Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Islam row pastor: Best thing Peter Robinson can do for the community now is eat his words

There can be no justification for stigmatising an entire faith community as holding Satanic beliefs, spawned in hell, and as untrustworthy.

Such pulpit rhetoric can't be excused as routine criticism of an opposing religious doctrine. It is the equivalent of the hate-filled fatwas pronounced by fundamentalist mullahs against those who offend against their narrow version of Islam.

It is intolerant and arrogant and it affords legitimacy to no other point of view. It stigmatises a whole people and, however it is dressed up, it risks inflaming passions against them. Muslims who have come to work here, often filling critical gaps in our health services, deserve better of us.

That is the problem with what Pastor McConnell said, however he chooses to dress it up, and Peter Robinson's defence of it. It is no excuse for Mr Robinson to say that preachers have talked like this for years as if that made it a human right.

The Pastor's comments are in the worst tradition of anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic bile in previous centuries. He says he did not trust Muslims who adhere to Sharia law and the tenets of their faith.

The Pastor even told Stephen Nolan that Muslims could kill him under Sharia law. In fact there are more interpretations of Sharia law than there are of the Bible and there is certainly no injunction to murder broadcasters.

The Meccan shuras of the Koran were written when the prophet Muhammad and his followers were a vulnerable minority trying to live amongst a majority non-believing population around Mecca. They tend to be tolerant and accommodating in tone. There we get passages like "let there be no compulsion in religion".

Later the Prophet and the early Muslims moved to Medina, where he set up his own state and led an army. There the texts can take a more warlike edge and there is talk of killing unbelievers, which fundamentalist groups often quote out of context.

The Bible contains similarly contrasting passages. There are some parts where the children of Israel are told to massacre the natives of Canaan when they invade it. Nowadays we would call that genocide or ethnic cleansing, but there are more passages, especially in the New Testament, urging love and toleration of other faith or ethnic groups. Christ's parable of the Good Samaritan, which tells how a member of a distrusted sect of Samaria helped an injured Jew when his own people ignored his plight, is one example.

Believers can take what they want from these sacred texts and many interpret them differently.

It is clearly wrong to damn the Muslim community because of the crimes of Islamic terrorists. It is the sort of thing we haven't seen in Christian communities in the UK since the 17th century when Catholics in general were treated with suspicion after the gunpowder plot.

Tarring whole communities with the same brush and caricaturing them is an example of evil.

Both the Christian churches and the DUP should reach out the hand of friendship to the Islamic community. It is time to assert our common humanity.

Mr Robinson is not the sort of person who finds it easy to take back something once he has said it. That can be a weakness, not a strength. On this occasion, the best service he can do for the whole community is to eat his words and meet the Islamic community to assure it of his goodwill.

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