Some years ago a muslim was brutally killed in Glasgow, Scotland. His name was Ashad Shag. According to the police he was an Ahmadyian-muslim. It was also revealed that he was murdered because of his religion. As an Ahmadyian muslim his belief were not in line with the “orthodoxy” of some other muslim communities in Glasgow. This man was murdered not for something he did but rather for what he believed. The police arrested muslims of other traditions of interpretation and the case was processed as a murder.
How to react to evil?
In this awful series of events there was one and a most beautiful dimension. Faith-communities in Glasgow decided to fight against fanaticism, narrow-minded religious approaches and use of violence in settling differing opinions and views. Representatives from the big faith communites decided to attend the meeting. And they talked and shared their prayers and emotions – just as we do this evening. Representatives of all the major faith communities announced that they would participate in a gathering of faith-representatives and by that to show solidarity to the family and community of the victim and also make clear that violence is not the means for peace nor method of religion or religious people.
But in the last minutes prior to the event representatives for two important muslim communities sent their apologies. They did not come and they were not represented by others in the event. The sheer lack of representation added to the awfulness of the slaying. The communities of the killer did not stick to peace but rather to a stand-by over against violence. The murder was horrible and the aftermath even more so. But majority of the religious communities in Glasgow were responsible, their voices against violence were clear. The Church of Scotland was represented and other Christian churches as well.
Does this tragedy in Glasgow concern us? How is the situation in Iceland? Are some people in Iceland willing to kill people of other faith? No Christian has the right to kill people of other faith for religious beliefs. If they would they would be departing from the Christian path. Are any muslims in Iceland willing to kill an Ahmadyian muslim? Killing a person is not only an offence to our society, it is illegal, it is immoral and it is – in our Icelandic views – an offence to religion, dignity of all humans and our type of society. We do not kill people because of their religious views nor do we kill or act violently over against people who think differently or practice other types of religion.
I was asked to talk about Christianity and peace. It should be stated and spelled out as clearly as possible: Christianity is a religion of love. The Christian God is essentially love. According to Jesus’ message: Love is that which charachterizes how humans understand the internal life of the Godhead. That which is the style or bond within God is caring love. That love also embraces that which is the world. This embracing love is what we Christians believe to be the reason for God’s coming into the world in Jesus Christ and empowering all people to that which is good and life-giving. This is no simple-minded dream of children but a stubborn approach and style of life of those who have faith in God of love. And how does this apply to faith relations: According to Christianity an Ahmadyian muslim is also a as much a child of God as all other humans in the world. To meet a Sunni muslim is to meet a sister or brother of Jesus Christ. To meet a member of the Asatrú-community is to meet a member of God´s humanity. So the basic approach is a positive one. But a strain of this type of approach is a realistic awareness that no-one is perfect and we need to work on our creeds, faith-systems, interpretations and morals in order to nurture togetherness and healthy relationships. It is never acceptable that a person kills others or retreats to violence over against other thinking people.
Always striving for peace is a highly practical matter for us here in Iceland. We have a job to do together. We have – as representatives of faith communities – a duty to make sure that violence is never just, right or moral. The members of our communities have to be aware of that and also in practical agreement with that too. Fanaticism of any sort, social, ideological or religious should not be tolerated and we should stick together on working on that. The task of the religious communities in Iceland is to be non-violent communities, proponents of just peace and practicing moral communities.
Respecting and accepting the other
Are we willing to work on just peace, work on eradicating hate speech from our communities, degrading other beliefs and creeds? Are we willing to work on changes in ourselves and our groups to mature for something new and important? Are we willing to change views if good arguments are stressed against old views and practices? I think our task for working for local peace and sharing is of basic importance, not only for stabilizing society but because this is the way of being humans, accepting differences and never retreat to violence of any sort.
In the world of football – EUFA – there is a program on respect – a program of accepting the full human dignity of the other. In religion there should be a similar love-program – a nurturing and educating program of respecting and accepting the other. For fully respecting the other we need to know each other, discuss the limits of belief, creeds and social rules and reactions. We need to know the traditions and culture of the others. I call all of us to work on love-programs that will make clear to all faith-communities and all people in Iceland that murdering, violence and fanaticism is the opposite of all true faith – the absolute enemy of God and religious people.
Working on peace – just peace – is a task for all Christians – and truly for people of faith. God bless you and keep you in peace.
Address of Sigurdur Arni Thordarson in a meeting of religions. April 2016. Hotel Plaza, Reykjavík.