Honest dialogue

The starting point of any dialogue must be that the parties involved are committed to honesty. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but it is a point which seems to have escaped many. To illustrate, we may refer to an article which appeared in the Church Times during the Lambeth Conference in 1998, entitled, ‘When the chips are down’ (Margaret Duggan, 31 July 1998, p.4). In this article, the author summarises a speach given at the conference by Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Kaduna diocese in northern Nigeria, on dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Duggan makes no attempt in her article to verify the Bishops’s statements; it is a report of his speech, but it is clearly also more than that. Although statements about Muslims, the Qur’an or Islam are all attributed only to the Bishop, the causal reader will finish the article with an idea that he or she has an accurate representation of these matters. This is especially true since the source is said to have degrees in Islamic Studies.

My main objection is to the final paragraph which is the only link to the headline. Prior to this, the author cannot really be blamed for reporting another person’s perspective. Here, however, she can; she is positioning three unverified and unqualified statements to give us food for thought. We do not get analysis or a conclusion, but, rather, what is known in the study of the popular media as sensationalism. She writes:

Lying in the interests of the faith is allowed by the Qur’an, Dr. Idowu-Fearon said. “We are dealing with a religion that is adaptable.” Even with apparently moderate and friendly Muslims, “we know underneath that, if anything happens, they can kill.”

For someone who has degrees in Islamic studies, the first statement is remarkable. Muslims are required to be truthful at all times. The famous saying of Muhammad goes along the lines of, ‘Speak the truth even if it is against your own self.’ Lying, in Islam, is forbiden. The prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, ‘It is great treachery that you tell your brother something which he accepts as truth from you, but you are lying.’ Is there an exception? Yes there is. When Muhammad began his call to Islam, a young man named Ammar was amongst the first to accept the faith, followed soon by his father and mother. Abu Jahl, a man known for his great opposition to the Muslims, organised their torture to make them renounce their religion, but as the torture worsened, the three believers showed greater determination in adhering to their faith. Both of Ammar’s parents died as a result of the horrific torture which we could barely imagine. He himself resisted giving in to their demands that he should abuse Muhammad and worship two of their idols, until a day when he could bear the torture no more. With tears in his eyes, he went to see Muhammad, who asked him how he felt deep in his heart. When he replied that his faith was as firm as ever, he was instructed that he could say the words they wanted to hear, as long as he held certain faith in his heart. It is in such circumstances that an exception occurs. The claim that lying in the interests of faith is allowed, however, is, in itself, a lie.

I do not understand what is meant in the second statement, but the final sentence is clearly meant to frighten the reader the most: ‘Even with apparently moderate and friendly Muslims, “we know underneath that, if anything happens, they can kill.”’ This statement hardly encourages dialogue on the part of Christians with Muslims, for fear that they should accidently offend. The statement is again, in my opinion, a case of dishonesty (or at least manipulation) on the part of the source and maybe the author also.

The easy support for this view is to say, ‘Well, Mulims have the whole jihad thing.’ The purpose of jihad, however, is to remove tyranny and injustice from the land, for these are considered to be far worse than killing. In such circumstances, a Muslim may have to kill, but in this case they are bound by strict rules of conduct which far surpass the standards set in our day. Islam draws a clear line between combatants and non-combatants. There is no such thing as ‘collateral damage’ — the indiscriminate targeting of non-combatant civilians — in Islam. The idea of ‘total war’ in which a warring party gives itself the right to inflict total death and total damage upon its enemy is a concept that is alien to the ethics of jihad. Enemy soldiers are not to be killed by burning, nor cruelly, nor are they to be subjected to torture, nor put to death after being bound, and the dead are not to be mutilated. Muslim soldiers are not allowed to loot or touch any civilian or non-combatant property. They cannot slaughter their livestock for food, nor take the milk from their cattle, except with the permission of their owners. Fruit bearing trees may not be felled, nor their crops burnt or destroyed. Muslims may not fight without warning or ultimatum, or launch a nightly attack when people may be asleep.

None of this completes the list of restrictions placed upon a Muslim at war, but the fact remains that it is only in this situation that a Muslim is given permission to take another’s life. The greatest sins in Islam are to associate in worship something or someone with God and to kill a human being. In the Qur’an, God ‘decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul (in legal retribution for murder) or for corruption (done) in the land — it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one — it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.’ (5:32)

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