London Bombings: Warnings and Support, July 2005, Fulcrum Newsletter 1

by Graham Kings

Date added: 31/07/2005


Dear Fulcrum friends,

After the London bombings, lines from T S Eliot's Dry Salvages, part of his Four Quartets, came to mind:

    '...To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
    Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
    And always will be, some of them especially
    When there is distress of nations and perplexity
    Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.'

How should we begin to respond as Christians to this 'distress of nations and perplexity on the shores of Asia and in the Edgware Road'? In this first Fulcrum News-Letter, I will attempt to explore (in differing depths) five warnings and five suggestions of support.

A. Christian Warnings

1. Called not to Hate Muslims

This may be obvious, but is still worth stating and insisting on. Jesus' attitude to the Samaritans is an important guideline. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus and his message, his disciples suggested that he should call down fire from heaven (like Elijah) on them. He refused to do so. (Luke 9: 51-56. cp Luke 9:8 and 2 Kings 1:9-12)

At a conference a few years ago, I heard an influential speaker say: 'there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim.' I was shocked and was delighted when Kenneth Cragg, the scholar of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, contradicted him strongly.

After the London bombings, there have been some attacks on Mosques and bookshops. Over the first weekend there were already two fire-bombings of Islamic buildings in Leeds and Bradford.[2] Christians need to be in the forefront of people crying out against such attacks.

'Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.' Dietrich Bonhoeffer impressed this dictum on his theological students after 'Crystal Night' in Berlin, when the Nazis, soon after the Munich agreement, attacked Jewish houses and shops. Interestingly, Crystal Night occurred on 9/11 – in the European calendar, 9 November 1938.

2. Called not to Hate Terrorist Bombers

Such hatred is too easy and may be a natural, ordinary reaction: but we are called to be extraordinary. We may hate what they do, yes, and have revulsion, but not hate them. We have seen those photos on our television screens of the bombers: even they are made in the image of God. Jesus was at his most radical when he called his disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecuted them.' (Matthew 5:44).

3. Called not to Ignore Theology

The Prime Minister has warned us about the 'evil ideology' of the bombers. It goes beyond that to 'bad theology' and it has a name: 'Wahhabism.' There is a fine article on 'Wahhabism' - the belief that seems to be at the heart of the London Bombers - in the Catholic paper, The Tablet "Islam's 'heart of darkness'" by Al Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, is imam of the Cambridge Mosque, and chair of the Muslim Academic Trust.

The subheading runs: 'Wahhabism, the hardline ideology at the core of current terrorism, has cut deep wounds in Islam, and helped alienate young UK Muslims. Can a British version of Islam break free of its influence?'

It is a brave theological critique from within Islam and is worth quoting from extensively:

    Al-Qaida sympathisers regard the traditional Sunni muftis and imams, not only as politically spineless, but as heretical. Mainstream imams, including those trained in the UK's 16 Muslim seminaries, follow traditional Sunnism, while al-Qaida is rooted in Wahhabism, the eighteenth-century reform movement of central Arabia. Strict Wahhabis consider the theology and piety of mainline Sunnism to be kufr (disbelief). Hence Wahhabi radicals have not hesitated to kill Muslims, including senior scholars; indeed, Muslims have always been al-Qaida's principal victims...

    Muslim leaders have often been coy about publicly acknowledging the role of this schism in the current crisis. Sometimes this is because of physical threats: in Pakistan or Iraq, it is now possible to be murdered for criticising Wahhabism. Sometimes, more innocently, it is because of squeamishness about recognising that the seamless garment of Islam has been so disastrously torn. On other occasions, institutions and states may be nervous of publicly venting their anger at Wahhabism for fear that the cornucopia of Saudi donations might suddenly end...

    Saudi Arabia is struggling to temper its Wahhabi inheritance; but it is still quietly regarded by the Muslim leaders of my acquaintance as the heart of darkness in the current crisis...

    Among alienated and confused young Muslims in the United Kingdom, there is also a Wahhabi influence. One Muslim bookseller tells me that mainstream Islamic bookshops cannot compete with the radical alternative, since Saudi organisations supply the radical shops with books free of charge. No less troubling to established mosque leaders is the tendency of some young British Muslims to study in new Wahhabi colleges in Pakistan and elsewhere.

    The picture is complex, but it does suggest that the medicine for terrorism must be supplied from within the Muslim community, and within the theological resources of Islam. Sociological explanations outline circumstances, but cannot disclose the religious underpinnings of these aberrations, or offer a counter-argument. Legislation, and any other form of government interference, are unlikely to put an end to the problem; and may make it worse. It is clear that only Muslims can heal this wound.

This may well be so and is an important insight, but Christian theologians, in dialogue, may help with this encouragement and challenge. Professor Peter Riddell, Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Relations at the London School of Theology, wrote a challenging article in The Church Times, headed: 'Sorry, but the Qur'an does contain support for terror.' Again, it is worth quoting from extensively:

    'British Muslim leaders need also to take a step they have avoided thus far. That is, to ask questions of the verses in the Qur'an and Hadith which are continually quoted by radicals, and which provide sustenance to radical ideologues.

    A perusal of press statements issued by radical groups turns up a finite set of verses that they use to justify confrontation in the present day: Q2.11, 2.190, 9.14, 9.38, 9.41, 60.1....

    It is not good enough for mainstream leaders to produce verses from early in Muhammad's life which talk of there being no compulsion in religion (Q2.256); or to tear verses out of their context, such as is now regularly done with Q5.32, cited in the recent fatwa; and then to dismiss those radical Muslims who disagree as "heretics".

    Muslim leaders need to undertake a new, comprehensive hermeneutic of the verses that come from later in Muhammad's life – and which radicals therefore see as having greater authority – that talk of fighting and slaying the pagans wherever Muslims find them (Q9.5); not taking Christians and Jews as friends of Muslims (Q3.118, 5.51); and so forth.

    Also crying out for attention are copious accounts from the Hadith collections which are used to encourage young Muslims to see martyrdom as a guarantee of eternal bliss in paradise. For example, the radical group Supporters of Shariah evoked graphic images (based on the Hadith) at the time of the Afghanistan war in 2001 in order to move young Muslims to action, suggesting that the souls of the martyrs are in the green birds dwelling in Paradise; that all their sins are forgiven; that each of them can intercede with Allah for 70 of his family members; that the martyr will be secure on the Day of Resurrection; and that he will not feel the pain of death 'except like that of a pinch'.

These two articles are very courageous in the current crisis: one from a Muslim scholar and one from a Christian theologian. Both need considerable thought and are a spur to dialogue.

4. Called not to Scatter Blame Everywhere

We certainly need to reflect seriously on the wider contexts of the London bombings, but not necessarily scatter blame aimlessly and everywhere. The first Gulf War in 1991, September 11th in 2001, the invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq are all important to consider in providing the background. We also need to understand the loathing which results from the injustices of Guatanamo Bay – especially the reported desecration of copies of the Qur'an - and of the prison at Abu Ghraib. However, the blame for these particular London bombings, should be focused on the bombers themselves and their planners.

5. Called not to Overreact with Draconian Legislation

The Christian think-tank 'Ekklesia' has made some excellent points concerning legislation in its response to the bombings, 'Beyond the Politics of Fear'

    ' the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 illustrates, legislation hurried through in the face of emergency situations can be severely deficient. Detention without trial and due process feeds the conditions it claims to combat.'

Since that was written, we have learnt of the 'shoot to kill' policy that resulted in the tragic death of a young innocent Brazilian in Stockwell underground station. The police certainly do need powers to prevent suicide bombers from letting off bombs, even as they are caught, and this may ultimately involve shots to the head, but this awful case of mistaken identity must not be repeated.

B. Christian Support

We turn now to consider five suggestions of Christian support.

1.Jesus' Response to the Zealots: Non-Violence

In the period of Jesus' ministry, Zealots were a network of Jewish groups who were engaged in guerilla activity to overthrow the Roman colonialists. Tom Wright has commented on the background to these revolutionary movements:

    '[The Maccabees] set the context, and provided the model, for a tradition of movements which sought to overthrow oppression and bring about the divinely intended kingdom for Israel. Fidelity to Torah, readiness for martyrdom, resistance to compromise, and resolute military or para-military action: that was the combination that would win the day.'

That does sound frighteningly familiar. In Acts 5: 36-39, Gamaliel, the wise Pharisee in the Jewish Council in Jerusalem, cites two rebel movements that petered out and counsels patience and caution concerning the disciples of Jesus:

    Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered.

Simon the Zealot was one of Jesus' disciples. In the same chapter in which he is mentioned (Luke 6:12), Luke records Jesus' radical challenge to his disciples: 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.' (Luke 6:27-8). Judas Iscariot's surname may reflect an attraction to the zealots' desire for revolution. There is a fascinating interpretive moment in the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' During Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Judas whispers to him that now is the right moment to strike against the Romans. He rejects the idea and was a disappointment to the zealots.

2. Jesus' Response to the Samaritans: Dialogue

It may be that the closest we have in the Gospels to our relationships with Muslims is Jesus' response to the Samaritans. We saw above how he refused to call down fire from heaven upon them (Luke 9). Then, positively, in the very next chapter, his ultimate example of a man who was merciful was a Samaritan. In John 4, Jesus engages a Samaritan woman in conversation concerning his need for water and leads her on to discuss true worship and his own identity.

Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society 1942-1963, wrote in the preface to Kenneth Cragg's Sandals at the Mosque: Christian Presence Amid Islam:

    Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on men's dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival...We may, if we have asked humbly and respectfully, still reach the conclusion that our brothers have started from a false premise and reached a faulty conclusion. But we must not arrive at our judgement from outside their religious situation.

This call to patient, attentive listening and questions is crucial for dialogue today. One way of preparation for this is to watch and discuss a helpful video recently produced by CMS entitled Dialogue: My Muslim Neighbour Interviews with Muslims in Britain.

Last year I was deeply moved by being involved in three meetings of dialogue in Maida Vale, London, between Shi'a Muslims and Anglican Christians. We looked at martyrdom, marriage and initiation. Each meeting included a paper by a Muslim and a Christian theologian.

When we meet in dialogue, we need to discuss the hard texts in our own Scriptures as well as those in the Qur'an and Hadith. Psalm 137: 9 is one of the most awful in the Bible. Concerning Babylon it says: 'Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!' We need to explain to Muslims why we do not today, in the light of Jesus' teachings mentioned above, advocate such emotions.

However, reinterpreting a violent tradition is risky. Johan Heyns was a professor of theology at the white University of Pretoria. He was assassinated by a right wing extremist on 5 November 1994. In Heyns' obituary in The Independent, John Carlin wrote:

    It was not until 1982 that Heyns began, at the age of 54, publicly to question the notion that apartheid was the will of God. He caused a furore at that year's [Dutch Reformed Church] synod by proposing that it was not immoral for black and white people to marry. Out of favour with the hierarchy for a year, he bounced back and in 1986 was appointed the DRC's moderator, the highest position in the church. Immediately he set about persuading the church to accept that there was not, after all, a biblical foundation for apartheid. In 1990 he went further, declaring on behalf of the church that apartheid was a sin, a historic U-turn which earned him the condemnation of the far right.

This theological rethinking was influential, for Heyns an important mentor to F W de Klerk. Almost exactly a year later, on 4 November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was tragically murdered in Jerusalem. There may be interesting parallels in terms of a traditionalist who changed the hard line, and was perceived by extremists as a traitor who had sold out.

3. Support for Police and Judiciary: Justice

In the complex passage of Romans 13:1-7, Paul discusses Christians' relations with the state authorities and mentions that the judicial authority is 'God's servant.' God's servants, as in other contexts, need our support (as well as our watchful challenge, as mentioned above). The Metropolitan Police have behaved remarkably bravely and, for the most part, with great professional insight. The advent of cameras on mobile phones has transformed the way communities can now help the police bring the perpetrators to justice.
4. Support for Youth Clubs: Education

Young people, in our urban areas in particular, need creative centres for recreation, relaxation and education. To counteract subversive, violent teaching aimed at recruiting young people who feel alienated from British society, positive Christian youth clubs, open to all, need our support.

Nick Adams has been the Senior Youth Worker at the open youth club of St Mary Islington for over 27 years and has a remarkable network of community links. He spotted the influence of radical Islam on black youngsters in many parts of London very early on and the attraction to them of the role model of Malcolm X. In response, he produced a showcase of dance and song on the life of Martin Luther King, which members of the club performed to a packed house at the recently reopened Hackney Empire. Young people getting steeped in the narrative of Martin Luther King in long rehearsals, and presenting it creatively, was very moving.

5. Support from the Heart: Prayer

Having considered these various 'warnings' and 'supports', we come to our fifth and ultimate support for peace and justice – faithful prayer. How to pray in such complex crisis is a key question and the Psalms, read in the light of Christ, are a wonderful resource. I conclude with a prayer written soon after the bombings:

    Almighty God,
    Creator and Judge of all,
    through the death of your only Son,
    you know tragedy and loss.
    We pray for those mourning the death of loved ones
    killed in the London bombings,
    for the wounded in hospital,
    for the doctors and nurses,
    for the firemen and transport workers,
    for the police and intelligence services:
    grant them your healing presence, insight and courage.
    We pray also for those who planned and planted the bombs:
    turn their hearts to peace and bring them to justice,
    through him who prayed for his enemies,
    Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Graham Kings


Graham Kings

Graham Kings

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Wood panel

A bronze