Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh on the 21 Martyrs in Libya

Arabic original here.  In a similar vein, I'd highly recommend reading these two articles recently published in The Atlantic: What Isis Really Wants and Why Obama Won't Talk about Islamic Terrorism.

The Innocence of Islam, not of Islamic Institutions

The apologetic and justificatory rhetoric has become repugnant. The excuse has become more vile than the crime. The pictures of imams and patriarchs coming together have become unconvincing... What happened in Libya-- and before that in every part of this suffering Middle East-- cannot be confronted with a parroted rhetoric about religions' not being responsible for the spread of terrorism in our lands. If it is axiomatic to say that religions are not responsible, this in no way means that religious institutions and their leaders are not responsible for the growth of extremism and the rejection of those who are different, even if they belong to the same religion.

If it is true to assert that Islam is innocent of the crimes and atrocities of ISIS, religious institutions that have not  undertaken their duty to disseminate a culture of mutual respect and total equality between Christians and Muslims are responsible for the dissemination of the culture of religious hatred and rejection of people of other religions and creeds. These same institutions are likewise responsible for disseminating a culture of hatred between sects of Islam, since they have not done enough to eliminate the causes of religious divisions and disagreements between Muslims themselves.

What we are witnessing today is nothing other than the outcome of decades of extremist religious thought. For about half a century, we have been witnessing the spread of takfiri religious discourse and the proliferation of movements that use violence in order to realize their goals. The writings of Sayyed Qutb (the Egyptian thinker executed in 1966) have contributed to the rise of an Islamic ideology that justifies declaring societies that do not rely upon Islamic law in their governance to be unbelievers  and adopting terror as the sole way of arrive at that to which they aspire.

The spread and expansion of ISIS is nothing other than the inevitable rise of this takfiri Islam and of the inability of the official religious institutions to confront takfiri thinking with thinking that is open to modernity. The gate of ijtihad is shut, even if the opposite has been said. Until the present, the state governs its Coptic citizens according to laws and decrees that go back to the days of the Ottoman Empire... As for the religious institutions subject to the current regime, they are silent about the injustice affecting their partners in the nation and make no effort to produce modern legal rulings based on total equality of rights and obligations between Muslims and non-Muslims. We have, for example, the restrictions placed on permission for building churches and the tremendous conveniences for building mosques as a glaring example of the disparity of treatment.

Yes, Christians are the people of the Word [al-Kalima]. They are the people of Jesus Christ and His closest friends. Thus, they are the people of woundedness, and in Arabic al-kalm means "wound". They are neither the people of a book nor dhimmis and they are not pleased with being under anyone's protection [Arabic: dhimma]. However, they realized that they are called to be witnesses to the Word in these blessed lands, even if this requires blood, suffering, torments, and forever-open wounds.

In the context of the dogma of the redemption, the Christian tradition believes that Christ "was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." Even though it is recognized by Christians that Christ is the only redeemer, Middle Eastern Christians are called today to become words, to become wounds that wipe away the sins and transgressions of this Middle East. They heal it through their suffering in all their tragedies, wars and woes and they spread peace wherever they are found. Only then can Christians celebrate Christ's rising from the dead and so too celebrate their own rising from the hell surrounding them on every side.

The sight of the 21 martyrs has reminded us of the prophecy of Isaiah, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). The Christian tradition is unanimous in saying that this prophecy was realized when Jesus Christ was crucified, as He is the slaughtered lamb who redeemed the world with His blood. However, Christ said to His apostles that their fate would not be better than His fate: "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2). Blessed are they. They were led like their Master to martyrdom and have passed from life to life.

The martyrs who watered the soil of Libya with their innocent blood have realized within themselves the words of the Psalmist when he said, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright" (Psalm 20:8-9). Indeed, they have risen and stand upright in the presence of God. As for the Christians, the descendents of the martyrs and saints, they must stand firm where they are-- geographically, religiously, morally and culturally-- until the trial has passed. This is their life-giving cross, so let them bear it. The resurrection is coming, without a doubt, and it has come.

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