February 20, 2015


ISIS and moderate Muslims

The militant Islamic group ISIS clearly considers itself at war against Christianity. It also considers the Holy See to be the leader of Christian faiths. It made this clear when the ISIS group in Libya released a video that showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

In the video, a militant said that ISIS was sending a message “from the south of Rome,” and at the end of the video he raised his knife and said that ISIS would “conquer Rome.”

If this is war, though, it’s not a war between Christianity and the overwhelming majority of adherents of Islam. Pope Francis has emphasized repeatedly that Islam is not to blame for the terrorists. In December, for example, he said, “You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them.”

He is quick to condemn any group that that uses religion as a pretext for violence. “One cannot generate hatred in God’s name,” he said. “One cannot make war in God’s name.” However, that it exactly what ISIS is trying to do.

When Pope Francis learned about the 21 Coptic Christians who were killed, he interrupted a talk he was giving to emphasize the unity of Christians regardless of their denomination. He said, “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! The martyrs belong to all Christians.”

On this point, the Islamic extremists agree with the pope. Their war—we call is a war because they claim that they will conquer—is against all Christians.

Pope Francis, though, has followed the example of his immediate predecessors Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II by working with moderate Muslims since the beginning of his papacy to promote peace in the Middle East and to protect Christians. At the same time, he has acknowledged that sometimes action must be taken to stop terrorism.

There are signs of a backlash against Muslims, both in Europe and in this country, because the terrorism that has been going on ever since 9/11 has been perpetrated by Muslims. As Christians, though, we must not condemn all Muslims because of the actions of the most extreme among them.

However, there is only so much the moderate Muslims can do. Last September, more than 125 Muslim leaders from 32 countries signed a 17-page letter to ISIS condemning what it was doing in Syria and Iraq. We reported on that letter in our Oct. 31 issue.

The letter told ISIS, “These Christians are not combatants against Islam or transgressors against it. Indeed, they are friends, neighbors and co-citizens. From the legal perspective of Sharia [Islamic law], they all fall under ancient agreements that are around 1,400 years old, and the rulings of jihad do not apply to them.”

The letter also told ISIS, “As for killing prisoners, it is forbidden in Islamic law. Yet you have killed many prisoners.” It mentioned journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker David Haines. Since then, of course, ISIS has killed many more prisoners.

The letter contrasted what ISIS is doing with what Muhammad did. Islam’s founder, it said, “over a span of 10 years and 29 battles . . . did not execute a single regular soldier; rather, he entrusted that they be treated with kindness.”

The moderates told ISIS that they “have provided ample ammunition for all those who want to call Islam barbaric” by broadcasting their “barbaric acts, which you pretend are for the sake of Islam. You have given the world a stick with which to beat Islam, whereas in reality Islam is completely innocent of these acts and prohibits them.”

We don’t doubt that there are some American Muslims who are sympathetic to ISIS, and we must trust our government to identify them and protect us from them. The vast majority, though, are good citizens and neighbors. Unlike in some places in Europe, Muslims in this country have largely integrated into our society. We must not treat them as enemies.

We pray that moderate Muslims in the Middle East, with our help, will find a way to put an end to the ISIS extremists.

—John F. Fink

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