“A small group of supporters of the English Defence League gathered at the scene of the brutal killing of a soldier in Woolwich. Their leader, Tommy Robinson, stated: "They're chopping our soldiers' heads off. This is Islam. That's what we've seen today.”
This is not Islam. This is not the behaviour of the majority of Muslims. They are just as horrified as everyone else. This is stereotyping at its worst. This is the action of two people – not a whole faith community - two people who are extremists wound up by another extremist Muslim cleric.
Breaking into mosques or burning copies of the Qu’ran is only going to add fuel to the fire of mistrust. It’s not going to bring about healing between two groups of very different people. It is certainly not going to bring an end to terrorist activities.
I don’t think people simply wake up one morning and decide they are going to attack and chop someone’s head off. There is always a context that people never really consider. Things don’t often happen as isolated events – there is always a before, a something or a series of events that lead to the conclusion. Our trouble is that we make no attempt to see the big picture. We treat the atrocity as a one-off and because we don’t deal with the big picture other similar events happen. We punish the offender and call him an animal, but we don’t look for real beast in the background.
People’s knowledge about Islam is not great. My knowledge about Islam is not great either. I recently watched a cartoon version of the life of Muhammad. It was told in a way that would cause no offence to the Muslim community. The Qur’an forbids pictures or images of Muhammad, so the story was told through the experiences of his followers.
It was a cartoon designed for younger viewers than me, but even so it seems to me Islam did not slip easily into the world. It was like a breech birth, full of difficulty. I dare say you could say that about most religions. Christianity didn’t have an easy birth either. Muhammad had his difficulties trying to persuade a very immoral society that following the Qur’an was the right thing to do. There seemed to be a lot battles and bloodshed.
Very often you can see the parent in the child. Apparently, according to some people, I have my mother’s nose, simply because I don’t have my father’s nose. My brother has my father’s nose. Apparently I have my father’s nature. I am a dreamer but not very practical. My brother is more like my mum because he is very practical and hands on. It’s not just the physical things we pass on. We pass on character.
Both Christianity and Islam have very shady episodes in their histories. It is not a case of one is bad and the other is good. Bad and good can be demonstrated by anyone of any faith or none.
Muhammad and his followers during his life, not just his followers after his death, seemed to be swift to fight. The people living in Makkah were given very little choice about Islam. Yes, I know that Christians did it too – forced people into a faith they did not really want. We Christians have dirty hands. But, whatever Jesus’ followers have done, Jesus never forced faith on to people. Jesus turned down many opportunities to use weapons to get his way.
Muhammad was, perhaps, forced into a battle to ensure that Islam grew and flourished. Being birthed in battle is it not possible the battle-gene, as it were, is what characterises Islam? That is not to say that Muslims are incapable of kindness or goodness – but that perhaps their default setting is for battle.
Jesus did not take up weapons to ensure Christianity was established. He did not fight. He laid down his life. His crucifixion is seen not as a failure, but a victory over sin and death. Being birthed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, is it not possible that Christianity ought not to possess a battle-gene when it comes to faith? It should be love and self-sacrifice, agape love that characterises Christianity. That is not to say that Christians are incapable of cruelty and selfishness – but the default setting ought to be love.
It’s probably not that simple. If we acted according to a default setting then none of us are responsible for what we do. I just wish we could put our best selves on display regardless of what faith we are.