By The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min, DD., AFM Board Member
Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, WI
Today’s mail brought me a passionate plea from the Vicar of Baghdad, Rev. Andrew White. He wrote, “I’m almost in tears because I’ve just had somebody in my room whose little child was cut in half. I baptized his child in my church in Baghdad. This little boy, they named him after me – he was called Andrew.” We mourn for the persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.
Christians and Muslims have been neighbors in the Middle East for many centuries. History is filled with incidents that have challenged Christians to fulfill their vocation of “loving thy neighbor.” To live in harmony and respect for the dignity of our fellow human beings is taught us as followers of Jesus Christ. Yet the world around us is full of the news of war, hatred and persecution. We wonder at times how this madness comes into play in the global village of the twenty-first century. We are meant to live in harmony and peace and to respect the rights of those with whom we may differ.
ISIS the Islamic State is butchering in the name of Islam thousands of children, raping Christian and Yazdi women, beheading thousands of men, looting their properties, bombing, and desecrating their holy shrines and worship places. It is all supposedly done in the name of religion quoting from Qur’an: “There is no God but Allah, and his prophet is Muhammad.” I find nothing wrong with this statement itself, as part of the profession of faith for each Muslim. It is a continuation of the tradition of the Abrahamic faith communities.
At least 27 Biblical passages explicitly teach and clearly declare this cardinal truth that there is one and only one true living God. Here are two examples:
“To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there no other beside him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).
“I am the first and I am the last: beside me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6).
The Christian profession of faith in the Nicene Creed is: “I believe in one God…” Jews, Christians and Muslims come from a common tradition of believing in one God. According to the Qur’an, God has spoken to humankind through many prophets and messengers, including Biblical figures like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and John the Baptist. Jesus is one of the most important and prominent figures in the Qur’an; he is mentioned 93 times by name in the sacred scripture of Islam. There is no ambiguity there. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity.
Yet Pakistan designates itself the “Fort of Islam” and has passed blasphemy law to persecute, massacre, jail and harass religious minorities. Boko Hararm in Nigeria, in the name of Islam, has kidnapped hundreds of innocent Christian girls to rape and to force into converting to Islam. In Iran Bah’is, Christians, Sunni and Dervish Muslims are persecuted. In Egypt Coptic Christians, a most ancient community, are systematically harassed and tortured. Sudan Islamic government has killed over two million Christians and Darfurian black Muslims and displaced millions as refugees.
Now the newest player, ISIS the Islamic State, is on stage with a vicious agenda to purify the Middle East by committing outrages on the Christian and Yazdi communities. These communities lived in Iraq and Syria before the dawn of Islam. His Holiness Louis Rapheal Sako, the Christian Chaldean patriarch of Babylon has said there are over 150,000 Christians who have fled their homes toward the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiya.
In Mosul, Iraq, ISIS offered Christians an ultimatum to (1) convert to Islam: (2) pay a religious submission tax, (3) face the sword, or (4) leave. Christian homes are marked with red paint with the Arabic letter “N” (Nazarene) for extermination or expropriation. This community has had to run for their lives. Some of their men were crucified and women were forcibly given to militants as booty. Now Mosul has no Christians and their churches have been desecrated. Thirty churches and monasteries in Mosul and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral have been converted into mosques.
A Yazidi woman Vian Dahkeel, a member of the Iraqi Parliament, gave a very emotional speech in the Parliament on August 5, 2014 about the extermination of her community in the name of Islam: “There is a genocide taking against Yazidis. We are being butchered under the name “There is no God but Allah.” Our women are being sold in slave markets. We are being wiped out by ISIS. I am speaking in the name of humanity. Please save us.”
We hear the cries of innocent people from Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan and throughout the Middle East. Atrocities are being committed in the name of religion. We are often reminded in the West that “Islam is the religion of peace.” Qur’an teaches “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Surah al-Baqarah 256). Then what is wrong with this picture?
I remember growing up in a Muslim country where the Imam on Friday in his sermon often made statements such as “Death to Jews, Death to Christians, Death to Hindus, Death to America.” Graffiti on the walls would also show such hateful religious propaganda. Decades of preaching hate has created dangerous militants acting as human missiles of hate to destroy their own existence and their neighbors too. This hate is an acid which diminishes the face of humanity.
Christianity was once widespread in Babylonia, Susiana, Fars, Khuzistan, on the eastern coast of Arabia, in Bahrain, and in Oman; it had infiltrated as far as Afghanistan and China. In the seventh century there were large numbers of Christians in Saudi Arabia. By the time of Prophet Muhammad’s death (632) Muslims had conquered these territories and they were not tolerant of other faith communities. Arab Idolaters had to choose between death or conversion; as for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, if they paid tribute and accepted the conditions of conquest, they could buy back their right to life, freedom of worship, and security of property. The history of religion has many bloody chapters. Christians have their own dark ages of Crusades in the middle ages.
Now we live in the 21st century, where the reality has changed. Millions of Muslims have by choice migrated to the west. They live next door to Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians as good neighbors. In western countries, we are engaged in inter-faith dialogue for building better understanding. But we confront a very serious situation as the Middle East is burning and Christians in many majority Muslim countries are facing extermination.
So far, not a single leader of an Islamic nation, not an Imam or Sheikh, has condemned atrocities being committed in the name of “There is no God but Allah.” Muslim religious and civil rights groups exercise full freedom of religion in the west. I believe there are people of goodwill among Islamic community. I beg them and all people of goodwill not to stay silent spectators. Elie Wiesel during his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986 said these famous words:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Islam does not need to be hijacked by extremists but needs the “Gospel of Peace.” The Christian Church is empowered by Jesus Christ to proclaim his message of healing and reconciliation. Please join us to build bonds of friendship and break down the walls of hatred which separate us. Christ calls us to focus on the two-fold mandate — to love God and to love our neighbors. We can do both by recognizing and repeating these truths among people of all faiths, even the faithless.
Without doubt, religion is the most powerful force on earth. When religion becomes corrupt and begins to kill and destroy, it turns evil. Following God’s precepts we can work together for peace and goodwill on earth. The Qur’an provides wise word that celebrates our diversity: “If God had so willed, He would have created you one community, but [has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you the truth about that which you have been disputing” (al-Ma`idah 5:48) We beg our Muslim brothers to join hands with us to pray and work together for peace and brotherhood on earth.
My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. ~Desmond Tutu
 Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002, p.50.
 Francois Nau, L’Expansion Nestorienne en Asie (Paris 1914); Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton 1984).
 Bat Ye’or, The Declone of Eastern Christianity under Islam, Associated University Presses, 1996, PP.33-39