Why we should pray for Islam to undergo its own reformation
One of the abiding memories of last week's horrific attack was the inspiring call to "Pray for Paris". This later became "Pray for Paris and the World", but what does that mean?
The slaughter of 129 people in Paris, and the serious injury to scores of others, will rank with 9/11 in New York, and the bombings in London and Spain, as further evidence of the indiscriminate evil of militant Islam.
The recent bombing of Beirut by the so-called Islamic State causing the death of 40 people was also abhorrent, as was the downing of the Russian jet by Isis with a huge loss of life.
However, the attack on Paris brought the focused brutality of Isis to our European doorsteps, underlining that this unholy war means that no "infidel" around the world is totally safe.
The Paris attacks also crossed the line between fact and fiction. It looked as if we were watching yet another bloody episode of the hit series Homeland, but this was all too real, where we had a better view on television of the developing tragedy, compared to reporters on the ground.
Today we are left with the exhortation to Pray For Paris.
This spontaneous call was all the more striking in one of the most secular countries in Europe, as was the special services in the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral and many other churches and places of worship.
It seemed as if people of different faiths and none were trying to seek holy ground and a safe reflective space to find comfort, and to seek answers - if there are any - to explain the causes of pure evil.
Those who believe in prayer may be asking themselves "how do we actually pray for Paris and for the whole world?". This week I attended an inter-denominational service in my own Whitehouse Presbyterian Church and I was struck by the words of a prayer for the "World, Church and Community".
It encouraged us to pray for "all who suffer, who are bewildered or perplexed, the victims of war and violence, of persecution and terrorism", and for people facing many other challenges including "those who mourn".
Finally it asked us to "pray for ourselves and for one another, that we may be agents of reconciliation".
How do you promote reconciliation with Isis, whose members behead, mutilate and torture anyone who disagrees with them? This is not the time for the half-baked political naivety and blinkered world of Jeremy and the Corbynites. The response to Isis must be much sterner.
However, it is also time to work and pray for a long-term change of mindset within militant Islam which will eradicate the present barbarism, although this formidable task will take at least a generation to accomplish.
Meanwhile, we must look to the day when, in the words of a prominent Imam and scholar in The Times this week, the Islamic world will have undergone its own vital religious reformation, in the way that Christianity eventually ceased to burn alive and behead those who were regarded as heretics, and learned how to respect freedom of conscience.
This is also a time to think about peaceful members of the Islamic community, who have nothing to do with the fanatics of Isis. The events have been another wake-up call, and no one knows better than we do the result of generations of hatred and of often bad religion, and of even worse politics, in society at large.
'These events have been a wake-up call to all of society'