DESPITE DISCLAIMERS FROM President Bush and other
leaders, the recent wars in the Middle East have increasingly set themselves
in the public eye as a conflict of religions. The perception of a 'Christianity
versus Islam' global conflict is held by many, and is fanned by fundamentalist
extremists on both sides - the Christian-Zionist Right, chiefly in the
US, and the various groups fostering suicide bombing and other terrorist
acts within the Islamic faith.
The 'holy war' is not confined to one side. The Christian-Zionist movement
manages to ignore Christ's admonition to "love your enemies and
do good to those that hurt you". Fundamentalists of Islam, in their
zeal for Jihad, ignore many of the tenets of the Qur'an, which teaches:
Say ye: "We believe in God, and the revelation
given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob,
and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus,
and that given to [all] Prophets from their Lord.
We make no difference between one and another of them,
And we bow to God [in Islam]
CHAPTER 2, "AL BAQARA", VERSE 136
Obviously there are differences between the two
faiths - chiefly those concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ and His
resurrection. But the idea that this must result in a war to the death
between rival religions is a concept that the enlightened in both would
We should not forget that the great majority
in both faiths long for peace. There are 1.9 billion Christians in the
world, and 1.1 billion Muslims which is easy to say, but both faiths
are riven by divisions; Catholic and Protestant, to go no further in
Christianity, and Sunni and Shiite to go no further in Islam.
Muslims can be found on every continent - 31 million in Europe for example,
and over 5 million in North America. Because of wars and persecution,
Muslim communities are becoming sizeable minorities in many hitherto
Christian countries. Their zeal and devotion often puts Christians to
shame. More people worship in Mosques in England, than in Christian
churches. The challenges and demands they put on believers makes the
average 'comfort-zone' Christian congregation look anemic. A Muslim
prays, whether in public or private, five times a day, and gathers in
community in his mosque at noon on Fridays. He observes all the demands
his faith requires, and in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar he
fasts rigidly through daylight hours.
What do Muslims believe? A simple summary describes
"The central Muslim belief is that there is only one God, unique,
incomparable, eternal, absolute, and without peer or associate. He cannot
be perceived in this world but through His works. Other important tenets
of Islam are that God is the Creator of all that exists - and that His
will is supreme; that He has sent messengers to humankind, of whom Muhammad
was the "seal" - that is, the last; that the Qu'ran is the
Very Word of God; that angels, immortal creatures, exist, as does Satan;
that humans are responsible to God for their actions, and that, on Judgment
Day, an all-knowing and merciful God will judge all mortals according
to their deeds in this life".
Once at least during a lifetime, every Muslim is expected to make a
pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) for a ceremony known as Hajj, which occurs
in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Here purification, prayer
and ritual surround the Ka'bah, a black cubical stone structure in the
courtyard of the Great Mosque at Makkah. Muslims believe this structure
was built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael.
In a gathering that dwarfs any other regular
assembly in the world it grows larger every year. In 1965, 294,000 gathered
in the Hajj. In 2002 that number had swelled to 2,300,00. Just under
a quarter-of-a-million came from Indonesia alone. Forty five per cent
of those attending were women. The number of flights carrying pilgrims
in 2002 was 6,226. Over 1.2 million sheep and goats were needed to feed
those assembled. Over 40 million loaves of bread had to be prepared.
Over 14,000 people were engaged full-time in garbage collection and
Ask those attending how many agreed with terrorism and it would be a
fraction of one per cent. There is widespread indignation at the West's
treatment of Islamic minorities such as the Palestinians, and its predatory
behaviour in attempts to control Middle East oil. But the vast majority
want peace as much as anyone else.
How, then, can reconciliation be achieved out
of these different faiths? Both would agree that the basic ingredients
are justice and mercy. Both East and West is persecuted by the most
destructive religion of all - Mammon, or the almighty dollar. Increasingly,
Christians and Muslims are beginning to meet in a common opposition
to this common enemy. Amongst the most authoritative and statesman-like
voices for Islam in the world is that of Dr. Chandra Muzaffar of Malaysia.
His international Movement for A Just World draws on a panel of brilliant
writers and commentators of all faiths from round the world. He presents
a voice for authentic Islam that is seldom heard, offering hope in a
sea of despair.
(International Movement for a Just World, P.O. Box 288, Jalan Sultan
46730, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia)