Praying before a blasphemous icon of another Jesus, standing in the shadow of a sacrificial cross which they deny, beneath the dome of a cathedral church steeped in idolatry, myths and deception, Muslims throughout France and Italy attended Mass yesterday. From Rouen, Nice and Paris to Milan, Naples and Rome, hundreds flocked to express solidarity and compassion with Europe’s Roman Catholics, many still reeling, weeping and mourning the loss of a much-loved elderly priest, Abbé Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamists as he celebrated Mass last week.
All Muslims are exhorted to the greater jihad, to strive against the flesh and persevere in the purposes of Allah, but not all jihad is holy war. All Muslims are not Islamists, but Muslims are becoming terrorists. It is futile, patronising and dangerous to deny it. Islamists are extremists who kill the innocent; Muslims who are moderate and enlightened seek to worship in peace. Islam is not all about oppressing, torturing, murdering and slaughtering. It just seems like it. And no wonder, when the news dishes up a daily diet of Islamic State videos exhorting the faithful to attack the enemies of Allah; Western Muslims who fight for their country are condemned as apostates; hotels are bombed; ancient shrines blown up; ‘spies’ are beheaded; oil fields blaze; and British imams preach to young boys that it’s okay to have sex slaves. That’s just today’s coverage of degradation and destruction.
Amidst all this global trauma, suffering and strife, it is a cause of great hope that so many Muslims can put aside their theological scruples and multifaith ecumenical aversion to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is profoundly offensive to their beliefs, and utterly repugnant to their teachings: Jesus is not the Son of God; he is not divine; he did not die on a cross; he does not become a wafer; praying with wine is haram.
Behold! The disciples said: O Jesus, son of Mary, can your Lord send down to us a table from heaven? Jesus said: Fear Allah, if you are believers. They said: We only wish to eat of it and satisfy our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth and that we ourselves may be witnesses of it. Jesus, the son of Mary, said: O Allah our Lord! Send down to us a table from heaven, that there may be for us – the first and the last of us – a festival and a sign from you; and provide for our sustenance, for you are the best sustainer. Allah said: I will send it down to you; but if any of you after that resists faith I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on anyone among all the peoples (Surah Al-Maida 5:112-115).
What is this table from heaven? What is this meal which satisfies hearts and witnesses to the truth? What is this festival and sign which provides spiritual sustenance? What peace and reconciliation does it bring to the hearts of those who share it? ‘This is my body...’
“I thank you in the name of all Christians,” Rouen’s Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told his Muslim visitors. “In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God.”
“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” said Imam Otaman Aissaoui.
“It’s an occasion to show (Muslims) that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist,” said the Rev’d Jean Rouet.
“I’m a practising Muslim and I came to share my sorrow and tell you that we are brothers and sisters,” said a woman called Sadia. “What happened is beyond comprehension.”
“Today we wanted to show physically, by kissing the family of Jacques Hamel, by kissing His Grace Lebrun in front of everybody, so they know that the two communities are united,” said Mohammed Karabila, President of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque.
There were tears during the sign of the peace. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself‘ (2Cor 5:19). In their shared humanity, Muslims and Christians bore witness to the humanity of Jesus, his sacrifice and death, his reconciling love, his resurrection and glorification. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them‘ (Mt 18:20). The Living God is present in the world, if not in bread and wine. We can meet Him, pray to Him and listen to Him. That is our privilege through Christ. And in that communion we stand with all believers in the world and throughout all history. And we stand with all participant peace-loving Muslims, too. ‘This is my blood…‘
Wordless interfaith dialogue is the best remembrance.
UPDATE (2nd August):
Douglas Murray has suggested that the Muslims who attended Mass in France and Italy belonged overwhelmingly to the Ahmadiyya sect, who are themselves persecuted by mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims (they deny that Mohammed is the ‘seal’ of prophets, and so are considered non-Muslims). Murray writes:
Anyhow – stories of the Muslims of Europe attending church in their dozens as a gesture of solidarity was clearly an Ahmadiyya initiative. Accounts of the Muslims attending mass in Rouen show that they unfurled an Ahmadiyya banner (the banner had the group’s outreach motto, ‘Love for all. Hate for none’ on it). Some accounts of the several dozen Muslims who attended mass in Rouen recorded that ‘Many of the Muslims’ attending mass there were Ahmadiyya.
His first link does indeed lead to this picture:
But his second link does not state anywhere that “‘Many of the Muslims’ attending mass there were Ahmadiyyas”. Indeed, that piece refers specifically to exhortations from the head of Italy’s Union of Islamic communities, Izzedin Elzir, and the Secretary General of Italy’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino, neither of whom is Ahmadi.