Barnabas edit: Islam in crisis?

December 11, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

IslamAfrica, December 04, 2014: Two brutal attacks by Al-Shabaab on Christians in Kenya have followed quickly on the heels of one another, with up to 64 people shot or beheaded because they refused to recite the Islamic creed.  Meanwhile Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria are so many it is getting hard to keep up with the news, let alone tally the number of dead.  In both these contexts Christians are one of the prime targets, as zealous Islamists seek to extend their rule, believing that this is what their God demands.

On a smaller scale, but even more horrifying, was the mob lynching of a Christian couple in Pakistan, thrown alive into the furnace of the brick kiln where they worked.  Again it was a religious motivation that prompted the frenzied attack, because of a rumour that the wife had desecrated pages of the Quran.

Such examples are multiplied across the world.  Although Barnabas Fund works all out to try to help victims of anti-Christian violence, how much better it would be if the violence itself could be halted so there were no victims needing aid.

This week I have attended a conference of progressive, liberal Arab Muslim scholars, who are seeking to reform Islam to make it into a truly peaceful religion, taking its place harmoniously alongside others in our multi-faith modern world.  These courageous men and women put their lives at risk to make known their views.   As was pointed out very clearly at the conference, it is the theology and ideology of Islamist militants that drive them; their killings are not wanton depravity but completely legitimate according to the doctrines they have been taught.

Such teaching is exactly what the progressive scholars would like to counter, by means of fresh interpretations of the Islamic sources that emphasise the peaceable teachings rather than the belligerent ones that urge and model hatred, intolerance and violence. Their writings, and those of other like-minded Muslims, have now been published in a book which I have had the privilege of co-editing.

Very little is heard of such scholars, despite their learning and their boldness.  They have no funding to get their message across.  They are not asked to advise government and security. They are not invited to international inter-religious conferences where extremism is discussed. They are left to fend for themselves and to try to influence as best they can. One spoke of how he had been threatened and there was no protection.

All the scholars were agreed that the voices of the extremists are increasing rather than decreasing, and that it is the extremist ideas which are taking root, not the liberal ideas. This does not bode well for the future.  However much Muslim leaders have denounced extremism and organisations like Islamic State, they remain faced with the fact that many, including their young people, are moving in the opposite direction.

The Christians living in Muslim-majority countries are faced now, not just with marginalisation, discrimination, alienation or harassment, but with sheer brutality threatening their very existence.  And this is not the only context where Christians face such pressure. A Christian leader in India recently compared the situation of Christians in that country to living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s because the present political leadership is seeking to eradicate Christianity from India.

In places like Sri Lanka and in some other Buddhist-majority countries, Christians face similar problems.  Whether it be religion of its most extreme form or developing nationalism, Christians find themselves increasingly at risk.  Thankfully governments have now recognised this, and the media have now taken up this cause.

Christian leaders, however, lag behind. As to solutions, few know what to do, for Christians have no guns (thankfully), no power, no oil.  This renders them not only defenceless, but also economically irrelevant to the West and therefore not worth defending.

And yet, in the midst of it all, there is God, who remains in control of the nations, who holds His people in His hands and will control their ultimate destiny.  As we move towards Christmas and think of the coming of the Messiah, we remember also that He came into a dark world where His advent saw the massacring of little children. But we remember that He is a god of justice, who has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly (Luke 1:52).

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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