Vatican City 2-4 December 2014
“And you will indeed find that the closest in friendship to the believers are those who say: “We are Christians”. “(Koran, 5/82).
Despite this, in the dark ages, religious intolerance between our faiths prevailed and was begotten by ignorance. In the contemporary information society, it survives through fear-mongering and racist utterance.
A tide of indignation has legitimately engulfed the Moslem and the Christian communities as a result of recent terrorist action in the Middle East by a group instrumentalising Islam to whitewash its heinous crimes. Its members are being called “jihadists”. This is a misnomer as their action is unrelated to “jihad” though they claim it to be for propaganda purposes. Concocted in the West, this neologism of “jihadist” is drawn from the Arabic word “jihad”, itself mistranslated as “Holy War”.
“Greater jihad” also referred to as “jihad of the soul” is the effort to be made by Moslems to overcome their personal failings and fears. As Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said” the greatest jihad is to speak the truth in front of a tyrant”. The lesser jihad is no other than the right of self-defence if one’s community is under attack or exposed to outside oppression. This is a UN-sanctioned right and only prejudice could describe it as a “Holy
Referring to terrorists as “jihadis” legitimises their crimes and accredits the idea that terrorism is co-terminous with Islam. This is an oxymoron since the root of the word “Islam” is “salam” which means “peace”. To make such a claim is as preposterous as to allege that “the Lord’s Resistance Army”, a savage terrorist group in Uganda, is a Christian militant group.
Opinion leaders and media in the West systematically refer to terrorists as “jihadis”. They are thereby whipping up anti- Islamic fervour,“emboldening the blood but risking to close the mind”, to paraphrase Julius Caesar.
This is a time to meditate the messages of two worthy sons of Algeria, St. Augustin and the Emir Abd El-Kader al-Jazairy.
St. Augustin believed that the true purpose of prayer lay in a tolerant vision of society and not in seeking divine help to support violence as a way of imposing one’s own judgment on other people.
The Emir also espoused religious tolerance as a fundamental value equivalent to true faith as he expressed it in his Book of Halts. Therein he said: “Whosoever limits the Real”(i.e. God)”to a single creed and does not recognise It in any other is unaware of God”(Halt nr.35). “For divinity of itself,” he adds,” requires different states and refuses to remain in one state of being”(Halt nr.364). Referring to ”the one God in different creeds”, the Emir wrote ” He embraces the creeds of all His creatures as also His mercy embraces all of them”(Halt nr.254).
In his book entitled “Reminding the Wise and calling the attention of the Distracted”, the Emir asserted that religions were complementary and flowed into the same stream of tolerance. With astounding foresight he averred that “the damage inflicted upon the Laws of religious origin” (i.e. the Sharia law), “was regrettably brought on them by those who purported to uphold religion through inappropriate means rather than by those who combated it”.
The Emir Abd El-Kader who saved 12,000 Christians from sure death at the hands of fanaticized mobs in Damascus in July 1862, at his own peril, practised what he preached.
His position echoes Prophet Mohammad’s(pbuh)warning on religion: ”Beware of extremism for extremism has brought disaster on those who came before you”.
Tolerance is a time-honoured tradition in Islam. Abd El-Kader was in this respect a disciple of Sheikh Mahieddine Ibn Arabi, the great Sufi of the 12-13th century who wrote:
“My heart has become capable of every form
It is a pasture for gazelles
And a monastery for Christian monks
And a temple for idols
And a Kaaba of the Pilgrim
And the tablets of the Torah
And the Book of the Koran
I follow the religion of love.
Whatever path love’s convoy takes
Therein is my religion and my faith.”