No one of faith, whatever faith that might be, can fail to be deeply appalled by the atrocities committed in the name of religion last week in Nairobi, Kenya and Peshawar, Pakistan. In Kenya people of different faiths and none, women and children were brutally murdered by thugs claiming to act in the name of Islam. In Peshawar eighty-five Christians, men, women and children, were martyred as they worshipped God. Once again, this attack was carried out by people claiming to act in the name of Islam.
Many are now bereaved because of actions of those claiming to be Muslims. Although this must be a very difficult time for true Muslims it does not mean Muslim leaders should avoid hard and searching questions as to why evil men are carrying out atrocities in the name of God and Islam. There must be deep soul-searching and critical reflection as to how people can go so astray from true religion and a solution found as to how Islamic teachers can guide their adherents away from what can only be described as evil.
The blogger does not claim to be an expert on Islam, but as someone of Christian faith, sharing the Abrahamic heritage with Muslims, he is concerned that religion should not be hijacked by people who are doing the work of the Devil and claiming it to be the work of God!
Coming from a Christian heritage, where we are taught that true religion is to visit the widows and the fatherless, it is incomprehensible how murdering people, widowing women and turning children to orphans can be carried out in the name of religion. Surely true religion is showing compassion and love to one’s neighbour whatever their faith.
The point of this blog is not to argue any theological points: As a Christian I have different beliefs, but I am not writing this blog to win any theological arguments. I simply mean to argue about structure and governance. Looking at Islam from the outside it seems one thing that is lacking is the guidance of an institution. It seems that Sunni Islam is not really an institutional religion in the same way as Christianity. Imams do not appear to be part of a hierarchy and teaching of the Khoran is apparently on individual interpretation. That lack of structure means fanatics can claim an authority that an institution would deny them. To put it bluntly it is not clear where authority resides for excommunication or who polices the fanatics. It is often said that Muslim leaders do not speak out strongly enough to condemn evil carried out in the name of Islam. This however begs the question: Who has the authority to speak out?
Perhaps the solution for Islam in policing extremism is to build a stronger institutional framework. If the comparison is made with Christianity, one is only a Christian if he belongs to the family of the church. The Church being the Body of Christ, to act separately from that, in contradiction to the Church, means one is not a Christian. True there are schisms within Christianity, but new denominations have maintained an institutional structure in the form of the Church.
Of course it is not impossible for the institution to go astray, but it is made up of a great body of individuals, with a heritage of thought and tradition. The Church has made its fair share of mistakes through history, but being an institution it has accumulated wisdom and learnt from its mistakes. This great heritage and the authority residing in the hierarchy of the Church means that it is very difficult to claim some entirely invalid interpretation of Scripture and carry out atrocities in accordance with a very subjective and incorrect view of religion.
Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox all adhere to the Nicene Creed (some accepting it with the Filioque) with its acceptance of the Holy, Catholick and Apostolic Church. The maverick is therefore generally contained within the agreed values of the institution or simply finds he cannot establish himself and leaves religion to the faithful.
Many may be tempted to blame Islam as a whole in some way for the recent atrocities. This blog is arguing that such an approach of general blame is wrong, there are many more moderate, mainstream Muslims and they must be given more authority, following the model of a more institutional structure, such as that of the Church. The blogger does not claim any theological understanding of Islam, rather it is argued Christians should put forward in a spirit of sharing something of Christian heritage and government that might in a practical way give true and moderate Muslims more authority and take away any claim to authority from the criminal thugs and murderers who claim perversely that committing the Cardinal Sin of murder leads to salvation.
Of course, with the concept of the Incarnation in Christianity, which is absent from Islam, it is easier to build the foundations of an institutional church, which can derive authority as the continuing Body of Christ on Earth. That however is a matter of theology and this blog is not looking at such matters. I cannot claim to know how a stronger institutional framework in Islam can be justified theologically, but I am sure it would help practically in ensuring only adherents to True Religion could claim to act in the name of Islam.
To the agnostic and the atheist, these recent attacks could be seen as religion generally (rather than a fanatical perversion of Islam) being a cause of division and violence. People of all faiths must make clear that there is a distinction between True Religion and – to use an old fashioned concept – heresy.
For the secularist, without a clear grasp of Truth being absolutely and objectively true, it is easy to slip into the view that because someone claims to be acting for a faith, they are in fact truly acting in the name of that faith. Well that is wrong and once we accept objective Truth exists we can say that there is True Religion and False Religion.
Institutional religion is more able to police and control fanaticism. It has the authority to promote and give legitimacy to valid understanding of True Religion. To the atheist it is worth pointing out that just because someone acts in the name of faith does not mean they are doing so: Christ was tortured and crucified at the instigation of religious leaders in the name of religion. The murderers in Nairobi and Peshawar were not men of faith at all, but wicked nihilists. These fanatics are the very people whose world view those with true faith must resist with sound doctrine. Stronger institutional government would aid this goal.