Friday, August 16, 2013

Burning Churches

mosque and minaret

Yesterday, Christian churches across Egypt were stormed and torched by what the media referred to as "angry mobs of Islamists." 

First of all, I think it's deplorable that anyone would burn down churches - especially if the violence is perpetrated by one religious group against another. The truth is, however, I don't actually think "religion" had an awful lot to do with yesterday's "church-burning."  

I fear that these incidents may provide those so inclined with yet another opportunity to paint "Islam" with broad brush strokes, as a  religion of violence and hatred, depicting Muslims in general as a bunch of violent thugs.

Yesterday, I was reading an article about the church burning on the CNN homepage. At the end of the story, readers were invited to make comments. As I expected, there was a lot of sabre-rattlng going on, especially by conservative evangelical "Christians, " claiming that the church burnings were standard Muslim attacks against Christ. The responses to that CNN page were literally "crusade calls" for retaliation against all Muslims everywhere - punishment for what they have done- not just in Egypt but here in America. 

To me, the responses of those so-called Christians were just as bad if not worse than the church-burnings themselves.

Interestingly enough, had anyone taken the time to get to the end of the article, they may have discovered a different (and more accurate) portrayal of what had actually happened in Egypt yesterday.

The Virgin Mary Church, located in a village outside Cairo, had been set on fire that day; and Father Boktor Saad, priest of that church, was interviewed about the attacks. He said that he knew that only a small group of extremists were responsible for inciting groups to attack his church. He went on to say that many non-Christians (Muslims) prevented the situation from getting worse, and he credited the Muslims in his village with "putting out the fire at the church of the Virgin Mary and halting further attacks on Coptic Christian homes and shops."  

Religion (of every stripe) has often been used by extremists to fuel political agendas. In spite of how horrible it is that churches were burnt, I think it's just as heinous to respond to the church burnings by labeling Islam as a religion of violence and to depict "Muslims" as a gang of thugs.

I think about the historic contributions that "Islam" has made to world culture and to Western culture in particular - contributions to the fields of mathematics, physics, medicine, music, architecture, agriculture, and literature. Much of what Westerners take for granted as an everyday part of society is Islamic in origin. When Medieval European physicians were bleeding patients as a medical treatment, Islamic physicians were developing medicines to treat infectious diseases. 

When I travelled to Istanbul a few years back, I was literally"bowled over" by the beauty of the art and architecture of a city of mosques and minarets- one more beautiful than the next.

When I think of Islam, I think about the many Muslim people I have known and worked with and with whom I have prayed in my life - enormously cultured people of deep compassion and profound spirituality. 

So yes, it was horrible that churches were burnt.  However it's even worse to dismiss and denigrate the rich heritage of an entire culture of deeply spiritual people because of what happened; and people of goodwill everywhere need to stand against any backlash toward Muslims that may occur because of it.

The Buddha taught:

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death. All love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

A very wise and extremely important teaching for us in these days.

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