Our prayers and our thoughts have been with the family of Alan Henning over these last weeks, during which his life has been so publicly threatened.
In his life Alan Henning united people across the boundaries of nationality and faith. He did so both through his humanitarian actions and by the love that drove him on. That his tragic death continues to unite people across Britain and beyond is demonstrated today by the range of people and organisations paying him tribute.
To ISIS we say: You no longer have the power to shock us, now you just sicken us. Your brutality, against any who don’t share your narrow, perverted worldview, doesn’t undermine our determination, it stiffens our resolve. Your destiny is not to be a force in human history, merely one of its sad footnotes.
These are the words of David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, in whose diocese Alan Henning had lived. As we have read similar statements posted across social media and on the news, there has been a palpable sense that we are a nation in mourning for one of its sons. Having a strong sense of charity and acting to help others in need on a global scale runs deep in the British psyche. You only need to look to our Government’s International Aid commitments to see that we are one of the most generous nations in the world. Alan Henning embodied that spirit. He took unpaid leave to swap driving a taxi in Eccles for an ambulance in Syria full of food and water to be handed out to anyone in need. Before crossing the border from Turkey to Syria he was filmed saying: “It’s all worthwhile when you see what’s needed actually getting to where it needs to go. The sacrifice we do is nothing compared to what they go through on a daily basis.” Within hours of speaking this he was abducted and taken hostage, ultimately making a sacrifice far bigger than he had ever planned.
ISIS have repeatedly shown that they have no interest in the dignity of anyone they have decided is their enemy. They have also dismissed the concerted efforts of Muslims in this country to show mercy. Letters and messages from numerous imams have fallen on deaf ears. The ISIS corrupt and depraved ideology has blinded them and hardened their hearts beyond the point of no return. But in this blatant and public disregard for any form of benevolent justice they are continuing to sow the seeds of their own destruction. The more these murders continue, the more isolated ISIS will become, and the urgency to see them destroyed will only increase.
There is no other way to put it: if ISIS were to realise their vision and establish a global caliphate, all civilisation as we know it would cease to exist; we would enter something far worse and bloodier than the Dark Ages. By contrast, if the world were to follow Alan Henning’s example, we would find ourselves in an era of remarkable peace and justice. ISIS may genuinely believe that they are carrying out the will of Allah, but in reality Mr Henning was far more a Muslim than those who would seek to fly the black flag will ever be. This Hadith gives an account of one of Mohammad’s encounters:
A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: “O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it.” Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go! This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!” (Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146)
Alan Henning’s mercy and compassion are far easier to justify in Islamic teaching than ISIS terror and brutality. They live by the sword and most likely it will be the sword that causes their fall. No regime or state displaying these levels of evil has historically lasted more than a relatively short length of time. The innate goodness in of humanity has always risen to do what was needed to overcome these sick and twisted aberrations.
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken. (Psalm 37:1-2, 7, 10-15)
Right now we are witnessing the worst that ISIS can do, but it will not last. They will be swept away without any mourning. But we have a duty to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Henning and other ISIS victims who lost their lives because they cared enough to put themselves in a place of danger.
Let us also not forget Alan Henning’s family at this time, and pray for their strength, courage and the healing of these bitter wounds.