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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fight terrorism and extremism from the pulpit

QUESTION TIME | The source of terrorism and its forerunner, extremism, is often the pulpit - the wrong kind - which propagates hate and animosity against other religions and people, which teaches that killing and dying for one’s religion gives all kinds of rewards in the afterworld, some not even permitted to pious followers in the here and now.
It is this kind of ridiculous belief spread by extremists and terrorists in the guise of religious leaders that convinces otherwise ordinary folk into spasmodic, suicidal and utterly senseless violent acts against totally innocent people.
They are hoping that rewards await them after they die, committing what they perceive to be a heroic act of martyrdom in defence of the religion when they are actually brutal, barbaric, thoughtless, indefensible acts which strike at anyone within range without discrimination.
The most recent example of this was in London where three terrorists used a van to plough through pedestrians on London Bridge and then disembarked a short distance away at the Borough market slashing out with knives, killing seven people in all and injuring nearly 50, some seriously. They were gunned down by police barely eight minutes after their act of carnage began.
They called out that they were doing this for Allah. Moderate Islamists tell us this is not the true face of Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace and does not condone the killing of innocent people. Indeed, it is time for this message to be spread through the mosques and by those who take to the pulpits - that it is against Islam to kill people indiscriminately and to clearly state that it is certainly not jihad and that the religion believes such perpetrators will be severely punished in the afterlife for their actions.
As the violence emanates from the pulpit - some of it at least - then it is the pulpit which must make the change by re-educating misguided Muslims who take to the street with bombs, guns, vehicles, knives and anything else to kill in the name of Islam.
Perhaps things are beginning to change. The Independent of UK reported recently that a group of over 130 imams and religious leaders in UK have refused to perform the traditional Islamic funeral prayer for the London Bridge attackers. The leaders said they would not carry out the ritual that is normally performed for every Muslim, regardless of their actions. The leaders said they would not carry out the ritual that is normally performed for every Muslim, regardless of their actions.
In an unprecedented move, the group said in a statement on social media: “Consequently, and in light of other such ethical principles which are quintessential to Islam, we will not perform the traditional Islamic funeral prayer over the perpetrators and we also urge fellow imams and religious authorities to withdraw such a privilege. This is because such indefensible actions are completely at odds with the lofty teachings of Islam.”
Some extracts from the strongly-worded statement:
“We are deeply hurt that a spate of terror attacks has been committed in our country once more by murderers who seek to gain religious legitimacy for their actions. We seek to clarify that their reprehensible actions have neither legitimacy nor our sympathy.
“Though at no time is it acceptable that such ruthless violence was perpetrated during the season of Ramadan, in which Muslims worldwide focus on pious devotion, prayer, charity and the cultivation of good character, demonstrates how utterly misguided and distant the terrorists are from our faith and the contempt which they hold for its values.
“Alongside our friends and neighbours, we mourn this attack on our home, society and people, and feel pain for the suffering of the victims and their families. We pray to God that the perpetrators be judged in accordance with the gravity of their crimes in the hereafter. Their acts and willful dismissal of our religious principles alienate them from any association with our community for whom the inviolability of every human life is the founding principle (Q.5:32).
“These vile murderers seek to divide our society and instil fear; we will ensure they fail. We implore everyone to unite: we are one community. In the face of such dastardly cowardice, unlike the terrorists, we must uphold love and compassion.
“Such criminals defile the name of our religion and of our Prophet, who was sent to be a mercy to all creation.”
This is about the strongest condemnation of violence in the name of Islam that I have read anywhere and sets the correct tone towards overturning the righteousness of those who preach violence and mayhem in the name of religion.
Fomenting hate
While this is a welcome move to fight terror in the name of religion, there is also a need to act against those who preach hatred and violence from the pulpit, who inculcate belief in the ignorant that there will be massive rewards for indiscriminate violence in the name of religion in heaven.
Thus, all religious denominations should be willing to let their sermons and lectures in their places of worship to be monitored so that those who urge violence, irrespective of religion, are arrested and the full weight of the law brought to bear upon them. In fact, there is a clear case for increasing penalties for such offences.
While Malaysia has been fortunate that such cases of terrorism have been rare here, we must not rest. All of the measures which have been taken elsewhere and can be taken equally apply here.
I remember way back in the 80s when Islamic fundamentalism began to creep in into all areas of life here as our clerics were educated overseas at various places, standing on the porch of a friend’s place and listening to a sermon from a nearby mosque which I could clearly hear word for word.
It happened to be Thaipusam on that day. The imam ridiculed the Hindu practice of putting ash on their foreheads as part of prayer. I can’t remember the exact words but he referred to the cow as a stupid animal and that it was ridiculous to consider the ashes of burnt dung from the cow as holy.
This is not the place to defend such a practice, and I am not sure I am the person qualified to do that. The point is way back then such extreme ridiculing of other religions and faith have been taking place and serves to inculcate in some vulnerable Muslims a loathing of people of other faiths.
Monitoring of sermons in our mosques - and other places of worship too - should be done and strong action taken against those who spread intolerance towards other religions, and violence in the name of religion.
The rule of law must be held uppermost under all situations and circumstances, religious or otherwise, and no threats against other religions and communities should be tolerated no matter from where it comes. That’s the only guarantee against extremism and eventual terrorism.
Also, our places of worship should be used to spread the message that it is absolutely wrong to kill in the name of religion and that those who do so will be punished for their sins as prescribed in the religion, never rewarded.

P GUNASEGARAM says more people have been persecuted and killed in the name of religion and God over the years than anything else. Email: t.p.guna@gmail.com.- Mkini

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