The season of Lent for the Christian community has ended and the season or month of Ramadan for Muslims will soon start. Both these periods are similar for the followers of these two global Abrahamic faiths. The periods are characterised by greater awareness and building of spirituality and one’s connection with the Almighty. It is also uniquely similar through the practice of fasting.
For the Muslim, the fast is compulsory and total. During the month of Ramadan, a Muslim is expected to fast completely during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset each day, no food or drink; the Christian may choose to fast from certain foods or use just water or fruits. Nevertheless, the intent of the fast is to deprive oneself seeking the pleasure of the Almighty and to understand with greater empathy those among the human family who face such struggles of finding food on a daily basis. Importantly, the fast is also intended to improve the character and personality of the individual. The human being going through the pangs of hunger deliberately must come out of the exercise a better person otherwise those pangs will have done nothing but create gas.
The two major Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Islam have much in common and the name Abraham confirms the fact both these faiths have a common fountainhead in the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him).
Sadly, over the centuries and in recent months, these two great faiths have been defined not by the countless good and benefit they both bring to humanity but by the evil, misguided actions of those who claim to represent the faith and who, in their misguidance, inflict harm, hurt, injury and violence on others.
Our faiths should never be defined by these violent individuals. Between our two faiths we make up over half the world’s population. And the vast majority of that population are law-abiding, contributing members of the communities and countries they live in. Yet, humanity is held hostage by what appears to be a growing mindset of radicalism and violence. The violence and counter violence being meted out on peaceful, innocent citizens is a plague in our world. We thought in a 21st century world that such a plague was wiped out. But instead of being wiped out, it is re-surging.
The trend is to blame religion for these evils and some will argue that it is better not to have religion. My counter is that it is not religious belief that causes violence it is human beings that cause violence. Violence is on the increase for many reasons and between different groups of people for several purposes. Do we exterminate humanity because some amongst them are violent?
We law-abiding, God-fearing people must work together with great effort and determination to root out the causes and the mindset that drives some human beings to carry out these barbaric acts.
What doesn’t help is, whenever a terrible and tragic event occurs like what happened recently in New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the United States of America, there are those who perpetuate a narrative that it is expected because their religion teaches them to behave in that manner.
The attacks on the mosques in New Zealand, followed by the attacks on churches in Sri Lanka, along with the ongoing violence faced by Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria and other parts of the world are all the result of a damaged mindset that removes the humanity of the next person and instead replaces it with an enemy that needs to be destroyed.
We, both Muslims and Christians, must join together to fight this mindset. It is the evil within our own communities that we have to weed out. Father Michael Barrow, in a Guest Column in the Barbados TODAY of April 19, could not have been clearer when he spoke to the evil in the church as it related to the crisis facing the Catholic Church today. It is those evils, we who know better, have to exorcise. No longer can we hide behind slogans and clichés – “it is not us, it is them”, “we don’t subscribe to that thinking”. We have to be active and proactive. The violent ones, whether they claim religious identity or gang identity or some other form of identity, must know that the rest of humanity will face them with courage and confidence and say that love will triumph hate, peace will win over violence and kindness over inhumanity.
Our place of worship, should it be a mosque, a church, a temple or a synagogue, must be a place of sanctuary, peace, love, happiness, full of worship and praise to the Almighty. No worshipper in any place of worship should have to worry about whether the person next to them will trigger a bomb or whether the next person through the door will have assault weapons that could wipe out every single person present, or whether an army or a government will destroy my place of worship.
Why has the world come to this? Has humanity reached a stage of inhumanity that is irreversible? It cannot be and it should never be allowed to reach that stage. It is known, sadly after the fact, that Sri Lankan authorities were warned by Muslim groups that those behind the attacks were to be watched and monitored because their behaviour and actions were not in keeping with the faith nor national security.
Our hope rests in the thousands who respond to such barbaric acts by uplifting and looking after their neighbours regardless of their skin colour, race, nationality or religious identity. Our hope rests in those Muslims who made rings of security around churches in Egypt when misguided persons sought to attack the Coptic Christian community there. Our hope is restored with Christians who stood guard at mosques in New Zealand the following Fridays after the tragic events there last March. Our faith is stronger when both Christians and Muslims responded with help to Jewish communities in the United States after attacks on their synagogues.
The Caribbean is regarded as a zone of peace and may it always remain that way. We, too, will play our part in trying to stem any such occurrences. The Attorney General of Barbados alluded to this country’s vulnerability with regard to terrorism. It should never be taken lightly. Our resolve is to work together to ensure it doesn’t happen.
In the aftermath of the New Zealand attacks I had the opportunity to sit with my Christian brothers and sisters of the Barbados Christian Council and have a conversation on what we, as faith–based Abrahamic communities, can do together to help our society maintain peace, love and human fraternity.
Now, in the aftermath of more bloody attacks, this time on Christians in Sri Lanka, the conversations have to continue and the determination reinforced.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: [email protected])