Religio pacis

“Two die in Belgian anti-terror raid.” … The headline is from the BBC website, yesterday, but these keywords could be found in breaking-news headlines all across Europe. (I checked.)

Gentle reader must have been wondering, who is it this time? The Buddhists, perhaps? (Mahayana or Theravada?) Jains? Angry rampaging Hindu swamis? Prim Confucians? Taoist anarchists? What about the Zoroastrians, we haven’t heard from them in a while. But it might be the Lutherans, no? Or the Presbyterians? High Church Anglicans? (I’ve looked into some of their eyes.) Hmm, but now I’m thinking, what about those Pentecostals? Baptists? Some other Fundamentalist Christians from Allah-bama and the Deep South? Hey wait, Belgium used to be a Catholic country, perhaps they were Latin Mass traditionalists? SSPiXies? Dominican monks? Third Order Franciscans? On the other hand, Secular Humanists would be statistically more likely. Wiccans? Druids? Nudists? Maybe we should bet long-shot on Animists of some sort, from the former Belgian Congo. Or from New Guinea: could be, you never know these days.

Well, the answer caught everyone by surprise. Muslims: can you believe it?

As some wag in Washington recently responded, to another “religion of peace” muttering from on high: “How odd that so many are killing for it.”

A correspondent in Alexandria-by-Egypt reminds of Christians slaughtered and churches trashed in his town not so long ago, after rumours circulated that a Coptic priest had said, “Islam is a violent religion.” Turned out he hadn’t said that. But whatever it was, he won’t be saying it again.

The media have thoughtfully spared us from reports of demonstrations in the Muslim world in support of recent actions in Paris, which involved the “execution” of several French cartoonists who had drawn vile, blasphemous pictures of their Prophet Jesus, and his Mother Mary. Also, of the Prophet Muhammad. The media don’t want to abet prejudice against any particular religious community; and Islam is what they mean by “particular.”

There are many “moderate Muslims,” according to the same authorities. If I were a peaceful Muslim — and look out, I’m not — I’d be positively irritated by this patronizing expression. I’d want them to think me an extreme Muslim, like the wonderful Sufi fellow who did the linen on my floor in a Cairo hotel, a few years ago. I could tell he was a religious nutjob, from an aura of sanctity about him. In every free moment he was lost in prayer. When he smiled, one felt that Allah were smiling on one. (The word means “God” in Arabic, and is used by Christians and Muslims alike.)

Or when I went to interview the late Sheikh Tantawi, master of al-Azhar and highest Islamic authority in that country, I was told, “Islam is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of love.” He confirmed that the terrorists err on important points of Islamic doctrine, such as condemnation of suicide and murder. He told me he played golf with the Coptic Pope. Around him, I also detected a certain serenity. He was gracious, and patient, as if he had all the time in the world. He was worried that my tea-glass was empty. He understood I was writing for Canadian newspapers. About five times he told me, lest our translator missed a beat, “Please, give my greetings and my love to Canada.” He said it must be a very fine country; so many Muslims told him they had been welcomed there.

An imam in Lahore, Pakistan, told me back in the 1990s that his country and the whole world was going to Hell. There were many things wrong, but the worst things seemed to be happening in Islam. There were very devils running about, and they were inflaming ignorant people. He helped me to remember imams glimpsed in my youth, who were like old-fashioned Anglican vicars. From the minbar of the mosque on Fridays they would tell the people, “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal. Be kind to children and animals. Take care of your family. Say your prayers!”

I have, in fact, met and known so many decent and lovable Muslims, that I’m incapable of consigning the whole lot of them to the flames of Gehenna. But of course I am a religious nutjob myself, who has bought into all the orthodox, Catholic, Christian theological positions. Candidly — and please don’t tell anyone — I think most Muslims are better than their religion. And in the West, that we have a religion that is better than we are.

It is obvious, to those who can read, which passages from the Koran could be used to inflame ignorant people. It is further obvious, at least to me, that sophistical games are being played, when earlier passages begging for reason and tolerance (“there is no compulsion in religion”) may be negated by many dozen later “sword verses” used to justify a violent Jihad. We won’t go into that today. Gentle reader should get his hands on so fine a book as that of Jacques Jomier, OP: The Bible and the Koran (1959; translated to English, 1964). A learned man, and a reasonable soul, who had spent much of his life among Muslims, he explored the “problem” in a way not clouded by the wrath of many Western commentators, who inflame ignorant people in their own way.

To my mind, the best thing we can do for terrorists is track them down, and catch or kill them. But there remains the issue of Islam-at-large. There are more than a billion of those Muslims, and as Burke said, “I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people.” Neither do I.

The topic is broad enough to return to.