tom_ryanThe recent 9/11 anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. also brought with it, especially in light of the present actions of ISIS/ISIL , memories of the backlash against Muslim and even Sikh communities on our own continent. Those memories underline how important it is to build relationships with people of other faiths — especially in our efforts to help those who are the victims of such violence and to seek together the common goal of peace.

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said as much when it reasserted their commitment to dialogue with other religions and Muslims in particular in a statement released August 19. The committee listed tensions between Christians and Muslims in different parts of the world as a primary reason for reaffirming the need for dialogue.

“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten to disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”

For their part, national and North American Muslim organizations have been at pains to let citizens in general know where they stand. The Institute for Islamic and Turkish Studies condemned the atrocities being carried out by ISIL/ISIS in Syria and Iraq:  “Islam is a religion of peace.  It forbids the injury of Innocents, in particular women, children, the elderly, and even of crops, trees, natural resources, and property.”

The US Council of Muslim Organizations also spoke out: “USCMO roundly condemns this group and rejects its ideology and actions. The terror organization ISIS, does not speak or act on behalf of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. In fact, they have killed so many Muslims indiscriminately. Their actions are reprehensible, inhumane and completely contravene all aspects and tenets of Islam.”

USCMO also underlined that it “states in the Qur’an that the taking of one life is the equivalent of the killing of all humankind, and the saving of one life is equivalent to the saving of all humankind. Islam abhors and rejects the murder, mayhem and terror being spread by this group of criminal individuals.”

The USCMO also appeals to the general public to avoid spreading Islamophobia by using the actions of ISIS to characterize and demonize all Muslims, globally and here in the United States.

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a non-profit organization based in Tunisia, has been bringing together the best minds in academia, as well as in the Muslim community of North America. In its Aug 29 Press Release it said that “these inhumane acts by ISIS are a clear indication that the terrorist group is morally bankrupt and that their tactics undermine fundamental Islamic legal and ethical pronouncements on the sanctity of human life and protection of non-combatants.”

CSID believes that failed policies in supporting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people in the face of brutal dictatorship contributed to the rise and expansion of extremist groups such as “the Islamic State.”

“The signals must be clear; only inclusive democracy coupled with full respect for human rights offers a path forward,” states CSID. “Democratization should not be sacrificed in the name of stability, of economic development or of defending the rights of any particular group at the expense of another.”

The Islamic Society of North America published a brochure about religious extremism and terrorism to clarify some key issues. In it terrorism is defined as any act of indiscriminate violence that targets innocent people, whether committed by individuals, groups or states.

It reminds followers of its own community that in 2005, Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), an Islamic juristic body, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) on July 28th, 2005 which affirmed its long standing position on this issue, and was unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorism by stating: “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.”

Stating that it was issued “following the guidance of our scripture, the Qur’an, and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him”, the religious ruling confirmed the following salient principles: [1] All acts of terrorism, including those targeting the life and property of civilians, whether perpetrated by suicidal or any other form of attacks, are haram (forbidden) in Islam. [2] It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or prohibited violence.

ISNA’s brochure addresses Muslim responsibilities in counter terrorism and religious extremism by saying “We must take whatever steps we can to combat these scourges.”

These steps, it says, include encouraging every mosque and Islamic education entity across the country to endorse the 2005 Fatwa. Educating Muslims, especially leaders and imams, about relevant Islamic teachings, societal concerns and responsive initiatives relating to terrorism and religious extremism. Holding leaders responsible for un-Islamic teaching. Organizing youth outreach programs. Reaching out to our neighbors and interfaith institutions to create better understanding and cooperation.

“In the interest of justice and positive change,” ISNA says, “we also request our neighbors and friends from other faiths to support us in this effort by speaking out against the recent backlash and widespread demonization of Islam and Muslims. Islamophobic statements and actions punish and victimize the entire global community of Muslims for the actions of a few, and hinder our efforts to provide a moderate voice, and promote mutual understanding and peace.”

“The vicious cycle of violence in our interconnected world has to be broken, and we must work together to do so through mutual understanding and constructive dialogue, rather than allowing those who would divide us through hate to achieve their goals,” declares ISNA. “It is the only hope for bringing about real and genuine mutual respect, justice, and peace.”

Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC