The Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine is rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Waynesboro, Virginia. A native Pakistani, he holds an extensive resume in interfaith work. He has traveled recently to several nations experiencing religious violence, including the Sudan and Pakistan. Canon Augustine also serves as chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia's
Companion for World Mission commission.
"How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nation! She weeps bitterly in the night." Lamentations 1:1 On September 11, we saw hate in action, as devastation and destruction came to cities of the United States. The blood of the innocent and the dust and debris of steel, cement and ashes from the sacrifice of burnt human bodies in the inferno of fanatical terror ultimately engulfed all humanity. It was a sad day in human history when misguided zealots in the name of religion attacked innocent lives. The name of the God of Abraham, Moses, Muhammad and the Father of Jesus Christ was desecrated and used by these persons in vain. In the wink of an eye, precious lives were lost, children became orphans, wives became widows, and God was portrayed as a God of hatred and destruction. Our brothers and sisters of the Islamic communities have been embarrassed. These heinous and dastardly acts do no service to Islam or any other religion.
The God we know from Torah, Injeel (The Gospel) and Qur'an is a God of mercy, forgiveness and love.Jesus Christ commands: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)" Likewise, Holy Qur'an teaches: "Verily, those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:62)".
The trail of terror does not end in New York or Washington. Now the United States' mighty forces are at war because war has been declared on the United States. Their mission is to destroy the center of terrorism. Afghanistan is under attack. Innocent Afghans will suffer and more are being displaced in refugee camps. This is the price of war. During these days of human suffering, we have also found the blessings of God Almighty, the Merciful and All Compassionate. His reconciling Spirit has brought people of faith to hold peace prayer vigils. Muslims, Christians and Jews have held hands together as children of God and wrapped arms of love around each other. Here in the United States we have heard churches, mosques and synagogues pledge to unite and work in unity for peace among the human family.
Two days after September 11, I was invited to speak at St. Paul's Episcopal High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Two of the children had lost their fathers in the World Trade Center. These young students had written prayers to be offered during the morning worship in their church. I heard prayers for forgiveness for the perpetrators of violence, for God's compassion for the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, and for peace among all religions. Children prayed the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interfaith meeting in London, said, "As we battle with evil, our goal must be a world where such violence is a thing of the past. Acts of terrorism negate the tenets of Islam. We are called to build bridges, not walls."
Dr. Zaki Badawi, Chairman of the Imams and Mosque Council of United Kingdom, signed a joint letter with leaders of faith communities. It reads, "We share a belief in God's compassionate love and a commitment to cherish and respect our common humanity."
Tarek E. Masoud, a young Muslim Arab graduate student at Yale wrote, "As it becomes ever more apparent that our co-religionists have visited slaughter upon our compatriots, so many of us want to declare from the rooftops our allegiance to this great nation, to show our solidarity with our fellow citizens, and to join the fight against our common enemy." Peace is possible and justice can be gained only provided we as faith communities unite against the tyranny of hatred, violence and injustice. Would we ever have thought that such strong evil forces of apartheid in South Africa could be brought to justice?
The enemy lives within us. It is hatred, violence and fanaticism that dehumanize our humanity. It has caused many black Tuesdays in human history. Countless lives have been destroyed. The present examples include Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan and Palestine. These are both Christian and Muslim communities. Peace is possible and justice can be gained only provided we as faith communities unite against the tyranny of hatred, violence and injustice. Would we ever have thought that such strong evil forces of apartheid in South Africa could be brought to justice? It was achieved when people of all faiths joined together to free South Africa from a tyrannical rule of a small racist white minority. If we as faith communities fail to speak against crimes against humanity, against injustice and bigotry, then we fail to live according to the precepts of our living faiths. We cannot continue to be spectators of these brutal and dastardly acts of vengeance and violence. The perpetrators were incited to believe that it is a "holy war" between Christians and Muslims.
Our message as people of faith is that we are all children of God. God wants us to live in peace and harmony. Dare not call us infidels! We are "people of the Book." Allah commends to Muslims, "So, if you (Muhammad) are in doubt concerning that which We have revealed unto you then ask these who are reading the Book (the Torah and the Injeel [Gospel]) before you. Verily the truth has come to you from thy Lord.
So be not of those who doubt. (Surat Yunus 10:94)" This is not war between Christians and Muslims. There is no Christian nation in the West and not one single church propagating such hateful and violent messages. Christian and Muslims have lived together for fourteen hundred years. Many Christians belong to ancient churches and in some countries the Christian presence is older than the Muslim. In Egypt, for example, there are approximately eight million Christians, most of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The word Copt simply means "Egyptian" (Greek Aiguptios, Arabic Qubti). Ancient churches like the Chalcedonian and Nestorian churches have been present in Syria, Iran, Iraq, India and Palestine pre-Islam. Pakistan's ancient city of Taxila has the ruins of St. Thomas' preaching room. Both of our faith
communities have been in relationship for a very long time.
The first Muslim state was established in Medina and Christian and Jews were there. And when Prophet Muhammad was living in Mecca, and the infidels (not Christians) were persecuting his first followers, the Prophet asked some of his believers to go to Abyssinia, which was ruled by a kind Christian king.
And they went to live a happy life there. The infidels of Mecca followed them. They said, "Oh, give our men back to us."
He said, "No, I'm a just king. I will not give you these men. I'll ask them why you have come to me." And they recited the Surah Mariam of the Holy Qur'an. And when they recited the verses of Holy Qura'n, the Christian king, picked up a straw and said, "Holy Christ is neither less nor more than what you have described." Our relationship is further attested, "Verily, you will find strongest among men in enmity to the believers (Muslims) the Jews and those who are Al Mushrikun, and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say:"We are Christians." That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud. (Surah Al Maidah 5:82)"
Islam took rise in a predominantly Christian environment. This means that both Islam and Christianity have been aware of each other's existence from the very inception of Islam as an organized religion.
Islam took rise in a predominantly Christian environment. This means that both Islam and Christianity have been aware of each other's existence from the very inception of Islam as an organized religion. There has been, in short, a situation of encounter if not always of dialogue. The Qur'an, as we have seen, takes a polemical attitude vis-a-vis Christianity on certain matters, but in other matters it is eirenical in spirit. On the Christian side, we find that eminent Christian apologists such as St. John of Damascus and Nestorian Patriarch Timothy maintained excellent relations with their Muslim rulers and yet, at the same time, made a vigorous defense of the Christian faith vis-a-vis Islam. In our present day the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have visited and invited the Grand Muftis of Alhazar, Cairo, and Damascus. There is an active attempt to work to create harmony among members of the human family.
The September 11 attack has stirred lot of emotions among our faith communities. Some of our Muslim brothers and sisters have been racially profiled in the West. My family and I have lived these days with some fear. We must ask, however, whether this policy is a product of prejudice or experience and may therefore constitute reasonable security measures.
Christian leaders have issued many statements in support of the Islamic community now living in the West. Churches in the West have always offered their sacred spaces and generous hospitality to Islamic communities in the West to use it for Friday prayers and for social gatherings. The ministry of hospitality and embassy gives us to build bridges and celebrate our common humanity through welcome and mutual respect.
We hear dreadful fatwas from the Islamic world against innocent Christians in Islamic countries. Islamic clerics have given fatwa in Pakistan that if one Afghan Muslim is killed in the recent attack by the USA, Muslims would kill two Christians in Pakistan to take revenge on the United States. Now on October 28, Islamic gunmen have killed 18 persons, while Christians were worshipping in a church in Bhawalpur. What do Christians in Pakistan have to do with the present political turmoil in the world? They are as innocent and loyal citizens as other Pakistanis. The same question could be asked, what do six million Muslims and others in the West have to do with the action of terrorist attacks on the United States. Should they be held responsible by the West? No, they are as loyal citizens as others in the West.
In the West we hear from our Islamic community leaders that Islam is a religion of peace and it respects dignity of all human beings. Why then do we not hear the same message from the East from the Islamic scholars and Imams of the Islamic Ummah from their mosques?
The leaders of the Islamic community throughout the world must denounce such proclamations. It is no service to Islam. In the West we hear from our Islamic community leaders that Islam is a religion of peace and it respects dignity of all human beings. Why then do we not hear the same message from the East from the Islamic scholars and Imams of the Islamic Ummah from their mosques and other gathering places, encouraging the message of peace and reconciliation?
We need a social vision based on the teaching of our two faiths to bring people together, a commitment to justice with the capacity also for reconciliation, equality and respect for the dignity of human lives Our capacity to construct such communities of hope depends on the quality and vitality of our imagination.
Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA have issued in a pastoral letter a call for Waging Reconciliation. The letter reads, "We, your bishops, have come together in the shadow of the shattering events of September 11. We in the United States now join that company of nations in which ideology disguised as true religion wreaks havoc and sudden death. Through this suffering, we have come into a new solidarity with those in other parts of the world for whom the evil forces of terrorism are a continuing fear and reality."
Let hatred not win, to divide and destroy our faith communities. May we not further divide and labor each other with hatred and violence. We want this war to stop and live in peace. Together we raise our prayers to God and our appeals to the international community about the suffering of Palestinians, Kashmiris, Sudanese, Afghanistanis, Kurds and Irish, Catholic and Protestant alike. Our human family has seen enough pain, death, hunger, homelessness and senseless killings. Cardinal Arinze of the Vatican has said, "Religion is the soul of society; it is like leaven that can permeate and transform humanity for the good." We need a social vision based on the teaching of our two faiths to bring people together, a commitment to justice with the capacity also for reconciliation, equality and respect for the dignity of human lives. We are children of God, created in His image from one essence. Our capacity to construct such communities of hope depends on the quality and vitality of our imagination. We have stepped into the new millennium. May our prayers and intercession for each other be:
"Lord, make us your agents of peace to create a world of beautiful people of different races, cultures, religions and languages, so that it will be a world of laughter and joy, of justice and reconciliation, of peace and unity, of compassion, caring and sharing. Let us allow our common humanity to lead us to find new ways of fostering co-operation, understanding and above all peace.
The enlightened words of the Persian poet Saadi describes so well the spirit of the common task set before us to work as peacemakers:
All men are members of the same body, Created from one essence.
If fate brings suffering to one member.The others cannot stay at rest. You who remain indifferent to the burden of pain of others
Do not deserve to be called human.
The God of the Bible and Qur'an is the God of hope. Our God is still in control and the source of our hope. Hope is the energy of change and transformation. With this hope we can plan and sow the seeds of hope to cultivate culture of peace. Let us engage with each other to wage not war, but reconciliation, and offer the balm of healing for the wounded and love to embrace each other. "May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)