Qari Asim: Let’s keep the faith and pray for peace in 2016

AS I exchange season’s greetings at this time of the year, I reflect upon the critically important Christian-Muslim initiatives that have taken place over the last 12 months across the country, enabling members of both faiths to develop stronger relationships and celebrate shared values and commitments.

Leeds imam Qari Asim, left, with other faith leaders at the launch of the Poppy Appeal.

Faith communities have a long history of contributing to social action. They are able to impact on areas of high social needs, respond to local priorities, increase volunteering and have a history of working in the spirit of localism.

In my home town, Muslims along with other faith groups have been involved in a number of social action projects ranging from cleaning litter off the streets to feeding refugees.

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Despite many positive social actions undertaken by Muslims, my faith of Islam is currently associated with violence. According to a recent report by Institute for Economics and Peace, 6,644 people were killed by Boko Haram in 2014 and 6,073 by Daesh/IS.

An overwhelming majority of these victims were Muslims. Millions of Muslims have been displaced due to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. This year, Daesh/ IS in the Middle East, and Boko Haram in parts of Africa, have continued to commit violence against Muslims, Christians and other faith minorities under the banner of “Jihad”.

These terrorists have destroyed mosques, churches, and ancient monuments. They have killed thousands and caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Whenever I hear the news of violence being committed in the name of God, as a person of faith, I am disgusted at the vile actions of the terrorists. Some secularists argue that faiths are responsible for war and violence around the globe but evidence does not seem to support this premise.

Islamist extremists were responsible for only 0.7 per cent of terror attacks in Europe between 2006 and 2013, according to Europol statistics released in January this year.

The Encyclopedia of War by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod analyses around 1,700 wars over recent millennia and identifies just seven per cent as having religion as the primary cause. In essence, it is people rather than the religions that are cause of violence in our world.

The solution to the current global violence is not to blame Islam, but to learn about Islam so that we can separate religion from the vile actions of some individuals. It is not the religions but the followers of religions that need to reform themselves.

The terrorists have been killing people indiscriminately – their only aim is to cause chaos, devastation and bloodshed. The heinous crimes of the terrorists must not be used to demonise a religion or followers of that religion, or allowed to destabilise the good relationships between faith groups and communities in the West, or anywhere in the world.

British Muslims recognise the significant role that some churches are playing in enhancing community relations, ranging from allowing Muslims to conduct religious ceremonies in churches to offering some Muslims refugees and asylum- seekers safe sanctuary – providing food and shelter – thereby living true to the commandment of Jesus: “That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

We have just had the annual Walk of Peace against violence and injustice. Christians and Muslims came together and walked shoulder to shoulder in the streets of Leeds, visited each others’ places of worship, engaged with each other’s scriptures and broke bread together.

Religious motivated violence must be fought with unity and passion. The fanatics – whether at home or abroad – must be brought to justice, but that can only be done if people of multi-beliefs are united against them.

Ideologies cannot be simply bombed but they need to be replaced with alternatives. People of faith must continue to defend the faith and liberties of each other. The cycle of hate and counter-hate, violence and counter-violence needs breaking.

In order for the dream of peace to be realised in our time, we must act as our brother’s keeper and put the principle of “love thy neighbour”, preached by both Prophets – Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon both of them) – into a living reality.

Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad taught peace, lived peace and blessed peacemakers. To establish that glorious vision of a peaceful world, it falls upon their followers to reject violence, militarism, poverty and injustice. The best gift that we can give to others at this time of the year is hope, love, compassion and peace.

The memory of all innocent lives lost, throughout the globe, due to terrorism and conflicts instils in me the courage of peace, the strength to persevere, the hope for a more respectful and peaceful coexistence. Call me naïve but, by the Glory of God, I am brimming with hope and am full of faith. Let’s all give peace a chance in 2016!

Qari Asim is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds.