Rev Walter Fogarty, Catholic Outlook, September 2016
The ancient Greek playwright Aschylus is arguably the first to use the phrase, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” In the present ‘war on terror’, truth has long been dispensed with. With each terrorist attack, media and political figures from all sides are quick to shriek their anti-Islamic rhetoric without much concern for the truth.
Pope Francis, when asked by journalists about his reaction to the slaying of the French priest Fr Jacques Hamel by radicalised terrorists in July, commented, “We should not be afraid to speak this truth. The world is at war because it has lost peace … Not a war of religion. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war.” He added, “All religions want peace. Others want war. Do you understand?”
But do we understand?
The aim of terrorism is to terrorise, but when individuals and societies give in to hysteria fuelled by ill-informed commentators then the terrorists win; the terrorists get what they desire.
One means of combating terrorists is to be informed. As Pope Francis suggests, naming this war for what it is, a war of greed which corrupts and abuses religion for its own end, is an important step in combating hysteria and giving peace a chance, to paraphrase John Lennon.
Viewing the present struggle as a war of religions, as a ‘natural consequence’ of Islam, is to abuse Islam and to play into the hands of the terrorists. Islam is not interested in world domination or the overthrowing of other religions.
Non-Muslim commentators ask why Muslims do not denounce the terrorists. The reality is that they do; they just do not get reported.
Dr Susan Carland of Monash University, writing in The Guardian (19/7/2016), argues, “Muslims have condemned terrorism and ISIS in numerous media reports … In fact, contrary to what is alleged, Muslims have led protests against ISIS, Australian imams have issued refutations of terrorism, suicide bombing and fighting in foreign conflict, and a cohort of some of the world’s most esteemed Muslim scholars have issued a point-by-point classical, scholarly refutation of ISIS and made it available in 10 languages.”
In a public lecture at Newington College broadcast on ABC Radio, Dr Carland points out that so few people know about such attempts because they are not reported.
In early 2015, the National Imams Consultative Forum, made up of leading imams and Islamic jurists and theologians from around Australia, released an important document, An Australian Muslim perspective on some key contemporary concerns. Despite the document’s importance it received little media attention.
The imams instruct that “the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasise that all human beings come from one family and that all of them have dignity that should be respected.” The imams also say it is “not permissible in Islam to harm or kill a person. God has forbidden killing a person whether he or she is a Muslim or non-Muslim.”
Regarding other religions, the imams recall how “Islam requires Muslims to interact with people of other faiths gently and fairly, to work with them for the common good, and to maintain good social and neighbourly relations with them.”
Despite a widespread misconception, Muslims “may not force anyone to convert to Islam; conversion by force is illegitimate under Islamic norms.” In fact, “Muslims have an obligation to protect the rights of non-Muslims … including the protection of persons, property, and places of worship.”
Addressing the complex issues of “caliphates”, “fatwas” and “Jihad” the imams stress that only in specific circumstances can these things come into being.
Referencing the “so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq” they note “conditions for its legitimacy have not been met … and therefore claims of this caliphate carry no authority,” as such “Australian Muslims … have no obligation or requirement to listen to or follow the dictates of the aforementioned caliphate.”
Similarly, “Muslims, who have had no in-depth knowledge or training in Islamic scholarship, in particular Islamic jurisprudence, have no authority to issue fatwas.”
Charles Sturt University’s Zuleyha Keskin at the recent Violence in the Name of Religion Conference at the Australian Catholic University (Melbourne), addressing the issue of radicalisation, noted “Muslim radicals have a further underlying driving force for their actions … a misinterpretation of their religion.”
She argued that groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and Al Qadea provide “distorted theological arguments” to justify their atrocities, atrocities that cannot be supported by the Qur’an or Islamic tradition.
“While addressing the social, political, emotional psychological causes of radicalism will have a positive effect,” she went on to explain, “they will fall short of fully addressing radicalism unless a theological counter narrative is provided.”
Muslims and people of other faiths need to be informed about the true teachings of Islam so the false ideology of terrorists can be overcome.
As regards ‘Muslims need not apply’, this is a deliberate misquoting of employment advertising of not so long ago in Australia. The actual line was ‘Catholics need not apply’.
Just as Catholics then found such discrimination, based on ignorance and prejudice, unjust, so too any attempt to promote such ill-informed prejudice towards Muslims in Australia today must be justly overcome.
Rev Walter Fogarty is the Chair of the Diocesan Interfaith Commission in the Diocese of Parramatta.