In a recent Le Monde op-ed, a group of Muslim religious leaders offered a response to the “Manifesto ‘against the new anti-Semitism'” published recently in Le Parisien.
“We, the signatories of this appeal, would first like to express our compassion for all our fellow citizens who have been directly or indirectly affected by terrorism and by the anti-Semitic crimes that have blindly struck our country.
If we have decided to speak, it is because the situation, for us, is becoming increasingly untenable; and because silence on our part would now make us complicit and therefore culpable.
Indignant, we are as French citizens affected by the heinous terrorism that threatens us all. We are also Muslims, like the rest of our co-religionists, peaceful Muslims, who suffer from the criminal confiscation of their religion.
Our indignation is also religious, as imams and theologians who have seen Islam fall into the hands of an ignorant, disrupted and idle youth. A naive youth, easy prey for ideologues who exploit their distress. Desperate, having not found meaning in life, these theorists of geopolitical chaos offer them a misguided sense of martyrdom: a masked suicide, as deliverance from existential suffering. An act that is seen as a death related purely to political-economic issues. Theologically speaking, the martyr is the one who suffers unjustly or sudden death, not the one who seeks and provokes it.
We are here to warn them against this deadly temptation and call them to listen well and heed the Prophet’s warning that “A Muslim who harms the life of an innocent person living in peace with Muslims will not never experience the perfume of Paradise.” This incontrovertible statement unequivocally dissuades and warns the person who considers taking the lives of others, that it is not Paradise and Houris that wait for him but Hell and its torments.
The real sacrifice is to give oneself for others, as did our national hero, Colonel Arnaud Beltrame.
For more than two decades, readings and subversive practices of Islam have thrived in the Muslim community, generating a religious anarchy, corrupting society as a whole. A cancerous situation to which some imams unfortunately contributed, often unconsciously. Courage compels us to recognize this. Many imams do not yet realize the damage that their speeches might cause as a result of a gap between our society and our time, and they do not consider the harmful psychological effects on vulnerable minds.
We call on them not to fall prey to this type of confusion. Islam is first and foremost a spiritual aspiration and a quest for transcendence in generosity and otherness, and not an identity and a political ideology…
We call on them to promote a discourse of appeasement, serenity and resistance to mass orthodoxy, communitarian populism and religious excesses.
At the same time, we call on the rest of our fellow citizens, especially intellectuals and politicians, to be more discerning. Because, these criminal acts claimed in the name of Islam may simply confirm clichés engrained in the public’s minds. Some have already seized the opportunity to incriminate an entire religion. They no longer hesitate to say in public and in the media that it is the Qur’an itself that calls for murder.
This unheard-of violence presents a dangerous idea. It would suggest that the Muslim can only be peaceful if he distances himself from his religion: a good Muslim, completely secularized. In short, a Muslim without Islam. In other words, the true Muslim, the good, can only really be a bad Muslim and a potentially dangerous citizen.
This idea that Islam is inherently opposed to the West and that it is indisputably incompatible with the values of the Republic is precisely the one that wreaks havoc on an ignorant youth, without a religious culture.
We, imams and theologians, are confronted with this nefarious ignorance shared by both sides.
Aware that, despite the work we do on a daily basis in our mosques with our co-religionists and their children, and despite the work done by our chaplains in prisons with very modest means, we are not immune to other crimes in the name of Islam.
The Daesh phenomenon is one indicator. It made us discover with astonishment that this youth was already experimenting with a strange combination of crime and religion. A secular crime that transforms into religious delinquency…
While dealing with the symptom, the response must be as thoughtful as it is long-term. Radicalism or radicalization must also be fought intelligently by all concerned, from policemen to imams, in families, in schools…each must assume its share of the responsibility.
Imams alone can not provide the solution. They are confronted with new forms of religiosity that their theological religious formation has not anticipated. This challenge is increased by the internet, a source of ever-changing and unpredictable religiosity. It is for this reason that we call on enlightened imams to invest and engage in what happens online and provide a counter-discourse that prevents all practices of rupture and all forms of extremism that can directly or indirectly lead to terrorism.
To be more specific, we would like to provide our skills and our experience for the service of our country to help public authorities and prevent any terrorist danger that lies dormant in certain sick minds. A work that we do everyday, even if it is not visible, and even less recognized.
For citizens as well, we want to offer our theological expertise to the various actors who are confronted with the phenomena of radicalization in prisons, in public institutions, to respond to religious aberrations with a theological perspective when the arguments presented by these young people are religious. This is an expertise that only imams can bring.
This initiative is not contrary to the principle of secularism. It does not forbid informed faith in the service of the nation to defend common and universal values, those of the Republic. The practice of secularism is more relevant than ever. It engages us all in the circumstances of insecurity we are experiencing, including Muslim religious actors, in the fight against radicalism and anti-Semitism.
Finally, we remain confident that together we will overcome this ordeal and we will defeat this enemy.
Long live the Republic and long live France!