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Muslim establishment must speak out against the misbeliefs that stir discrimination and violence

letter of the day: religious tolerance

The current spate of terrorist acts inspired by ISIS has prompted many people to ask which agencies in our society can most effectively take preventive action. I would suggest that the mosques and Muslim cultural bodies are best-placed to lead the campaign.

We readily grant that Islam is, in itself, a peace-loving religion - though lately one Muslim spokesman claimed that there are Islamists in the ranks of the Muslim establishment - yet there seem to be widely held beliefs (or misbeliefs) inside and outside the Islamic community that foster jihadism - the very word "infidel", for instance; also, the claim that the suicide-killer is guaranteed instant entry into paradise. This is a preposterous, but sinister, idea.

As Christians, we cannot be judgmental; we have to admit that, for two millennia, biblical literalism and rabid denominationalism "justified" religious persecution at a savage level.

In fact, we have only very recently abjured the burning stake and the executioner's axe; and we still have a long way to go. We, too, have our hardliners, who resist, or seek to reverse, the steps taken towards renewal.

As it happens, these steps were the result of official statements by Church councils, like the Vatican Council and the WCC.

Apparently, since Islam was originally part of a theocratic system linked to the state, there is no similar central Islamic teaching authority, so the task of interpreting the sacred writings devolves upon local Islamic bodies. These bodies must now loudly and clearly denounce the recent terrorist attacks.

The fact is that, in our society, there is real suspicion and real fear - not just fear of atrocities, but of religious discrimination (such as happens in some Muslim countries) and of the threat of a Sharia law that can never be reconciled with modern secular democracy.

These fears and suspicions will remain with us until the religious authorities speak out boldly and clearly to repudiate the misbeliefs that feed into prejudice, discrimination, or violence. This process has to begin with healthy beliefs, beliefs shared with the rank-and-file.

The first step in this direction can only be taken by Muslim teaching authorities.


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