Let’s Not Be Silent Anymore
By Dr. Nazir Khaja
Los Angeles, CA
It has been
over a week since Taleban militants abducted 23
South Korean Christians in insurgency-prone Ghazni
province. The church group was on its way allegedly
to provide free medical services to poor Afghan
citizens when their bus was hijacked. The leader
of the aid group and another member of the group
have been killed. The kidnapping is the largest
abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the
fall of the Taleban regime in 2001. By their acts
of violence the Taleban and other extremists capture
headlines and leave to the rest of the world an
impression of Islam that is of a band of primitive
tribesman or a religion unable to hold its zealots
in check, cruel and barbaric.
Like Christianity, Judaism, and other religions,
Islam is what its adherents understand it to be.
This is largely determined by what its religious
leaders interpret the religious texts to mean. Christianity
and Judaism over their long history and despite
bitter struggles within have evolved their own system
of an understanding of faith based on ethical/moral
values. These can be easily understood and accepted
by lay people and are not entirely dependent on
the interpretations of the clerics.
Islam unfortunately remains at the mercy of clerics
who interpret each and every aspect of life on this
earth, and even the Hereafter! This is a major source
of confusion and conflict within Islam as we look
at the daily reports on sectarian and other forms
of violence in the Muslim world. The Muslim masses
remain vulnerable to exploitation by the clerics
and their interpretations of the texts. For the
Korean evangelists, they may have a fervent faith
but some in their own society also see them as pawns
in a competition among churches. The competition
feeds fund-raising for missionary expeditions that
also serves the coffers of the sponsoring church.
These are the new moneychangers on the temple steps.
In ancient times, Jesus chased them away as they
were not holy. Certainly the photo opportunity before
the warning signs about Afghanistan in the Seoul
airport foments media-grabbing sensationalism while
foretelling a folly.
The ultra conservative Taleban are prevalent along
the region traveled by the evangelists. Their understanding
of Islam and also of the world we live in is at
best primitive, if not barbaric. What did the evangelists
surmise as the logical possibilities? Could they
not see they risked their own and others’
injury or death? Nonetheless they ventured forward,
not respecting the expressed wishes of those they
hoped to influence.
In all analysis, cultural appreciation, pragmatism,
and consistency in thought and deed of expressed
faith, the South Koreans’ zealous behavior
was catalytic to a crisis where no more is needed.
They risk not only their lives but innocents surrounding
the crisis situation and those who they came to
save into their faith. The Taleban’s response
was consistent with their past record of intolerance.
Their destruction of the historic Buddhas of Bamiyan
a few years back is but only one of several examples
of their medieval mindset and behavior.
They reacted predictably to a group of religious
fanatics with their own fanaticism. The Taleban
do not understand that death and capture are not
the best means of confronting a challenge to one’s
faith. The strength of one’s faith and the
common sense to see something for what it is should
be the basis for challenge.
Physical confrontation is not necessary. The Holy
Qur’an says, “If anyone killed a person,
unless it was for murder or spreading mischief on
earth, it would be as if he killed all of mankind.
And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he
had saved the lives of all mankind.” (5:32).
Killing is unacceptable. Islam emphasizes tolerance,
inviting others to lead peaceful lives within the
societies based on their own law and tenets. Within
Islam, hostage taking, suicide, or terrorist attacks
are not permitted. They are considered a great sin.
To take innocent persons hostage by availing of
some opportunity and then bargaining with their
lives is entirely against Islamic teaching.
This practice was prevalent in ancient times but
unfortunately it has currently assumed a tactical
form. This is a great sin and cowardice and is entirely
forbidden in Islam. Muslims have been forbidden
to attack innocent civilians; they have not even
been permitted to kill an unarmed soldier in wartime.
The mores of Islam are to treat visitors with respect
and grace. Violence is not how one deals with difference.
The teachings of the Qur’an are interpreted
at times differently among Muslims but there is
common respect for the guest from other lands. In
any group, our brothers and sisters define who we
are. We must take responsibility to not tolerate
aberrant conduct should it become the collective
reputation of the group.
Christianity needs to bring realism to evangelism
that has devolved to competition in fund-raising
and mitigates common sense.
Muslims need to set the expectation that visitors
of different faiths are tolerated and even in the
face of evangelism or any other religious challenge
Islam can hold its own with its inner strength rather
than by its followers to react in anger and violence.
Too much of the world is now poised for conflict.
In the media, specific acts of violence capture
attention and polarize. In place of dealing with
the real challenges before all humankind such as
epidemic disease, sustaining the environment, realizing
welfare and education for all, and conflict resolution
based on justice from the home to nation-states,
we engage in wars without purpose or end. How much
of energy in celebrating Him is diluted to the distraction
of these episodes? Where would God prefer us to
spend our lives? The Taleban must release the hostages
immediately and provide the ill ones necessary medical
care. The Koreans must not get carried away in their
missionary zeal to put not only themselves in harm’s
way but put others at risk.
The majority of Muslims believe in an Islam that
is in accord with the civilized, humanitarian and
tolerant values and norms of this world. Their voices
need to be heard. It is not just the Koreans who
are being held hostage; it is also the spirit of
Islam that is being held hostage. Let’s not
be silent anymore.
(Dr. Nazir Khaja is chairman of the Los Angeles-based
Information Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.