My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In my column in the May 5 issue of the Catholic Times, in the wake of the terrorist bombing at Boston Marathon in April, I wrote, "Identifying radical Islamist jihadism as the motivation for so much brutal terrorism will undoubtedly bring outcries from those who will complain that this unfairly labels all Muslims, but those energies would be better spent if peaceful Muslims would very vocally disavow the radical Islamist jihadists and publicly denounce their violent version of Islam. Perhaps then we could have a real conversation about how people of all religious faiths could live together peacefully in a pluralistic world."
That column was an expanded version of my brief letter to the editor that was published in the April 29 issue of The Wall Street Journal. The headline that the editor put above my letter read, "The problem is not religion. It's hatred." But that's not what I wrote in my letter. What I actually wrote was, "The problem isn't religion, but radical Islamist jihadism."
My column and my letter to the editor sparked some strong reactions. One person wrote to me from Alabama, saying, "Islam has not been 'hijacked' by radicals. Those who are called radical jihadists or Islamofascists are actually orthodox, pious Muslims following the directives of the Qur'an and Hadith. ... There may be moderate Muslims but there is no such thing as moderate Islam."
Similarly, a man from Tucson, Ariz., wrote to me saying, "The first jihad took place in 627 A.D., 10 years after the founding of Islam. The last Jewish tribe in Medina was defeated by Mohammed and his followers in 627. They surrendered and sought mercy from Mohammed. Mohammed had all the men and adolescent boys beheaded, all their wealth and property was plundered. All the women and children were made slaves. This was the legacy of jihad."
In contrast, a Muslim wrote that the "Imam of the Guardian Council in Iran (the highest religious authority in Shiyah Islam), the Grand Mufti of Al-Azar (the oldest university in the world in Cairo, Egypt), the leading organizations in Indonesia, Jordan and elsewhere have all completely condemned the horrible attacks in Boston. In this regard, [Bishop Paprocki] simply may not be aware of these condemnations. But I do agree with his overall position that it is extremist Jihadi terrorists that must be blamed for such vicious attacks. They have a very twisted outlook because of the environment they come from, an environment of war and brutality."
The Christian Science Monitor on April 25 quoted a Muslim community activist and lawyer in Peekskill, N.Y., as saying, "We strive every day to be positive, useful and energetic contributors to our society, but all it takes is the acts of a couple of deranged murderers to ruin the reputation of 7 million people."
The same article in The Christian Science Monitor also quoted the president of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Mayarati, saying, "It is time for us American Muslims to provide an alternative to Muslim extremism; otherwise, we'll be defined by it. That alternative is the moderate voice, the voice for reform, for the theology of life that Islam stands for as opposed to the cult of death that extremists promote through their distortions of Islam in their ideology."
A Google search of "Muslims condemn Boston bombing" showed about 3.07 million results. So I am indeed pleased to see that peaceful Muslims are very vocally disavowing the radical Islamist jihadists and publicly denouncing their violent version of Islam.
Outside of the United States, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood condemned the Boston Marathon bombings. In a statement by the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, the group said Islamic law, or Shariah, does not condone violence against civilians, and expressed condolences to the American people and families of the victims. The party also said that Islamic law "firmly rejects assaults on civilians and doesn't accept any means of terrorizing people, regardless of their religion, color, or gender. The sinful assaults in Boston ascertain the necessity of solidarity of the international community in efforts to achieve justice and well-being for all nations and communities, and to ensure that these crimes don't take place again."
In the Middle East, the situation is mixed. On Memorial Day, I received a visit at our Cathedral rectory in Springfield from Bishop Camillo Ballin, the apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia, which includes the countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There are 10 priests serving 1.5 million Catholics in Saudi Arabia, mostly Filipinos and other immigrants from Asia. They are forbidden in Saudi Arabia to celebrate Mass and otherwise to worship in public. On the other hand, in a magnanimous gesture of goodwill, the King of Bahrain donated 9,000 square meters of land this past Feb. 11 (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes) for the building of a cathedral to be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia. Bishop Camillo is now traveling around the world seeking donations to build this new cathedral.
So there are some encouraging signs, but the path to peace and harmony will be long and arduous. Over 1.6 billion people or about 23.4 percent of the world population are Muslims. There are more than 2 billion Christians in the world, 1.2 billion of whom are Catholic. The sheer size of the Muslim and Christian communities in the world means that nonviolence and religious freedom are needed now more than ever. I pray that people of all faiths and of no faith will learn to live together in peace.
May God give us this grace. Amen.