The Easter massacre victims: They are part of me
As the country has been plunged into chaos and the people are struggling to recover from the shock of Easter Sunday’s terrorist carnage, my pains are multiple.
It pains me to watch television news on the cold-blooded massacre, to which my Christian brothers and sisters became victims. Just as every festival of different communities, Easter, too, makes me happy. Men, women and children, in their best attire, trek to the churches, with their faces exuding happiness and hearts beaming with love for God’s fellow creatures. This fills my heart and I become one with them.
When, on Sunday April 21, the beasts unleashed their terror on the innocents, who are a part of me, I was devastated. Their pain is my pain. Their loss is my loss.
The moment I learned about the terror attacks, my journalistic instincts told me it could be the work of the so-called jihadists. The terrorism bore the hallmarks of church attacks that take place in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. It was on 2017 Palm Sunday that terrorists blasted two Coptic Christian churches and killed some 45 people in Egypt. On 2012 Easter, Nigeria’s Boko Haram carried out a car bomb attack on a church and killed 41 people. And again it was on Easter, that a terrorist group carried out suicide blast at a public park in Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, killing 75 people. In May last year in Indonesia, a radicalised family carried out a series of suicide attacks on churches.
You may wonder why I have not identified the terrorists as Islamic terrorists and have added the adjective ‘so-called’ to describe the jihadi terrorists. This is because my Islam condemns terrorism; my Islam, like Christianity, the Dhamma and other faiths, promotes love and human fraternity and stresses on Akhlaaq, which means exemplary conduct. The Prophet Muhammad said that the Muslim is he who by his actions, words or thoughts will not harm another human being. He said, “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”
Muslims pray five times a day. We end our prayers by turning our heads to the right and then left, while saying Assalamu Alaikum warahmathullah, peace and God’s mercy be upon ‘all of you’. Thus they greet the entire humanity. So, I do not know how the terrorists give a violent interpretation to the message of peace. It pains me to know that they have hijacked my religion to carry out acts of terrorism in its name and call it Jihad, whereas Jihad refers to the struggle one undergoes to reach high spiritual status.
Don’t call them ‘Islamic’ terrorists or Jihadists. When these terms were first used by the Western media, concerned Muslims protested, pointing out the incompatibility between Islam and terrorism. But our campaign suffered in the face of continuing terrorist acts by the hijackers of Islam.
The Muslims have a name for them –we call them Kharijites (Khwarij). Kharij in Arabic means “seceder” or “the one who exits the community”.
Minutes after Sunday’s blasts, we were at a shop in Wattala. My wife, who covers her head, heard a conversation between two Christian men were in the shop. The news was still sketchy. Pointing at my wife, one told the other, “If this is not the work of politicians, it must be the work of these people.” He was spot on, you may say. No, we do not share anything with the terrorists. They are not ‘us’. For us, the ‘us’ is the 359 people whose lives along with their dreams were ended by inhuman brutes. For us, the ‘us’ is the 500 plus people who were wounded, the thousands who survived the horror and the millions who identify with the victims.
We have nothing to do with these Kharijite terrorists, who discard the Quranic command to protect places of worship, especially monasteries, churches and synagogues where God’s name is invoked.
The terrorists such as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and National Thowheed Jamath founder Zahran Hashimi are our enemies. They come after us, for we reject their interpretations. They kill Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and other countries, for the simple reason that a majority of us reject them. They brand us ‘kafirs’ or non-believers – or as collaborators — for the simple reason that we do not subscribe to their satanic interpretation of Islam. We now realise that the Kattankudy’s Muslims were right when they held a protest in 2017, calling on the authorities to arrest “Shaitan (Satan) Zahran”, the treacherous mullah preaching a murderous creed.
It is because of the terrorists’ devilish interpretations of the scripture that there erupt, time and again, calls to ban the Quran, the Muslims’ holy book. True, the Quran explains laws on warfare in verses revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, when the embryonic Muslim community came under attack from the city state of Makkah, the Prophet’s birthplace from where he was forced to flee. But each of these verses is accompanied by instructions that exhort peace, patience, forgiveness, justice, moderation and virtue.
The Prophet had been grateful to the Christians, who, according to the Quran, are spiritually and in terms of friendship the closest to the Muslims. When the Muslims were being persecuted in Makkah, it was Christian Abyssinia which gave them refuge. During our five daily prayers, we recite the Muslim version of the Lord’s Prayer. We call it ‘Surah al-Fatihah’. In it, we praise God and beseech God to guide us on the straight path – the path of those on whom God has bestowed His Grace. Now when the Prophet Muhammad recited Surah al-Fatihah, who did he think of as the people on whom God had bestowed His Grace? They are those who came before him – Jesus, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Ishmael, Abraham and others.
It pains me to know that the terrorists had dealt a severe blow to the spiritual bond the Muslims shared with the Christians. Yes, we have differences; we Muslims do not believe in Jesus being the begotten son of God. We respect him as one of the mightiest prophets of God, whom we call Allah. By the way, Allah is an Arabic word with Semitic origin. It means The (al) God (Ilah) — Eloah or Eloahim in Hebrew. Eloi in Aramic, the language Jesus spoke.
But our differences should not be an impediment to our friendship built on many theological and spiritual concepts we share. It pains me to know that the April 21 terror attacks have damaged this special bond we have been sharing for 1,400 years. It pains me to hear that the country’s economic progress had been pushed back by the kind of terrorism we never thought would devastate our country.
It pains me to feel that the terrorists have made us hang our heads in collective shame, though they are not ‘us’. All Muslims have become suspects. We can’t look at the face of our Christian neighbours. We wonder whether the love and respect the Christians and others had for us are still there. But I am full of confidence that soon, we will be one with each other once again.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)