Seraphim wrote again to Patriarch Mesrob stating,

 As Christians we are bound to repudiate all violence, whatever the professed grievance, and to deplore the cruel disregard for the suffering caused as well as the destruction of life, the precious Gift of God. We will not allow this evil to overcome us but continue to trust in a loving God Who cherishes all His children and to whom we commend the dead and injured, their families and friends. In the unity of a common resolve to strive always for peace in the face of malicious and sinful actions.”

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