Countering Violence

I am a Columban missionary priest. I have been promoting good relations with Muslims for over thirty years in Pakistan and Australia.  Yet I feel dispirited by events in Egypt and Syria which seemingly confirm the popular stereotype of Muslims as violent terrorists.  

If a committed activist for Christian-Muslim relations like myself can feel discouraged, then how much more dispirited must a Muslim feel? I am a concerned bystander; but his religion has been misused; her scripture twisted; his role model distorted beyond recognition; her tradition subjected to public disgrace; he is dismayed at the violence done falsely in his name; she is appalled by the senselessness that shames her genuine devotion.

columban countering violence
I can feel smug and self-righteous—my religion has not been involved (this time)!—but the Muslim must protest the violence, fend off suspicions, defend against slurs, all the while feeling sick at heart. It is a heavy burden to bear.

Some Muslims feel ostracised by the suspicion and negative stereotyping. Tragically, this makes them vulnerable to being radicalised. Others protest rightly that terrorism is contrary to clear Quranic and Islamic teaching - but sometimes their counter-presentation of Islam is so idealised that it not credible.

Islam emerged in 7th century Arabia as a religious movement calling people to be mindful of God’s judgement and to treat others justly. This challenged the wealth and privilege of the Meccan elite.  When beatings, imprisonment, exile, bribery and boycott failed to stamp out the challenge, the Meccans resorted to full-scale military expeditions. Outnumbered, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers had to defend themselves in pitched battles. So of course there are militant texts in the Qur’an! But often overlooked are their directions on the conduct of battle—that taking up arms is a last resort, innocent civilians are not to be attacked, arms are to be put down at the first prospect of peace, and so on—all of which are intended to curb violence, not promote it.

Some non-Muslims go to another extreme. They blame Islam as the root cause of the violence, adducing other “violent” texts from the Qur’an to make their case, taking them out of their context and interpreting them literally.  They too are attempting to preserve an ideal, that of the superiority of “Western” civilization, projecting all evil onto the Muslim “other”, thus denying any complicity or responsibility for the political, social and economic woes which fuel Muslim resentment and which extremists exploit in their resort to violence.

The reality is more complex and lies in between these two extremes. There is no monolithic “Western” civilization, nor is there a single Islamic “world”. There are many societies, each a product of different cultures, religions, languages, ethnicities and histories, each of them a mix of good and evil. To sift them requires attentive listening and discernment.

Most Muslims simply get on with life, sometimes fearful, keeping a low profile in an occasionally hostile social environment. They work for justice, promote good, oppose evil, practise virtue, build relations with their neighbours, provide for the poor, care for creation, all in accord with the religious and moral teachings of Islam. They deserve our solidarity, support and encouragement.  

To this end, I am encouraged by the many people of good will, Muslim and Christian and other faiths, who refuse to be cowed by events and persevere in doing good, building relations, weaving a peaceful, harmonious society. I am inspired by the humble example of Pope Francis, who on Holy Thursday washed the feet of a Muslim woman juvenile detainee. The Lord has commanded us to do likewise.

Fr Patrick McInerney is the Director of Christian-Muslim Relations at the Columban Mission Institute in Strathfield, NSW.

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Comments (5)

  1. Gary Dargan:
    Sep 25, 2013 at 04:55 PM

    Countering violence: Thank you for your thoughts about the issue of Muslims acting violently in contradiction to the teachings of Islam. Empathy and understanding like yours is sorely needed. I despair whenever Muslims carry out senseless acts of violence and Islam is falsely indicted along with them. Their actions are not representative of the Islam I follow. I also despair when I have to defend my beliefs against unwarranted attacks when what I really want to do is condemn the atrocities committed.I despaired at the recent bombing attack on Christian worshipers in Pakistan and condemn it just as I condemn those who attacked Malala Yousafzei. Violence against others is universally wrong no matter what religion the perpetrators or the victims profess. There is no justification for this sort of criminal behaviour.As you rightly pointed out such broad brush criticism of Islam and all Muslims opens the gate to radicalising Muslims. Young adult Muslims in particular. I have been a Muslim for 27 years now. I have weathered the storm of September 11 and the two Bali bombings. I have seen these misused as a rallying cry by haters on both sides. Sadly I have also seen these misused by government to legislate away our basic rights and freedoms all in the name of protecting us from a version of Islam and Muslims that has been reduced to a one-dimensional cartoon. At my age and with my life experience I still have to check myself when the constant attacks on my religion cause me to feel some misdirected empathy for the perpetrators of unspeakable violence solely because those who attack them also attack me. I much prefer to spend my energy building bridges and promoting understanding than defending the indefensible. I pray that your efforts promoting understanding and solidarity bring success.


    Oct 10, 2013 at 06:13 PM

    Thank you: Thank's for publishing this F. Patrick. :)


  3. Joseph:
    Sep 26, 2013 at 02:56 PM

    Countering Violence: Father Patrick, your article is a balanced, comprehensive, summary in surprisingly few words for such a topic. It helps that, in my case, you are preaching to the converted.I believe that God saw the need of the people of Arabia & sent the Prophet Muhammad to them as being culturally relevant, just as earlier he had sent his own son, Jesus Christ, to the Jews & Gentiles.Most of what is considered to be the evils of Islam is really the views of the then Ruling Class corrupted to their advantage, the status of women for example.As a former agnostic, & one who still has trouble with love of & trust in God, I understand your feeling of being dispirited, but the answer is in your own article, which ultimately, is really quite positive, & reinforced by the belief that God's will will be done & that the present situation is part of God's plan for the salvation of all believers regardless of their religion.However for me, there is a dichotomy between what my heads sees as abstract faith & the feelings of my heart. Pray for me!


  4. Pat Hurley:
    Sep 26, 2013 at 06:47 PM

    Just a question, please: Do Islamic Leaders here in Sydney condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by those who call themselves 'Islamic'? If they do, are they not properly reported in the media? Or do I fail to see them?

    Last Edit: 29 Nov, 2013, 01:43:00 by Columban Missionaries


    1. St Columbans Mission:
      Nov 29, 2013 at 02:19 PM

      Hi Pat.

      Yes, Muslim leaders do speak out against violence committed by extremist elements in their own community. And yes, those statements are under-reported. However, Muslim leaders should not be expected to speak out against every violent act committed by radicals elements in their community, just as no Christian leader is accountable for the bad behaviour of Christians in Australia and around the world. Christians, Muslims, Jews, all leaders of faith communities and secular leaders need to be united in their condemnation of violent, criminal behaviour. It is never justified or condoned by the authentic teachings of any religion.

      Hope that answers your questions.

      Yours faithfully,

      Fr Patrick McInerney


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